Cap and gown, helmet and uniform

Anthropologist David Price contributes an article (subscriber-only link, sorry) to the latest issue of Counterpunch.  Under the title “Resistance’s Half-Life: Militarization and the Growing Academic Silence,” Professor Price contrasts the widespread refusal of American anthropologists to join military-sponsored research projects during the 1960s with the far more compliant attitude of their counterparts today.  Professor Price’s narrative begins in 1965, when sociologist Johan Galtung, then director of  the Institute of Peace Research in Oslo, publicized Project Camelot, a plan under which social scientists would work under the direction of US military and intelligence officials to produce a study of insurgent movements and counterinsurgent operations in Latin America and elsewhere.  In response to Professor Galtung’s efforts, both Latin American public opinion and US academic associations demanded, and received, official assurances from the Johnson administration that Project Camelot would be canceled and that the warmaking organs of the Washington regime would not use scholarly research as a pretext for activities “which in the judgment of the Secretary of State would adversely affect United States foreign relations.”

Later attempts by the military and intelligence agencies to press social science into the service of covert operations met with equally strong resistance.  Professor Price illustrates the resistance defense contractors were likely to encounter from social scientists with a series of highly amusing quotations from an exchange between sociologist Pierre van den Berghe and the late Hans Weigert, in which Professor van den Berghe patiently explains why he would regard it as unethical for a scholar to conduct intelligence work for the United States in the Congolese Republic, while Weigert responds with name-calling.

Professor Price reports:

Because I have written about the militarization of anthropology since the mid-1990s, after the post-9/11 recruitment renaissance began, I often received copies of recruitment emails forwarded to me along with the angry replies that scholars had sent to the unwanted solicitors. I have a file of these forwarded angry replies from 2004-2008, when these feelers from the military and contractors were seen by many as shocking. Sometimes a single recruitment emailing would be forwarded to me by a dozen concerned scholars. These were then new, previously unthinkable proposals, shocking that they were made so openly and broadly circulated. In many cases, the approached anthropologists vented spleen in ways reminiscent to Van den Berghe’s above response, giving history and ethics lessons to would-be recruiters – who I’m sure generally did not read past the first few lines of anger and deleted the replies, or perhaps deleted the sender from an e-list. Certainly no minds were changed from these responses, but the reaction measured the outrage many anthropologists felt over these disciplinary border intrusions. In some instances it is possible to deduce having obviously taken the contract.

In the last four years, these messages have ceased to come Professor Price’s way.  He draws an ominous conclusion from this silence.  US society has become thoroughly militarized; “there has been a shift in the acceptance that these military and intelligence intrusions into our daily lives are now a normal feature of our world. These military advances into academia have become regular features of our social fabric. These are the social facts of a militarized society.”  Perhaps it no longer occurs to scholars that they have an obligation to something other than the dictates of the national security apparatus.

Professor Price quotes a phrase coined by anthropologist Catherine Lutz: “the military normal.”  Professor Price describes the military normal as “the ubiquitous spread of the military into all aspects of American daily life and consciousness, advancing at such a rate that we internalize the militarization of everything from police departments, hiring practices, educational processes, discussions of healthcare, workplace regimentations, to an extent where the militarization of everything becomes a normal part of our cultural fabric in ways we hardly notice anymore.”  Professor Lutz herself described it in these terms in the abstract of the paper where she introduced the phrase:

Prevailing mainstream media discussions of the counterinsurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have a deeply restricted kind of range, focusing on how the wars are being .fought, or should be fought – with what tactics, for how long, and with what level of “success.” The pundits, with the populace in tow, debate whether the military is stretched too thin, well-enough resourced or not, or in need of tens of thousands more troops to do the job. They do not ask more fundamental questions about the US military, history’s most powerful and most globally expansive in its positioning. This talk considers the emergence of what can be called the military normal in World War II and its wake, the contemporary political economy of the military, as well as the cultural understandings that currently legitimate it.

Professor Price complains of a growing silence that has resulted from the rise of “the military normal.”  Both of these descriptions make it clear that the silence is a natural consequence of this process.  The heart of the process itself is the reverse of silence.  The military and the intelligence agencies can carry on their operations and the moneyed elite that controls the US political system can reap profits from those operations untroubled by public opposition even if scholars speak out against them, if the public is not in the habit of listening to critical voices.  Silence is what we experience when we listen in quietness; what our warlords wish on us is not quietness, but noise, constant, deafening noise, noise sufficient to knock all impertinent questions and inconvenient qualms out of our heads.  Cable television, talk radio, the internet, and other outlets of prefabricated opinion produce a great deal of noise, and often suffice to drown out the unfamiliar voices that present us with complex, closely reasoned, ethically challenging arguments.

Surely, however, that sort of noise is not adequate by itself to drive scholars to abandon ethical standards based on ideals of disinterested inquiry and service to a truth that exists independently of national allegiance or corporate profit  and take up positions as functionaries of a warmaking regime.  A different kind of noise is necessary to bury those ideals so deeply that they no longer trouble the mind of the potential recruit.  Professor Price touches on this kind of noise at the end of his article.  Listing the developments that have discouraged scholars from holding to principles that would lead them to refuse war contacts and speak out against them, he includes “three decades of neoliberal programs’ impacts on student loan debt, campus austerity programs, and new promises of military funding.”  Scholars working in American universities from the 1960s through the 1990s may have had many realistic possibilities of making a living.  A scholar who would not subject his or her research project to the warmaking ambitions of the power elite might in those days have been confident that other, more peaceful opportunities would present themselves.

Today, the noise that rings through the halls of the American academy is the noise of desperation.  Every year, graduate schools produce more Ph. D.s; virtually every year, universities hire fewer faculty members.  The newly minted doctors of philosophy generally enter the glutted labor market saddled with tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt.  Therefore, the alternative facing an academic today is rarely between ethically acceptable and ethically unacceptable work.  Rather, the academic must choose, on the one hand, to making himself or herself agreeable to whoever might be in a position to grant the favor of a career, or, on the the other hand, to vanish from the academic world and sink into a life of poverty.   When noise like that is battering away at one’s mind, it can be difficult indeed to hear the voice of conscience.

Quantitative vs. Qualitative

My wife is a sociologist whose main interests are in qualitative research.  Unlike quantitative researchers, who collect a limited number of facts about each of a large number of people and use statistical methods to look for patterns in those collections, qualitative researchers collect a large amount of information about each of a relatively small number of people in order to discern just how those people go about making their decisions.  Qualitative and quantitative research are not schools of thought which compete with each other, but methods which depend on each other to be made useful.  While it is not possible for qualitative researchers to formulate general laws of behavior without transforming their conclusions into hypotheses to be tested by quantitative methods, neither is it possible for quantitative researchers to apply general laws of behavior to any case in the real world without conducting qualitative studies in which they ask people what’s on their minds.

I bring this up because of an item in the 13 December issue of The Nation.  In a review of some books about the history of New York city politics, Samuel Zipp writes of the administration of Mayor John Vliet Lindsay (1966-1973):

Lindsay was what [author Joe] Flood calls a “moralistic crusader.”  He hoped to unseat the old Tammany political machine, which had kept Democrats in power with a finely calibrated exchange of favors and services for votes greased by pervasive graft, and which rewarded loyal white ethnics with patronage while paying lip service to the concerns of the low-income migrants arriving in ever greater numbers from the black American South and Puerto Rico.  At the same time, Lindsay promised to master the chaos of the city by applying the technological marvels of computerization to city service delivery.  Systems analysis, game theory, computer modeling: these RAND innovations in information management promised to give Lindsay’s administration a way to turn the constant stream of information coursing through city agencies into “easily defined variables.”  Perhaps most important, though, was Lindsay’s sense that RAND would give him an advantage over the Tammany machine.  Flood ingeniously describes Tammany as an “information-gathering apparatus.”  As much pragmatic “intelligence network” as craven patronage machine, the system ran on stories collected on the street and sent up the ladder from the ward boss to the Democratic Party clubhouse to City Hall.  Reformers had often struggled to deliver on their promises if good government because they lacked the machine’s intelligence network.  Lindsay counted on RAND to supply an equivalent information system that would shift the power base “from using narrative to using numbers.”  With total information awareness, the city could be turned “into an assemblage of numbers,” a series of inputs and outputs that would easily surpass Tammany in the efficiency department.

As a liberal Republican reformer, Lindsay lacked the connections and manpower to govern the city “using narrative.”  What he found in his two terms in Gracie Mansion, however, was that he did not command even the political resources necessary to collect useful numbers.  Affluent New Yorkers blocked any study that might suggest that their neighborhoods could do with fewer city services, while longtime municipal employees refused to perform the analyses Lindsay wanted.  For example, when the fire department received stopwatches and supervisors were told to use them to produce reports on their reaction times, what fire battalion chiefs in fact reported was an epidemic level of stopwatches crushed as firetrucks accidentally drove over them.

I wonder if New York mightn’t have done better had reformers taken a different approach.  For over a hundred years, from the days when municipal reformer Theodore Roosevelt Senior left the Democratic Party in the 1850s until the fiscal crisis that overwhelmed the city when John Lindsay’s successor Abraham Beame was mayor in 1975, New Yorkers campaigned for good government by campaigning against Tammany Hall.  The goal of all these reformers seems to have been a rational, transparent government.  Perhaps the better way to create this rationality would have been for an enlightened set of leaders to rise to power within Tammany Hall.  One might imagine them formalizing the intelligence network using the tested methods of quantitative research.  Once that was done, we could imagine the machine itself becoming rational and transparent.  Perhaps a new system would have emerged in which Tammany’s long-established dominance in municipal policy and staffing would have been officially acknowledged, and the formal distinction between the machine and the city government would have been erased.

“The economic argument”

Last week there was an xkcd strip that bothered me for three reasons.  Here’s the strip:

Two of the three things that bothered me about it were raised in this comment in the forum, more forcefully than I likely would have done.  So I’ll take the liberty of quoting “woodrobin”:

1. Dowsing is used by oil prospectors, as well as people looking for places to dig water wells. Less often these days, but it’s still used. Does that mean it works? No. Does people not using it mean it doesn’t work? No. Very few people use horses to pull plows, except the Amish and people in developing countries. Does that mean that horses can’t pull plows?

2. Health care cost reduction. That was funnier, taken seriously, than the original joke. When was the last time you ran into a doctor, hospital or insurance company that was interested in cost reduction through treatment? Any treatment, scientific or otherwise? Doctors and hospitals want to make money, and insurance companies have figured out it’s easier to save money by denying coverage for treatment, either in whole by canceling coverage, or in part by excluding anything “experimental” or “unproven.” In other words, it’s cheaper to exclude entire types of health care than to consider or cover them, whether or not they’re quackery notwithstanding.

“woodrobin” goes on to make two more points, about irrational practices that are in fact quite common in financial planning and military operations.

I would add one thing to woodrobin’s point 1, that people who defend dowsing usually claim only that it is a good way of finding water that is near the surface.  Most oil prospecting these days is concerned with deposits that are deep underground, so no method of shallow surveying is going to “make a killing” for anyone in that area.

My third objection hinges on the word “eventually” in the caption.  In the long run, the caption seems to say, market competition tends to eliminate irrational practices.  That may well be true.  However, that long run can be very long indeed, and in the interval those irrational practices can be reinforced by any of a wide variety of social forces.

Moreover, the rationality that competitive markets enforce is not the rationality Plato talked about in The Republic, not a single process that must culminate in a vision of unmixed truth and untainted justice.  Rather, it is the rationality Max Weber had in mind when he said that modern society traps its members in an “iron cage of rationality.”  Economic agents respond to the incentives of the market and develop ever more efficient ways of meeting the demands of other economic agents who have purchasing power.  Whether those demands accord with the sort of truth and justice Plato hoped to discover has nothing to do with it.  The mouseover text on this strip reads “Not to be confused with ‘selling this stuff to OTHER people who think it works,’ which corporate accountants and actuaries have zero problems with.”  The distinction between making a killing selling financial advice based on astrology to suckers who think astrology works and making a killing selling financial advice based on astrology because astrology really works may have made perfect sense to Plato, but it seems awfully tenuous from the viewpoint of someone like Weber.


Four bureaucracies

I’ve always been interested in the power of bureaucracy.  The word “bureaucracy” is often used to mean an inefficient organization, but if that’s all bureaucracy really was it would never have become the most pervasive form of social organization in the modern world.  In fact, bureaucracies are the most efficient of organizations.  We become frustrated with them not because they can do nothing right, but because they often seem to do everything except what we need. 

The current issue of The Nation got me thinking about four major bureaucracies in particular: the regime of Nazi Germany; the state of Israel; the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church; and the criminal justice system in the USA.   

One of the writers whose works have done the most to inform my interest in bureaucracy was Raul Hilberg, the historian of the Holocaust.  An essay about Hilberg in the current issue of The Nation quotes a key sentence from Hilberg’s 1961 book The Destruction of the European Jews: “The destruction of the Jews was an administrative process, and the annihilation of Jewry required the implementation of systematic administrative measures in successive steps.”  Hilberg’s masterwork lays out the operation of this process according to the drastically simplified rationality that makes an impersonal bureaucracy so powerful a form of organization. 

The essayist comments on the chapter of The Destruction of the European Jews that Hilberg devotes to an absurdly harsh diatribe against the Judenräte, the Jewish councils that tried to develop a policy of accommodation with the Nazis.  Keeping in mind that much of the power of the Nazi regime came from the smooth functioning of its bureaucratic apparatus, we can see why the Judenräte were not able to be very helpful to their coreligionists.  The informal, traditional, neighborhood-based influence of the Judenräte was no match for the modern bureaucratic state. 

Being unfair to the Jews of Holocaust-era Europe is not a way to win friends; one of the reasons the essay is titled “A Conscious Pariah” is the criticism his chapter on the Judenräte brought Hilberg.   Something else hat might have made Hilberg a pariah among the left-wingers who write for The Nation was his outspoken Zionism.  The Nation is sometimes described as anti-Israel; I don’t think that’s a fair characterization, but certainly the word “Zionist” does not often appear there as a term of praise.  The magazine is largely written by left-wing Jews from New York, and its coverage of Israel/Palestine is mostly based on reports from left-wing Jews in Tel Aviv.  So its views tend to reflect the Meretz/Peace Now line, and to dismiss arguments as to whether it was a good idea to found Israel as distractions from the peace process.  Someone of Hilberg’s orientation would almost have to be a Zionist, though.  If the only force that can resist a modern bureaucratic state is another modern bureaucratic state, then we not only have to condemn the Judenräte of the 1930s and 1940s as  worse than useless to the Jews targeted by the Third Reich’s policy of extermination, but we must also say that the only thing that could have helped them was a modern bureaucratic state with their interests at heart. 

In the same issue, Katha Pollitt voices her exasperation that the Roman Catholic Church is still treated as a source of moral authority despite the endless cascade of scandals involving bishops who have sheltered pedophile priests from exposure.  Pollitt responds to defensive Catholics who claim that the hierarchy of their church is being singled out by listing other individuals and groups that have been accused of sexually abusing children.  She goes on to say that there is a difference between the Roman church and these others:

The difference is, when other professionals who work with children are caught out, justice takes its course. People are fired. Licenses are lost. Reputations are ruined. Sometimes jail is involved. No human institution is perfect, and it would be foolish to suggest that incidents are always investigated and that abusers who don’t happen to be priests are never protected by colleagues or superiors. Still, it’s probably safe to say that if a principal was accused of overlooking a child molester in his classrooms or recycling him to other schools, nobody would compare his suffering to Christ’s.


Can the USA become a normal country again?


He wanted to to return to normalcy

I posted a “Periodicals Note” about The American Conservative‘s March issue a few weeks ago, then realized I’d never put one up for the February issue.  That’s a shame, because there was a lot of great stuff in it. 

I loved this line, a quote from Julian Sanchez of the libertarian Cato Institute: “Thus far, the approved conservative position appears to have been that Barack Obama is some kind of ruthless Stalinist with a secret plan to turn the United States into a massive gulag—but under no circumstances should there be any additional checks on his administration’s domestic spying powers.”

Ted Galen Carpenter sums up The American Conservative‘s whole worldview with the opening paragraphs of his piece titled “New War Order.”   So I’ll quote them in extenso:

For a fleeting moment 20 years ago, the United States had the chance to become a normal nation again. From World War II through the collapse of European communism in 1989, America had been in a state of perpetual war, hot or cold. But with the fall of the Berlin Wall, all of that could have changed. There were no more monsters to destroy, no Nazi war machine or global communist conspiracy. For the first time in half a century, the industrialized world was at peace.

Then in December 1989, America went to war again—this time not against Hitler or Moscow’s proxies but with Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. Tensions between George H.W. Bush’s administration and Noriega’s government had been mounting for some time and climaxed when a scuffle with Panamanian troops left an American military officer dead. On Dec. 20, U.S. forces moved to oust and arrest Noriega. Operation Just Cause, as the invasion was called, came less than a month after the Berlin Wall fell, and it set America on a renewed path of intervention. The prospect of reducing American military involvement in other nations’ affairs slipped away, thanks to the precedent set in Panama.

How real was the opportunity to change American foreign policy at that point? Real enough to worry the political class. Wyoming Sen. Malcolm Wallop lamented in 1989 that there was growing pressure to cut the military budget and that Congress was being overwhelmed by a “1935-style isolationism.” But the invasion of Panama signaled that Washington was not going to pursue even a slightly more restrained foreign policy.

That the U.S. would topple the government of a neighbor to the south was hardly unprecedented, of course. The United States had invaded small Caribbean and Central American countries on numerous occasions throughout the 20th century. Indeed, before the onset of Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy in the 1930s, Washington routinely overthrew regimes it disliked.

During the Cold War, however, such operations always had a connection to the struggle to keep Soviet influence out of the Western Hemisphere. The CIA-orchestrated coup in Guatemala in 1954 and the military occupations of the Dominican Republic in 1965 and Grenada in 1983 all matched that description. Whatever other motives may have been involved, the Cold War provided the indispensable justification for intervention. And for all the rhetoric about democracy and human rights that U.S. presidents employed during the struggle against communism, there was no indication that Washington would later revert to the practice of coercing Latin American countries merely, in Woodrow Wilson’s infamous words, to teach those societies “to elect good men.” Thus the invasion of Panama seemed a noticeable departure. Odious though he may have been, Noriega was never a Soviet stooge.


It’s a baby.

Its name is “Pop.”

Shoot-‘Em-Up Video Games Aren’t Sadistic Enough to Entertain Little Boys?

How about Rape-the-Women games for the future psychopaths?