The Queer Art of Whistle Blowing

What should we make of the fact that Bradley Manning has become Chelsea, that Glenn Greenwald is gay, that David Miranda loves a man enough to submit to the harassment incurred by his partner’s work, that Greenwald’s detractors sought to tarnish him by association with—of all things—a porn company? Possibly nothing generalisable, except that gender is doing work here.

There has been no shortage of voices denying a straightforward connection between sexual orientation, gender identity, and patriotism. (Part of the reason I feel compelled to write about this is that there isn’t one.) San Francisco Pride Board notoriously repudiated Manning’s election as a Grand Marshall in the 2013 Pride in that city, declaring: ‘even the hint of support for actions which placed in harms [sic] way the lives of our men and women in uniform—and countless others, military and civilian alike—will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride.’ That statement has not been retracted, notwithstanding its now patent inaccuracy in light of the prosecution’s inability to cite any evidence that Manning’s leaks led to any deaths and the court’s decision finding her not guilty of the charge of ‘aiding the enemy’. Kristin (formerly Chris) Beck, ex-US Navy Seal who recently announced her gender transition, has been harsher in her condemnation of Manning: ‘For this person, whether male or female to use gender identity to act “BADLY” is a slap in the face to me and everyone who does not fit the “Binary Gender Norm.” It is not an excuse for anything illegal or unjust.’ Pablo K is right to point out the dangers of the temptation, for those who see a link between sex/gender and truth-telling, to make the reverse move—’to relegate Beck to a minority report, and so to re-inscribe the hierarchy of authenticity, this time with Manning as the actual face of resistance, and Beck the mere puppet of militarism’—while pointing out, also, that the gap between these contrasting appropriations is constitutive of the space of contemporary politics. So let’s talk politics.

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Washington, DC: a human rights city?

Below are some initial reflections on the work I’ve been doing in Washington DC on the human right to housing. They are not terribly substantive and serve as much as a tribute and thank you to those who hosted me as disquisition on the topic. But I wanted to post the piece for those who might be interested in my broader project, or what’s going on in Washington DC. Enjoy.

In December 2008 Washington DC was declared a human rights city. The DC City Council passed the resolution, pushed for by the American Friends Service Committee. While this is a lovely idea, it leaves one wondering what does it mean to be a human rights city. In particular, what does it mean in a city defined by inequality, where more than 15,000 citizens do not have homes, where 20% of the population lives in poverty, where housing is more unaffordable than anywhere in the United States, and where public and affordable housing is under constant threat. Perhaps the declaration of DC as a human rights city would seem less cynical if the DC City Council or the Federal Government had shown themselves committed to protecting the human rights of residents of the District, particularly the right to housing.

Housing is a Human Right

Human rights promise us many things. The right to housing, however, is perhaps the most fundamental. What do our rights mean if we do not have a place to call home? Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises that

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

The right to housing is fundamental because it is in our homes that we find the space to rest, to pursue wellness, to find love, to raise families, and build communities, to collect our energy and thoughts so that we can participate in democratic politics, and it is where we find the safety, security and privacy that make a dignified life possible. Continue reading

Constructing National Security: U.S. Relations With India and China

Jarrod HayesA guest post from Jarrod Hayes on his forthcoming book. Jarrod is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Georgia Institute of Technology. In 2003 he received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder in astrophysics and political science. He completed his Ph.D. in Politics and International Relations at the University of Southern California in 2009. Prior to joining the Georgia Tech faculty, he was the ConocoPhillips Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Oklahoma. His areas of scholarly and teaching interest focus on the role of social orders in shaping international security practice. His scholarship appears in the European Journal of International Relations, German Studies Review, International Organization, and International Studies Quarterly.


Srdjan originally approached me about doing this guest post six months ago. So my thanks to Srdjan and the gang for their patience and for giving me an opportunity to discuss my forthcoming book Constructing National Security: U.S. Relations With India and China, set to come out with Cambridge University Press in September (available on Amazon for a discount). What I would like to do is discuss a bit of the background of the book project before addressing the substance of the book and conclude with some of the implications and questions raised by the work.

The book initially started as a project on the democratic peace. When I was in graduate school, I was captivated in my very first semester (Introduction to IR theory with Robert English) by the law-like regularity of the phenomenon—loads of papers and books demonstrate that democracies do not fight each other (see among others my 2012 article in the European Journal of International Relations, also Harald Müller and Jonas Wolff’s ‘Many Data, Little Explanation’ in Democratic Wars: Looking at the Dark Side of Democratic Peace and Ungerer’s 2012 review in International Studies Review). In part owing to how the subject has been investigated (more on that below), academics have lost perspective on the significance of the phenomenon. Security seems to be everywhere, and applied to almost everything. The initial impetus for the highway system in the United States was national security. President Dwight Eisenhower’s avowed purpose for building the massive transit network was to facilitate the movement of U.S. military forces in the event of a land invasion. Two years later security was used to justify education policy in the form of the 1958 National Defense Education Act. The list goes on. Almost any topic one might think of has probably been included under the rubric of security. The democratic peace, however, points to a notable exception. As reams of evidence indicate, democracies have been consistently unwilling to label their peers as security threats. The puzzle is obvious: how is it that democracies have avoided constructing each other as threats while so many other subjects have been labeled as such.

US Army Books

The significance of the democratic peace is self-evident in my opinion. As I read more of the democratic peace (DP) literature, however, I became increasingly dissatisfied with the collective effort to identify the forces that generate the phenomenon. Methodologically, regression-based studies dominate the field. While these studies have been invaluable in establishing the claim that the democratic peace phenomenon exists, by their very nature they are able to demonstrate only correlation, not causation. Not surprisingly, what effort these studies do make towards understanding and explaining the democratic peace focuses on causes — norms and institutions — that could be quantified, sometimes through tenuous proxies. Yet, because the quantitative nature of the studies does not enable access to causal forces, the mechanisms behind the democratic peace remain shrouded in shadow. Perhaps surprisingly given my educational background, I was particularly dissatisfied with the theories and causal assumptions that underlie them in the literature (for the sake of brevity and focus, I will not go into this critique in depth, but interested readers can find it in my 2012 article in the European Journal of International Relations). My dissatisfaction with the literature, specifically with its tendency to brush by the big questions of how the democratic peace is possible, led me to begin pursuing my own theory of the democratic peace.  The book is the result, although it has since grown into an effort to understand how identity shapes security outcomes in democracies.

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The Manning Trial, Truth-Telling, and The Precariousness of Democractic Society

The following is a piece written as part of an interview I did at City University on the political and ethical significance of the Bradley Manning trial currently ongoing (links to potentially embarrassing video to follow).

I think that the most important thing that the Bradley Manning trial shows us is the gap that opens up between our legal institutions and our sense of right and wrong, between the law and morality. Many people around the world are shocked by Manning’s imprisonment. People are shocked partly because he has been held under conditions that the UN said violated his human rights, but also because Manning is being tried for exposing the actions of US soldiers and diplomats, including evidence of many potential and confirmed human rights violations. Manning’s supporters are incredulous and view the proceedings now taking place at Fort Meade as illegitimate.Bradley Manning War Crimes

I understand this incredulity and on a level I share it. What I want to suggest, however, is that what we are seeing in the trial of this young man is even more troubling than the corruption of the law by politics – it reveals that the law is always suffused with politics. The law is a technical code. Yes, it is also a normative system that is supposed to determine right and wrong, guilt and innocence. But it is vital that we do not forget that it is a technical code first and foremost, a code that political authorities use to justify their power. Therefore, those with the capacity to influence and manipulate the legal code will always be at an advantage, will always be able to shape that code not towards the pursuit of justice but towards their own interests. This is what Finnish legal scholar Martti Koskenniemi calls this the gap between apology and utopia. The law has its utopian moments and this is especially true of human rights law – for example, Manning supporters see him as a hero who has exposed the grievous crimes of the US government and its military, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. They appeal to human rights standards that are quintessential moral claims, but which sadly lack the force of political authority and so are not reliably protected. This is important, but the law also has its moment of apology, where it serves the interests of established authorities, of powerful actors like the US government.

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What We Talked About At ISA: The Practice Turn and Global Ethics

We're talking about practice!

I want to address the use of practice theory in global ethics rather than International Relations or social science broadly. I am neither a social scientist nor a social theorist. My interests are in political and ethical theory, in asking questions about the good in political life. Nonetheless, questions of ethics are an important part of the turn to practice theory because such a reorientation has much to add to how we think about questions of global ethics. I also hope that my reflections on, and uses of, practice theory may be of interest to those who see themselves as social scientists.

In global ethics there is a constant concern with the issue of justification, with determining how we know what is right or good – and especially how we know that what we know is really right or good. What is surprising is how little time is spent considering the details of what is right or good in specific situations. This question it seems is already known, either because we can deduce it through some rational rule or distill it from some social tradition. This is a crude map, but hopefully adequate to place ourselves.

Even among more dissident scholars the focus is on how justifications fail, or how our justifications reproduce undesirable social consequences – the exclusion of the other, the marginalization of women – and these are absolutely vital insights. However, what remains under-examined is what we take to be right or wrong, good or bad, the substantive and at times contradictory content of our ethics. Along with this there is a lack of concern with how we think when we are being ethical, with what social role ethical claims have and with how social institutions and traditions depend upon ethical claims.

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Swami Vivekananda: An Outsider’s Ramblings

swamiEarlier this month I visited New Delhi’s Ramakrishna Ashram for the first time.  What drew me there was the exhibition on the life of Swami Vivekananda (a.k.a., Narendra Dutta, 1863-1902). The exhibition, inaugurated a few months ago by the Dalai Lama, celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of the saffron-clad monk who is India’s Great Man -“second only to Ghandi,” as I was told more than once.  Compared to most other historical exhibitions I have seen in this country, “Vivekananda: A Prophet of Harmony” is tip-top, as measured by functioning A/C and lighting fixtures, savvy graphics panels, contemporary wallpaper posters, new dioramas, and an interactive exit quiz intended for schoolchildren.  Plus it’s relatively crowded. Over the course of an hour or two I spent there on a Saturday morning I counted a couple of university students (probably taking a short study break from the nearby library), a few senior citizens, half-dozen sadhus (among them, two Europeans and an Indonesian), and one large middle class family visiting the capital city from Tamil Nadu.  “You must see the film,” said the moustached paterfamilias to me.

His reference was to “9/11: The Awakening,” a 15-minute computer-animated piece on a speech Vivekananda gave on 11 September 1893 at the World Parliament of Religion in Chicago, which was held in conjunction with the World’s Columbian Exposition.  Starting with a scene straight out of The Titanic, the film depicts the monk’s transoceanic crossing, and how he bowed to Saraswati, the goddess of learning, before taking the podium.  “Sisters and brothers of America,” Vivekanada’s opening line, is known to every educated Indian person, but “the speech” in the short film appears to take from multiple speeches the monk gave in Chicago, including the second (“Why We Disagree,” September 15) and the third (“Paper on Hinduism,” September 19) are the richest.  By all accounts, Vivekananda’s discourses on religious tolerance and unity, mutual recognition, India, and Hinduism were a big hit (it suffices to consider the tumultuous applause he received multiple times from the audience of 4,000 – or 7,000 if you include the overflow halls of the Art Institute).  Chicago treasures these memories today.  A stretch of the Michigan Ave (at Adams St) is now the honorary Swami Vivekananda Way and a statue of the saint, taller than the one at Delhi’s RK Ashram metro station, adorns Chicagoland’s premier Hindu temple in Lemont.

According to the standard historical narrative, Vivekananda was the first Indian/Hindu thinker to introduce Hinduism and the Indian/Hindu understandings of tolerance, peace, and justice to Anglo-America and the European continent – ideas that would “conquer the world,” as he would put it (“It is my ambition to conquer the world by Hindu thought – to see Hindus from the North Pole to the South Pole”, 1897). The Chicago speeches and other overseas interventions carried by the swamiji established a number of inter-civilization bridges, both big (the global spread of Vedanta philosophy and yoga) and small (Nikola Tesla’s vegetarianism, celibacy, and a possible re-consideration of the mind-body problem). Vivekananda’s speeches and writings, the narrative goes, “awoke” India from its slumber (“For the next fifty years let Mother India be your God. Serve your country as you would serve God, and India will awaken”, 1897).  His “modernized” version of the Indian/Hindu thought inspired “social reform” at home, while helping raise awareness about India’s anti-colonial struggle abroad.  No less important, he founded the Ramakrishna Mission (now the main publisher of his writings) and the Vedanta Societies [1], which continue to spread his teachings to this day.

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American Vignettes (II): The Spirit’s Agenda

Most of our day we are unaware of what we are thinking, but it is not our thoughtlessness that is disconcerting, it is our lack of awareness of our thoughtlessness.

It is rare to be in a space uncluttered by social messages, but you suddenly find even your modern sensibilities assaulted as you make your way through contemporary America. There are the expected advertisements, but they cover more of the physical surface of the world than you remember. There are the expected automated announcements, but they pierce the air and reverberate more loudly than you remember. You watch as everyone else moves through this cloud of demands, warnings, enticements, and you wonder: “does their head spin as mine does?”

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Advertisement on escalator railing.

The cab you take across Manhattan has a television screen constantly playing commercials – you can silence it but you cannot turn off the scrolling images. The roads you drive down in New York, Chicago and Denver have their negative space filled by an uncountable number of signs, billboards, words – every surface a text. Even tucked away from the public stream of communication, in your home or in your car, the words and pictures crash over you: television is ubiquitous and its light flashes on you wherever you go, the radio blares at you in the coffee shop and the eye doctor’s waiting room, the ads flash on your computer screen as you write emails to friends, and the messages and updates ding and chime on your phone as you sit down to eat a family meal.

The frenetic quality of the day only appears once you are lying in an unfamiliar bed, in a quiet dark room, when you can hear your parents breathing as they sleep down the hall from you, when you can hear the geese who have come south from Canada honking in the distance, when your mind stops receiving, blocking, dodging, collecting words and is able to put its own thoughts together. Being out of place and out of rhythm, you feel the importance of this moment. Slowness. Quiet. Rest. Continue reading