send them to the argument clinic

Charles Tilly, fairly well-known here among PTSD readers, once wrote that you have to pick the battles you fight since most of the battles are conducted in the language(s) of your opponent.

After 4 days of reading, across disciplines and subfields, I am not much closer to knowing which battle to fight. Or, even if I want to fight one. I do know though that this issue-of there being something which is real, which is true and which cannot be questioned--seems to be fairly common when studying terrorism than in other sub-fields of International Relations.

A case in point: Today's Washington Post Book World carries a review of two new books on Al Qaeda. The reviewer and "founding head of the CIA's bin Laden Unit" praises a book by a respected journalist. About the second book he writes that the author's tracing out of the histories of various groups of violent actors is "erudite if irrelevant". After all, it's Al Qaeda, the global evil networked menace that we should be concerned about, not a bunch of Zealots, Thugs and Assassins! Academics are so thick--they just don't get the real dangers of bin Laden and Al Qaeda. But, isn't being academic the point?

In the words of Edwards and Co.:

"In everyday parlance, "academic" implies pointless, empty, inconsequential. But we are academics, for whom it is proper, essential even, to care about the epistemic and ontological status of claims to knowledge. And it is far from inconsequential. If even ostensibly bottom-line instances of brute reality are demonstrably social accomplishments, then academics are dealing with some powerful machinery; the possibility of critique, denial, deconstruction, argument, for any kind of truth, fact, assumption, regime or philosophy – for anything at all."

So, yes, I'm well-pleased to be an academic, if that's my job. But, if I had to fight this fight of whether what we, as scholars, do actually matters in the sense the practitioners seem to be defining the word, then here's what I would like to say (but Edwards and Co. already did it and much better than I would so here yous go):

"Those who maintain that their truths are best preserved by protecting them from inquiry are followers of a religious ethic, not a scientific one. Truths become sacred objects, unfit for profane and corrosive inquiry, to be celebrated by incantation and propagated by conversion to the faith. The realists' bottom-line arguments are both forms of incantation and attempts at conversion. They are presented as the points beyond which inquiry will not be permitted. We, the "amoral" relativists, are the ones who insist upon the right to inquire and who are thus (arguably, of course) the true keepers of the flame of the ethic of science. "

Go here for the entire article.

I'm arguing for an argument. An argument on how our understanding of terrorism came about. An argument on learning about terrorism in a methodologically pluralist fashion. An argument about listening to my argument and counterring it, not dismissing it as trivial because, really, that too is just another move in the game.


At 11/29/2006 12:41 AM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

Am still quite tweaked at the Express. It's not that hard to figure out the sarcasm, there.

At 11/30/2006 12:42 AM, Blogger Priya said...

I know--especially if anyone had bothered to read the rest (or even the general tone of PTSD)


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