The Biopolitics of Asymmetry: Interrogating the Humanity of Drone Warfare

In response to a speech given by Obama in 2013 on his administration’s counterterrorism policy, popularly referred to as his “drone speech,” General William Nash commented that Obama “has begun the transition from a perpetual war to a more normalized security framework.” I address this normalization of the categorization and control of life within a global threatscape. Much of the debate at policy level, in academia, and on the flickering screens of media outlets surrounding the contemporary fixture of the counterterror arsenal, the drone, focuses upon the legal and ethical implications. Administration officials continually stress the need for “transparency” and the president’s wish that the United States hold itself to “the highest possible standards” in the conduct of a just, humanitarian war—reminding us this is indeed a war, against an organization and its affiliates.

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The Cyberwar at Home: Integration of Security and Counter-Terrorism Initiatives into Household and Personal Mobile Systems

Recent initiatives to utilize household and personal mobile technologies to further specific security, surveillance, and counter-terrorism objectives pose significant challenges to civil liberties and personal well-being. The social and political statuses of these technological systems are just emerging: they are rapidly being infused into home settings and mobile devices, apparently under the control of users but under at least the partial monitoring and operation of various governmental and corporate entities. Individuals are being increasingly surveilled by sets of security-related mechanisms in their home automation and mobile communications devices as well as by other manifestations of the “Internet of Things” (IoT).

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Security, Secrecy, and the Liberal Imaginary

Western societies increasingly imagine, plan, and even rehearse their own destruction. This cultural habit reflects a growing contradiction in democracy. On the one hand, liberal societies laud the ideals of participatory democracy, free speech, individual liberty, and governmental transparency. On the other, they grow ever more committed to the biopolitical regulation of life, the mitigation of threats to public health and safety, and the restriction of liberties as a way of securing liberty itself. How do we understand the inexorable growth of a security paradigm in liberal democracies? The answer lies partly in the cultural imaginary that shapes public contemplation of citizenship, liberty, and security. This imaginary reflects both the growing influence of biopolitics and the legacy the Cold War covert action. Paradoxically, the Cold War state’s growing commitment to covert action was itself increasingly public; as a result, public culture has became obsessed with, and enamored of, covert affairs. Despite state secrecy, most citizens believe they know the “kinds of things” their government is doing in secret—yet they cannot know in detail, and they receive most of their knowledge in the form of melodramatic fiction. The result is a growing irrationality in the democratic public sphere.

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Telos 170 (Spring 2015): Security and Liberalism

When Edward Snowden, on June 9, 2013, revealed his identity in a video interview posted on the website of the Guardian, he invoked the intellectual framework of liberalism in order to explain why he had leaked a massive trove of secret documents about the spying and data collection practices of the National Security Administration (NSA) and its partner agencies. Having regularly witnessed the legal abuses of the NSA as a technical assistant for the CIA and, subsequently, as an employee of the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, Snowden explained that “over time [the] awareness of wrongdoing builds up and you feel compelled to talk about it . . . until eventually you realize that these things need to be determined by the public, not by somebody who’s simply hired by the government.”

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Telos 169 (Winter 2014): A Return to Politics

Telos 169 (Winter 2014) is now available for purchase in our store.

In recent years, there has been much hand-wringing over widespread apathy, not only among young generations but throughout the public. Politics, so critics have been claiming, has become a matter exclusively of media manipulation, of a manufactured consensus foisted on a malleable citizenry. This dystopian vision allegedly held not only in the United States (although perhaps especially here) but across much of the globe. Democratization movements appeared to have been crushed, whether in Iran or China, as the leadership in the West—once the premier advocate of democratic transformation—opted instead for the realpolitik of deals with rulers, no matter how unsavory, over support for popular movements, no matter how just.

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