28 June 2007

my cautionary tale

first of all, i would like to acknowledge that i should be writing my prospectus right now, this minute, in fact always, every minute.

there have been a spate of good prospectus days lately: first i realized that, whatever the "it's totally all rational and strategic, trust us" school of thought has to say [econ, i'm looking at you], excessive violence is a little overdetermined in war zones. so i need to develop a theory of well-controlled violence. check it out: i've replaced a fake puzzle with a real one!

then i started to think about the institutional differences between old and new armed groups (hezbollah doesn't have cavalry or even "cavalry"; most of the US military is not organized in compartmentalized sleeper cells), which led me to thinking, more generally, about what sorts of institutional wiggle room are available to what sorts of elites. could the american military change its weird quasi-chivalric ideology if it wanted to?

and then there's pages and pages of notes about pushes, pulls, carrots, sticks, resource types, priorities. say your group is of type "stick," and your resources change. does the violence your people use also change? my guess: yes, because you shift your remaining resources to consequating rules that are more strategically important and consequences are pretty much it for your guys. whereas the ideal-typical carrot (where by "carrot" i mean "indoctrination") guys are all "i know comandante's off having lunch, but do we really need this guy's TV/daughter/scalp for the cause?"

or something like that.

the prospectus update is really just a prelude to the cautionary tale, however. the moral of the cautionary tale, which i'm going to hit you with up front because i can't think of any animal allegories, is that no matter how invested you are in your work-thinking, you should save some space and time for other stuff, because there will come a time in that investment when you shouldn't (unethical) or can't (incoherent [see above]) write about work-thinking on your shooting-the-shit blog.

if you are me, and the above scenario comes to pass, you will then be very sad, because your shooting-the-shit blog, which used to contain an insight once in a while, is now mostly full of long meditations that everyone on the left has already thought of or said better. very notably for me: the more i think about the iraq war academically, the less i can blog it. but also, the more i contemplate violence, the less i have to say about gender in academia, food politics, appearance politics or my (now frustratingly, comprehensively back-burner-ed) religious life. it is a fine way, if one is not careful, to cut oneself off from all the interesting insights that haven't been peer-reviewed (i.e., most of them).

so: work-thinking is like a zebra mussel or that really motor-clogging algae some of the northern minnesota lakes are getting, in that it's fine in its own habitat but liable to invasion, takeover, and eventual ecosystem death unless its travel is carefully controlled.

and, oops, i've arrived at an animal allegory for my moral. dangit.