Said Truth unto the faint and weakened knight:
Yon mighty storm from which you dared to flee
That crackles with the bolts of Zeus so bright
With howling winds and torrents in its sea.
For here it comes to offer no man his respite
Why then do you not stand and fight for me?
As always when I should be hard at work, I plan on running a tangent on the reading material used for the essay. In my class on postmodern international relations theory, the question that has been nagging me and unsettling my idealist inner self is one concerning resistance. According to pomo theory, the sovereignty of state is autoimmune. What this means is that in order for a state to exercise the law, it must derive its power from outside the law. For example, Derrida uses the example of the Founding Fathers and the US Constitution. They signed a declaration (legally binding) on a people that did not yet exist. In other words, the founding moment is empty of its democratic ideal precisely because it was founded on authoritarian means (placing a law on citizens not yet existing). This idea follows Foucault’s conception that sovereignty is necessarily oppressive (the double bind) and Arendt who says that it is within the state’s power to dictate who has citizenship or who does not (*cough* Sarkozy and the Roma)
The problem with this is if state sovereignty is by definition oppression of the excluded and necessarily creates a “camp” as Agamben’s state of exception, what resistance is left? What could the bare political life of Jewish prisoners in Nazi concentration camps have done to resist their condition? What can the Roma do against European policies depriving them of citizenship? What would the Tamil refugees have done if Canadian immigration authorities had decided not to process their refugee status? What about the prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, who is held in an American military space not declared to be American soil?
These spaces demonstrate disturbingly that without a passport, you have no human rights. The options of resistance proposed in the class were grim, since in such situations, all you have left is your physical self, now politicized in its state of exception. Stories of people sewing their lips and eyes shut, people burning off their fingerprints, and other forms of bodily mutilation. To me, such options appear extremely drastic and it strikes me that there is a wide gap in application between foreign relations and international ethics. It troubles me, but there must be a form of resistance. I agree with Foucault that we have a duty to resist power structures wherever they exist and I like Said’s idea that pointing out this grave issue is a start to attacking the problem, but what else? Would an academic revolution necessarily entail a revolution in the international structure towards a more ethical mindset in terms of human rights, and not merely the rights of the citizen? I would like to think so…
No to Biopolitical Tattooing – By Giorgio Agamben, Le Monde (English Translation)
Non au tatouage biopolitique – par Giorgio Agamben, Le Monde (Original)
“[We must] explore an alternative in which people strive to interrogate the exclusions built into our own identity…For identities that must define what deviates from them as intrinsically evil (or one of its modern surrogates) in order to establish their own self-certainty are here defined as paradigm instances to counter and contest”.
-William Connolly, “Introduction: The Problem of Evil”, Identity/Difference
Maybe in another life…we found a way to be together. – N.G.
Having been the recipient and donor of this practice lately (as well as witnessed such patterns among others recently), second chances can be viewed as an interesting anomaly in human interaction, if human behaviour is indeed supposed to be self-interested. It’s true that we never forget the deepest injuries done to us, but the fact remains that without forgiveness, life would be a lot more impractical due to an immense lack of cooperation and common sense. The presence of some sort of punishment or understanding of the consequences of a repetition of the injurious action would also serve to evade blindness and stupidity in giving out second chances to the less deserving.
It’s alarming but Jacques Derrida doesn’t believe that true forgiveness exists because it will always be conditional, that it is never finished or concluded. It is a much a power construct as any other pure ideal championed by blind rationalists and bandied about by charlatans. Derrida explicitly argues that when we know anything of the other, or even understand their motivation in however minimal a way, this absolute forgiveness can no longer take place. In other words, there is a necessary gap in knowledge between the act perceived by the victim and the guilty, the act itself as revealed, and the act of forgiveness, which may entail a memory wipe in terms of overlooking the injurious action.
I can see how Derrida is right concerning the conditionality of forgiveness, but its imperfect conditionality should not mean a discontinuation of the practice of forgiving someone in order to recommence a process of rebuilding trust. Although Derrida may imply that we should dispense with all oppressive constructs of guilt that we are burdened by in order to confront the aporia in forgiveness, it would be even more inhuman to dispense with the mechanism of guilt altogether. Indeed forgiveness can be seen as a form of resistance to the power constructs of guilt and override the meanness and narrow-mindedness of our identities trapped by societal norms and genetic behavioural inheritances.
In short, the choice between forgiveness and utter alienation is no choice at all for those of us with human hearts. Unfortunately, I have had to resort to alienating my fellow man on occasion, though a better hell could not be found than in the experience of utter alienation oneself.
My colleagues have all been caught up in the public relations and diplomatic chaos that Wikileaks has wrecked for multiple governments around the world, especially for the United States governments. Unfortunately, for most of us and other academics, the so-called “leaks” by the website created by Julian Assange come as no surprise to those who bother to keep up with the news and critically assess what comes out of the “black box” that is foreign policy for many nations like China and the US.
Of course, this site contributes to positive mechanism of cyberanarchy by making governments transparent and thus allowing the masses to have access to proof that their government lacks accountability. Wikileaks would add a new dimension to game theory in terms of information dissemination to the public, which would spark democratic pressure on existing governments in terms of their foreign policies. The potential good is that the general public will force their government to smarten up their moral behaviour towards other countries and encourage international cooperation over conflict, although granted the general public must be informed democrats to do so. It is perhaps important to note that Wikileaks does not expose anything that the powerful countries already did not know, due to their intelligence agencies.
The more prominent worry implicated by these “leaks” is undermining the mien and utility of diplomacy (besides jeopardizing my future career aims). In negotiations (especially surrounding warfare), the secretiveness of officials trying to discuss peace and less belligerent measures than warfare is undermined by sites like Wikileaks. To best understand this, consider Plato’s “noble lie” where such white lies protect the “good life” of the people. Such leaks make governments more distrustful of each other, instead of fostering an international arena striving towards common governance and cooperation on issues like (human) security, human rights, the environment, etc.
However, it is a far stretch to label the releases of Wikileaks as cyberterrorism. The Internet has often lacked epistemological certitude in terms of the validity and verity of information put on such sites as Youtube, Wikipedia, etc. I’m not saying that we should underestimate the potential of Wikileaks to bring down whole governments, but at the same time, an ethical assessment of the purpose and practice of this site is certainly in order.