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The Understanding of American Hegemony as a Peace-Building Force is Ultimately Tied to a Grand Narrative, a Myth of Productive and Utilitarian Futures, Linked to the Very Concept of Nuclear Weapons—This Organization is Precisely the Cause of the World Ending Violence You Identify

Cyndy Hendershot, Prof of Film at Arkansas State, “From Trauma to Paranoia: Nuclear Weapons, Science Fiction and History,” Mosaic, Winter 1999 (Questia)

First detonated on 16 July 1945 in the New Mexico desert (see Fig. 1), the bomb and its implications were first experienced as trauma in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In addition to the naked human suffering experienced in those cities, what also needed addressing were the manifold philosophical questions arising from the United States's use of nuclear weapons. Commenting on John Hersey's account of the survivors of Hiroshima, French philosopher Georges Bataille pinpoints a central ethical issue raised by the use of the bomb: "the death of sixty thousand is charged with meaning, in that it depended on their fellow men to kill them or to let them die. The atom bomb draws its meaning from its human origin: it is the possibility that the hands of man deliberately hang suspended over the future" (226). Written in 1947, Bataille's estimate of the victims of the Hiroshima bomb has subsequently been upped to an immediate-death toll of 100,000 and the fatal-injury toll of 50,000 (Lifton & Mitchell xvii). The realization that a human agency could in turn be responsible for the total death of humanity defies the imagination. Discussing nuclear holocaust, psychoanalyst Leon Botstein argues that effective conceptualizing of nuclear war may be impossible: "Total death cannot truly even be imagined; no myth appeared even necessary for Freud. One may, in fact, not be able to create effective psychological myths for the unimaginable prospect which has, only since nuclear weapons, become part of reality, both external and psychological" (301). And it is precisely this trauma--the awareness of the degree to which we (Americans, humans) are responsible for weapons of mass destruction and hold the fate of the world in our hands--that causes our society to, so often, take nuclear weapons outside of history.

Central to this ahistoricism is the translation of the problem into something universal, mythological--or more appropriately, trauma becomes translated into paranoia. The world of the paranoiac is a delusory one in which historical issues are played out as mythic battles between good and evil. In his history of the Cold War, for example, H.W. Brands describes the paranoiac's view of history as one in which the world is divided neatly into good and evil, which enables him/her to conclude that "Humanity's problems aren't the consequence of some abiding deficiency in all of us. Problems are the work of bad people" (38). Certainly, this was the attitude of Daniel Paul Schreber--a most famous paranoiac, who resorted to such psychic mechanisms in dealing with the history of his time, and whose published memoirs served as the basis for Freud's theory of paranoia.

In dealing with fin-de-siecle German nationalism and its attendant anti-Semitism, Schreber's strategy was to place this phenomenon outside its specific cultural/historical moment, as when he stated that "the Germans were in modern times (possibly since the Reformation, perhaps since the migration of nations) God's chosen people whose language God preferred to use" (50). Similarly, listing some historical events--ranging from the destruction of Phillip II's Spanish Armada in 1588 to the severe winter of 1870-71--he claims to have been told through divine communication that these were determined by God. Translating elements from his own society into universal myths, he makes historically specific phenomena like the German Kulturkampf part of his paranoic cosmology, leading Eric L. Santer pointedly to title his study of Schreber's delusionary view of cultural events My Own Private Germany. As I see it, cases like Schreber provide classic examples on the individual level of how paranoia functions as a psychic-defense mechanism which takes the sting out of history by draining it of the element of human responsibility and placing it in eschatological/myth ological time and space.

In America in the 1950s, cultural paranoia performed similar work. As Richard Hofstadter explained in his seminal 1966 essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," Cold War paranoia involved a re-defining of the historical as the mythological: "History is a conspiracy, set in motion by demonic forces of almost transcendent power, and what is felt to be needed to defeat it is not the usual methods of political give-and-take, but an all-out crusade" (29). Thus communism could be seen not as a historically specific political system but as an embodiment of mythological evil--pagan and satanic; the postwar Soviet Union becomes mythologically great and evil. Similarly, I.F. Stone astutely observed that during the 1950s American liberals and conservatives alike painted communists as "some supernatural breed of men, led by diabolic masterminds in that distant Kremlin, engaged in a satanic conspiracy to take over the world and enslave all mankind" (69). If the Cold War was a mythological battle against a pagan/sa tanic enemy, then we (the U.S.) as crusaders had been given the bomb by God. We were not responsible for its scientific creation and its implications. Indeed, Harry S. Truman expressed this very sentiment in his 1945 announcement after the destruction of Nagasaki: "We thank God it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and His purposes" (qtd. in Boyer 211). Thus the bomb is a weapon we have been given, and the trauma of using it is alleviated by paranoiac defense mechanisms.

Another reason behind the mythologizing of nuclear technology in the 1940s and 1950s was that ignorance about the new scientific discovery caused people to search for a frame of reference that could make sense of the unrepresentable content of nuclear physics. In an interview in which he discusses the trauma suffered by the victims in Hiroshima, psychoanalyst Robert Jay Lifton observes: "In creating, in recreating experience, we need some prior imagery in order to do that work, in order to carry through that process. And there was precious little prior imagery that could enable people to take in the Hiroshima experience, the event of a weapon apparently destroying an entire city" (135). Lacking frames of reference, American society turned to myth to articulate the meanings of nuclear bombs.

In the mythologizing of nuclear weapons in the 1940s and 1950s, few literary modes were better equipped or played a more key role than science fiction. As John W. Campbell, Jr., noted in a 1953 essay in which he attempted to "place" this genre, science fiction stands in opposition to history, operating as a mythology that charts "the hopes and dreams and fears (for some dreams are nightmares) of a technically based society" (12). In the same year, Gerald Heard argued that science fiction can guide humans in the Atomic Age in a manner similar to the cohesive social function performed by mythology in former times, that it can "shape our reactions to our destiny" by showing us "how to react, how to adapt, how to endure" (255). Focusing on science-fiction ifims, more recent critics have noted a similar dynamic. In Future Tense, for example, John Brosman argues that 1950s films resorted to "various euphemisms such as giant beasts" to depict the bomb (82), just as in Nuclear Fear Spencer Weart discusses the way tha t such films contributed to the creation of a space-age mythology.

Other critics, however, have responded to this tendency in a less positive light. Philip Wylie, for example, complains that 1940s and 1950s science-fiction writers were irresponsible in creating "a new and sinister folklore" that obscured the scientific facts about the bomb (235). Richard Hodgens levels this type of criticism especially at science-fiction films, claiming that they associate technology with "The Black Arts" (261). For Frederic Jameson, science fiction attests to the inability of capitalist society to go beyond its own fixed mindset, that the "deepest vocation" of science fiction is "over and over again to demonstrate and dramatize our incapacity to imagine the future" (153).

According to H. Bruce Franklin, moreover, not only did the various modes of science fiction bring an awareness of the Atomic Age to the attention of a popular audience, but they also created a mythology of nuclear weapons that was then adopted by American policymakers. Thus, in War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination he argues: "For fifty years, from the first atomic explosion in Robert Cromies's 1895 novel The Crack of Doom until 1945, nuclear weapons existed nowhere but in science fiction, and in the imagination of those directly or indirectly influenced by this fiction, including scientists who converted these inventions from fantasy into facts of life" (131). In Franklin's view, the American myth of "the ultimate peacemaking weapons" that would lead to world peace under American hegemony directly shaped the nuclear policies of the United States (153)

The Fear of Terror is an Attempt to Bring the Future To Bear in the Present—This Strategy is Precisely the Logic of the Pre-Emptive Strike and the War on Terror, Repressing the Erotic to Render Humanity’s Only Purpose the Preservation of Itself

Stefano Harney and Randy Martin, Director of Global Learning & Reader in Strategy at Queen Mary University of London School of Business and Management and Professor of art and Public policy and director of the graduate program in arts politics, Mode of Excess: Bataille, Criminality, and the War On Terror, Theory and Event, 2007 (Project Muse)

If the Cold War contested the future, its apparent heir, the war on terror battles over the present. This is more than the hyper-vigilance of a politics of fear. The terrorist is the quintessential figure of bad risk however effectively it may be deployed. We cannot await it. The only safety lies in bringing its moment into our midst, that is, by pre-emptive strike. Terror's temporality is anti-utopian, it implies the immanence of the future in the present. The risk economy, the investment action upon a possible future difference in the present, shares the same sensibility. Foreign and domestic applications of risk management forge a nefarious connection in George W. Bush's 2002 National Security Document. In this proud proclamation of imperial doctrine, pre-emption is bequeathed to one nation and friends (whether old or newly acquired) affirm their allegiance by replicating U.S. anti-inflationary monetary policy. Low and behold this same language turns up in Iraq's strategy for national development. Inflation, when it is not an assault on labor (as low unemployment or high wages) anthropomorphizes the world of goods (supply being chased by demand and puffing itself up accordingly).


Just as industrialization forced association upon self-sufficient labor, and consumerism wove a common web of dreams in the marketplace, financialization imposes a generalized condition of mutual indebtedness. Personal finance, like free wage labor, amounts to an enormous aggregation of the capacity to produce financial value while assuming the risks of failure to realize value. Like production and consumption, financialization is also a form of dispossession of one array of life-making circumstances that forces an elaboration of what people must subsequently do and be together. The future itself becomes a factor of production as each possible outcome is shifted into an actionable present. The derivative represents the moment when a small intervention, an arbitrager's momentary opportunity, seizes upon a highly dispersed volatility and leverages it to extensive effect. Unlike the entrepreneur, born of initiative, the arbitrager exists only through the action of others, deriving themselves as a cluster of volatilities. The derivative is the extensive energy within the body of finance. It is also incorporated into the grand strategy for engaging and negating unsupportable risk and excess. Terror wars are in this respect derivative wars. They "deter forward" using small deployments of risk capable special forces to leverage imperial intervention. They succeed in their initial displacements (of toppling regimes) but produce the very thing they claim to fight but that are in actuality their condition of further circulation, namely terror. Terror is an inassimilable excess that occasions intervention without end. Unlike earlier imperialisms that sought to extract, civilize and develop, this logic of occupation quickly becomes indifferent to its prize and impatient with itself.


It would be tempting to see in the gap between a general interest in combating terror everywhere, and a particular occupation of two energy states an affirmation of Bataille's equilibration of devastation and profit. Afghanistan's geo-strategic potential for transshipment of oil and gas, Iraq's prized proven oil reserves, Halliburton's corrupt profiteering would seem to affirm the straightforward arithmetic captured by the slogan, "blood for oil." Control of energy consumption would prove the ultimate colonization of Bataille's accursed share. As compelling as the slogan has been to lay bare the motives of imperial excess, Bataille's thought would also have us refuse the enclosure of our own surplus capacity in so certain a lock down of interest-borne scarcity. There can be no denying oil's requirement to the present economic convention. But the necessity of oil politics as they are presented must be contested if the present mode of excess is to be seen as other than laying us all to waste as an inexorable drive to war to control supply in the face of imminent scarcity.

While financial protocols have been installed as governing ideas, the occupation of Iraq looks like anything but a design for control. Instead, oil exports have held steady, and risk has been distributed throughout a population that has been cleaved from its national form and from its own productive capacities. Iraq's Public Distribution System, the last remnant of Baathist socialism is to be displaced by small cash handouts to fuel the now rampant speculative economy.ii But to render socialism scarce is to commit an error of measurement and concept. The extensive energy of consumption privileged the erotic as the alter to commodification, and maintained socialism as that portion of the world devoted to a social economy that capital could not absorb. The erotic which animated consumer desire has now been displaced by risk, which inhabits the intensities of circulation. Populations at risk may be treated instrumentally but they are also freed from instrumentality-they exist, not to accomplish further accumulation, but as human assemblages in their own right.

The war on terror claims that population makes no difference and touts its capacity to intervene anywhere at anytime. Its excess belies another. The notion that intervention can be anywhere raises the prospect that it could be for anything. The empire of indifference passes intervention from necessity to the realm of discretion, acting upon difference becomes a luxury within reach. Added to this is the discretionary force of something like the derivatives market, a hitherto unfathomable wealth sundered from use that exists only to further itself. The recourse to war that cannot discern between foreign and domestic, that attacks terror, but also crime, drugs, culture, and the like, sketches in negative relief the magnitude of the difference that state and capital now resist. Never mind that they had a hand in proliferating it all. The abundance of difference in our midst, along with excess wealth advertised for all-purposes, presents the immanence of the social as a self-expanding luxury for all. The war on terror is not the only project legible in the transfer of Bataille's mode of excess into the present. Terror gives urgency to the proliferation of financial risk but it also deflects attention from that excess which the state has increasing trouble concealing--its own criminality. If capital morphs under the present mode of excess, so too does its strange bed-fellow, the state-form.

This Refusal to Acknowledge Our Repression of Transgressive use of Excess is the Basis of Empirical Violence in the Arms Race and War. The Attempt To Conceive of Impacts in Relation to Survival Makes the World Circular, We Survive Merely In Order to Ensure Our Survival—We Instead Must Evaluate Survival as the Merely Incidental Consequence of Expenditure to Survive or Care About Survival in the First Place

Alan Stoekl, professor of French and comparative literature at Penn State University, Bataille’s Peak: Energy, Religion and Postsustainability, 2007 (Pg 44 – 46)

Bataille does, then, implicitly face the question of carrying capacity. Perhaps the ultimate example of this is nuclear war. The modern economy, according to Bataille, does not recognize the possibility of excess and therefore limits; the Protestant, and then the Marxist, ideal is to reinvest all excess back into the productive process, always augmenting output in this way. “Utility” in this model ends up being perfectly impractical: only so much output can be reabsorbed into the ever-more-efficient productive process. As in the case with Tibet, ultimately the excess will have to be burned off. This can happen either peacefully, through various postcapitalist mechanisms that Bataille recommends, such as the Marshall Plan, which will shift growth to other parts of the world, or violently and apocalyptically through the ultimate in war: nuclear holocaust. One can see that, in the end, the world itself will be en vase clos, fully developed, with no place for the excess to go. The bad alternative—nuclear holocaust—will result in the ultimate reduction in carrying capacity: a burned-out, depopulated earth. Humanity is, at the same time, through industry, which uses energy for the development of the forces of production, both a multiple opening of the possibilities of growth, and the infinite faculty for burnoff in pure loss (facilite infinie de consumation en pure perte]. (OC. 7: 170; AS, 181) Modern war is first of all a renunciation: one produces and amasses wealth in order to overcome a foe. War is an adjunct to economic expansion; it is a practical use of excessive forces. And this perhaps is the ultimate danger of the present-day (1949) buildup of nuclear arms: armament, seemingly a practical way of defending one’s own country or spreading one’s own values, in other words, of growing, ultimately leads to the risk of a “pure destruction” of excess—and even of carrying capacity In the case of warfare, destructiveness is masked, made unrecognizable, by the appearance of an ultimate utility: in this case the spread of the American economy and the American way of life around the globe. Paradoxically, there is a kind of self-consciousness concerning excess, in the “naïve” society—which recognizes expenditure for what it is (in the form of unproductive glory in primitive warfare)— and a thorough ignorance of it in the modem one, which would always attempt to put waste to work (“useful” armaments) even at the cost of wholesale destruction. Bataille, then, like Le Blanc, can be characterized as a thinker of society who situates his theory in the context of ecological limits. From Bataille’s perspective, however, there is always too much rather than too little, given the existence of ecological (“natural”) and social (“cultural”) limits. The “end” of humankind, its ultimate goal, is thus the destruction of this surplus. While Le Blanc stresses war and sacrifice as a means of obtaining or maintaining what is essential to bare human (personal, social) survival, Bataille emphasizes the maintenance of limits and survival as mere preconditions for engaging in the glorious destruction of excess. The meaning of the limit and its affirmation is inseparable from the senselessness of its transgression in expenditure (la dépense). By seeing warfare as a mere (group) survival mechanism, Le Blanc makes the same mistake as that made by the supporters of a nuclear buildup; he, like they, sees warfare as practical, serving a purpose, and not as the sheer burn-off it really is. If, however, our most fundamental gesture is the destruction of a surplus, the production of that surplus must be seen as subsidiary. Once we recognize that everything cannot be saved and reinvested, the ultimate end (and most crucial problem) of our existence becomes the disposal of excess wealth (concentrated, nonusable energy). All other activity leads to something else, is a means to some other end; the only end that leads nowhere is the act of destruction by which we may—or may not—assure our (personal) survival (there is nothing to guarantee that radical destruction—consumation—does not turn on its author). We work in order to spend. We strive to produce sacred (charged) things, not practical things. Survival and reproduction alone are not the ultimate ends of human existence. We could characterize Bataille for this reason as a thinker of ecology who nevertheless emphasizes the primacy of an ecstatic social act (destruct ion). By characterizing survival as a means not an end (the most fundamental idea in “general economy”), expenditure for Bataille becomes a limitless, insubordinate act—a real end (that which does not lead outside itself). I follow Bataille in this primacy of the delirium of expenditure over the simple exigency of personal or even social survival (Le Blanc). This does not preclude, however, a kind of ethical aftereffect of Bataille’s expenditure: survival for this reason can be read as the fundamentally unintentional consequence of expenditure rather than its purpose. Seeing a nuclear buildup as the wrong kind of expenditure—because it is seen as a means not an end—can lead, in Bataille’s view, to a rethinking of the role of expenditure in the modern world and hence, perhaps, the world’s (but not modernity’s) survival.

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