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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

Caging Confessions: My Womanhood in David Lake’s White Man’s IR

(A really long caveat): I have nothing but respect for David Lake. In the last few years, I have interacted with him professionally on a number of occasions. I have found him to be generous, open-minded, and self-reflective. I have found him to intend inclusion at every time possible. Many people in David’s position of privilege in the field either fail to reflect on the issues that David does or fail to take the risk of sharing their reflection. Many people in David’s position of privilege in the field fail to do the hard work to make the field better that David does every day. I have rarely met a more thoughtful leader, and appreciate the work that he does in the field. I think that the field is better off for David’s leadership, and significantly so. I say this because I think David’s piece is a brave thing to have done, and something he did not have to do – and it is important to note that the critique that comes here is only possible because David took that risk, and that my critique should be (and is) louder towards those who failed to take the risk. That said, I couldn’t read David’s confessional and not react. My reaction is partial – it is my experience and my confessional, rather than a full-scale engagement with the argument. Particularly, I didn’t comment extensively on the discussion of race in the confession, because I don’t think I would/could do that justice. Like David, I benefit from many of the discipline’s axes of power, and its important then to recognize that this critique can always be only partial. RelationsInternational would be happy, however, to publish both further discussion and any engagement David might want to have with this conversation.

David Lake’s White Man’s IR: An Intellectual Confession suggests that the exclusion of women and minorities from the field of IR results in intellectual convergence, “leaving other questions unasked because they do not appear relevant, other theories unexamined because they do not resonate with our intuitions, and other predictions untested.” Dr. Lake then suggests that he would be a better scholar, and IR would be a better field, if it had more a more diverse representation of scholars. As he critiques the “practices and privileges” that keep IR largely white and largely male, Dr. Lake admits to having been complicit in those practices and privileges, and benefitting from them. He then also suggests that little he writes about making the field more diverse is new, suggesting that “it is precisely as a beneficiary of the ‘system,’ however, that I hope my remarks might have some impact. I apologize nor for the lack of originality in this essay, only for my tardiness in understanding the issues and why they are important.” Lake goes on to recognize that disciplinary hierarchy and gate-keeping reify a lack of diversity, and should be questioned – “white man’s IR begets white man’s IR.” He suggests that, even when it is non-white or non-male scholars doing IR, they are constrained by disciplinary and job-related incentives.

This premise for the article, I think, is impressive: a recognition of the substantive need for diversity and an apology for not coming to that conclusion earlier. It is when Lake goes on to explain why he sees diversity as substantively important that I stop being on board with the article. His argument (paraphrasing here because this is likely already going to be a long blog post) is that lived experience shapes intuition, and intuition shapes theorizing. Because “the lived experience of white males in the US during the twentieth century, for instance, share similarities that are different from those for women, blacks, Hispanics, and other racial minorities,” their different lived experiences will cause them to contribute different theorizations.

It is true that lack of representational diversity makes for a lack of substantive (and, though not recognized by Lake, epistemological and methodological) diversity. But that realization does not necessitate an essentialist claim that women, blacks, Hispanics, and other racial minorities (either across groups, which could be read into the comments, or, more likely what Lake meant, within groups) necessarily have something in common. There’s a reason there aren’t a lot of standpoint feminists left in academia – because of the realization that there is violence in assuming that there is a standpoint which women have. That violence is three-fold: first, it suggests standards that legitimate (and therefore delegitimize) claims to womanhood exist and can be deployed; second, it suggests that biological sex is a clear and primordial thing; third, it suggests that gender maps onto sex one-to-one.

So, in one sense, I’m exactly the woman that Dr. Lake is talking about – someone whose intellectual interest is in gender, which is a topic that was traditionally ignored by the white men who constituted the field, and is getting more attention as the field gets more (but still embarrassingly not enough) diversity of scholars. On the other hand, my interest in gender in global politics comes less from being a woman than from being a person who was labelled a woman but felt intensely uncomfortable with that label itself and the expectations of femininity that come with it.

Why does that matter? Is it just that one confessional deserves another?

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Hope: Rogue One and the Vocation for Politics

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. — Hebrews 11:1

I will confess that I had more than a little trepidation going into Rogue One. When the first trailer dropped, I complained to a Facebook group that it looked like an action flick that just happened to be set in the Star Wars universe, and didn’t seem especially Star Wars-y at all. I mean, I was sure that the production design people at Lucasfilm would do their usual commendable job building the “lived-in universe” and as such the film would look like it belonged in the world that the previous films had explored, and the folks in charge of overall continuity would ensure that the story would fit into the timeline. But what bothered me in the trailer was the absence of any obvious references to the Force, the Jedi, and the other parts of the central mythological backbone of the Star Wars saga. The soul of Star Wars, the thing that makes it different from basically any other outer-space adventure series, has always been the Force, and the eternal struggle between its dark and light aspects has always provided the engine that drives the overall plot.

Successive trailers and leaks about the film gave me a little more confidence that we’d still be in the space-fantasy realm in the final version of the movie, but I was still bothered by the apparent absence of anyone definitively Force-sensitive in the main cast of characters. When opening day finally arrived, I sat in the theatre with my family and watched an opening sequence that was about as un-Star Wars-y as I’d feared, despite the armored stormtroopers and the blue milk: no opening text crawl, no soaring theme music, and most jarring of all, after the quick flash of the movie’s title on screen, the name of a planet displayed as a way of explaining to the viewer where the action was taking place. Why was this last one so jarring? Because until this point the only on-screen text we’d ever seen in a Star Wars film was to translate some alien language. Identifying locations with on-screen text overlays is a typical science fiction convention, and Star Wars has never been science fiction; instead of having things explained, we were always dropped into the middle of the action and basically left to figure things out en route. Mystery, not explication — a trick that George Lucas learned from Akira Kurosawa.

Rogue One walks a very fine line between space fantasy and science fiction, and this presses the Star Wars franchise someplace it hasn’t gone on screen before. And as it does, Rogue One is able to do something no previous Star Wars film has been able to do: show us characters wrestling with the dilemmas of practical political action. Where previous Star Wars films were like sacred scripture, Rogue One is a story about the lives of the faithful. Which makes it a perfectly appropriate film for our times.

[From here on in this is not a spoiler-free zone. You have been warned.] Continue reading

TIFU: Gender, Justice, and the Wars in Iraq

TIFU … or 11 years ago, and I survived.

So I promised that my first post in this series would be of a piece of work with which I now disagree. It is – it is about my first book (and second publication), Gender, Justice, and the Wars in IraqI decided to write about this for a few reasons … in order: 1) the anxiety people have about sending something imperfect out for publication ; 2) the worry people have about early publications defining careers; and 3) the idea that people have that admitting weakness constitutes failure. I’m going to talk about all three of those in some detail, but, first, to what I don’t like about this book almost eleven years later …

Many people would tell me that the biggest mistake of this book is the publisher, Lexington Books – I signed a quick contract with a commercial publisher rather than wading through the difficulties of the University press revision process while a 1L in law school. While it might not have been the best move in terms of impressing those who might hire me, looking back at the reviews I got from University presses at the time, I don’t think that responding to them in depth actually would have fixed the problems I now have with the book. Others would wonder if it is the literature-review-like quality, or the immaturity of the writing, that make me now unhappy with it. While part of me does wish that I’d had a decade’s worth of academic experience when writing that book, I was 25 and 26 – and it sounds a little like that. That’s fine. My disagreement with it now is both better (that is, not an embarrassment over the outlet or writing) and worse (that is, substantive).

That is, I now think that the argument is wrong. Particularly, I think that there are two serious issues that I did not see at the time: 1) that just war theorizing may well not be worth saving; 2) that the problematic relationship between jus ad bellum and jus in bello means that I see just war theorizing as self-defeating if not war-justifying. This post probably is not the time for deep discussion of either of these points, but a couple of sentences will help show the depth of my current disagreement: at the time, a memory of classics classes in college and an interest in religious philosophy made me think that just war theory was a-ok, and just needed feminism to make it better. The question of whether it was fixable or not never occurred to me. Which brings me to the second one: the idea of a just cause, and of levels of justice of a cause, seems to me, in ‘real war’, to inspire unjust in bello behavior proportionate to one’s conviction about the justice of one’s cause. That is – just war discourse, I think, is complicit not only in inspiring wars but in inspiring their brutality. I’ve written a little about this with former graduate student Jessica Peet.

The point isn’t whether 2006-me or 2016-me is right. In fact, I’ve found more people susceptible to convincing by a refined version of the older argument than by the newer one. The point is having published something with which I now have both serious intellectual and serious normative issues – is that a bad thing? How do you look forward? What do you do? Does this mean I should sit on other ideas I have rather than put them out there? What does it mean for professional development. I have some ideas …

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Thoughts on the passing of an intellectual interlocutor

I suppose that one of the inevitable consequences of getting older is that more people whom you have known, either personally or through their work, shuffle off this mortal coil and move on to whatever comes next. 2016 seems to have been a bad year for musicians whose work I (and many others) have known and appreciated: David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Maurice White, Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, Glenn Frey…the list goes on. But although I’m an amateur musician myself, my appreciation for folks like these is primarily as a member of the audience, part of the fan base, someone who was touched by their music and mourns the loss of a great talent that may have had more to give the world but now won’t be able to. They were people whose work I admired, but not peers: they were in a very different line of work, so I do not feel like I learned anything from them, although they provided the soundtrack to a lot of my life and the fact that they won’t ever be producing anything new that I can listen to is heartbreaking.

It’s different when someone you personally connected with dies. Continue reading

Melt Our Guns

Or, “in which PTJ attempts to use some reflections on the aesthetics of progressive rock to flesh our a way for international studies scholarship to ‘go on’ in these turbulent times.”

Our wide eyes
Aren’t naive
They’re a product of a conscious decision
The welcoming smile is the new cool
The key left in the outside of the unlocked door
Isn’t forgetfulness
It’s a challenge to change your heart
There’s always a price to pay
Living in f e a r is so very dear
Can you really afford it?

The band Marillion is probably not one that you are familiar with. Outside of a very passionately committed fan base, most people have either never heard of them or have vague memories of their song “Kayleigh,” which was a #2 hit in the U.K. in the summer of 1985, a top-10 hit in Ireland, Norway, and France, and made it to #74 in the United States later that year. Since that period of popular success, and after replacing their lead singer due in part to the traditional problems of a successful rock band (ego, drugs, and the pressure to repeat their triumph), the band has recorded 15 additional studio albums, played numerous shows all over the world, and generally continued to make compelling melodic “neo-progressive” rock music. If Bob Dylan set out with “a red guitar, three chords, and the truth,” Marillion persists with a lot more than three chords, numerous synthesizers and keyboards to go along with several guitars including a 12-string, and a preference for longer, more complex musical arrangements than are common in mainstream popular music.

Marillion’s latest album is entitled FEAR, which is an acronym standing for “f*** everyone and run.” That latter phrase is a lyric from one of the album’s songs, “The New Kings,” which deals with the lives of the world’s super-rich elite and the impact that the wealth gap has on the daily lives of the rest of us. The album opens with a long suite entitled “El Dorado” that links the pursuit of gold with militarism, global poverty, and various forms of violence. On their current concert tour, Marillion is playing both of those songs, and not playing the less explicitly political tracks from the new album: “The Leavers,” about a band on tour, and “White Paper,” about a relationship that ends because the narrator can’t find a way to be content given all of the horrible things going on in the world. From the new album they are also playing a song entitled “Living in FEAR,” which lead singer Steve Hogarth introduces at the live shows as “the antidote to our new album.” While “El Dorado” and “The New Kings” indict and lament the current state of things, “Living in FEAR” presents an alternative way that we could choose to live:

We’ve decided to risk melting our guns as a show of strength
We’ve decided to risk melting our guns as a show of strength
As a show of strength!
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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.

Safe spaces and hospitable classrooms

In my last post here I argued that the infamous University of Chicago missive about “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” rested on a rather profound mischaracterization of the issues as being about preventing student discomfort in the classroom. The position adopted in the letter from the Dean of Students seems to be that efforts to make the classroom a more comfortable place are implacably opposed to “freedom of inquiry and expression” and “the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas,” and that since safe spaces and trigger warnings are about making students comfortable, the University does not support or condone them. I actually agree that the purpose of a classroom is not to provide comfort; instead, I would claim that the purpose of a classroom is to provide opportunities for students to augment and enhance their capacities to do things. But I disagree with the notion that trigger warnings are about making students comfortable, and prefer to think about them as involving the removal of barriers to participation in class. So “trigger warnings” are an access issue.

But I don’t think that analysis suffices for “safe spaces,” the other target of the Chicago note. (I am setting aside the part of the letter about invited speakers, because in my view co-curricular activities on campus invoke a different set of concerns than those strictly limited to the classroom — and campuses without “safe spaces” strike me as a real problem, because we still have a lot of work to do in making room for a whole plethora of identities and issues on campus.) In many conceptions, a “safe space” does depends on “comfort” as a core characteristic. Continue reading

Cyber Security and the Coming Failure of the UN’s Group of Governmental Experts

Cross posting with the Niskanen Center

Brandon Valeriano and Allison Pytlak

This week the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE), as part of the United Nations, is meeting once again in what has become a regular reflection of current thought in the field of cyber security internationally.  ‘Reflection’ is the perfect word to describe what the GGE does because it’s not clear to what purpose the group is moving. It might be a useful exercise to review what we know about cyber security at this point and why the GGE will fail to engage with the most pressing problems generated in and from cyberspace.   4bff43b07e8fed5ebcaad53875b35b28

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Trigger Warnings, Barriers, and the Purpose of the Classroom

If the University of Chicago intended to provoke wide-ranging discussion and debate by sending a letter to all of its new students denouncing “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces,” it has certainly succeeded. Of course, this being the Internet, most of the ensuing chatter has been of the slash-and-burn variety, with slogans flying fast and furious: academic freedom! Inclusion! Diversity! Coddled millennials and their helicopter boomer parents! I’m not going to dignify any of the click-bait-y things posted this week in that vein by linking to them. Instead I want to claim that this is a more complex issue than either of the quick partisan responses would suggest, and offer a reframing of the issue in terms of the very point of a classroom in the first place—something that seems, as usual, to get lost amidst the elegant yelling of the dispute.

In order to actually say something intelligent about this issue, we have to get past both the caricatured “freedom of speech” position in which any limit whatsoever on anyone saying anything is taken to be a violation of some natural law, and the equally caricatured “emotional sensitivity” position in which any feeling of discomfort is automatically converted into a violation of basic human dignity. These are caricatures, held—as far as I can tell—by pundits rather than by actual thoughtful educators, because actual educators (teachers and those who support them administratively, which I phrase very carefully so as to exclude those parts of the contemporary university that aren’t concerned with supporting teaching…you know who you are) recognize that producing spaces of learning is hard work involving the ongoing exercise of practical judgment instead of any kind of cheap, ideological sloganeering. One size certainly doesn’t fit all here, and your mileage will definitely vary.

That said: If we want our students to learn things, we have to be attentive to where they start out, where we want them to go, and what we want them to encounter on the way. No actual educator would deny any of that. So where does that leave us?

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