Metrics, metrics, metrics. Three out of the six pointers in this rather good Foreign Policy article concern the ability of military organisations to figure out their impact on the world around them. Surprisingly, the concept doesn’t appear (by name) in Robert C. Jones’ advice on the revision of the FM 3-24 manual.
My considered response to the Army’s revision request (which may or may not get put together into a formal submission) is “send in the continental philosophers”
I know that a) this response would go down like a lead balloon and b) that from the way the military appears to think about knowledge and metrics, it would do them the world of good to encounter some people that would politely point out that the empirical realist assumptions they make about knowledge are roughly a hundred years out of date, and that even the hard sciences don’t tend to think in such terms since the advent of quantum physics.
The problem, as I see it, is that military types probably wouldn’t want to be seen dead lifting ideas from post-marxists, or people that proclaim the gulf war never happened (sort of). Likewise Foucauldians and other types don’t tend to want to translate their grand attacks on rationality, hierarchy and power for, well, the armed agents of hierarchical power structures. Or, like Agamben, they can make the claim that Foucault’s work on sovereignty constitutes an ‘unprejudiced analysis’ with a straight face, presumably because it is believed to be true.
While I can understand the reticence of generally left wing philosophers to get involved with the military, the other side of the coin (ahem) strikes me as a slight dereliction of duty. After all, when you’re grappling with problems of communication, semiotics and signification, like it’s a new thing,* a military type might pick up Baudrillard and note that he was writing on the topic thirty five years ago, and, while the military is stumbling around looking for methods of analysis, his four logics might just be the ticket to constructing a crude framework for thinking about the role/production of violent acts in a war. I read many hazily worded pieces on ‘strategic communication’, I haven’t yet found a course on military semiotics.
The oddest part of all this is that the military are one of the few organisations that tend to accept chaos and subjectivity as an inherent part of their business, yet the thinkers studying precisely these problems aren’t widely read or cited within these circles. For Clausewitz, war is friction, for Michel Serres, ‘noise’ is the system. I’d bet good money that the majority of people who’ve read Clausewitz haven’t read Serres, and vice-versa. Now that militaries are asking ‘big’ questions like ‘how can we know what we want to know?’ concurrent with the expansion of the types of knowledge that military organisations are seeking, it might be the time for them to also engage with the ‘big guns’ on the subject.
*I think there’s now a curious ‘imagined past’ where the communicative aspects of violent activity never existed, or weren’t important to military affairs. One wonders how these folk integrate thousands of years of military ‘demonstrations of force’ into this worldview.