Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Internal Contradictions of the Expert

When reading an article in the New Yorker last week about the unending nature of the “war on terror,” I thought, “If the war on terror ever ended, what would all of the counter-terrorism experts do?” The “counterterrorism expert” falls within a group of occupations whose definition assumes the continued existence of a designated problem, occupations which suffer from an internal contradiction in which their success negates their continued relevance. In other words, the idea of the “counterterrorism expert” assumes that the terror will continue to be a large problem worthy of heavy federal investment.

Let me explain this better through the example of the diet pill manufacturer or the weight loss consultant. These occupations presume that obesity will continue to be a problem. If everyone were fit, then the diet pill manufacturers and weight loss consultants would see no demand and would cease to exist. Because of this, built into the position itself is the presumption of failure. The diet pill manufacturer and weight loss consultant do not actually want everyone to be fit—or believe that to be a genuine possibility. The continued relevance of their position is served less by universal fitness than by universal insecurity. When people feel insecure about their body image, the diet pill manufacturer and the weight loss consultant will thrive.

Let’s use this same angle to look at the “counter-terrorism expert” in the war on terror. The counter-terrorism expert has a vested interest in the continued sense of national insecurity because only in such a case does his/her position matter. As it stands, the war on terror is endless by design insofar as it rests on the assumption that the “war” must continue so long as somebody, somewhere, is plotting against the United States. A “counter-terrorism expert” must engage in perpetual threat amplification about terrorism in order to gain a seat at the table, for the demand for his/her position is a function of the perceived urgency and continuity of the problem.

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