Speed, Action and Democracy
As we move farther away from September 11th, 2001, we remain in the thick of crisis, while the stories of post-traumatic everyday existence grow ever more muted, harder to hear. I made the initial revisions to this article more than a year after 9/11, as the second Bush Administration was again issuing call after impatient call to act without delay, this time in a war against Iraq/Saddam Hussein and its/his "weapons of mass destruction," its rhetoric echoing its calls for the bombing of Afghanistan, and explicitly (if vaguely) linking Hussein to "the war on terror." Now, as I make my final revisions, the Iraqi war has been declared over and successful by the same regime, but the crisis - including multi-colored "state of alert," and multiple calls to action for the "war on terrorism" - continues.
The October/November 2002 issue of The Boston Review tackles the explicit ramifications of issue the call to action for U.S. military policy and provides several interesting variations on the argument against crisis as part of "New Democracy Forum: What's Wrong with Our National Defense" in which writers as diverse as Catherine Lutz and Rear Admiral Eugene J. Carroll respond to Elaine Scarry's "Citizenship in Emergency." Scarry, a critic deeply familiar with the structures of trauma, cites the administration's emphasis on crisis as proceeding from an all-too-familiar "argument from speed." Reading the symptoms of this argument in both the names of weapons ("Minuteman missiles") and descriptions of military strategy and defense policy, Scarry demonstrates that the argument from speed currently being employed to side-step the democratic process and centralize authority has been a normative defense policy for at least fifty years. Then, comparing the timelines of events on the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, and the hijacked plane that hit the Pentagon, Scarry exposes the fallacy of the argument from speed for centralized authority, pointing to both the failure of the Pentagon to defend itself, and the successful democratic processes of the heroic Pennsylvania passengers, who held a debate amongst themselves and friends and family on the ground by cell phone, before acting.
Traditionally, feminist pedagogy has emphasized exactly such messy town-meeting style deliberations over the authoritarian deliverance of information from on high. Indeed, as much as the passing on of any particular body of information, or even the shaping of a feminist lens on the world, the claim of feminist teachers has been that we are teaching students to see, to read, to think and to act for themselves. In the midst of our urgent need to bear witness to the ongoing events of the day, it is good to remember that the commitment to mediating hierarchy, which so often feels like a loss of control, may in the end be the most efficient methodology.