The Duck of Minerva

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Friday Afternoon Linkage: Threat Edition

December 28, 2012

centurion duckLast week I attended our annual neighborhood holiday party and caught up on all the news about the neighbors’ kids. One recently graduated with an advanced degree in computer science and is now an “ethical hacker” working in “the U.S. intelligence community.” What exactly is an “ethical hacker”? Another spent the last two years in intensive Chinese language study and has a job “following twitter and websites and stuff…for the U.S. government.”

Both of which seemed a bit strange, until I read this article on the 8 Craziest Job Openings in the Military-Industrial Complex. FYI, I called this morning and the Mexican Drug War Instructor position is still open.

Corey Robin sees a deeper pattern in the persistent expansion of the national security apparatus — we are living in a failed Hobbesian State in which the state has to continually escalate its “protection” in order to ensure obedience and obligation:

Relying upon a simple fear of danger to underwrite obedience… [however]… is not enough. Dangers can slip from view, and when they do, obligation is thrown into question. Hobbes was quite attuned to this problem, and hoped that it could be solved by the sovereign supplying the people with “prospective glasses” by which they could “see a farre off the miseries that hang over” them but which they did not immediately perceive.

But how does a state make a particular danger or disaster that lies far off appear up close? How does it turn hypothetical dangers into immediate threats? By developing an intellectual apparatus that dispenses with the ordinary requirements of evidence and proof, by articulating a set of arguments, and pithy slogans, that enables the state to take extraordinary measures against postulated perils: fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here; the Domino Theory; MAD and other theories of nuclear deterrence.

Makes sense. Probably why Chuck Hagel will soon join Susan Rice as a discarded relic in the war over war. Neither bought in deeply enough to the pithy statements on “bomb Iran” or on the “existential” threat of terrorism.

While we’re at it, here’s the latest Preventive Priorities Survey for 2013. Daniel Serwer unpacks and asks “what’s missing?” Hint: the world is actually pretty safe.

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Jon Western has spent the last fifteen years teaching IR in liberal arts colleges at Mount Holyoke College and the Five Colleges in western Massachusetts. He has an eclectic range of intellectual interests but often writes on international security, U.S. foreign policy, military intervention, and human rights. He occasionally shares his thoughts about professional life in liberal arts colleges. In his spare time he coaches middle school soccer, mentors the local high school robotics team, skis, and sails.