About Mariah Himes

Humanities and Human Values

Butler and mourning some but not others

Butler’s piece of mourning and grief emphasizes how some bodies are mourned while others are not. We can see this immediately in how some victims of terrorist attacks–French people in Paris–who fit a model of victimhood as white and innocent that other, equally suffering victims do not fit. During the week of the Paris attacks, terrorist violence afflicted many across the globe. For example, extremists took 170 captives in Bamako recently and killed about 27 people. While white bodies dominate the media reportage of terrorism, a car bomb and shooting resulted in 12 deaths in Mogadishi, Somalia in November as well; a suicide bombing killed 5 in Lebanon one week and another bomb killed 43 the following week; bombings and shootings in Bagdad killed 12 and injured 15, and many more. Many of these attacks have been overshadowed by violence against white people, partly because they are unjustly seen as ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ aspects of ‘non-western’ spaces. In addition, in the US, police violence against black and brown bodies remains underreported in mainstream media, with mainly ‘alternative’ or black news outlets reporting the deaths of black and brown American citizens at the hands of would-be protectors. Something that Butler’s article raised for me was not only the discriminating grief over certain peoples’ deaths, but also the discriminating criminalization of particular perpetrators. I see a lot in the media–both internationally and nationally–about black and brown killers or terrorists. Yet when a white man kills students, the disabled, police, or patients at a clinic, the language shifts. By refusing to label equally horrific acts of violence as terrorism, the narrative perpetuates the idea of white innocence and permissibility: it seems more ok for white people to kill than others. All violence and murder is horrible and hateful, but we must understand that a hatred of violence does not produce justice: we need to analyze our hatreds of murderers to see the discrepancies into which we fall by categorizing brown violence as terror and white violence as just regular crime. Justice would be to hold all murderers equally accountable for the same crimes, and black and brown deaths as equally grievable as white victims of shootings.

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.

New Wars

I found Kaldor’s argument “In Defense of New Wars” quite convincing. She describes a current age of new wars by increasing conflict over identity, the proliferation and use of more advanced technology (such as bombs that can kill massive amounts of people at once, or drones that can both kill and spy), and conflicts in which actors are both state and non-state. Kaldor’s point about the growing number of non-state actors, including identity groups and activists, seems to resonate with Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”, in which he describes the main conflicting actors to be groups of states united by common cultural/ethnic/historical ties, warring against other such civilizations. Huntington describes these clashes between civilizations as being rooted in differing identities and values; these are in themselves a kind of new war.

Neither Kaldor nor Huntington directly mention terrorism: Huntington ignores the role of non-state actors as prominent in future clashes between major worlds powers. Kaldor, meanwhile, could be read as including terrorist groups as major actors in new wars when she describes identity groups and activists. The presence and power of terrorist groups today ought to be a major part of the discussion concerning new wars and the changing nature of war, especially when it comes to the complex conversation about how to create and maintain peace. Perhaps as we seek a better understanding of the changing nature of modern warfare we ought to be considering what a new kind of peace could look like as well.