Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Clear Use of Sources

I’m looking at a quotation that I don’t know what to do with: it’s confusing me. I ask you, reader, to help explain it to me; to help me figure out how the author is using a particular source. Here’s the quotation, in context, from pages iii-iv of the Preface by Marshall Sahlins to The Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual:

As deconstructed in the Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual, the applied anthropology of the US Military may be described something as follows: a planetary strategy of research and destroy, involving the deployment of armed and largely culturally-illiterate American forces from among the thousand or so garrisons now distributed on foreign soil, sometimes complemented by second rate mercenary academics, all charged with an investigation of the cultures of the local peoples sufficient to determine if and how they can be subjugated or, failing that, taken out.

Here is anthropology as a weapon in dubious battles, as the critics rightly claim. For as it is put by a certain Lt. Colonel cited in the counterinsurgency manual:

“There will be no peace… The de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To these ends, we will do a fair amount of killing. We are building an information-based military to do that killing.”

But then, whose side are you on, Petraeus? Although the counterinsurgency manual pretends to be based on up-to-date social science, it lacks the critical reflexivity of the latter, since what it dare not address is the Americans’ own presence as an invading and occupying power.

My question is about that “There will be no peace” quotation that goes up to “killing”: how is Sahlins using it? What’s the purpose? There seem to me to be several problems with the quotation. First, the “certain Lt. Colonel” is never cited in the counterinsurgency manual: the quotation comes from a xenophobic 1997 editorial piece by the then-Major Ralph Peters, published quite clearly not as scholarship but as opinion, and in its content clearly superannuated by the work that went into the counterinsurgency field manual. If we are to believe that authors work with a sincere commitment to the words they write, that work strikes me as creditable, and should in no way be related to the execrative fustian offered by Peters ten years earlier.

So: the material leading up to the quotation says some nasty things about the military and about the authors of the field manual, and about the intentions of its authors in using anthropological scholarship. The material following the quotation directly addresses General David Petraeus, who directed the authorship and publication of the Field Manual that Sahlins critiques.

Why, then, does Sahlins use a quotation (itself not cited at all in the Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual: I found the Peters source via Google) from an author he doesn’t name? Is this guilt by association? Is there an implied equivalency between the opinions of the author of an editorial piece and military doctrine? If so, how is the quotation supposed to relate to General Petraeus? Should we understand from the way the quotation is positioned that General Petraeus is to be held to account for the opinions of the now-retired Peters? In sum: what are we to understand as the intended relation of the Peters quotation to FM 3-24?

Halloween Music

I’m enjoying listening to the Dead Kennedy’s “Halloween” tonight, especially the following bits:

So it’s Halloween
And you feel like dancin’
And you feel like shinin’
And you feel like letting loose

Whatcha gonna be
Babe, you better know
And you better plan
Better plan all day

Better plan all week
Better plan all month
Better plan all year


Why not every day
Are you so afraid
What will people say

After Halloween

Because your role is planned for you
There’s nothing you can do
But stop and think it through
But what will the boss say to you

And what will your girlfriend say to you
And the people out on the street they might glare at you
And whaddaya know you’re pretty self-conscious too

I’m celebrating my 40th birthday this year on Halloween (I was born on November 1), and I’m excited about it, but it’s also kind of a big milestone that’s got me looking back.

I first heard the Dead Kennedys when I was 9th grade — can that be right? Yes, that’s got to be right — and man, they were scary, and they were cool as hell. There was a mix tape that made the rounds and got duplicated and reduplicated, with Black Flag, Government Issue, Black Market Baby, and the Dead Kennedys, and it was garbled and hissy and recorded from a vinyl LP so there was a brief scratch and skip in “Trust Your Mechanic” that I still miss every time I hear the version I have now, and the climactic fantasy moments from “Riot” and “Forest Fire” were the first times I realized that music could do that energizing, subversive stuff, and the ominous bass melodies for “Holiday in Cambodia” and “I Am the Owl” were like nothing I’d ever hear until Primus, and I’ll still contend that the opening guitar riff for “Government Flu” is one of the best and most underrated in all of rock ‘n roll, up there with Suicidal Tendencies’ “The Miracle.” So yeah: back then, at a virginal 13, this was wicked-scary, dangerous, very cool stuff, as tinny and hissy as it was on that Maxell Gold cassette.

And I still like it, thinking back on my skinny nerdy self 27 years later, not as skinny but still plenty nerdy, gone from spiky hair to mullet to bleached mullet to fat mohawk to long hair to spiky again and then to the crew cut and finally to the shaved head: not really punk now, no.

Why not every day
Are you so afraid
What will people say

After Halloween

But I guess I was punk once.

Ostrom’s Nobel and Lanham’s Economy

Yes, it’s been too long since I’ve posted here: other concerns, other priorities. I’ve got a milestone coming up, though, after which I’ll likely be posting more.

To that end, an observation: I was glad to see that Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel for economics. I’ve only read those who’ve been influenced by her work, even though clew pointed me her way six years ago (d’oh!), so now I need to get a copy of Governing the Commons from the library. But the accounts I’ve looked at lead me to wonder: Lanham talks about the so-called information economy being actually an economy of attention, and then undertakes a wholly market-based discussion of that economy. But what if that economy of attention isn’t a market (as I’m pretty sure it isn’t), driven by scarcity and competition?

What if attention is a commons?