Category Archives: Current Events

For Accuracy, Consequences, and Truth. A Personal Manifesto

The Trump Administration’s proclamation of “alternative facts” to suit the arguments they wish to make, and the branding of journalistic outlets that demonstrate the inaccuracy of the President’s statements as “FAKE NEWS!!!” have prompted me to do something I am not normally inclined to do: to actively campaign for the value and integrity of a broadly scientific approach as an important input to public deliberation. It’s not at all that I needed to be convinced of the value of such an approach; rather, it’s that I was somewhat blissfully unaware of the extent to which the current wave of populist politics was almost completely untroubled by notions of factuality. Sure, I had known that there was a hard core of anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism that felt that scientific results and verifiable pieces of information were matters of opinion or belief — anti-vaxxers, climate change deniers, people who worried about the U.N.’s supposed fleet of black helicopters that were waiting to swoop in and destroy national sovereignty — but I guess I always believed that such a minority would be held in check by the good sense of the rest of the electorate, even those with whose policy positions I disagreed. Apparently not. Apparently significant numbers of people in the U.S. were willing to vote for a demonstrated purveyor of convenient falsehoods — convenient in the sense that they support his, and their, preferred positions on a whole slew of issues. Welcome to the post-truth era.

Or: welcome to an era in which truth, and the earnest seeking after truth, is under assault, and under assault not for anything like defensible reasons. Instead, the political order of the day seems to be to make up whatever claims support one’s conclusions and then pass them off as “facts.” In my view what has changed is not politicians; politics was never about seeking truth, and frankly, shouldn’t be about truth but should instead be about making compromises and balancing priorities in order to make our common lives together work as well as they can. Believing that you and you alone have the truth makes you a poor politician, because you can’t compromise, and if you had the truth, why would you even want to? Politics is messy and imperfect, so we should never expect it to conform to ideal standards for the production of factual knowledge. Indeed, I suspect that most politicians would lie about and misrepresent situations as much as they could get away with doing so in pursuit of their agendas, because the central virtue in politics is effectiveness rather than integrity — and in the first instance that means effectiveness and gaining and retaining political power and influence.

All of which means that if we the people want our elected officials to make policy that engages facts instead of just making stuff up, we cannot rely on politicians or on the political process to defend that stance. We have to instead actively advocate and diligently defend the proper role of facts and factual explanations in relation to political contestation. Continue reading

What Happens When the Hegemon Abdicates?

There’s a lot of speculation about what the incoming Trump administration will or won’t do in the realm of international relations and foreign policy. My friend Steve Saideman had an interesting piece on his blog recently suggesting – as most experts in the field are at this point – that if trajectories are left unaltered, things won’t go well.

Part of the discussion of any new Presidency is, of course, an analysis of the broader situation it finds itself in. While the newspapers are focused on the micro, we should remind ourselves as IR scholars that our work ranges from micro to macro levels, and that we should probably step back to look at the bigger picture. Structural realists have argued that individual leaders don’t matter very much; this is a good opportunity to test that hypothesis. So what kind of world is President Trump faced with?
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The State of Relations International – Changes Afoot!

Dear Readers,

I have been a terrible lead blogger over the last year. Terrible. I’d understand it if you didn’t read this post because you’ve forgotten Relations International except for the great posts that Brandon and Patrick have made in my absence. I’m hoping, though, now that you’re reading this post, you’ll keep reading, because 2017 will be a better year for Relations International than 2016 was. Here are some reasons why, in order of importance:

  1. The addition of Patrick Thaddeus Jackson as a permanent member of Relations International. Patrick and I have been blogging together for a long time, and Patrick is not only a brilliant scholar and an interesting person to talk to and hear from, but his blog posts have a great and unique voice on global politics, popular culture, professional development, and all things worth reading. If you haven’t read is recent posts on Marillion (and progressive rock more generally) and the passing of John Shotter, you should – both are creative, interesting, heart-felt, and well worth the read. Relations International is lucky to have Patrick with us, and looking forward to his contributions! He will definitely be an asset.
  2. My father won’t die this year. For those of you who don’t know, I had spent most of the last couple of years living with and taking care of my ailing father. It had become my normal, and I was writing from, blogging from, and even teaching from his house and his location. Both the last few months of his life in the Spring and the familial circumstances that surrounded his passing made it impossible for me not only to do this but really to do any work at all except around the margins. I miss my father every day, and will always – but am truly humbled by how much a confluence of circumstances around that disrupted my professional life. Relations International, which I have almost completely neglected for most of this year, has been one of the biggest casualties. But its been dormant, not dead – and almost every conference I go to, someone tells me something that they like about the posts here. So that makes it worth pursuing, now that I can. Expect a new set of posts from me, including but not limited to another series of posts, adding to series on book publishing, on professional development the hard way, and on feminist IR 101. This series will be called “TIFU” (inspired by the subreddit of the same name), and will talk about the good reasons for discussing and thinking about particular academic failures, both in terms of the quality (or correctness) of scholarship and in terms of professional development.
  3. Donald Trump won’t get elected in 2017. Ok, this one is mostly tongue-in-cheek, because he will most likely become president in 2017, and that is actually much worse than him getting elected. But, actually, I had trouble finding something to say about it, and about politics when it was happening. Unlike many others, I knew it was going to happen. And I couldn’t talk about it then. I don’t know if it was a lucky guess or my finger on the pulse of American politics; but since I’m writing this, I’m going with the latter. But even I was surprised by the sudden change in everyday micropolitics that came with it – the different ways that it felt to interact with local law enforcement, local politics, etc. That pulse that I (think I had) picked up on subtly in the undertones became acceptable, ok, everyday in a very visceral way that felt very dangerous to many of the people I know and love (but discernibly not to me) and I didn’t (and still don’t) have something to say about that. But more than a month later, I feel like maybe I can talk about other stuff. Maybe. 🙂

In all seriousness, to our faithful readers who have put up with our sporadic nature, we’re going to do better. To those who could be tempted to return, give Relations International another shot. To those who are new here, most of our posts don’t talk about death or fascism. And when they do, they’re interesting. Give us a try and see how it goes!

The Authoritarian Archipelago

This is a guest post by Daniel Bertrand Monk, who is the George R. and Myra T. Cooley Chair in Peace and Conflict Studies at Colgate University, where he is a professor of Geography and Middle East Studies.  His most recent volume is The Post-Conflict Environment (Jacob Mundy co-editor)

“I don’t want knowledge. I want certainty.”  Bowie. Law (Earthlings on Fire)

Any serious effort to make sense of America’s post-election sense-making would have to begin with the observation that our forensics reveal more about a collective experience of dislocation than much else. Whether they suggest that what “we’ve been here before” or imply the inverse  –that the situation is unprecedented because it recalls a Fascist past elsewhere– efforts to tease a truth out of the turnout in rust belt Michigan or suburban Pennsylvania tacitly assume that we must look to what has already happened in order to predict what is coming.  As a genre, the American postmortem persistently resorts to the poverty of a shabby historicism.

Ransacking the uniqueness of the American past or the comparative universality of other people’s history, Americans observers of the present unwittingly advance Amor Fati, a loving identification with their own fate. In the exceptionalist version of this historicism, past electoral precedents confirm that Americans are still arguing with one another within endoxic parameters – that is, within the extremes of electoral politics.  The present, they reassure us, is still more like Chicago in 1968 than Nuremberg in 1935.  In the comparative version of the same historicism, the inverse is true:  a much discussed “normalization” of the Trump-Bannon present is compared with the disastrous excuses made after the election of Hitler to the effect that he could be “boxed in.”  According to this version of events, the lessons of Germany’s 1935 Nuremberg Laws confer up on Americans an obligation to volunteer and register as Muslims in the same way that Danes allegedly donned yellow stars in the defense of Jews in occupied Europe. In both instances, resignation prevails, and to some extent presents itself as the inverse.  Instead of sober political assessment, the given historical comparisons occasion a kind of catharsis in subjection. We are called to “action for the sake of inaction,” as an astute of observer of political resignation once put it.

There is no easy way to explain that a routinized and practiced form of historical tautology may help kill this republic.  But, there is every indication that an impoverished imagination may rely on its knowledge of political history to disavow any knowledge of a new political geography. The more they look to their own repertoire of historical precedents, the less likely it is that Americans will be able to know if or when they’ve become part of something qualitatively new:  an archipelago of states that are formally democratic and illiberally popular at the same time.  These states are sometimes called “hybrid regimes,” “defective democracies,” or “electoral authoritarianisms.”   It matters, because when you live in the archipelago no one chooses to let you know whether you’re back in Chicago 1968 or in Nuremberg 1935. Contemporary authoritarianism thrives on uncertainty about whether it is taking place to begin with. (MTV gets this, even if David Brooks and the New York Times are still waiting for something like the Reichstag fire to let them know what’s what).  The archipelago’s denizens inhabit a political present and a geographic extent in which states are democracies by reputation, and the institutional features of liberal republics survive in them because they sometimes make no difference.  In the authoritarian archipelago, there is little certainty whether one is –or isn’t– living in a dictatorial state of exception, and for that reason a state of exception is sometimes maintained by a populace that nurtures it as a “public secret” so it can advance its own illiberal ambitions.

Those who have lived through this situation and know it well are desperately trying to explain that the kind of dislocation Americans are now experiencing is itself indicative of life under this new kind of autocracy, or soft authoritarianism. The fact that you can’t always really know if you’re living in the chain of autocracies, its refugees report, is a primary feature of life in the growing archipelago of “illiberal populist movements” that may now include the U.S.

Many American interpreters of these cautions are furiously working to misinterpret them.  In the U.S, the idea that collective experience of dislocation actually constitutes a right orientation to the present political geography will only be heard as a further invitation to plunder the past at the expense of the present.  We will continue to be instructed in electoral strategies that will secure reversals in two, four, or eight years; or worse, we’ll be reminded to practice resistance strategies that never did anyone any good even when Franco, Mussolini, or Hitler were still in power –that is, when Fascism paid one the courtesy of passing laws that painted bull’s-eyes on one’s back.  But here’s the thing: every time someone asks themselves, “Can this really be happening?” they are confronted with the authentic relation between experience and history for which those impoverished forms of historicism mistakes themselves.  And, in the difference between our gut feeling about the present and the old names others’ give to that same experience, a politics proper to this moment will either emerge or be “normalized” into resignation in its own right.  We’ll only know that a politics adequate to the present is starting to take shape when Americans start dropping the clichéd comparisons and start reading the manuals they themselves offered to pro-democracy activists already living in the authoritarian archipelago.

Adorno, Theodor W. “Resignation.” Telos 1978, no. 35 (1978): 165-168.

Diamond, L. J. “Thinking About Hybrid Regimes.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 13 no. 2, 2002, pp. 21-35. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/jod.2002.0025.

International Relations Scholarship in the Age of Trump

The electoral college victory of Donald Trump has been devastating for too many reasons to count, from the impact on the middle class, the poor, minorities, and even Texas. This man is a threat to our nation’s well-being economically, politically, and socially. Those saying everything will be alright need to wake up the dire threat he and his team of deplorables are to ethnic minorities, people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and other diverse groups. But we also must investigate the foreign policy impact of President Trump.

The team that Trump will appoint will be full of the scrubs and discards of the Bush Administration, in fact it is often made of those too extreme to even serve in polite society.  Instead of draining the swamp we are restocking it and throwing a few non-native invasive species in for good measure.  From John “lose ten floors of the UN” Bolton, to Sarah “you can see Russia from Alaska” Palin, to his team of Russia sycophants who will likely trade Ukraine and the Baltics for Russian support on our war against the Islamic State, nothing good can come from this election from the foreign policy perspective and this has a direct impact on the work we do as IR scholars. We must deal with this issue in our research.   11chappatte-master768-v2

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Academic Freedom, or Privilege with Blinders?

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson wrote a thoughtful response to the University of Chicago’s declaration to the class of 2020 that they won’t find trigger warnings or intellectual safe spaces in Hyde Park, and promises another that specifically addresses safe spaces. I’ll leave him in charge of the cool, level-headed, intellectual arguments, and I’ll post as an angry alum. There was a lot I valued about getting an education at Chicago, but this (attention-grabbing stunt?) move really reminds me of the things that I liked least about being a Chicago Maroon.

The letter in question boasts of the University of Chicago’s long, and often controversial, commitment to academic freedom, referencing a free expression report and coordinated website. All these materials tell a story of an institution that has, for more than a hundred years, permitted and defended hosting controversial speakers, refused to censor controversial ideas, and valued deliberation. The report calls free expression “our inheritance, and our promise to the future.”

A cynic might think that this is a quick turnaround from the threat to expel a student body president who facilitated a protest for campus workers to make a living wage just a couple of months ago. But someone with a long view on the University’s history might think that the University has made a distinction between a narrowly-defined academic freedom, and freedom to/ability to speak more generally – where the former often comes at the expense of or during the suppression of the latter. In fact, one can find this distinction codified, where the University’s “protest” policy, located far away in web-clicks from its “freedom of expression policy” has a very low bar for disruptive behavior (which, ironically, some academic “free speech” might meet, using the letter of the law). The University of Chicago has been noted as one of the institutions that cracked down the strongest (most unreasonably?) on Vietnam War protestors in the 1960s and 1970s. While academic speech in a confined sort of environment (a traditional speaker giving a traditional talk with questions and answers) is highly valued at the University of Chicago, I never got the sense that free expression generally was nearly as valued, especially when it was protest speech.

This is one of the things that makes me angry about the University’s hard line on trigger warnings and safe spaces – the University of Chicago is a place for free expression, among students, in a classroom, about things “outside” the university rather than about how the university is or what the university is or how it works. In fact, on at least two occasions, the University has suppressed protest speech directly related to University practices. This means that UChicago students have a particular sort of freedom – all ideas in the classroom and at talks – but lack other freedoms, particularly participating in the shaping of their institution when the institution refuses to engage their concerns.

That is a problem, but it isn’t my biggest problem. My biggest problem is the University of Chicago touting free expression without there being scrutiny on what the University chooses to be silent about. I think that the University chooses problematic, discriminatory, white-washing silences, and that those matter both in its claims to freedom of expression generally, and the trigger warning/safe space debate specifically.

As an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Chicago, I was mailed driving directions to get to campus from the south, before in-car or on-phone GPS was a thing. I trusted the University to give directions to itself more efficiently than I could figure out on the atlas. The driving directions from the south were to drive up the Dan Ryan to Lake Shore Drive, then south on Lake Shore Drive to campus. For those of you who know Chicago, or can look at a map,  I drove almost 14 miles on four-lane-highway at rush hour from the Dan Ryan exit on 55th Street to getting off of Lake Shore Drive on 57th street – which I think is about two miles on 55th street. The University sent me a ridiculous distance out of my way – why? I can only guess to stop my new-freshman eyes from seeing Washington Park as my first exposure to Chicago? The public transit directions to go Downtown were similarly narrow – they said to take the Jeffrey Bus (at the time it was the #6) or the University bus. You could even the 55 bus to the Red Line over the Dan Ryan, though I remember warnings about that at night. The problem? Between campus and the Red Line on the 55 bus was the Green Line – another way to get downtown.

I am sure the University saw it was public relations, or as keeping students safe, rather than as censorship, or painting a partial picture of the University’s world. The University has a long and storied history of relationships with the surrounding community that try to drive out diversity, which even John Boyer explains have played out on race and class lines. I remember attending a number of events at the University of Chicago which were nominally open to our non-affiliated neighbors but were neither welcoming or accessible. ‘The neighborhood’ was a place that we as students were encouraged to help, but not necessarily encouraged to learn from – the University was a resource for the neighborhood (limitedly, in its own view), but the neighborhood wasn’t treated as a resource for the University. Academic speech was valued in its quality, quantity, and freedom, but what constituted academic speech is narrow, confined by degrees and tuition dollars and an unrepresentative part of the population. This “fits” with a place that suppresses students’ protest speech, especially when that suppressed protest speech is about treating its workers, the neighborhood, its minority students, or its war-objector students with more justice.

At the end of the day, both of these problems – the hypocrisy of the juxtaposition of this statement with the threats to punish a protesting student earlier this year, and the speech the University chooses to promote compared to the speech the University chooses to silent/be silent on – make me angry about what appears to be a self-righteous statement about trigger warnings and safe spaces. I don’t have a well-formed opinion on trigger warnings and safe spaces – I see both sides of the argument – but I worry that the self-appreciating blanket announcement that they will not exist is yet another implicit bias and exclusion in a University that claims inclusiveness but whitewashes its exclusions. The people who need/want trigger warnings are another disadvantaged population that the University of Chicago is not taking serving seriously.

Why do I say that the University of Chicago is not taking serving those people seriously? The letter linked above does not talk about why people ask for trigger warnings and safe spaces; it doesn’t talk about the horrors of war or rape culture of child abuse or child molestation or any number of things that cause serious trauma and psychological damage. It doesn’t talk about resources that the University offers (like the counseling center, or student support groups) to deal with trauma and stress and triggers; it doesn’t talk about the barriers to learning that Patrick deals with; it doesn’t talk about making sure that the University of Chicago is an accessible learning environment. I think that its letter to its 2020 freshman showcases, both implicitly and explicitly, its axes of exclusion rather than its axes of inclusion.

News Report: Angry Women Angry Again, Part 1 of 2

The other day, Wendy Wong posted at the Duck of Minerva about race, gender, and having a career in IR – particularly in response to the American Political Science Association’s choice of a stock image of a random Asian woman as the image to advertise their article on authority in International NGOs. Wendy asked a series of important questions: what did this image have to do with authority? or NGOs? Or politics? What happened to her co-author? What search terms led to this picture? Are we still relying on stereotypes that all Asians look alike? How hard is it to google NGOs?

After initially not apologizing, APSA issued an apology, promising to monitor their social media posting better. Still, many of us were horrified that such a ‘mistake’, and all of the stereotypes that brings with it, was even possible for APSA as an organization, given all of the work our field has done on race and gender stereotypes both in scholarship and in the world. My tweet below is only one example:

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Political scientists’ anger was picked up by Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed, in a post titled “Twitter Illustration Angers Women in Political Science.” My immediate reaction was to criticize the gender stereotypes inherent in the article title:

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A 140-character tweet might not have been the best place to explain it. Several other tweeters, and facebook posters, have expressed discomfort with Jaschik’s wording. Steve Saideman noted in a comment on the post:

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Will Moore, on his blog, critiqued the title for suggesting that only women were upset by it, and thereby reifying the normalization and prioritization of white men’s problems over the problems of people who aren’t white men, which are treated as less serious or of lesser import. Wendy Wong and Sarah Stroup suggest a better title for Jaschik’s piece on twitter:

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I think that this is an important correction, and that it is important that Jaschik acknowledge it. But I find Jaschik’s title even more insidious than other critics have explicitly because it plays on and entrenches an embedded (masculine) stereotype of the scary “angry woman.”

Narrativized accounts of the “angry woman” frame her as more scary than, and more dangerous than, any angry men could be. Subtly drawing of gender stereotypes, often descriptions of women’s anger suggest that women (who are understood as emotional) have, deal with, and express anger in more unpalatable ways than men (who are understood as irrational). The “angry woman” is characterized as angry at whatever the offending man might do, however justified and possibly even sympathetically intended. The “angry woman” is a way to characterize feminism as hysteria and not a search for justice and emancipation. The “angry woman” distances women from both agency and normal femininity. The “angry woman” is belittling, sexist, and deeply both intellectually and normatively problematic – even when it is not deployed intentionally. 

I can’t speak for whether Wendy was angry, because I’m not her. I was angry. However unintentional, APSA’s post was sex and race subordinating, and trivialized Wendy and Sarah’s work. But Jaschik didn’t say that. He might have meant to. Instead, he said that women were angry. He didn’t say APSA made them angry. He didn’t say APSA belittled them. He didn’t say APSA’s mistake trivialized their work. He said that the tweet had “angered women.” And watch out for those angry women …

So, I have two take-aways:

  1. I think Jaschik needs to apologize for/change the title of the post on Inside Higher Ed.
  2. “Angry women” don’t come from femininity gone awry –> anger. They come from ridiculous essentialism and subordination –> anger. And a great way to prove the justness of that anger is to stereotype women who stand up for themselves as “angry women.”

In part 2 of this post, I’ll tell you what got me thinking about this a couple of months ago, and how I think of analyzing anger in gender analysis in IR.

Terrorism, Daesh, and the Importance of Stories

pluralismI wrote yesterday about the lack of an “endgame narrative” in current discussions in the West about how to deal with terrorism. There’s lots of “get tough” talk involving expanded bombings, torture, and other such measures which, as Barbara Walter points out, only play into the hands of the groups that commit terrorism.

In the wake of events like yesterday’s attack in Brussels, people naturally ask, “Why are they doing this to us? Why do they keep killing innocent people?” The answer is narrative. The terrorists (in this case, Daesh or the “Islamic State”) have a story. Right now in the West, we don’t have a counter-story – at least, not one that makes any sense. In that sense, the terrorists are way ahead of us. Continue reading

No Endgame in Sight

endgameAs we sift through the information about the latest terrorist attacks in Brussels, the immediate responses are fairly predictable. Leaders in Europe will condemn the attack, as will most mainstream Muslim leaders around the world. Far-right parties in Europe will say, “I told you so”. Donald Trump will renew his call for a ban on Muslims coming into the US and for torturing terror suspects. None of this is new or particularly interesting.

There will also be predictable calls for stepped-up security, debates over appropriate levels of surveillance, and the usual tactical discussions that take place in the wake of these events. Government intelligence agencies will review what happened to see where (or if) they failed to “connect the dots”, and everyone will vow to do better next time. There will be some renewed attention to Syria and discussion about whether that war, the Daesh phenomenon, or the refugee flows coming into Europe have contributed to the latest string of terrorist attacks.

What I don’t see from anybody, right or left, Democrat or Republican, European or American, is an endgame. No one has to my knowledge yet articulated a strategy on how to achieve a future in which these kinds of attacks no longer happen. Continue reading

A Conversation from “What’s the Point of IR”?

This past weekend, I had the privilege of participating, with a number of friends and colleagues, in the Sussex International Relations Department’s 50-year celebration: What’s the Point of IR?

The conference was interesting in a lot of ways – just go look at the (annoyingly long, but effective) hashtag: #whatsthepointofIR. There was a lot of very important (and very diverse) discussion of what we do and how we do it, both in practice and normatively.

In this post, I want to highlight a part of the conversation I found particularly interesting: a discussion about if IR scholars have an individual or collective normative accountability for the product of their/the discipline’s work. This conversation was had alongside the conference, on Twitter, inspired by Patrick Thaddeus Jackson’s talk on the pedagogical value of IR – largely between Patrick and I, focusing on the question of moral responsibility but also engaging whether there is an IR, who is in it, and what it is for. We intend to expand on/continue to have the conversation, but I figured that it’d be interesting to share: