Nervous states and States (pt. 2)


I continue my discussion of William Davies’ book Nervous States. 

Apparently, these boundary fluctuations may be part of the cause of much anger in the land ( I’ve discussed a way to help calm that anger in an earlier posting (“Who Matters?” Dec. 18, 2018).

Meanwhile, new forms of violence have occurred, in which states are attacked by non-state groups, interstate conflicts are fought using non-military means (such as cyberwarfare) and the distinction between policing and military intervention becomes blurred.

The first is incontestable.

Regarding the second: Apparently cyberwar has been going on, although undeclared, since at least 2005 (The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age¸ David E. Sanger; Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyberwar, Fred M. Kaplan ). This has moved from defensive action to offensive action as a matter of necessity. Revelations show the NSA’s planted ready-to-go electronic gadgets around the world (  Many countries are probing others, looking for ability to disrupt civilian infrastructure, interfere with political processes, and steal military and commercial information. This goes on all the time. Originally considered so close to an act of war that presidential authorization was required for each offensive penetration, some has now been delegated to the relatively new U.S. Cyber Command. Essentially many nations are busy in undeclared warfare. This activity underlies much political and economic strategy, as in the current China-U.S. confrontation (with Canada in the middle) over Huawei’s actions — what its equipment may be used for and what suppliers may contribute to its work. That which appears to be commercial (and with Canada, legal) activities, are really overlays of this warfare. As public tensions rise between Iran and the U.S. (and, I suppose, other countries), they, too, may be surface cover for the actual on-going wars.

For the third, the difference between military and policy actions, I suppose so. Ending about two years ago, my across-the-street neighbour’s house was visited by normal uniformed police twice, and by SWAT forces three times over fourteen months. Some of the SWAT vehicles were identified as police; they were not from our region, but from the large city next door. They wore fatigues, protective vests, helmets, and carried some sort of rifles strapped to their shoulder but held at the ready. They were posted on my side of the street as well as on the neighbour’s. They occupied our street for two or three houses and were turned toward my house, not the target house. They would not speak, but just stood there silently. Yes, the distance between police and military was blurred.

As one reads about the States, it is easy to see how people there may feel the presence of armed force, whether police, military, or hybrid, more keenly than in earlier years: the Border Patrol apparently has jurisdiction within a hundred miles of the border; ICE can operate anywhere geographically, although within some other kinds of restrictions; county sheriffs have extraordinary near autonomy (; Homeland Security can operate elsewhere; and  police forces have been equipped for years with military gear (

In regard to expertise (an extension of the idea that people can have objective, somewhat removed, points of view not affected by emotion), Davies writes further

 The promise of expertise…is to provide us with a version of reality that we can all agree on. The promise of digital computing, by contrast, is to maximize sensitivity to a changing environment. Experts produce facts; Google and Twitter offer trends.

To this might be added the contrast between intellectual authorities and “thought leaders” (The Ideas Industry, by Daniel Drezner). This may explain the anti-vaxers’ distrust of expert opinion and public health officers. I’m uncertain how this, which should lead to distrust of news sources, can be turned to trust. It would, as I’ve discussed in my first two postings, require that people step aside often from their news sources; take the time to reconsider; and decide which shall receive their informed consent.

On the other hand, social media can be used positively as well (; for such purposes as intervening in expected attempted suicides. Not all demons and all angels reside in any category of public discourse.

Effects of facts upon the individual: If I understand him, then, and put together his suggestions along with those of Jonathan M. Metzl’s Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland, we must ponder whether white lower-middle and lower-class residents of several countries would rather be heroic sufferers and vote for the politicians and laws which cause much of their suffering by reducing health care, clean air, clean water, and reliable incomes.

Davies posits that people are not impressed with statistics unless those statistics reflect their lived experiences (so also Deneen, above). So, for example, if people are told that statistics show that increased immigration is good for the economy and provides jobs which locals are unwilling to take, but those statistics do not explain their own reduced circumstances, the cause of which they do not understand, those statistics will not comfort them nor explain their lives to them – nor leave them honour. It may not be possible to accept that there are circumstances beyond individual control which lead to poor health and poor financial circumstances, but one knows better than to blame oneself, so the individual will take the heroic route of suffering because, in a sense, one can control that response.

I am not competent to appraise these suggestions, let alone to give informed consent to them, but I would be remiss to dismiss what I cannot validate. While I continue to look for more knowledgeable appraisals of these ideas, I will mull them over in my mind and see what I can make of it.

But to return to the central theme of all these blog posts, I see that lack of informed consent may lie at the core of them.

Questions posed by all of this: is it possible that a way has been found to bend the will of people toward their own destruction while garnering their support for those very efforts? Has this technique been added to the known destructive effects of on-line deception to eliminate the ability of people to think well about their own welfare, let alone the good of others (see Too Dumb for Democracy? Why We Make Bad Political Decisions and How We Can Make Better Ones, David Moscrop)?

As part of the critique of expertise, Davies suggests that government intelligence efforts prefer quick, actionable information than cold, well-thought out analysis – quickly derived information for hair-trigger decisions which would make anyone nervous. This may be one style that is current. Certainly, as described in Clapper’s book (see blog posted Aug, 2018 “Character in Politicians”), the analysts who accompany front-line troops in taking over enemy installations, are able to read their computer info about related groups and their anticipated locations and operations, so as to interdict them before the enemy realize the current operation has already penetrated their own.

But it also has remained true that the other kind of analysis, slow, thorough examination of information arising on its own, and information derived through enquiry (the kinds I conducted and read), has continued (see also “Stovepipe”¸ by Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker Oct. 27, 2003; Worthy Fights, Leon Panetta; Playing to the Edge, Michael Hayden).

Concerning the larger question of whether people can find meaning for themselves:  

Philosophy: Even if in poor health or poor economic circumstances, without using pain and suffering to define the meaning of one’s life and self,, this has always been the purview of religion and philosophy. Davies seems to think that the newer perspectives on psychology have found emotion to so overcome rationality, that thought, as understood in philosophy, dependent upon Decartes’ separation of mind and body, is not really possible. I’ll let professional philosophers argue this one.  But I will discuss religion’s answer.

Religion: I’ll answer only in terms of Biblical theology, having never found it necessary to try to defend later theology or church doctrines. Looking at the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, I suggest that the dichotomy we believe that we find between mind and spirit, is imposed by later philosophic thinking; it’s not explicit in Scripture. In Hebrew thinking of the time, one was alive only in relationships, particularly greater family ones, and with God; when dead, something perhaps continued, but it was not necessarily what later Greeks would call a soul. The New Testament Jesus was deliberately vague about the afterlife, save to deny most of the suggestions put to him.

It is a question whether an individual has his or her own soul, or whether it is simply a bit of holy spirit within (a function of the divine having breathed this into people at the beginning)  while alive. One has a mind, definitely, but the vocabulary about mind and soul  have unspecified referents outside the canon, i.e., what was meant in the New Testament by these terms is sought  by finding the terms outside the New Testament. The result  may not be accurate. We cannot be certain of what referents are assumed by the authors nor the people who heard Jesus or Paul, or read Paul.

So, to some of these conclusions I have given informed consent; to some, not; and I must reserve my decision about one. But having reconsidered, I feel more in control of my life and my emotional and rational responses.

I hope I may look forward to helpful comments.

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