Monday, October 19, 2009

Where Human Rights Loom Largest

The denial of rights - having to find rights - leads down a slippery slope. The most dangerous aspects of biopower come with the foreknowledge and acceptance that since it deals with life itself, any threat to lives of the state is a fundamental blow against the existential nature of the state. When the state accepts life as a critical measure of its own ability, life takes on paramount importance. Violence is no longer a measure of mobilizations and industry but the potential for violence is measured in the production of life and its suitable and efficient utilization. Hence, as power maximizes the service to life, when the state invests itself in the production and proliferation of life, anything can be justified - murder, torture, execution, the denial of rights, the denial of humanity. Witness how the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, and the greater amorphous war on Terrorism, have blatantly sought to identify and eradicate groups opposed to the humanity of the nation. Thus while America has learned restraint on violence since the end of the Cold War in relation to other states, it has come to view “power situated and exercised at the level of life, the species, the race, and the large-scale phenomena of the population”[Foucault, History of Sexuality p. 143] and taken it to its maximum possible paradigm of protection.

This thread of biopower eventually leads a state, intoxicated by its influence, down a self-destructive road or to be, in Derrida’s words, “more suicidal”. Absurdly, the concept is the principle of killing oneself more. However, as seen in the Patriot Act, and wider still, the Bush Administration’s refusal to act multilaterally with its established allies, the distinction that demarcates the self-state/alliance and the Other become more and more fragile. Aspects of the Other begin to appear within the self (hence the concept of both the enemy within the state, and a distrust of European allies, and a deeper suspicion of potential enemies). Thus if the self includes the Other that threatens, then the state immunes itself by extracting and destroying the Other. But where the Other threatens, the Other is wholly other (“tout autre est tout autre”) as it threatens life itself. However, since the Other exists within the self-state, the state must harm more and more of itself. In this light, the Other can never be fully contained for it exists within the already constituted state[Derrida, Rogues p. 103] - it is ultimately self-harming and self-perpetuating. Unlike the neatly defined Other during the Cold War, this internal struggle creates enemies out of anyone in the struggle for life – suspicions arise even without direct threats and any agent can appear to be a facilitator of harm.

- aaron wee

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