August 02, 2006

Conspicuous Force and Verminization


The paradoxical War on Terror is based on a kind of willed stupidity; the willed stupidity of wishful thinking. Only the logic of dreamwork can suture 'War' with 'Terror' in this way, since terrorists were, by classical definition, those without 'legitimate authority' to wage war. However, it is horribly evident for some while that a new, frighteningly facile, definition of Terrorism has come into play. What makes Terrorists terrorists is not their supposed lack of legitimate authority but their inherent Evil. We are ontologically Good; Good by our very nature, no matter what we do. We belong to an 'alliance of moderation' against the Axis of Evil. So when 'we' 'accidentally' level an appartment block full of children with our moderate bombs, we do not cease to be moderate. The difference between They, the Evil and We, the Good is, of course, intent; the Terrorists deliberately target civilians. This is their only aim, because they are Evil. Although we kill vastly more civilians, we do not intend to it, so we remain Good.

For the libidinal roots of this wishful thinking, we have to look beyond the foibles of individuals to the political unconscious of the hyper-militarized State. It is geared to deal with threats if they come from other armed States, so it pretends - deceives itself, and then attempts to deceive us - that this is in accord with the actual geopolitical situation. Condi's crocodile tears notwithstanding, the US, needless to say, is no position to condemn Israel's air strikes, since the Israeli bombings follow the War on Terror script to the letter. The conflict with Hezbullah turns into a destruction of Lebanese people and infrastructure, just as the struggle with Al Qaeda became a war on Afghanistan and Iraq. For the hyper-miltarized State , assymetry can only be thought of as an advantage: we have more and better weaponry than them, therefore we must win.

The stupidity here is evident, and multi-levelled. First of all, it involves a literal occlusion and suppression of Intelligence. Terrorism is a problem to be met with brute force rather with intelligence. Successfully defeating Terrorist groups is a long-term business, dirty, but above all, stealthy, invisible. But the War on Terror is inherently and inescapably Spectacular; it arises from the demands of the post 9/11 Military-Industrial-Entertainment Complex: it is not enough for the State to do something, it has to be seen doing something. The template here is Gulf War 1, which as both Baudrillard and Virilio knew, could not be understood outside logics of mediatization. Gulf War 1 was conceived of a kind of re-shooting of Vietnam, with better technology, and on a videogame desert terrain in which carpet bombing would be industrially effective. This is the kind of assymetry that the Military-Industrial-Entertainment Complex likes: no casualties (on our side).


The bringing to bear of what, following Veblen, we might call conspicuous force presupposes a second stupidity: the verminization of the Enemy. Before Gulf War 1 had even happened, Virilo saw the logic of verminization rehearsed in James Cameron's Aliens wherein the 'machinic actors do battle in a Manichean combat in which the enemy is no longer an adversary, a fellow creature one must respect in spite of everything; rather, it is an unnameable being that it is more appropriate to exerminate than to examine or analyse.' In Aliens, Virilio ominously notes, attacks on the 'family [form] the basis of ... necolonial intervention.' The teeming, Lovecraftian abominations which can breed much faster than we can are to be dealt with by machines whose 'awesome appearance is part of [their] military effectiveness.' Shock and awe.

Aliens was the moment in which a new mode of the Military-Industrial-Entertainment became visible. Virilio argued that Aliens' privileging of military hardware 'could only lead in the end to the extinction of the talking film, its complete replacement by film trailers for hardened militarists'. In fact, the talking film has been replaced by the shoot-em-up videogame whose picnoleptic delirium is flat with the prosecution of the Sega-Sony-CNN war. 'Realists' who attacked Baudrillard and Virilio for their insistence upon the fact that war is now constitutively mediatized missed the point that hyperrealization is precisely what permits the production of very real deaths on a mass scale.

Verminization not only transforms the Enemy into a subhuman swarm that cannot be reasoned with, only destroyed; it also makes 'us' into victims of its repulsive, invasive agency. As Virilo perspicaciously observed, Aliens itself operated 'a bit like a Terrorist attack. Women and children are slaughtered in order to create an irreversible situation, an irremediable hatred. The presence of the little victim has no theatrical value other than to dispose us to accept the madness of the massacres...'

While 'we' have 'families' who are being senselessly killed, vermin have neither memory nor motive; they act unreflexively, autonomically. Their extermination is a practical problem; it is simply a matter of finding their nests and using the right kind of weapon. Applying this thinking to Hezbullah or any other group is appalling racism, naturally, but also astonishingly poor strategy, implying no understanding of Terrorism whatsoever. Destroy all the infrastructure, kill all the operatives: but you will have only created more Images of atrocity; indestructrible and infinitely replayayble repositories of affect, which, by demanding response and producing (a usually entirely justified) recrimination, act as the best intensifiers and amplifiers of Terror.

Posted by mark at August 2, 2006 08:15 PM | TrackBack