Butler Letter-Nuance in a world of polarity

The most overlooked aspect surrounding tragedy seems to be the denial of ambiguity. Emotions cloud our judgement, and lead even smart people down roads they would not otherwise go.

It seems to me, the real problem is that the mainstream conscience has no room for ambiguity or nuance. Part of this has to do with the heuristics we must use to divide and deduce meaning from a complex world.

Authoritarianism is an automatic response to atrocity. Conservative governments often come into power in response to crisis, and we have seen this in response to the attacks in Paris.

These issues are all very difficult, and it is hard to deduce exactly what is going on, and who the players are, and what their motivations are.

Overall, Butler’s letter is intriguing, but her fascination with state overreach seems to be a bit overblown.



A Life On The Surface

Notions of ISIS, standing in juxtaposition to Al Qaeda bring with it fascinating implications. ISIS is extremism out in the open, whereas Al Qaeda brings about images of Tora Bora, and attacks from the dark. Notions of hypocrisy are interesting, and also the notions of respect. One of the main objections to American Power by extremists has been its lack of respect, and its hypocrisy. The notion that the west “stole” islamic ideas, science and technology is an interesting one, and a notion that fuels extremists.

Although this article was thought provoking, I think it still misses some of the key issues surrounding violence and what causes it. I believe that violence is inherently causes by mimetic desire, and that the article simply reinforces this notion. Wanting the same thing is what causes people to fight, and at the end of the day we struggle to find true, hard, differences between humans. We fight because we are the same, and we want the same things. ISIS wants, despite all the talk about holding a mirror up to America, fails at what it sees as its greatest sentiment, hypocrisy. ISIS wants to be a global hegemon, and as there can only be one global hegemon, ISIS and the US inevitably stand, at odds with each other.

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.

Indefinite Pessimism, and the Global Risk Society

“The theory of world risk society addresses the increasing realization of the irrepressible ubiquity of radical uncertainty in the modern world.”

Since 1973 only 3,282 americans have been killed by terrorism in the United States. You are literally 6,000 times more likely to be killed by eating too much Macdonalds. Terrorism, however, dominates the media landscape and our national consciousness. This indefinite pessimism about the future is unfounded in reality, but predominates our modern condition.

Beck’s article was presented a fascinating theory, that we live in a world risk society. A society dominated by our fears of unknown risks. I believe that he is absolutely correct. It seems that now we are firmly dominated by what the venture capitalist Peter Thiel calls “indeterminate pessimism.”  I included a diagram below that presents four distinct ways of viewing the world, (as interpreted by Thiel) that can be applied to any context in viewing the future. The worldview of indeterminate pessimism is a world dominated by insurance, and risk. It states that we don’t know what’s going to happen, so we can’t really plan for it, we just have to mitigate our risk. This is perhaps the worst way to view the world. How can we create the future and build more technology (I define technology as doing more with less) and drive towards a brighter future, if we can’t even conceptualize a better one? This indeterminate pessimism (what Beck calls the risk society) is more than anything a main tenant and driver of neoconservative thinking, and contributed to the Iraq war. Something I highlight below.thiel

Neoconservatism and its drive for the Iraq war comes from a sense of despair. The sense that America had to do “something” to combat these unknown unknowns. It should be known that one can challenge this view of neoconservatism. They do have in some sense a grand plan for America, (like the PNAC article we read), so one could make an arguement that they lean more toward determinate pessimism. It is difficult to say, however, and will have to be something I think about.

Here I attached a quick TED talk by Thiel about his views of global risk. It is quick and enlightening!



Reductionism, Huntington, and Mimetic Theory

Huntington’s clash of civilizations as a method to view the world seems inherently flawed. Many criticize the article for its reductionist view of the world, but I think this is a secondary consideration to what I believe is a greater misstep by Huntington. Huntington assumes that people fight because they are different, that the inherent differences between these “civilizations” will drive them to conflict. I believe that this is completely false.

“It is not difference that dominates the world, but the obliteration of difference by mimetic reciprocity, which itself, being truly universal, shows the relativism of perpetual difference to be an illusion.”  Rene Girard – The One By Whom Scandal Comes.

People do not fight because they are different, rather we fight because we want the same things. Girard outlines a theory of desire, called mimetic desire that can explain why there is so violence between individuals (or the states they create)  exists.  We want things, inherently because other people want them. We see someone desiring an object, and we in turn are driven to desire the object. Girard terms this Mimetic Desire, or that desire is all driven by imitation.

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This desire drives conflict, because humans are driven to want envy. We want our position to be desirable, so that people desire us. I propose that this is why states fight. They fight because they are the same, because they want the same things.

“It is not difference that dominates the world, but the obliteration of difference by mimetic reciprocity, which itself, being truly universal, shows the relativism of perpetual difference to be an illusion.” – Rene Girard – The One By Whom Scandal Comes

I believe the great sin of Huntington’s theory is not its reductionism, but that it reflects a common misconception about the human condition.