Architecture, Futurity, and Critical Theory

One of the most surprising things about the Lethal Theory article was the notion of Architecture, and its ties to the IDF. Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel’s prime minister) is perhaps the most striking example of the architect-soldier, and whose impact on the IDF, and israel itself has been one of a propensity towards violence and strife. It seems that futurity is an idea deeply embedded in the mind of the architect. Architects plan the future, they build detailed plans of the buildings they are going to erect. This notion of a nation ruled by architects, not lawyers seems to explain Israel. Israel as a state (called by Chomsky one of the two rogue states in the modern lawyers), seems to have pessimistic and definite view of the world. They know they are constantly at threat, they know where it is coming from, and accordingly make plans to modify this future and outlook. The author mentions this notion of the humanities (and more specifically, critical theory) being used by the very institutions critical theory was used against. This seems to me not quite as negative as the author intends it to be. It paints critical theory as a more objective, and less normative pursuit, hinting at its far reaching implications and abilities. Altogether an interesting article about changing warfare and its effects on the urban built environment, in a context I had not seen before.

InfraGard and FBI?

As I read Alimahomed’s writing on Homeland Security, I found myself repeatedly highlighting the number of times he wrote that “the war of terror is the single most privatized war in the history of the United States.” (p85) After reading this line, he introduces us to the relationship between the FBI and InfraGard.  I truly became quite uncomfortable while reading about the dependent relationship between the two private and public sectors as I realized that critical and important information and intelligence necessary to protect the homeland is being circulated between these two companies meanwhile the CIA and FBI STILL have yet to find substantial consistency and peace in exchanging information. If two government funded sectors find difficulty in exchanging information, then why are the FBI and InfraGard finding it so easy?  This makes me wonder something similar to Waylan’s post: Is this relationship formed out of greed and desire for profiting? Does leeking “sensitive but unclassified” (p94) information make it easier for citizens of the United States to rest safely at night?  When the CIA released their report on 9/11 and the faults of the agents involved in security measures leading up to it, some pages were left blank in order to protect certain sensitive material.  So, even though this information is public and “unclassified,” there is still information circulating from the report that the public eye will not lay eyes on, BUT, are companies like InfraGard given access to such withheld information..  because they “increase the quality and quantity of infrastructure intrusion/threat reports provided to local FBI field offices for investigation and follow-up and the NIPC for analysis” (p94) ?  It concerns me that private sectors are handling such sensitive material, especially considering they are not properly trained to handle such intelligence data as much as an FBI agent or CIA agent is. As the author states, this “authorizes private corporations to police the public, as well as their own employees.” (95) Doesn’t this make one wonder who we’re trusting to analyze and handle intell that cannot even be released to citizens underneath the FBI?  Who are the employees of InfraGard?  Do they undergo special training like the government agents?  Are they sworn to oath and threatened by punishment if they leak information or perform double agent type acts?  Just something to think about…

War For Profit

In Homeland Security Inc.: public order, private profit Alimahomed brings to the reader’s attention the individual profit gained through the war on terror. This caused me to reflect on a variety of wars and the correlation those wars held with monetary profit. The war on terror with it’s corruption resulted in profit for an individual, the war in Iraq yielded oil profits, and certainly the other infamous war on an inanimate thing, the war on drugs, yields immense profits for those in power.

This encouraged me to ask why does profit appear so frequently alongside the concept of war? War is destructive and incredibly costly to wage, but still we have a strong connection to profit from war. These two concepts that should not have any place alongside each other, seem to be presented oftentimes alongside each other in many of the readings that we have looked at for this course. I want to encourage further exploration of the connection between these two concepts, and the causal mechanisms that seem to connect them despite what common sense might tell our intuitions.

The war on drugs is profitable because of the nature of the war, i.e. that fact that it is waged on an inanimate thing that cannot fight back. On the other hand, the war on terror, and many other wars are also driven largely by profit motives despite the fact that they are overall a financial burden to wage.

Is it possible that war is a vice, and therefore goes alongside greed? What are the fundamental reasons that war is waged, and is it essential to have a profit motive in order to even have a concept of war? Has profit become so integral to the line of reasoning that justifies war that it is now necessary in order to have the concept at all? I know this is a bit scattered, but these are all questions that occurred to me as I read through the reading. I do not know the answers to the questions I am posing. I pose them because I feel that they are questions worth asking, and I would personally like to explore the connection between war and profit further. I hope this will inspire further thought on the connection that these two concepts hold, and bring attention to the connection that seems to be ever present between the two.


Notes on Zero Dark Thirty

Becoming Animal

That the movie is rife with scenes of prisoner dehumanization goes without saying. Towards the beginning, Dan (an American in charge of interrogating detainees) places a man in a dog collar before saying, “You’re my dog. I’m gonna walk you.” The verbalization of his action makes clear to the prisoner that he is indeed less than human and it is the U.S. male citizen who has power and control over his physical body.

One of the scenes from the film that stuck with me most isn’t even an integral scene. Actually, it’s so brief I didn’t even notice it the first time I watched a couple of years ago. In this scene, Dan shows his softer side—quite literally treating his “pet” monkeys to some ice cream. However, shortly after we see him looking forlorn into an empty monkey cage as he tells Maya, “They killed my monkeys.” They here being the U.S. govt. The monkeys were a security risk, I guess. Then the camera pans out to show prisoners inside a network of the same cages used to house Dan’s monkeys. This visual conflation of human prisoners and monkeys further entangles human and nonhuman animal bodies in the process of dehumanization. This dehumanization is often necessary to justify the inhumane practices of “enhanced interrogation.”

We know that, like the monkeys, the human prisoners are also security risks that must be destroyed. When Maya asks Dan if the prisoner they’re torturing will ever get out, he simply states, “He’s never getting out.”

Events This Week

Just a quick heads-up on some events going on at Duke this week:

1) Today and tomorrow there are three events with Joseph Masco, one of the most prominent anthropologists working on the contemporary security state. These all take place in Friedl 225 at Duke East Campus:

–Today, Monday at 130pm: Lecture: The Crisis in Crisis. Description:

This paper interrogates the current over-deterimination of “crisis” in American media and political cultures.  It compares the two existential dangers our our times — nuclear crisis and climate crisis — and analyzes current U.S. policy proposals which extend rather than eliminate these ultimate forms of danger.  Thus, it considers the historical terms whereby “crisis” has become a counter-revolutionary force in American Society, a means of preserving infrastructures of violence rather generating transformational processes.  In doing so, the paper explores the affective logics and political sensibilities necessary for mobilizing alternative collective futures today.

–Today, Monday at 4pm: Conversation with Masco and Peter Redfield, Wahneema Lubiano, and Diane Nelson

–Tomorrow, Tuesday at 530pm: Discussion of Chapters 1 and 4 of Masco’s book Theater of Operations

Joseph Masco is a professor of anthropology and science studies at The University of Chicago.  He is the author of The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico, and most recently, The Theater of Operations: National Security Affect from the Cold War to the War on Terror.


2) On Tuesday, an art exhibit and panel on the legacies of Hiroshima:

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


6pm Art Exhibition Opening Reception

7-9pm Panel Discussion

Location: Jameson Gallery, Friedl Building, East Campus, Duke University

*Refreshments provided

In August 1945, two atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 129,000 people. It was the first and only time in history that nuclear weaponry was used for warfare. How did the U.S. military and politicians at the time understand its military significance and ethical implications? How did the victims experience the trauma and the ensuing layers of victimization? What narratives have emerged in our collective remembrance of the war — and how does this remembrance shape modern day nuclear politics and US-Japan relations? On its 70th anniversary, let us revisit that contested, traumatic moment in history, question it and remember it.

Facebook Event:



The Military’s Secret Military

In 2010, Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post co-authored a report on the expansion of “secret war”. I highly suggest reading this supplement to chapter two of The Changing Face of Empire as it highlights one of the most cringeworthy facets of the US military regime: “taking the battle to the enemy”. The US is in fact an imperial power, capable of waging war and inflicting violence into countries with which there is little to diplomatic relationship. Also telling of how desensitized to mass murder abroad we have become, look no further than websites such as this one I discovered while listening to an NPR podcast that buys and sells government contracts to small business. These small businesses who accept are then responsible for purchasing large quantities of items, including, inter alia, blankets and bandaids to ammunition. In practice, the government is rarely ever low on supplies that are used to mass produce genocide in poor and developing countries, who dare use violence to express their disdain for the hegemonic West. In Changing Face it is briefly mentioned the how the defense budget has more than quadrupled in the wake of 9/11. While many read such action in response to an act of mass violence within our comfort zone, I read a quadrupling of funds as capitalist and preventative of ever seeing an end to the omnipresent war.

In the social imaginary, post 9/11, the hero typified an army soldier ready to be deployed to war. As insurgency into the Great Middle East continued forward without result and no end, the hero became a sniper, a special operation trained killing machine that would quell the danger by first assigning the danger onto one person, vilifying this one person, while justifying this xenophobia with doctrine such as the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorist. The ambiguous wording used here has been the justification for the American Empire. While ending terror abroad is the mission of the US government, it is not a secret, when thought about empire from a critical, practical standpoint, that the US is profiting from the exploitation of natural resources. In summation, the empire of the US is expanding and it is time we spent more time putting forth a narrative in opposition to the global hegemon instead of benefitting form the death of the innocent.

Also an update on student’s reaction to the College Republicans, Christians United for Israel and the Carolina Review’s petition to end Dr. Ahuja’s first-year seminar. 

Ulrich Beck and Risk Society

Ulrich Beck’s “living in the world risk society” was a difficult read for me due to his long-winded syntax and use of vocabulary I’m as yet unfamiliar with. I think it would have been helpful to have a clearer definition of risk early on in the lecture/reading.

I can appreciate that he starts with a question the lecture doesn’t ultimately answer (how to live in a world risk society?) due to the complexity of potential answers. His analysis of factors that contribute to how we perceive of risk in differing societies and how politicians and media affect these perceptions helped me understand a bit more of the concepts surrounding risk theory. Some of his comments, though, I wanted to push back against.

For example, on page 336, Beck explains that a risk society produces a ‘tragic individualization’ where ‘individualization is a default outcome of a failure of expert systems to manage risks’, resulting in ‘people [being] thrown back onto themselves’. He goes on to explain this through the example of an individual’s response to genetically modified goods and the pressure placed on consumers to make choices about good food. The consumer ‘is blind to dangers, [yet] remains at the same time unable to escape the power of definition of expert systems, whose judgment he cannot, yet must trust’. I am unconvinced that this situation produces a tragically individualized society. In the immediate society I participate in and in the wider world of news and media, I see more people turning to each other to discuss, criticize, and express frustrations over such circumstances as the one Beck describes. I do not see individuals depending on themselves. I would argue that people tend not to turn inward for solutions for risk, but rather seek out the opinions of others as we try to understand what risks are for the nation or one’s immediate political, religious, or social group.

Overall, after rereading the piece, I found it much more interesting and engaging, especially after class discussion.

Risk Article and TSA

Reading the Beck article, I was able to draw comparisons in his argument to the current security dilemma of airports in today’s society. We observe this dilemma that Beck describes in the direct relationship between increasing security and decrease in civilian happiness. When TSA announced their introduction to the full body scan shortly after 9/11, the community responded in outrage as it proposed “invasive” and “inappropriate” scans, and further vocalized their outrage to the other form of security search being the pat down performed by a TSA officer. These security processes have been born in order to prevent the unknown and decrease the risk of a security breach that could lead to such events like 9/11.   Drawing off of this, it’s easy to assume that Beck’s statement “the state and technological culture may be under attack, but they are striking back…risks are the likely battle grounds for the somewhat hazy power space of global domestic policies,” (339) becomes more applicable. As these technologies surfaced in airports in the states, the global community responded by increasing their security to match such standards, thus organizing as a community in order to battle the unknown. This generated a category of “political catharsis” and “enforced cosmopolitism,” (340) as actors were forced to interact together in obtaining full global security across international airlines and gateways into other countries in order to battle this risk, as Beck describes. When the community responds in outrage, this proves to be enormous irony. When you purchase an airline ticket, you consent to use the public good of security that the nation in which you fly in and out of provides. In saying so, you agree to entering a secure and safe environment for your safely and others. It is crazy to me that people think that the security should be lessened as 14 years later we are surrounded by images of 9/11 due to this lack of security that airports once had. There was even such organizations in the states that tried to create a “national opt out day” for opting out of the full body scans. A Huffington post on TSA defense mechanisms elaborates this community response in more detail.

Living in the world risk society – Ulrich Beck

What I found particularly interesting about this article was Beck’s statement that “in order to protect their populations from the danger of terrorism, states increasingly limit civil rights and liberties” (330) which, according to him, will remove free society rather than helping to prevent terrorist attacks. Has his argument not been enforced by the recent NSA spying scandal? Did American citizens feel like their civil liberties had been limited by, e.g. the Patriot Act, or do they see it as an effective protection? Is it a risk or an “instrument of risk management”?

What I also get from Beck’s arguments is that people have a need and desire to explain everything that happens to them (especially catastrophes). Out of this results states being obsessed with the idea of having to “control something even if one does not know whether it exists” (335). In other words, controlling the “the unknown unknowns” (335). Personally, I think there is not only irony in this statement as Beck explains but it also hints at a touch of paranoia in today’s states and societies, which is certainly intensified through mass media (cf. 332).

With regard to publicly received risk functioning as a connector and communication device between people of different countries and societies, I would like to point to the current refugee crisis. Especially the European Union has the chance to prove right now that this statement is true and I do believe that it is. It is an opportunity to “tear away the facades of organized irresponsibility” (339). In addition, to connect this to a further point of Beck’s article, I agree with his opinion that there exists a “network of transnational interdependencies” (343). It is not only Europe and it should not only be Europe that is involved in the refugee crisis. That is why I was happy to read today that President Obama has told his administration to take in at least 10,000 displaced Syrians over the next year.

If you are interested, here is the link to the newspaper article:

Here is another video of Jean-Claude Juncker, current President of the European Commission. He calls European countries to accept binding quotas to resettle 160,000 refugees and stresses the fact that every European country needs to be “on board”.

– Chantal M.