Over at the Guardian, Ed Pilkington notes a rather curious silence from a powerful American interest group:
The National Rifle Association is so tied up fighting new gun restrictions in the wake of the Newtown shooting that it has failed so far to mount its expected lobbying blitz against a new international arms control control treaty.
With just a few weeks to go until the world's first Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is put to a final vote at a UN conference in New York campaigners have voiced surprise at the NRA's relative silence on the issue. Until the Newtown tragedy, in which 20 young children died in their classrooms on 14 December, the UN's attempt to contain the loosely regulated international trade in weapons had been one of the gun lobby's biggest targets....
[A]head of the final ATT conference, which opens on 18 March, the NRA has been notable by its absence. Though the organisation continues to vow that it will do all in its power to prevent the arms trade coming into effect – arguing that it is a "ticking time-bomb" and "the most serious threat to American gun owners in decades" – it has not been applying the same strong-arm tactics as it did in 2012.
So what's up? Pilkington suggests that the NRA is so distracted fighting against domestic gun control measures that it's taken its eye off the ball of this treaty -- particlarly since, according to the American Bar Association, there's nothing in the ATT to infringe on Second Amendment rights.
That might be true, but let me suggest an alternative hypothesis based on LaPierre's own rhetoric. The standard NRA defense against gun control has been concern about a Leviathan stripping citizens of their right to bear arms. Based on LaPierre's recent Daily Caller essay, however, I think they've switched arguments. The concern is no longer about creeping totalitarianism; it's creeping anarchy:
Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals. These are perils we are sure to face—not just maybe. It’s not paranoia to buy a gun. It’s survival. It’s responsible behavior, and it’s time we encourage law-abiding Americans to do just that....
Responsible Americans realize that the world as we know it has changed. We, the American people, clearly see the daunting forces we will undoubtedly face: terrorists, crime, drug gangs, the possibility of Euro-style debt riots, civil unrest or natural disaster.
Gun owners are not buying firearms because they anticipate a confrontation with the government. Rather, we anticipate confrontations where the government isn’t there—or simply doesn’t show up in time.
To preserve the inalienable, individual human right to keep and bear arms—to withstand the siege that is coming—the NRA is building a four-year communications and resistance movement (emphasis added).
They say "communications and resistance movement," I say "doomsday preppers."
I'm hardly the only one to notice this kind of doomsday prepper rhetoric from LaPierre. What's interesting is that the NRA's allies in Congress are talking the same way. Gail Collins offers up the following Lindsey Graham quote:
The senator from South Carolina wanted to know what people were supposed to do with a lousy two-shell shotgun “in an environment where the law and order has broken down, whether it’s a hurricane, national disaster, earthquake, terrorist attack, cyberattack where the power goes down and the dam’s broken and chemicals have been released into the air and law enforcement is really not able to respond and people take advantage of that lawless environment.”
Do you think Graham spends a lot of time watching old episodes of “Doomsday Preppers?” Does he worry about zombies? That definitely would require a lot of firepower (emphasis added).
I don't know if Graham worries about zombies, but I've given this matter some thought, and I do wonder if there's a fusion of various apocalyptic fears going on in some political quarters.
To get back to the Arms Trade Treaty, since Newtown the NRA appears to have shifted tactics in its arguments about the necessity to bear arms. But the fear of state collapse is a very different logic from a fear of an overpowering state. If you believe that governments will simply crumble at the first sign of a threat, then you're not gonna bother lobbying against some silly international treaty. It's not like the ATT will make a difference when the s**t hits the fan. Rather, groups like the NRA should be more concerned with declining gun ownership rates in the United States.
In the argot of international relations theory, a leader or organization that finds itself trapped by its political rhetoric is suffering from "blowback." In an irony of ironies, I wonder if the NRA's shift in rhetoric has hamstrung its lobbying efforts on the Arms Trade Treaty.
Your humble blogger gave a talk at the "Sex, Tech and Rock & Roll" TEDx event at Binghamton University last month. My talk was entitled "Metaphor of the Living Dead" and was in part prompted by my prior work on zombies, as well as this blog post from last December.
Here's the TED talk:
I look forward to The Onion trying to satirize that talk.
In recent weeks there's been a low hum of pretty interesting and not-so-interesting essays asking why there has been so much attention paid in the zombie apocalypse, and what that attention signifies.
I bring this up because the Discovery Channel will be airing it's Zombie Apocalypse documentary this evening. The New York Times' Neal Genzlinger reviews it and finds it... pretty wanting:
Thank goodness we’ll all be wiped out by the Maya doomsday by week’s end. That will spare us the discomfort of having to go through the impending zombie apocalypse....
The National Geographic Channel’s “Doomsday Preppers,” among others, has already introduced viewers to people who go to seemingly extreme lengths to get ready for terrorist attacks, the collapse of the financial system, nuclear power plant disasters and more, so perhaps it’s no surprise that, at least according to this program, there are some among us who are seriously preparing for a zombie attack. What makes this program different is that among clips of the preppers spewing nonsense about how to shoot a zombie, it intercuts interviews with credentialed academics who say that, yes, a virus or some such that attacks the brain could find its way into humans, disseminate rapidly and cause symptoms that would make us resemble all those zombies we know and love from the movies....
The program also gives you the rare experience of hearing a professor (Daniel W. Drezner of Tufts University) described as the “author of ‘Theories of International Politics and Zombies’ ” — on Monday, No. 40 on Amazon’s list of best sellers in its sub-sub-subcategory of international and world politics. And it provides a new entry for the list of you-must-be-joking organizations: apparently there actually is something called theKansas Anti Zombie Militia.
But it’s hard right now to take this program in the pop-culture way it was intended, especially the idiocy that comes out of the mouths of the various preppers. “Some people’s epiphany,” says one, Matthew Oakey, “is when they realize that the guy that lives on their block with all the guns and ammo isn’t crazy.”
I haven't seen the documentary yet, so I can't really comment on it except what I recall from their interview of me three months ago. Three thoughts, though:
1) Given the reported claim that Nancy Lanza was in fact a doomsday prepper, I have to share Mr. Genzlinger's concern about the unfortunate timing of this broadcast. Some television networks have made alterations to their broadcasts because of the Sandy Hook attack. I'm not sure this program rises to that level, but the timing makes me wince, which is probably not a good sign.
2) Damn, I need to update my Fletcher page. Seriously, that thing is at least three years out of date.
3) Regarding my participation in the documentary, well, I'll just reprint what Newsday's Verne Gay wrote:
One of the "experts" quoted here is in fact a respected scholar in foreign policy at Tufts who has written widely on zombies, though largely as metaphors for chaos in world markets and how people adapt. In an email, I asked Dan Drezner about the program, and he responded that a book he had written on the subject was "intended to be funny [but] one of the points I make is that fears about zombie apocalypses are exaggerated because people underestimate the adaptability of humans." He added, "I have no idea if that got in or not."
Sorry, professor -- it did not get in, and the documentary is not funny.
That's unfortunate... and it gives rise to an almost sacrilegious question: have we hit the law of diminishing marginal returns on the living dead? On the popular culture front, when Twilight-like books and films are being made about zombies (though I gotta admit I like what I see from the trailer) and the sign of Nick's loserdom in The New Girl is that he's working on a lame zombie novel, I fear we've hit saturation point.
On the utility-of-the-metaphor front, I will defend the use of fictional analogies as a way of stimulating creative thinking and calling attention to useful policy measures until my last undying breath. I wrote Theories of International Politics and Zombies because I thought it would make some people laugh and make some people think; it was a subversive way to get some book-learning into the cerebellum. Since the book has come out, however, I find that the questions I get from reporters and documentarians about the living dead have morphed from seriocomic to just dead serious.
I share Alyssa Rosenberg's concern that people are focusing way too much on being in the apocalypse as opposed to how we get to the apocalypse and whether it can be stopped. Analogies free up certain pattens of thought while also constraining others. Because so many zombie narratives assume that no matter what humans do, we wind up in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, there's a tendency to presume that this must and always be so. That constraint is starting to become more prominent.
So to sum up: I'm in a zombie documentary this evening, it's apparently not that great, I'm quite confident that the zombie apocalypse won't happen, and my Fletcher page is badly in need of updating. That is all.
For the past ten days your humble blogger has been doing some intense work on a project that will see the light of day in the spring of 2013. This project has left your humble blogger's brain in a state that most likely resembles tapioca pudding. So today's post is not gonna be about the abstruse nature of the global economy. Instead, I wanna talk about a bad TV show.
The NBC/J.J.Abrams/Jon Favreau show Revolution earned respectable ratings in its premiere and follow-up episode. Your humble blogger must confess that he was intrigued enough by the trailer to check out the pilot to see what all the fuss was about. As a self-identified expert in the political economy of the apocalypse, however, I'm afraid that I must conclude that Revolution is a pile of derivative crap.
So, the basic setup of the show is that at some point in the near future, something happens that causes all electricity to stop working, everywhere. Revolution then fast-forwards fifteen years. In the interim the United States has fallen apart, replaced with authoritarian militias like the Monroe Militia currently trying to control the Midwest. In that area, gun ownership is banned.
The basic problem with Revolution is that it wants to to get to the post-apocalyptic world of, say, The Walking Dead, with the anarchy and the chaos and the bloddletting, but it cheats way too much on its premise to earn its world.
I kinda like the idea of a reset in which electricity simply stops working for some malevolent reason, so I don't exactly have the same problem that the physics geeks have with the show. But Revolution's premise simply neither considers nor respects the lessons from history in trying to create it's post-apocalyptic world. Consider the following historical facts:
1) Countries and empires managed to maintain something resembling territorial integrity prior to the invention of electricity;
2) There's this little invention called the "steam power" which really only needs fire to be able to work, that the show completely elides. This matters one whole hell of a lot. Steam engines can power railroads, steamships, and even cars. So a blackout would have put some crimps in cross-country and cross-border communication -- but it wouldn't have slowed transportation all that much. Steam power would also allow things like industrial factories and foundies to continue -- albeit with considerable retooling. All told, the odds of state collapse are actually pretty remote.
3) Everyone in this show is either walking or riding a horse to get around. Now let's assume that everyone in the world developed historical amnesia about steam power. It's stupid, but OK. Where are the f**king bicycles?! Are those not working as well?
Now I realize that the show's creators are more interested in promoting
anything that gives this show a whiff of that Hunger Games vibe swordplay and hot young archers -- not that there's anything wrong with that. Still, this seems like a wasted opportunity.
Coming up next time in Drezner's TV round-up -- I'll review Last Resort.
I was all set this morning to blog more about high-falutin' theoretical IR debates or what's happening in Libya or whether Hugo Chavez can really move all of his gold without these guys somehow stealing it, when, well.... this happened:
So instead, today your humble blogger was busy stockpiling supplies like
vodka fresh water, whiskey, batteries, bourbon, dry goods, etc.
This might seem like an overreaction, and hopefully, it will be. However, I learned a valuable lesson from the last time I labeled an event like this as "hurricane porn." Never again will I trivialize hurricane warnings. Even if, nine times out of ten, a hurricane/tropical storm/tropical depression turns out to be less than advertised, there is that one time that the worst case scenario nis actually realized. And in that event, better to be prepared than not.
Of course, the problem with this approach is that after each iteration in which a natural disaster warning does not come to fruition, one is tempted to be more blasé about the next one. It's the meteorilogical equivalent of festering foreign policy problems -- unless and until a slow-motion problem becomes an acute crisis, attention will not be paid.
Still, on a day when parts of New York are being evacuated, I am grateful that this is unlikely to happen:
For your weekend amusement, check out my latest Bloggingheads diavlog with Daniel H. Wilson, author of How to Survive a Robot Uprising and the released-last-month-and-now-a-New-York-Times-bestseller Robopocalypse. If you're not familiar with Robopocalypse now, you will be when Steven Spielberg turns it into the must-see blockbuster of 2013. We talk about the challenges of writing a book when you know it will be a movie, the future of self-driving cars, and whether zombies or robots are the perfect 21st-century threat through which to think about international relations (Wilson's answer will surprise
Charli Carpenter you!)
Wilson's enthusiasm for the genre is quite infectious, and let me state for the record that a) Robopocalypse is the perfect summer read; and b) despite my strong desire to loathe anyone who stumbles into Spielberg money, Wilson was a great and gracious interview).
Your humble blogger is taking a short vacation, because so much friggin' stuff has happened in the past half-year. Indeed, in 2011 to date, the planet has lived up to FP's motto: the world is not a boring place. Wars, revolutions, natural disasters, non-natural disasters, the possibility of sovereign defaults -- for a world politics junkie, it's been very exciting
Does exciting mean the coming of end-times, however? I ask because the New York Times' Azam Ahmed observes the latest trendy investment -- Armageddon funds:
On a related note, Jay Ulfelder looks at the release of the 2011 Failed States Index and Admiral Mike Mullen's worries about a possible increase in the number of failed states. Ulfelder is more sanguine than Mullen:
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.