Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lieberman disgusts me.

Why are conservatives so afraid of a public option? If they really believe in the power of free market enterprise, then they should have faith that the government run public option would be unable to compete with private companies. If it is true that market competition produces efficiency, then the private companies will find ways to offer better service at a better price than the public option.

However, I sense a fragility in conservative Democrats faith in the markets. They would rather protect the private insurance companies by compelling everyone to join them, rather then forcing the private sector to prove its worth by competing with a public option. Lieberman and every Republican in the House and Senate are playing right into the hands of Big Insurance and are acting very cowardly.(Not surprising considering that Lieberman has received over $920,000 in campaign contributions from the health insurance industry since 2005.) Lieberman and Co. are forcing concessions that severely weaken the proposed health care legislation during this pivotal and unique opportunity for real change.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What I started writing for my law school application... crap.

“Moderation in all things.” My favorite Mormon aphorism. Not a very sexy saying to be sure. “Hard-core” and “extreme” characterized the style of my youth. In politics we reward those who we find to be uncompromising. From the amount of derision exhibited in the media an outsider might conclude that the gravest crime a US public official can commit is a change of mind – infamously known as the “flip-flop.” Even while criticizing the opposition for being stubborn we find ourselves settling into our comfortable spaces of ideological purity. Setting up camp in the wings is comfortable. There is a clear boundary between what is thinkable and what is not. This does not suggest that political moderates are the heroes of the American political system. If anything the “moderation” of the American public is excessive and primarily exhibits. Otherwise, claiming to be a political moderate is usually merely a form of political cowardice. I doubt anyone really thinks that Glen Beck and Michael Moore are actually independents. There is no challenge to what should be thought if you are already outside – of course you think differently – nothing revolutionary about that. For instance, Slavoj Zizek believes that that only a conservative Nixon could have established talks with China. Zizek calls this a true political act – in which the “unthinkable is rendered thinkable.” A true political act, a true movement, a true shift in collective expectations of what is and is not done, requires transgression and there is no transgression if you already on the outside.

Unless we are willing to consign moderation to a place of simplistic unimportance, then moderation cannot be just boring un-effective apathetic nihilism. Especially if it’s really just a façade behind which one hides a particularly immoderate ideology. Moderation is the middle path, the prudent path, but this does not mean that it is the easy path. The true moderate should be ideologically schizophrenic – but ever practical. This is an uneasy balance to find, because you can’t rely on the same set of rules for every situation. This can be a great disadvantage to the person who seeks the middle path. Instead, a great deal of specificity is required in arriving at well thought out moderate decisions. This of course requires hard work and patience and only rare moments where one can feel sure about their choice in a given political situation. This is the road I want to follow: constant careful analysis of each new problem without giving priority to any one ideological lens – looking at lots of relevant information (and probably some irrelevant) from several perspectives and orientations.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

It surprises me how reading Zizek tends make me feel better about life.

"What the cynics don’t see is their own naivety, the naivety of their cynical wisdom that ignores the power of illusions."
- slavoj zizek

The advent of Obama really has inspired a nation. The mere fact that a public option is even being seriously considered proves to me that things have changed - a few years ago I would have thought it impossible in the USA. I'm gonna continue to hope - if not because of Obama - than at least because of the symbolic importance of his election. Thanks Zizek.

Slavoj, Zizek. "Why Cynics Are Wrong."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I'm done at USU

On saturday i will graduate from Utah State University. I'm super excited and very ready to be done. As with every threshold in life, this juncture has spurred a strange admixture of emotions. Graduating is a bitter sweet victory, I will seriously miss my time spent here on campus. When you're in college you feel like you're at the center of everything - networked into an academic tradition information, and a variety of perspectives are readily available. University life puts you in ideal position to understand a changing world. Along with this academic stimulation, there is also very little responsibility. Therefore, I'll definitely miss being an undergrad.

This blog contains a fairly representative sample of my work during my time as an undergraduate.

Feel free to plagiarize from these works, I'll be flattered by the application of something I've written - which is enough for me at the moment. Maybe someday I'll get something published - validating my academic worth - but for now my work only has value insofar as others use it to influence their own work.

Big Man: Competing Theories or Assesing the Real

Robert Mueck’s Big Man is –upon first viewing – really quite repulsive. This meticulously rendered seven-foot high, fiberglass sculpture, of an overweight and completely exposed man does not readily lend itself or, more accurately, himself to our scrutiny. In fact he sullenly looks away as if to say, “Leave me to my indignity!” Thus, upon entering the room the viewer is immediately aware that she is not welcome. Big Man is not open to her. Yet, here we face a paradox, the harsh hyperreality of this Man makes us immediately aware that we should look away; but this Man, and this private scene is also not. Big Man is a work of art in a public space, in an art museum no less, and is therefore inviting us to look, to survey the room and gaze upon his nakedness. The voyeuristic pleasure produced by this paradox is similar to, and reciprocally enhanced by, the disinterested Kantian pleasure in the universal and non-conceptual, aesthetic contemplation of purposiveness without purpose by a mind in free play. The possibility present in the form of Big Man for pure aesthetic pleasure in the pure Kantian sense is intriguing; however the true import of big man may only be realized in relation to the work of contemporary philosophers such as Jean Baudrillard and Jean-Luc Marion. First though, is Big Man an appropriate object for aesthetic contemplation? To find out, let us turn to the work of Immanuel Kant.

Kant is credited with a “Copernican Revolution” in philosophy for discovering that subjectivity makes all judgment (including aesthetic judgments) problematic (p. 64). In order to resolve this tension Kant developed four necessary conditions under which aesthetic appreciation is possible.

The first is that aesthetic judgment must be disinterested. There is for Kant a difference between the pleasure based solely on the representation (which relates to aesthetic judgment and taste), and pleasure based on the existence of the object (which relates to rational/utilitarian judgment ) (p. 281). Utility, or satisfaction derived from an interest, has nothing to do with aesthetics (p. 281-282). True aesthetic judgment is non-objective in this sense, as it will be completely disinterested as to the actual existence of the object of representation. Rather it is the “mere appearance” of the object – i.e. the representation – which concerns aesthetic judgment (p. 285). This criterion ensures that when we talk about beauty we really are talking about the appearance of the thing – and not some other concept or interest related to the appearance. Big Man does not clearly fit the requirements for beauty that Kant lays out for us. In fact, the mere appearance of this swollen mass does not inspire an immediate impression of pleasure at all, but instead creates discomfort – pain. Yet this feeling of discomfort is not necessarily determinative. For Beauty was not the only aesthetic experience Kant recognized.

Kant actually struggled somewhat reconciling another kind of aesthetic experience which seemed to contradict his theory of aesthetics. The sublime experience – i.e. an overwhelming experience of a powerful force that inspires both fear and awe – causes an admixture of both pain and pleasure. Applying his theory to the sublime, Kant is willing to puts aside the initial impression of pain (which for him did not truly characterize the aesthetic experience) in order to discuss the strange pleasure of sublimity. Kant ultimately concludes that the sublime is wrought in the mind of a person who’s faculties are unable comprehend the vastness of infinity in a given representation and therefore begin to oscillate between the “violent” and purposeless failure of the senses, and the “purposive” resignation to the limits of her perception[1]. Kant admits that the sublime experience is not wholly pleasant, and may even be a critical juncture which opens up space for us to have access to the true underlying aesthetic experience. As Kant did in explaining his explanation of the sublime we will assume that aesthetic pleasure – even though an á priori sensation based on the form of representation (p. 286) – may yet be somewhat slow acting.

Furthermore, this perspective may help solve an interesting problem which Kant’s theory creates for gallery enthusiasts. You see, there is an inherent interest in viewing things – such as Big Man – in a museum. Viewers expect art to make them cultured and educated and possibly to help them experience something transcendent. These interests immediately negate any possibility of a pure aesthetic experience in the Kantian sense. Big Man, however, undoes all this interest entailed in viewership.

The discomfort induced by Big Man subverts our intention, by immediately shifting our expectations. Big Man is not here for us to view him, he does not look at us, but this only enhances the sense of irritation at our presence. In a sense the viewer is no longer in the space of the museum, he is in Big Man’s space. The paradoxical nature of Big Man (both inviting and eschewing the gaze) thus makes a true Kantian judgment possible. Therefore, the pain at the first appearance of Big Man makes disinterested evaluation at his mere appearance possible. However, this still begs the question: Even if our judgment of Big Man is disinterested, doesn’t our repulsion prove that the form of big man – his mere appearance – is not pleasurable and therefore a poor choice for aesthetic contemplation? Can the form of Big Man ever be considered pleasurable?

Before answering this question, let’s first get through Kant’s Second Moment: aesthetic judgments must be “universal without concept (p. 286).” For aesthetic judgment to be possible it must be universal. If it is not true for everyone then aesthetics is impossible, because otherwise all pleasure derived from the appearance of bodies would always be based on a personal interest (p. 287). “We cannot say that each man has his own particular taste. For this would be as much to say that there is no taste whatever (p. 287).” Therefore, we must assume aesthetic judgments to be universally valid. However, the universality of the judgment also can’t be concept based – because that too would introduce an interest thereby destroying the validity of the aesthetic judgment.

For the purpose of this paper the universality of the aesthetic pleasure inherent in the representation of Big Man must be assumed, in that, this paper can never adequately (re)create the experience of viewing it in your mind by way of language – which is concept based. In fact one can never prove the universality of aesthetic judgments because of their non-conceptual character. This requirement can thus be bypassed for our purposes on the assumption that to the extent that the form of Big Man is pleasurable – which shall be argued later in this paper – this feeling is universal.

On the other hand, Kant admits that the non-conceptual requirement of aesthetic judgment is difficult for plastic arts – e.g. statues of overweight men – because these arts are almost always merely “ornamental” or symbolic/representational, and therefore don’t lend themselves to formal aesthetic judgment (p. 326-327). Despite this difficulty, Big Man manages to avoid being consigned to simple conceptualization due to his massive scale and hyperreality. The incredibly realistic representation of his nude form prevents us from easily cataloging it as sculpture. Conversely, his massive scale pushes us away from treating it as we would an actual person. Statements from Mueck, the artist, support this point. He has said that part of the reasoning for Big Man’s monumental scale was to ensure that people didn’t mistake him for a real person.[2] Big Man escapes conceptualization, despite – and ultimately because of – his representation in a mode which creates a heightened sense of reality, which is not real. This creates another paradox which again forces our minds to contemplate the mere appearance of Big Man, rather than his place in reference to known concepts.

In Kant’s Third Moment we finally begin to see why it is possible for the representation of Big Man to induce a pleasurable experience despite the cursory impression of pain he begets. Kant requires aesthetic judgment to have “purposiveness without purpose (p. 294).” By this Kant means that the representation of aesthetic judgment must demonstrate intentionality in design and execution – it must exhibit purposiveness. However, this purpose cannot be readily available to the viewer; thereby, making the representation simultaneously purposeless. This paradox puts the mind to work at a puzzle which it can never solve. Referring to what he considers a particularly beautiful poem Kant says, “[It] diffuses in the mind a multitude of sublime and restful feelings… to which no expression that is measured by a definite concept completely attains (p. 320).” This mysterious and stimulating experience of purposiveness without purpose is that which constitutes the pleasure of aesthetic experience (p.296).

Big Man is clearly satisfies the first condition of Kant’s Third Moment. Mueck is part of a movement in art called hyperrealism. Hyperrealist sculpture, such as Big Man, is meticulously detailed in order to create the impression of something “more real than the real itself”(Baudrillard, p. 1). So we know, as we sense intuitively, that Big Man was created with purposiveness. The problem then, as with most art, is that the purpose of the purposiveness is too obvious: the art was made to be viewed. The purpose of the object doesn’t have enough mystery to set the mind into a “multiplicity of partial representation… that for it no expression marking a definite concept can be found (p. 320).” This is of course why Kant found nature to be a particularly good muse for aesthetic appreciation (p. 313-314). We can only guess at why the trees grow the way they do or why bees fly in such erratic patterns. The purpose in their design is a mystery to us. However, true aesthetic judgment in the context of the gallery is more problematic. How can art be purposive without purpose when the purpose is so obvious to us?

Big Man is again able to negate this problem somewhat by creating his own space: the first viewing of Big Man catches the viewer off-guard. The viewer is made immediately aware that he has invaded Big Man’s space. Big Man resists the purpose for which he was made. In a sense the viewer is no longer in the space of the gallery, but in limbo between the private world of Big Man and the public world of the museum. By negating its own purpose, Big Man makes possible true aesthetic contemplation. Big Man attains purposiveness without purpose in the paradoxical play between the public and the private components of Big Man, and also between the real and the hyperreal Big Man’s true purpose hides from. The necessary “representation of the imagination” (p. 294) is herein found which is what allows the artist to induce a pleasurable aesthetic experience in the viewer. This spurs the oscillation between partial concepts which we are never fully conceptualized and creates a feeling of pleasure.

Kant’s Fourth, and final, Moment is the requirement for “common sense” in order for aesthetic judgment to be valid (p. 301). The only way aesthetic judgment can be universal, yet not be conceptual, is for everyone to have a common sensual perception. This common sense constitutes what Kant calls the “transcendental conditions of subjectivity” (McCormick, p. 68). As discussed, Big Man places us squarely in the position of the free play of the imagination with respect to cognition. Our toolkit of concepts cannot fully reconcile the contradiction inherent in viewing him. We are therefore forced to perceive him with only the “common sense” which is the universal condition of our subjectivity. Anyone in this state of free play with respect to cognition should have the same experience. Thereby, aesthetic judgment is made possible, even in the context of plastic arts within a gallery – i.e. the unlikely Big Man.

The discussion of the significance of Mueck’s work in light of post-modern philosophy has in a way already begun. The contradictions inherent in the representation of Big Man (his public and private nature, the loss of meaning between real and hyperreal) all relate to discussions that have taken place in the broad post-modern project. In fact, Mueck and other hyperrealist artists are thoroughly indebted to contemporary philosophy for their theoretical underpinning. For instance, the philosopher Baudrillard originally coined the phrase “hyperreality,” defining it as “the simulation of something which never really existed.” [3] Hyperrealist artist are very much playing with Baudrillard’s ideas of simulation and simulacrum. A simulacrum is a sign of a sign of a sign, ad infinitum. Big Man does not represent any particular person – Mueck does not use human models for his work (footnote 2) – yet the meticulous rendering of Big Man convinces us that he must be real (that somewhere this surly man exists in the real). The sign signifies a sign which itself points to a sign. “The simulacrum” – this infinite exchange of signs and countersigns – “is the truth that hides the fact that there is none (p.1).” There is nothing but signs and no underlying reality.

Furthermore, there is no real in modern life, there is only simulation. For instance, McDonald’s does not have an infinite supply of food which is always identical. Yet to the consumer this is exactly what the golden arches signify, and the reality of this hyperreal McDonald’s must persist in order for the fast food chain to be successful. Thus reality is perpetually negated. Only the hyperreal persists. This, and other examples offered by Baudrillard illustrate the fact that as a result of modern media and consumerism, hyperreality has replaced reality.

The violence of imagery and sign to the real is further elaborated in Baudrillard’s analysis of Byzantine art:

“Western good faith became engaged in this wager on representation: that a sign could refer to the depth of meaning, that a sign could be exchanged for meaning and that something could guarantee this exchange – God of course. But what if God himself can be simulated, that is to say can be reduced to the signs that constitute faith? Then the whole system becomes weightless, it is no longer itself anything but a gigantic simulacrum… (p. 6)”

The iconoclasm was a reaction to the “murderous power of images” which tended to replace and ultimately kill God. This power of images to kill the original referent is magnified to the nth degree in the modern museum.

The problem of the gallery again rears itself. Galleries are frozen spaces that catalogue the reality of the human experience. However, the museum system negates the real by enshrining forever signs that point to lost referents (p. 8). Western culture is the result of an accumulation of meaning. For instance in philosophy understanding Foucault requires an understanding of Nietzsche, whom he references, who in turn requires an understanding of Aristotle, who in turn requires an understanding of Plato, which requires an understanding of the multitude of Greeks whom he references. We are so far removed from the original referent that any connection to reality is completely lost. This means that “our entire linear culture collapses if we cannot stockpile the past in plain view (p. 10).” Without our histories books and our museums the entire culture collapses into nothing – which explains our obsession with archiving, ethnology, genealogy and museums, etc. We’re clinging to reality, even though it’s already lost. Without these ancient signs there is nothing for our culture to stand on – because it is ultimately completely devoid of meaning. All referents have been lost. This further suggests that our art will always be devoid of the real. The sign has replaced the signified and any referents once behind the art work will always be lost – killed by the very fact of its replication.

For Baudrillard then “no equivalence with the real is possible (p. 20).” Further attempting to find the real through images – full of signification that amounts to nothing – only entrenches the grasp of hyperreality on us. The alternative then is simulation, which is according to Baudrillard “the worst kind of subversion” possible in Western culture (p. 4). In other words, the best art can do is purposefully (re)present the banality of modern life. Mueck’s work accomplishes this goal. By using meticulous detail to convince the viewer of the reality of the nude man, Mueck simulates reality. Furthermore, since there is only the heightened sense of the real created by his (re)presentation, the viewer is forced to admit that there is no real. Big Man is only image – reality is only simulation. Mueck’s simulation of reality reveals the fact that there is no real.

The hyperrealist project explicitly implicates Baudrillard. However can Big Man be valued in light of other post-modern philosophers who, attempting to move beyond post-structuralism, are again trying to reclaim the transcendent in art? To answer this let’s proceed to the work of Jean-Luc Marion.

For Marion, there are two conflicting phenomenologies at the heart of artistic appreciation (p. 79). Marion explains these conflicting methods with the reference to the icon and the idol. Both the icon and idol are constituted in the mind (or soul) of the viewer. Iconic and the idolatry representations are not characteristics of objects, “since the same beings (statues, names, etc.) can pass from one rank to the other (p. 79).” Since the same being can be both idol and icon depending on the viewer, idolatry relates to the subjective being of beings. Marion says, “The manner of seeing decides what can be seen (p.79).” An idol (or an icon) only exists insofar as my interpretation creates it. Marion refers to this interpretative lens or paradigm as the gaze. The difference between the idol and the icon is that in the case of the idol “The gaze makes the idol, not the idol the gaze (p. 82).” Rather than adding something new – or transcending the limits of the viewers interpretative tool box – the idol is fully constituted by the gaze. For this reason Marion says that the idol is a mirror “that reflects the gaze's image (p. 84).” Idolatry is a mode of art appreciation in which the viewer is seeing only that which he expected in the piece of art. The artistic experience of the idol is limited; insofar, as there is no transcendence from that which the viewer knows, to that which she cannot. Thus, “when the idol appears, the gaze has just stopped (p. 83).” There is no movement in idolatry. Nothing is moved within the subject, but her mind is instead frozen in place. This is the experience of the art history student upon seeing the subject of her study for the first time. It becomes an idol, readily fit to the mold her mind has created for it during the course of her studies. To be sure this experience has deep personal significance, but as Marion says, it is only a “low-water mark of the divine (p. 81).” There is ultimately only the human mind and what the human mind makes of the divine – no true transcendence.

On the other hand “the icon does not result from a vision but provokes one (p. 90).” The icon pierces the viewers gaze and opens him to experience the invisible. The idol signifies nothing. The icon on the other hand is “the semblance of the divine.” However, this semblance is never fully apprehended by the gaze, for that would freeze it (p. 90). Instead the icon “teaches the gaze” by “never allowing it to rest or settle” on the visible (p. 90). By pointing to something invisible – which by definition can never be seen by the viewer – the icon creates a dialectic which ends in infinity. Thus, one reaches the divine. The gaze no longer belongs to the viewer but to the icon (p. 91). The icon has a face which “regards” us and “allows the intention of the invisible to occur visibly (p. 91).” Intentionality is a characteristic not of objects but of subjects – therefore the icon must have a face to communicate that which is not. Only by possessing this intentionality can the icon point to that which is invisible, and thereby, forcing us into a state of flux – one is never satisfied that as one has seen that which the work of art signifies as one does when gazing upon the idol. The same way that I can never see what lies behind the face of the Other, no matter how intently I gaze at them, we cannot see that which lies behind the idol as it recedes infinitely from our view.

Big Man may actually lend himself a great deal toward iconic appreciation. He has a face. Anyone who has seen him will admit that he has a powerful effect on the viewer which is not easily reconciled without admitting that he “regards” us, nor by given interpretation. You are disinvited to look at him, or for that matter to interpret him with your gaze. Thus, Big Man has an intention of his own. By consistently deflecting and negating the gaze, Big Man lends himself to becoming an icon.

Furthermore, Big Man is a simulation of reality. He points to that which he is not. But that reality is not real either, in fact the representation of Big Man is more real than the real. This “frisson of the real” created by his simulated hyperreality reveals the fact that there is nothing real. Thus Big Man as icon “can demand, patiently, that one receive its abandon (p.97).” Viewing Big Man in this light requires us to accept its abdication of this world. We must accept the mystery which Big Man leaves behind. Allowing us momentarily to give up all the answers we think we have and thereby allowing momentary transcendence.

Between Kant and the Post-Moderns’, the Post-Moderns’ interpretation of the haunting impression of Big Man seems to be the more impressive. The application of Big Man to the Four Movements serves primarily to prove that pure aesthetic contemplation is possible for representational art. However, since Kant leaves little room for discussion of why something is beautiful, the true import of the impression on the viewer is better explained by both Baudrillard and Marion. As we have seen, Big Man is a self-contradiction in more way than one. He seems to negate every sensical interpretation. While Kant did find the central contradiction of purposiveness without purpose essential to all beauty he did not fully articulate how this might manifest itself when we know the purpose of human art.

The negation of meaning fits very well with the post-modern perspective on aesthetics, and helps to explain what it is that is so compelling about the work of Ron Mueck. The excess of hyperreality become clear: The real is dead. We have killed it! Thus the negation of the real may free us from the gaze, by exploding the limits of interpretation. Relying on our interpretative powers, we are always stuck staring back at ourselves through the work of art as icon, seeing only ourselves through the simulacrum of signs that regress into infinity. Only by breaking free of signification – through the negation of all known referents – can art ever hope to be transcendent.


[1] Burnham, Douglas. “Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) Theory of Aesthetics and Teleology (The Critique of Judgment)”. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2006. Staffordshire University, UK. April 25, 2009.

[2] Mueck, Ron. Interview with Sarah Tanguy. The Progress Big Man A Conversation with Ron Mueck. International Sculpture Center. Sculpture Magazine. July/August 2003.

[3] Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. University of Michigan Press, 1994.

[4] Mueck, Ron. Big Man. 2000. Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC. April 22, 2009. http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_p_WCJeIhaVA/Rb02GahYxGI/AAAAAAAAAGM/EDdPkiOM5eM/s1600-h/Ron+Mueck.jpg.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Privatized Violence

By Zach Myers

The military “downsizing” which occurred at the end of the Cold War created a large supply of unemployed highly trained military personnel (Singer 2006, Pelton 2006). At the same time, increasing global instability created a demand for more troops. Unable to adequately address security issues with limited professional militaries, “many governments succumbed to an ideological trend toward privatization” (Singer, 2005). Professor P.W. Singer explains, “PMFs [Private Military Firms] have been essential to the U.S. effort in Iraq, helping Washington make up for its troop shortage and doing jobs that U.S. forces would prefer not to.”

Unfortunately, the negative consequences of these “private warriors” severely outweigh their largely illusory benefit. Outsourcing security to private companies can be justified as a way to save money, and to meet modern security demands – reducing the strain on traditional military in instable regions. However, in practice this justification is not enough to make privately owned and operated military force a good idea. The true utility to governments of private military companies is in fact the shroud of extra-legality which they operate under. Contractors don’t fit in the schema of traditional legal systems – they provide cover to government programs and allow governments plausible deniability when human-rights violations occur.

The first justification for contracting out military operations is that it saves money. However, outsourcing does not save money. Private military contractors cost the US government as much as $1200 a day (NY Times September 2007), this, according to Pelton, is due to the various layers of bureaucracy involved in financing a “security specialists”. On the other hand, a traditional soldier of the same pay grade costs approximately $100 to $250 a day (Pelton 2005). Because pay is so lucrative, military personnel are leaving their positions in order to go work for private enterprises (Singer, 2005). This drastically increases recruiting and training costs for the traditional military and seriously undermines their effectiveness. Elite soldiers, which cost millions to train, are being drained from traditional military units and are getting paid three times as much to work for private security firms. P.W. Singer, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute, says,Elite force commanders in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States have all expressed deep concern over the poaching of their numbers by PMFS” (2005). Pelton acknowledges that post-service costs, including veteran’s benefits and compensation for families of those killed in action, are higher for a traditional soldier then for a private contractor; however, these costs are justified. A soldier needs to be willing to risk their lives in order to successfully complete their objectives – their effectiveness at seeing a mission through to the end is undermined if they cannot ensure that they’re family will be taken care of if they were to die. However the huge extra costs due to corporate profit mongering is simply unwarranted.

The capitalist ideal behind privatization is that by allowing private companies to bid for military expenditures the forces of competition would drive down the cost while simultaneously increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of providing security in unstable countries. However, US companies such as Blackwater and Halliburton were quickly able to use the political system to gain “no-bid” contracts (Pelton 2006). According to Pelton, Blackwater took advantage of a provision which allowed the Department of Defense to eliminate all the competitive bidding requirements when giving away state dollars, so long as they could demonstrate that the contract was “Urgent and Compelling” (2006). Since Pelton’s book Blackwater has milked this exception to the utmost. According to the New York Times, “Ranking Blackwater executives have used inside influence as administration fund-raisers to multiply their no-bid war contracts a thousandfold to more than $1 billion” (March 2008). Without competition private security firms operate wildly inefficiently and ultimately become more expensive then traditional military, because they have an incentive to cheat and steal and fudge records in order to exaggerate their costs in order to make a more private profit at the expense of tax payers. “Halliburton--Vice President Dick Cheney's previous employer--has been accused of a number of abuses in Iraq, ranging from overcharging for gasoline to billing for services not rendered; the disputed charges now total $1.8 billion” (Singer 2005). Likewise,A separate review by the Defense Contracting Audit Agency found that DynCorp had billed for $162,869 of labor hours for which it did not pay its workers'” (NY Times October 2007).

Private Contractors may temporarily fulfill limited security demands, but they cannot provide long-term stability and peace, and ultimately only get in the way of this end. While the trend towards military privatization is a natural product of supply and demand, let us not pretend that it is desirable. Diffusing military power into the hands of private companies does not lend to stability. The power of capitalism and market systems is that they are dynamic. Governmental monopolies, on the other hand, are stable, some may say stagnant; however, removing governments’ monopoly on military force incurrs huge amounts of unpredictability and instability. For example, Anna Leander from the Department of Political Science and Public Management, University of Southern Denmark says, Many of the 80 military contractors arrested in March 2004 for their plans to overthrow the government in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, were former EO employees” (2005). In Africa private military companies have created a sustained market for their services furthering forces of violence and instability. “EO was officially closed down in 1998, but its network seems to be outliving it well enough” (Leander 2005). Profit incentives motivate private military firms to do business with anyone, no matter their politics. Furthermore, there seems to be no profit disincentive to helping unsavory or illegal groups: “DynCorp International FZ-LLC, for example, does not seem to have fallen out of favor with the US government, despite its alleged work for and dealings with rightwing paramilitaries in Colombia” (Leander 2005).

Robert Pelton describes a similar case. Sandline, a US PMF operated by Jeff Spicer, “managed to deftly violate an international arms embargo to ship weapons in to a group that intended to overthrow a government… in Papua New Guinea.” This eventually “led to riots and the abrupt downfall of Prime Minister Julius Chan” (Pelton 2006). EO supervisor, Jeff Spicer, continues to score government contracts despite EO’s extra-legal operation in Papua New Guinea, and his partner’s direct participation in a coup in Equatorial New Guinea. “No one, not even Spicer, has been able to explain how his fledgling company won the largest single-security contract ever rewarded in Iraq” (Pelton, 2006). Prior to its demise, EO operated heavily in resource rich Africa. They even had “a public website that offered a full menu of military services, showcasing images of tanks, jet aircraft, and combat operations in a manner that made selling violence as innocuous as pest removal or extermination… When the Angola operation wound down, EO already had another contract lined up… Sierra Leone” (Pelton 2006). Mass marketing of these services has become a reality and has already been shown to have moderate success.

Proliferation of private military services is particularly bad for the stability of the African region (Musah 2002). “In resource-rich African states, that capacity – including through the selling of future war booty – is bound to remain large” (Leander 2005). In Robert Young Pelton’s interviews he also finds evidence that contractors will not shy away from exploiting African resources, as EO did in Sierra Leone (Pelton, 2005). An explosion of privately funded armies threatens to further destabilize African regimes and/or exploit Africa’s resource driven economies. “In weak African states, where the legitimacy of existing public orders is weak, there is good reason to think that [PMFs] will be used to contest those orders and establish new ones. The result is likely to be more violence” (Leander 2005). “Moreover,” according to Professor Leander, “as the number of firms in search of clients expands, the threshold for clients falls,” meaning as time goes on and firms are pressed to find more business they will become more willing to accept contracts from nastier parties and be less concerned with international law.

According to P.F. Singer governments have become incredibly reliant on private contractors (2005). Furthermore, the US military’s reliance on private military has undermined their control of the situation in Iraq and makes counter-insurgency much more difficult for traditional military forces:

“Unlike military units, PMFS retain a choice over which contracts to take and can abandon or suspend operations for any reason, including if they become too dangerous or unprofitable; their employees, unlike soldiers, can always choose to walk off the job. Such freedom can leave the military in the lurch, as has occurred several times already in Iraq: during periods of intense violence, numerous private firms delayed, suspended, or ended their operations, placing great stress on U.S. troops.” (Singer 2005)

While in Iraq, Robert Young Pelton reported on just such an incidence. “Blackwater,” according to Pelton, “has a policy of using overwhelming firepower to break contact, as do most security teams operating in Iraq.” Contractors are basically being trained to make a big mess and then to leave as quickly as possible. In one instance Pelton reports, two marines were killed by a “booby-trap” left on an insurgent’s body when cleaning-up a mess left by Blackwater. Private military contractors are a liability that often trip up the operations of traditional military forces, they are not there to create stability and safety but only to accomplish limited security goals – this focus on profit and self-preservation without concern for the overall security situation makes private contractors a huge liability for traditional forces.

Another problem with PMFs is there is no legal mechanism in existence to try private contractors for crimes they might commit through excess use of force. Pelton says that “at the date of [his] writing in early 2006, no private security contractors [had] yet suffered legal consequences for causing collateral damage in Iraq.” Private contractors operate in a legal gray area which makes it difficult to hold individuals accountable for their actions. William H. Cohn is a lawyer and lecturer at the University of New York in Prague. He writes that “the September 16, 2007 killings of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad by private security guards of the US govt. provides a useful case study of the pitfalls of outsourcing traditional military and other governmental functions.” The FBI investigation into this incident revealed “criminal” behavior on the part of the Blackwater employees with “no enemy activity involved.” Yet the Department of Defense continued to fund Blackwater and even granted the Blackwater employees immunity from prosecution under US law (Cohn 2007). Furthermore, “Blackwater continues to receive lucrative government contracts and the State Dept. reportedly gave bonuses for ‘outstanding performance’ to officials with direct oversight of Blackwater” (Cohn 2007). Since the Coalition Provisional Authority installed in Baghdad following the US invasion of Iraq decreed that “US forces and agents are immune from Iraqi prosecution,” the Blackwater contractors are left to operate with impunity. They aren’t under the jurisdiction of Iraqi courts, nor are they subject to US law. This amounts to the US government giving private military contractors a “license to kill” (Pelton 2005).

With this license private contractors can erode the rule of law. Pelton reports that “Security contractors in Iraq have told [him] that many of them refuse to stop for the Iraqi police or military under any circumstance, since there have been so many incidents of insurgents using stolen uniforms or of infiltrators exploiting their official position to create the conditions for an attack.” Regardless of their justifications the fact is that private military contractors operate outside established legal systems and therefore have no respect for the rule of law. “Blackwater was involved in 195 instances of gunfire from 2005 until early September... In 163 of those cases, Blackwater gunmen fired first” (Cohn 2007). Private contractors create a sort of Wild Wild West in occupied territories, where one must kill or be killed. This mentality only makes it easy for terrorist and insurgents to make the case against Western imperialism. Also eroding the rule of law makes it easy for insurgents to operate. Thus private contractors ripen a country for instability and insurgency.

Private Military Contractors do not increase stability. Governments do however find them useful in getting around international law and continue to use them despite human rights violations because they, the government, can maintain plausible deniability (Roseman 2005). Governments can tacitly support extra-legal activity by rehiring contractors while still being able to publicly condemn them. Jeff Spicer scoring the biggest private security contract in Iraq after his professional disaster in Papua New Guinea is an example of this behavior on the part of government. Alarming evidence that governments are tacitly consenting to human rights violations can also be found in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. “The systematic and illegal abuse of detainees and the numerous instances of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses at Abu Ghraib prison between October and December 2003 were sought by interrogators employed by private corporations, such as CACI International Inc” (Roseman 2005). These privately contracted guards “were the same interrogators used by the U.S. army and intelligence in Guantanamo Bay.” Torture got shut-down at GTMO, so to get around the restrictions the government seems to have simply outsourced torture to private contractors, who then simply rehired the interrogators from GTMO and restarted the illegal operations which occurred there. Even if this was an unintentional consequence (companies have to draw their employees from somewhere), it still reveals how in the legally shady realm of private military firms, individuals can be insulated from the standard repercussions for human rights violations.

Robert Young Pelton writes, “I have met former Apartheid era enforcers, dictators’ bodyguards, bounty hunters, and mercenaries working as contractors for large Western security companies.” Idema, the jingoistic US civilian who was able to operate an Afghani torture camp under the guise of a private military contractor also aptly illustrates how the quasi-legal status of private contractors allows otherwise horrible atrocities to go unnoticed and unpunished for long periods of time (Pelton 2005).Idema has proven that an ambitious civilian… can soldier on independently of any government oversight, command, external financial support, or approval” (Pelton 2005).

On the whole the Costs of using private military companies severely outweigh any apparent Benefits. Not only is privatizing military functions more expensive, it is also counter-productive to the goals of safety and security abroad. The US and other nations should be extremely careful when contracting out their vital interests to corporations driven not by security and safety but by profit; especially, when these companies are able to operate outside the control and jurisdiction of law.

Works Cited

Carmola, Kateri. "It's All Contracts Now: Private Military Firms and a Clash of Legal Culture." Brown Journal of World Affairs (2006). Academic Search Premier. USU Library. 13 Apr. 2008.

Cohn, William. "Government Inc. : the Rise of the Unaccountable Government Contractor." THE NEW PRESENCE (2008). Academic Search Premier. USU Library. 6 Apr. 2008.

Leander, Anna. "The Market for Force and Public Security: the Destabilizing Consequences of Private Military Companies*." Journal of Peace Research (2005). Academic Search Premier. USU Library. 13 Apr. 2008.

Musah, Abdul F. "Privatization of Security, Arms Proliferation and the VProcess of State Collapse in Africa." Development and Change (2002). Academic Search Premier. USU Library. 13 Apr. 2008.

Pelton, Robert Y. Licensed to Kill. New York: Three Rivers P, 2006.

Risen, James, and David Johnston. "Justice Department Briefed Congress on Legal Obstacles in Blackwater Case." The New York Times 16 Jan. 2008. Academic Search Premier. USU Library. 13 Apr. 2008.

Roseman, Nils. "Privatized War and Corporate Impunity." Peace Review: a Journal of Social Justice (2005). Academic Search Premier. USU Library. 10 Apr. 2008.

Shmitt, Eric, and David Rohde. "2 Reports Assail State Dept. Role in Iraq Security." The New York Times 23 Oct. 2007. Academic Search Premier. 13 Apr. 2008.

Singer, P W. "Outsourcing War." Foreign Affairs (2005). Academic Search Premier. USU Library. 13 Apr. 2008 .

"The Private Sector's Tramping in Iraq." The New York Times 24 Mar. 2008. Academic Search Premier. USU Library. 13 Apr. 2008.