Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Contemporary Ethics Project, or How to Shop at Whole Foods

Theodor Adorno, midcentury German philosopher and oppressive pessimist extraordinaire, is perhaps best known for his notorious declaration that there can be no poetry after Auschwitz. Before that, he published an incomparably beautiful and difficult book in 1951, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life. The first sentence of its dedication reads as follows: "The melancholy science from which I make this offering to my friend relates to a region that from time immemorial was regarded as the true field of philosophy, but which, since the latter's conversion into method, has lapsed into intellectual neglect, sententious whimsy and finally oblivion: the teaching of the good life."

Don't worry, I'm not going to lecture you on Adorno. But for the last several months, I have at once felt this sentence pressing in on me and experienced a growing yet vague dissatisfaction with the terms generally available in contemporary public discussions of the good life.

That’s absurdly abstract. So let me accumulate some examples, recited from memory: a friend's worrying over which washing machine she should buy, trying to balance economic justice for workers, energy efficiency, and amount of water consumed per load; a series of articles on obesity which want really badly to dissociate corpulence from willpower or other forms of conscious, intentional action; the controversy around Bjorn Lomborg's newest book and the ethical calculus that goes into global warming; a few discussions in moral psychology I found highly troubling which try to do away with anything like reflection on ethics in favor of descriptions of moral intuitions; and the nearly paralyzing set of choices about food that I am called upon to make whenever I walk into the new Whole Foods next door to my house.

What is this dissatisfaction?

So when I do set foot in Whole Foods, the options spread out in front are daunting: tropical and exotic fruit I don’t recognize, incomprehensibly pristine fresh greens of bewildering variety, meat from animals raised alternately conventionally, organically, grass-fed, and/or locally. Given that I am dedicated to eating as sustainably as possible, I must ask: Should I feel guilty about choosing the wild-caught tilapia from Equador Whole Foods has on offer over farm-raised tilapia from the United States available somewhere else? What about frighteningly cheap farm-raised tilapia from China at Trader Joe’s?

It turns out that in order to decide what to buy I need an Expert to perform an sustainability analysis on a case-by-case basis. Apparently, lamb raised in New Zealand and shipped to England uses less non-renewable energy per calorie to go from bleating cuteness in the mountains of the Southern Island to tasty treat on a dinner table 12,000 miles away in London than lambs raised right there, not 100 miles from Britons’ kitchens. This is the result of a complex economic analysis, one which I probably couldn’t fully understand myself, let alone perform. However, I’m guessing that I shouldn’t always prefer food produced in New Zealand.

What this version of ethical decision-making takes for granted is that all we need is ever more information. The utopia here would be a store in which there’s a label attached to every product which, in addition to nutrition information, would give information about environmental and social justice impact: x pounds of CO2 per calorie; y pounds of potentially carcinogenic pesticide released into groundwater per apple; z percentage of the labor force involved in the harvesting of this product who are underage children or illegal immigrants or paid an unconscionable pittance.

(The other side of this is the idea that if people just knew what was happening, they would Do The Right Thing, an idea that with even a little reflection, we know to be troublesome at best.)

Two points bear mentioning. First, which information we feel we need is a result of an ethical decision already made—another person might rather have the religion of company’s owners listed on these cards. The information Good Life Supermarkets, Inc. should and should not put on their food would be an object of intense debate. Second, and more relevant here, is that the sort of choices we constantly make, consciously or not, are made in a field of relative ignorance. Our daily lives are lived in nearly total disconnection from many of the economic, social, ecological, &c. impacts they have. In response to this, the consensus we seem to have tacitly reached is that the good life is scrupulously informed. Ignorance has become unethical.

We alleviate this ignorance by turning to Experts of various provenance. I need an economist to tell me what lamb to buy; I need an epidemiologist, a psychologist, and a dietician to tell me if and how I should proceed if I would like to lose weight. And, more troublesome, I need a Journalist to scour academic journals and digest them for me—since it’s clear I won’t be able to get on with my life if all I’m doing is reading economic analyses, ecological impact statements, and research papers in journals of affective neuropsychology. That is, if I could manage to process all that by myself.

My dissatisfaction rests in the feeling that we are increasingly directing our attention toward Experts’ information filtered through Journalism as our guide to the good life. I have spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about ethics in the last six months, wanting to write a series of meditations on ethical matters here. Before I could start this, I had to ask what I could add to the discussion. For a day or two I had a fantasy of playing journalist, doing various sorts of research to determine what the proper course of action would be when faced with a choice like: which tilapia should I buy? While that would undoubtedly be fun, it hardly seemed to address my dissatisfaction with the most visible ways of talking about the good life, nor did it play to my strengths. Which gets me back to the Adorno quotation I began with.

For Adorno, philosophy’s development is one which ends in a kind of unthinking rationalism, concerned more with a hermetically sealed realm of professional philosophizing than in taking up how to live. It very nearly becomes esoteric knowledge, in the strict definition of the word. Having lost philosophy as an art of learning and teaching the good life, we turn to science to at least tell us the effects of our actions. But contra Bjorn Lomberg, economics cannot tell us what we should do. Neither can psychology, nor ecology, nor medicine. At best, they can tell us indirectly what effects our actions are likely to have beyond the ones we can intuit ourselves. Often, even that is too much to ask.

Our science has damaged our ethics. From the social sciences, we are assured of a vast and unknowable field of effects our actions have; from biology and psychology, we are assured that our decisions have a vast and unknowable set of causes and influences over which we have neither voluntary control nor direct knowledge. In the middle, between two fields of ignorance, we are left to figure out how to live out our versions of the good life, which has increasingly made ethical consideration look like mere accumulation of information, as if all we needed were more knowledge.

That fundamentally misunderstands the problem facing us today as we stumble towards something that feels like right living. At best it is one part of a more holistic approach. What we need today is a way to understand how to live the good life in a field of ignorance. When we cannot be wholly accountable for our actions, when we cannot even be accountable for the effects of our actions, how are we to proceed ethically? Certainly, better and more information helps, but it cannot be the whole program.

That is my dissatisfaction. I am only now beginning to figure out how to think my way out of it. What I hope to offer here in the coming months is offer a series of little essays dedicated to humanistic reflections on current ethical issues, with a lay audience in mind. I will make reference to philosophers and theorists of various sorts. This is in part to give credit where credit is due, and in part because I think it is important to demonstrate the importance of humanistic thought to guide us in thinking about the good life. I am not a philosopher, and certainly not an ethicist, but I do study domains that bear significantly on ethics and the good life as they’re put together today: sexuality, technology, media, and the body. Ultimately, all I really want to do is figure out which tilapia to buy. But here, that’s going to mean spending a lot of time thinking about how I should come to settle on a particular tasty filet.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

coups de boule.

I haven't posted in far too long, yes.

And this isn't a real post.

But: I absolutely love French politics and the French media landscape.

Exhibit 1:

Libé posted this in their little hour-by-hour coverage of the election as a way for us to entertain ourselves while we wait for the results.


Thursday, March 8, 2007

Oh, Ann!

Everybody and their mother has by now noticed that Ann Coulter called John Edwards a faggot.

Perhaps more interestingly, since that comment, she's said two things:

(1) "C'mon, it was a joke. I would never insult gays by suggesting that they are like John Edwards. That would be mean."

I watched the video of the original clip, and Ann Coulter really is a standup comedian who hitches a particularly rabid form of conservatism to humor. And good humor. I had the same "Oh my goodness! No she didn't!" reaction to her John Edwards comment as I do to practically everything that comes out of Sarah Silverman's mouth. To the extent that Coulter is more or less like Silverman, Coulter doesn't really upset me that much. I think that what's shocking here is not that she said it at all. Rather, we're scandalized precisley because it's that it's not shocking--or, at least, mildly titilating.

(2) "I do want to point out one thing that has been driving me crazy with the media -- how they keep describing Mitt Romney's position as being pro-gays, and that's going to upset the right wingers," she said. "Well, you know, screw you! I'm not anti-gay. We're against gay marriage. I don't want gays to be discriminated against."

She added, "I don't know why all gays aren't Republican. I think we have the pro-gay positions, which is anti-crime and for tax cuts. Gays make a lot of money and they're victims of crime. No, they are! They should be with us."

Here gays = white, upper class, urban gays. You know, like myself. (Except for the whole taxes part.) What it does is decouple gay sex, sex practices, and sex institutions from gay identity. This isn't at all uncommon; just a particularly virtuosic example.

I'd also like to point out that while I doubt CNN would ever play the video of a pundit using the n-word, they did feel entitled to replay the video of her calling John Edwards a faggot.


Sunday, March 4, 2007

Torture, Political Pragmatism and Political Emotions

AGAIN, A MEDITATION INSPIRED BY by the New York Times, although not nearly as long (I hope).

This editorial calls upon Congress to clean up the giant stinking pit of civil liberties toxic waste this administration has produced. Metaphors about superfund sites notwithstanding, one of the major rationales for Doing the Right Thing is as follows:

"When the Military Commissions Act passed, Mr. Bush triumphantly announced that he now had the power to keep the secret prisons open. He cast this as a great victory for national security. It was a defeat for America’s image around the world."

Now, as a scholar of the moving image, and one who's dedicated to a number of positions which claim representation as perhaps the category for political analysis, I find this sort of rhetorical move troubling. What it does is oppose: National Security and America's Image; or rather, it relates them.

Now, I understand that this is not just about looking good. Of course not. The New York Times isn't blushing about our indiscretions in our prosecution of the War on Terror. Rather, America's Image is, on a more sophisticated level of analysis, the major leading factor in Why They Hate Us. Managing America's Image is ultimately an attempt to manage the political emotions of populations who get their news from Al Jazeera and whose participation in and attachment to the forms of the political we take for granted--i.e. civil society--is not a given. What the Bush administration thought is that the secret prisons and torture and illegal spying could be sufficiently hidden that this management of the Arab Street, as it is known (as well as the American People), could be successfully prosecuted without reference to it.

As a matter of practicality, this is wrong-headed. If only because history happened, and word got out. And, well, boys, we fucked up, we screwed the pooch, and now it's time to clean up the mess. Fix America's Image--stop the torture. We've been caught, now it's time to act like the kid who got with his hand in the cookie jar.

Interestingly, the Bush Administration has failed to do this. I think it should, but for very different reasons.

The problem with claiming that GWB has sullied America's Image, and that is Why They Hate Us, misunderstands two things rather significantly. The first is that it confuses our political emotions with that of the Arab Street. The second is that it thinks that political emotions in the Arab Street (or, quite frankly, whichever They you'd like to be talking about) are somehow unproblematically an object of manipulation. The one thing it might get right is that it might constrain our ability to form alliances with other liberal Western democracies.

The major confusion here is that what counts as a Big Upsetting Thing in the American context (torture and secret prisons) will actually be as breathlessly scandalous in other contexts. Torture is reprehensible under any circumstances. But how scandalous it will seem, and what kind of political effect it has will depend largely upon the ecology of political emotions in a particular context. And although I'm no scholar of Arab societies, I'm quite sure that this ecology is very different even in Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Syria, etc. than it is in the U.S. The worry that Guantanamo will be a significant factor in the Pakistani political emotional meteorology fails to understand, frankly, that it's our panties that are in a wad. Because we have an attachment to being The Best Country in the World, Good, Virtuous, and True, A Shining Beacon of Freedom in the World, ad nauseum. The scandal, for us, of Guantanamo, is that our most cherished ideals have been sullied. The scandal of Abu Ghraib for much of the rest of the world is that we've been exposed as hypocrites. But, even that, I'm willing to bet, is hardly news in Damascus (or Paris, for that matter).

A major component of confusion about America's Image is that what's troubling for us is troubling for Them. (Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and secret prisons in the middle of Poland--they should trouble us. But I'll come back to this.)

The worry about America's Image is also a worry about what I've been calling the political emotions of the Arab Street. And insofar as the manipulation and management of the political emotions of Them has become constituted as a task for government (thank you Karen Hughes), part of my thinking in my last post is exposed as hyperbole. Indeed, in this context, worrying about how the average citizen of Ramallah feels about the U.S. is actually part of the conception of terrorism as an object of ongoing management (just a woefully poorly executed practice of management, in the case of GWB & Co.). What Karen Hughes and her admen failed to understand, or even think about, is how political emotion in other societies circulates differently, with different points of reference, than in the American context. Equality of women, freedom, voting--these things don't mean quite the same thing in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, more to the point, they function hugely differently in terms of feeling, emotion, and affect than they do here.

Now, don't ask me what that difference is. I don't know. But really listen to those interviews with "the man on the street in Baghdad/Ramallah/Damascus/Kabul/Karachi," and you can hear a different set of political emotions, something foreign, a little confusing. Or, perhaps negatively: go to Al Jazeera's website (hi there, CIA!) and ask if you're moved, politically. What would have to change in order for you to be? Is it merely a question of presupposition? My thought is that it has something to do with the way that publicness is constructed in the West versus elsewhere. We have a long history of civil society and the public--which is an intense site of political emotional investments, not least of which, paradoxically, is an attachment to rational-critical discourse. This history doesn't exist in, say, Lebanon (or Venezuela). It's not the same in Indonesia as it is in Dubai. Civil society and the notion of the public structure our political emotions significantly. Failing to understand that, and failing to understand how different societies with different mediations between emotion and the political function differently than ours--this failing is dangerous.

So the pragmatic appeal to Stop Torture Now, Send the Guantanamo Prisoners Home, &c.--that this is sullying America's Image--doesn't really work. By all means, figure out how to constitute Iranian political emotion as an object of ongoing management, at least partially; I'd love it--I think. It's crucial for working to stop terrorism against the U.S. and the West. But: don't expect that sending the Guantanamo prisoners home will help. Or will help on its own. --Or, for that matter, don't think that it caused the problem in the first place.

it pisses me off. Why? Not because it doesn't work, but because it's cowardly. Really, what the New York Times and company are doing when they appeal to a version of the pragmatics of the situation is avoiding why it is actually a problem to suspend habeas corpus: those pesky things called Ideals. The reason why we shouldn't torture people is because--we shouldn't torture people. Not because it looks bad, or because our torturing people will become an object of resentment for a billion Muslims, or because it will be used as a recruiting tool for terrorists. None of these things. We should not torture people because it's wrong. Period.

Now, I will pause and say that: yes, this is an emotional position. A political emotional position. I have a deep attachment to certain ideals, certain structuring principles of government and of civil society and of, yes, even the good life--without which government, civil society, and right living are transformed. And without which, they no longer feel like good governance or civil discourse or right living. They might be recognizable as other people's forms of those things; but not mine.

The reason we go ahead and appeal to pragmatic solutions is because making the case on moral grounds, by saying: this is one of our founding principles, and it is incumbent upon us to continue to structure our government according to it, period--the reason we do this is because inevitably the pragmatist argument comes back. "We do this odious thing because we have to in order to survive." And we're back in the realm of conventional debate, with moral scenarios brought to us by the makers of 24, The West Wing, and Battlestar Galactica. I'm not hoping to find a resolution to that debate, here. Nor even, state my position. But I do want to point out that in our current landscape, the pragmatist argument wins, at least in situating the battle. The idealists have to come back with pragmatic arguments. "It's morally right--but moreover, it's also pragmatic." And then you get into a debate about the relative merits of deterrence vs.coercion vs. manipulation by the media. (Government is an awful business.) The pragmatists don't have to justify their position with respect to ideals, other than: security. In a histrionic rhetorical move, they shift a single attack--an event with a singularly diffuse meaning and intensely emotional resonance--into a threat to Our Way of Life, claiming that our ideals will be worth nothing when we don't have a society anymore. And again, we're back into conventional discourse; I don't need to rehearse it for you because you already know it. But I can't stop myself from saying that the truly brave response to terrorism is to hew to our core ideals no matter what.

Pragmatics, in this light, is the politics of fear, that most powerful of political emotions. And so, we cling to the political, hoping it will keep us safe.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Go Ahead, Ask Me About My Dissertation, or, Of History, Movies, and Nuculur Bombs: An Essaylet

SO THERE I AM, GETTING PROGRESSIVELY DRUNKER in SideTrack, chatting with a cellist at the CSO who's insisting on buying me a drink even though I really don't want him to be hitting on me. And he asks me about my research.

A dangerous gambit, this dissertation-questioning is a sort of last-ditch effort to entice a grad student into bed with you. It could misfire seriously. He could actually start talking about his dissertation. He's drunk—it could get long and complicated. You might not understand. You might not care. But now you've done it, you have to feign interest and comprehension as he fires off multisyllabic words in increasing rapidity in one of the more inappropriate places and times for such a monologue: 1am at a glitzy gay bar full of A-list queers with perfect bodies and perfect wardrobes. And this guy won't shut up.

But there I am, taking the bait hooklineandsinker, not able to resist the research question in my weakened, mildly inebriated state. So I find myself, a few minutes later, rattling off the names of movies that are, according to my still mostly intuitive rubric, "contemporary American realism." They are:Syriana, Babel, Jarhead. Oh, and, some older titles, too: Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, oh, yeah, and Platoon.

And he asks a question that hadn't occurred to me. "Do you have any films that aren't war movies?" Well, yes. Of course. Like.... what? I can't think of any. (Which is dumb, because (a) Babel and Syriana aren't really war films, and (b) I certainly have films that are definitely not war films, and I am even writing about one of them at the moment—Scanner Darkly. Others are, off the top of my head: Crash, Shortcuts,Timecode, Shortbus, Blow. But for some reason, I can't seem conjure these up at this very moment.)

This is an unexpected turn of events; a serious question, one that shows he's listening and understanding. Maybe I've misread the situation. Maybe he really is interested in my research? Or maybe he's just asking a question that doesn't require understanding of my babbling about history and bodies, just some semi-serious film viewing in the last 20 years. Or maybe he's just enjoying the incongruity of having this conversation in one of the more vapid places in Chicago. Who knows, but there's something to the question. It hadn't hit me before. I know there are a bunch of war movies that fall under my rubric of "affective realism," but it crystallizes in my head at that moment: the war film has a privileged relation to realism in the American imagination.

AND THEN, 36 HOURS LATER, give or take, this article about nuclear terrorism and Sam Nunn and the Nuclear Threat Initiative appears in the New York Times Magazine. (Read it; it's great and it's scary and it's important.) The journalistic prose of course casts this as a story about Sam Nunn, sneaking ideas into the newspaper format only through the backdoor of biography. But articulated in this story is a way of thinking about the current foreign policy... uh... difficulties—and how we got into them—that brings to light some really crucial insights about history, terrorism, politics, military force,neoconservatism, and the American media.

But I don't want to get ahead of myself. This story, buried somewhere in the middle, recasts the history of how we ended up in the war in Iraq and not, say, protecting and diffusing nuclear sites and nuclear fuel.Condi Rice says that we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud. This much we all know. But Donald Rumsfeld also thinks that the wonkish reaction to that image—make it harder for terrorists, governments, everybody in the world to get their hands on fissile material—is a "wimpy" thing for the Defense Department to be doing. The United States Military should be out invading countries and not doing paperwork and guard duty at old Soviet military facilities in Kazakhstan.

Sure, there's this neocons are from Mars, policy wonks are from Venus aspect to this story. (Which unwittingly casts the bureaucrats as lovers. ::shudder::) But there's another way of thinking this, which I'm sure I'm not the first to come up with.

The neoconservative version of history and the world is something like: Wars are what make history go round. It's a version of history packed full of events, heroic deeds like Bringing Democracy To The Middle East and Projecting Freedom Into The World and Forcing Anglo-American Liberal Capitalism Down The Throats Of Third World Economies Not Prepared For Such Cutthroat Competition In The Globalized Marketplace. Actually, this last one is really interesting, not just because it's the longest. FAALCDTTOTWENPFSCCITGM fails when it does in large part because the event—the liberalization of markets in developing economies—isn't matched by a process of ongoing management in those economies.

The Neocons are in the Do Something camp of how the world works. History is a series of deeds done by greater and lesser men [sic]. This is the kind of history GWB appeals to when he says that "posterity will be the judge of that." (Except he's not nearly so articulate.) He's the decider-in-chief, the decider-doer whose tenure in the West Wing will be remembered primarily for a bunch of really fucking stupiddecidings and doings.

Of course, those of us with more historical sense in our pinky fingers than that man has anywhere in his body or cabinet knows (including Paul Krugman, whence this idea) will really understand that the failure of the Second Bush Dynasty is the evisceration of the civil service. The bureaucracy dies, and with it Ongoing Management. DonRumsfeld thinks nuclear cleanup in Russia is wimpy; and the Bush administration replaces competent career civil service employees with political hacks, who are not so much incompetent as whose competence rests on an understanding of the Event—the decision as a threshold, a moment in time, with ramifications. They are ignorant of Ongoing Maintenance, which I capitalize only for dramatic effect, which is—dare I mention His Name—what Foucault teaches us the primary task of government and its proxy institutions since the birth of liberal democracy in the 18th century—or rather, even, since Machiavelli.

THE EASIEST PLACE TO SEE this disjuncture is perhaps the invasion of Iraq. Everywhere in the media, the Bush administration is cast as rocking the invasion and blowing the occupation. Rummy and Cheneyet. al . were up for the invasion-as-event: Mission Accomplished! the banners yell in summer of 2003, coming up on four years ago. But what they failed to realize, goes the standard story in the media, is the enormouslyunsexy task of maintaining the peace, reconstructing the country, occupying its streets, protecting its museum. This unsexy business has duly turned out to be not such a wimpy affair, in part because the State Department—the foreign policy apparatus usually tasked with such ongoing maintenance—was deeply and evenvirtuosically ignored in what has become known as the runup to the war.

But what is at stake here is deeper than this. It's not just a question of making sure military operations have proper followup—although in terms of practical effects, that would be a damn good start. And here is where my overwrought introduction about war movies comes back.

Realism is, of course, the privileged aesthetic genre for representing, revisiting, reconstructing, and even living history. In contemporary America, we consume history primarily in three ways: the news; popular-press nonfiction books; and realist novels and movies. I'm going to leave the first two to the side for the moment, and wax academic about this last category.

WAR, PARTICULARLY IN CERTAIN FORMS of the American popular imagination, is about Heroic Deeds. Saving Private Ryan is the epitome of this category. It's about the Everyday Heroism of Ordinary Soldiers. Even in a more sophisticated film like Apocalypse Now, the horrors of Vietnam are cast as a series of horrific deeds, events. Where it begins to open is that the film thinks these events against the backdrop of something like a situation (think the meaning of the word as it's used either inCNN's The Situation Room or, more interestingly, as in the term "situation comedy"), a fabric of ongoing hell that prepares and conditions the actions that unfold onscreen as a series of discrete events. The hell of the war, what makes it awful in its virtuosity is not just that they play Wagner when attacking Vietnamese villages (something that apparently did indeed happen in Vietnam and isn't a conceit of Coppola), but the very imaginability of the motivations and particulars for the air raid on the village: Charlie Don't Surf and Flight of the Valkyries.

Yet what Jarhead teaches us is that war is boring, or, at least, can be. A place of ongoing maintenance, of anxiety rather than terror, or of protracted terror, not terror-as-event (9/11), but terror-as-the-fabric-of-existence. War as the historical event par excellence, is in fact not one of the punctual event, the one-off happening, the dramatic affect. Instead, it is as an ongoing process of management—management of life and death, management of anxiety and terror and other affects, management of bodies and training and psyches and lives and media and appearances and shit and sand and everything else. It is perhaps particularly apparent for the warJarhead takes on, the first gulf war, the thing that Baudrillard could tell us didn't happen. But as Zizek points out, this fabric of management is precisely the condition of globalized capitalism. For him, perversely, the very eventfulness of 9/11 was spurious. In 2007 as well as 2001 and very possibly since the End of History and the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, Nothing Happens. Only false consciousness sees events. Everything is ongoing management.

WHAT'S CONSERVATIVE ABOUT NEOCONSERVATISM is that it still thinks of history and politics as events, even when it almost understands all these as processes or situations. (I'm not sure that liberalism à la the American left is that different; it does have a greater sense of trust in the ongoing management parts of government.) The very concept of spin gets there; spin keeps an event open, to the point almost of losing its eventfulness. That is to say: insofar as the meaning, structure, and even content of an event are open to revision, reinterpretation, and even sheer invention, the event loses its punctual nature, it's no longer locatable in a point in time, but instead emerges as a new situation, something to be managed. And yet, what spin does, in its obsession with events, is keep thinking about—or, at least, figuring—history as comprising events, events which are open, certainly, but are events nonetheless.

In fact, what spin does is exploit the openness of reality in some very bizarre ways. Terrorism, in order to function, has to be diffuse in its effects—you never know when or where it's going to strike. Terror in this sense cannot but be a situation, a particular fabric of existence. It's interesting to note, following David Simpson following GiorgioAgamben following others that terror was original a policy of the state—a situation to be managed, the object of bureaucracy. The sheer horror of the holocaust lay not only in the sheer scale of it, but also in the fact of its industrialization and institutionalization. The state extermination of population requires isolating that population by bureaucratic means, constituting it as an object of government management.

In some sense, the most appropriate response to 9/11 would have been to constitute terrorism as a situation and therefore as an object of ongoing management. The outrage expressed, for example, in Fahrenheit 9/11 about the one cop taking care of the entire Oregon shore, or about the money not being spent on port security, or the profound disinterest the Bush administration has demonstrated inunsexy projects like nuclear nonproliferation and fissile material security—this outrage is symptomatic. It is, in fact, not an outrage about particular actions taken or not taken, but the failure of the current government to properly constitute "security" and "terrorism" as situations rather than events. In fact, the movement at work in the rhetorical sleight of hand "9/11 = terrorism" allows Tony Snowet. al . to treat terrorism as an event, and therefore as an object of spin—an open event, not an open situation. What 9/11 meant becomes x, whatever x needs to be in the present moment. It cannot gain too much specificity as an historical event, insofar as explaining the particularity of the situation, giving it the density and weight of a properly historical occurrence would sap its power to be deployed as a catch-all situation. The event 9/11 lends a particulartemporality and urgency to the situation of terrorism.

As event, 9/11 calls for eventful responses, particularly in the registers of justice and vengeance. Terrorism as a situation, however, calls for the kind of quiet management of effective government bureaucracy. (The kind the British excel at.) And the world-historical clash of civilizations? It occurs in a wholly different register than the Bush administration can comprehend. LouisAlthusser was probably not the first to point out that historical formations have both conditions of production and conditions of reproduction. That is to say, once emergent, a situation requires forces to keep it around. Conditions of production of terrorism, 9/11-style: Madrassas and people willing to die for a certain version of jihad. Places where training can occur and radical ideologies exploited and intensified. Religious structures which Conditions of reproduction? Structural inequalities in Middle Eastern countries exacerbated by global thirst for fossil fuels, for one. Resentment over Western influences in the region. Unfathomably deep alienation on the part of nontrivial numbers of Muslim men. (Relatively) open societies in the West. The list goes on. Responses to terrorism must address both levels. The thought that terrorism can be in any way addressed by an intervention like the invasion of Iraq epically misconstrues what can and cannot be done about terrorism.

THE TEMPORALITY OF THE NEWS MEDIA is such that these ongoing processes of management are all but unrepresentable. Bush admin wonks are fond of pointing out that we don't see what doesn't happen—rightly so. (Although they certainly do love parading their "successes" as if to prove to us that, yes, they're doing something.)Ongoingness isn't news. It's something rather wholly different—it becomes the status quo against which "news" emerges, the fabric of situations. News is by definition made of events. Furthermore, the events are treated as discreet units, with the connections between themunderarticulated or not spoken at all. The situations from which these events emerge might be seen in certain kinds of investigative reporting, the kind that most journalists probably would love to engage in, but only very few get to practice—precisely because these patterns are patterns over time,synchronic and sometimes nearly invisible. Not, as news must mostly be, punctual and spectacular. It's not that the news as such is incapable of representing situations, but that ongoing management is so often drowned out by the noisiness of events—Anna Nicole's death, an astronaut in diapers (an unremarkable thought at some point in time in the space program, I'm sure), Terri Schaivo's feeding tube removed, the fall of the Berlin Wall.

GWB insists that history will judge him differently from the news media, and that is surely true. Spin is so powerful not just because it keeps events open; the news media, in its structural bias towards the event, is also susceptible to spin. Spin is the art of the management of the event as it emerges in the media. And insofar as the news is a primary point of America's contact with history, and insofar as it takes the event as its basic object, it is susceptible to spin. Furthermore, it has a structural bias against the ongoing. History, as a series of ongoing processes, and government, as a collection of institutions and quasi-institutions engaged in processes of ongoing management, exist largely in a differenttemporality than the news media's punctual eventfulness.

The Bush administration does get one thing right: it manages events as situations in spin; the news media becomes, for the various public relation apparatuses of government, an object of ongoingmanagement . It seems strange, though, that spin becomes the ongoing management—and ultimately, production—of events. In spin, the multipletemporalities of government, history, the news media, and the event come together in an uneasy "art," which nobody likes. Spin is not-quite-lying, and it is, I think, the particular ways spin keeps events open (to interpretation, to revision, to outright invention) whilereifying them as events—singular, unrepeatable, punctual—that is at the root of this discomfort.

THIS IS WHERE THE AESTHETIC TEXTS get it right over the news. Jarhead posits war as ongoing, not eventful. The event of the film never actually happens. People are always somehow caught in the middle of things, always struggling to cope with a situation. Experientially, this situation has no beginning or end, but merely a middle. 9/11 immediately changed history. By this I mean the obvious, hackneyed meaning. But also: it immediately reconstrued, revised, reinvented a pattern in the past that previously hadn't been there. The 1993 bombing snaps into a different kind of focus—as part of a pattern, no longer a forgettable aberration. Terrorism became the new situation, and we found ourselves caught up in it, already in the middle. Bush & Co. cast this as an event; and in so doing fucked us up and fucked us over. Event after event—accomplished missions, a botched occupation, a series of operations with catchy names, a troop surge—misapprehend the nature of terrorism, and the ways government knows how to respond to it.

Brian Massumi once gave a talk here at the U of C which read Donald Rumsfeld's by now famous epistemological manifesto as radically pragmatist; Rummy starts to appear as a disciple of Deleuze and Guattari. In this light, his weird, comic reading gains a new importance, though at the time it felt utterly masturbatory. It begs the question: can an institution be Deleuzian? The Bush administration needs to put down its copy of A Thousand Plateaus, and start polishing up their Foucault.