GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

April 23, 2009


Filed under: GA — adam @ 7:30 am

The proper response to any claim we wish to take seriously is to inquire into its possible operationalizations.  If you mean wht you say, in other words, what would it mean–construct for me an event, hypothetical or actual, in which the meaning of what you say can be (ostensively) verified, affirmed, or authenticated.  Culture is a series of models of operationalization:  the way we operationalize claims regarding the value of an object, is to place it on the market; if we want to operationalize a claim about nature we set up an experimental scene in which we can reduce the causal uncertainties to those we wish to study; if we want to operationalize claims about beauty we must draw the attention of others, or ourselves, in a sustained manner to the thing we find beautiful–in the inexhaustibility with which it attracts and enriches attention will lie its beauty; if we wish to operationalize claims about morality, we need to see place moral claims, or see them placed, within individual events, in some proximity to other kinds of claims and see under which conditions individuals will consider something “good’ enough to commit their honor to it; and, perhaps most difficult of all, in the sphere of law and politics, if we wish to operationalize claims about justice, right, and freedom, we must create and incessantly tend to institutions that concentrate, aggregate, display and limit power, and that can generate enclosed scenes in which abstract rules can construct the form under which we assess responsibility for events.

Operationalization is representation, and just as representation is the deferral of violence through the articulation of an event around a sign, when we operationalize some claim we likewise seek to bring sign (law, norm) into accord with an event, and in this way disperse the centrifugal claims that threaten to turn claims into bids for a piece of the sparagmatic pie.  In this case, a large part, maybe the major part, of politics and law, and, for that matter, morality and thinking, is bringing claims into the light of day where the can be gathered under signs into events.  In this way, one can pursue partisan ends in such a way as to renew the institutions that must transcend partisanship.  The naked egotism of “show me the money!” (to quote a popular film from some years back) is simultaneously a way putting the monetary system for determining value to work.

This all occurs to me in connection with the Obama Adminstration’s release of redacted portions of the memos regarding interrogation practices generated within the Bush Adminstration.  Rather than railing against the utter nihilism and destructiveness of this act (alright, I just did that), why not respond with “show me the money!”  That is, go ahead, as the Obama Administration has hinted it will consider, and prosecute those you believe not only broke the law but ruined Ameirca’s reputation.  Let’s publish all the memos, as Dick Cheney has urged, let’s force the full panoply of responses to the Islamic terror threat during the years 2001-2005 upon the public attention, making it a matter of deliberation and conscience.  Let’s set up commisions before which everyone testifies, including the Democratic members of Congress who knew of and approved, implicitly, explicitly and enthusiastically, of the very methods now denounced as shameful.  Even more, if Obama genuinely believes that these interrogation methods were wrong, and constituted an injustice against the people upon whom they were practiced, then we should insist that he apologize–not one of these anemic apologies to the “world” or some part thereof, but to the individuals themselves–to those individuals to whom, in fact, restitution can and should be made.  In other words, the operationalization or representation of the attitude Obama has been striking would be a public apology, complete with full health care, pension and damages, to Khalid Sheik Muhammed.

Is the United States the same country it was prior to the election of Barack Obama (I believe that Obama would prefer to think not); or, for that matter, prior to September 11, 2001?  I would like to see public pressure upon Obama to operationalize the claims implicit in his release of the memos because the subsequent response will operationalize these more substantional questions.


  1. Adam, there appears to be an error in the blog function – whenever i attempt to comment further on Syntactic Entanglements, it goes to the bottom of an earlier post, and what’s more, it says ‘no comments’ under ST, when in fact there have already been two.. does it mean you in the end you tried to make your ‘and’ an ‘an’ and now look what happand?

    Comment by lightweed — May 1, 2009 @ 11:33 pm

  2. No–I didn’t try to change it. I’ll try it myself.

    Comment by adam — May 2, 2009 @ 5:15 am

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