Means Without End: A Paroxysm of Praxis

A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything. Nietzsche

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Question of Universality/Particularity

In many ways, I believe the question of torture deals with the contemporary crisis over "universality" and "particularity" that has been grappled by contemporary theorists (e.g., Laclau, Zizek, and Butler, in their book Contingency, Hegemony, and Universality) . In terms of hegemony, I think there is a synonomous dynamic at work between the ability of spaces of torture to be produced, recognized, and consented to by a general public (I think most people condone torture under certain circumstance; the question is why?), and what the cultural critic Mike Davis understands to be the prevailing theme in contemporary global urbanization:

"The problem that military planners, and some geopoliticians, are talking about is actually something quite different: that’s the emergence, in hundreds of both little and major nodes across the world, of essentially autonomous slums governed by ethnic militias, gangs, transnational crime, and so on. This is something the Pentagon is obviously very interested in, and concerned about, with Mogadishu as a kind of prototype example. The ongoing crisis of the Third World city is producing almost feudalized patterns of large slum neighborhoods that are effectively terrorist or criminal mini-states – rogue micro-sovereignties. That’s the view of the Pentagon and of Pentagon planners. They also seem quite alarmed by the fact that the peri-urban slums – the slums on the edges of cities – lack clear hierarchies. Even more difficult, from a planning perspective, there’s very little available data. The slums are kind of off the radar screen. They therefore become the equivalent of rain forest, or jungle: difficult to penetrate, impossible to control.

I think there are fairly smart Pentagon thinkers who don’t see this so much as a question of regions, or categories of nation-states, so much as holes, or enclaves within the system. One of the best things I ever read about this was actually William Gibson’s novel Virtual Light. Gibson proposes that, in a world where giant multinational capital is supreme, there are places that simply aren’t valuable to the world economy anymore – they don’t reproduce capital – and so those spaces are shunted aside. A completely globalized system, in Gibson's view, would leak space – it would have internal redundancies – and one of those spaces, in Virtual Light, is the Bay Bridge.

But, sure, this is a serious geopolitical and military problem: if you conduct basically a triage of the world's human population – where some people are exiled from the world economy, and some spaces no longer have roles – then you’re offering up ideal opportunities for other people to step in and organize those spaces to their own ends. This is a deeper and more profound situation than any putative conflicts of civilization. It is, in a way, a very unexpected end to the 20th century. Neither classical Marxism, nor any other variety of classical social theory or neoliberal economics, ever predicted that such a large fraction of humanity would live in cities and yet basically outside all the formal institutions of the world economy."

It is this "leak space," these materially identifiable autonomous "rogue micro-sovereignties" that operate under the "universal" radar that I believe may be a correlative dynamic in relation to the torture question. Of course, this is merely a theoretical speculation on my part, but I think is still something worth pursuing and needing to flesh out.


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