Following the recent escalation and justification of US drone strikes in the name of national security, Eval Weizman reminds us how the demand for calculation paves the way for a continued justification of violence. The following excerpt from his book charts the philosophical underpinnings of Western military and humanitarian intervention from the late twentieth century to the present.
Drone pilots at work, via Wikimedia Commons
If, as a friend recently suggested, we ought to construct a monument to our present political culture as an homage to the principle of the ‘lesser evil’, it should be made in the form of the digits 6-6-5 built of concrete blocks, and installed like the Hollywood sign on hillsides or other high points overlooking city centers. This number, one less than the number of the beast — that of the devil and of total evil — might capture the essence of our humanitarian present obsessed with the calculations and calibrations that seek to moderate, ever so slightly, the evils that it has largely caused itself.
In this extract from The Least of All Possible Evils, Eyal Weizman details the dyanamic of the transport of provisions between Israel and Gaza, comparing it to a reverse Milgram experiment - a classic psychological experiment in power and authority and the capacity to inflict pain on ordinary people.
Milgram in Gaza
The legal petition against the further reduction of provisions into Gaza was rejected at the end of January 2008. ‘This is the difference between Israel, a democracy fighting for its life within the framework of the law, and the terrorist organizations fighting against it,’ the High Court stated, as if it were a state spokesperson. The court performed the task of an administrator rather than an adjudicator, a partner in the calibration of how much pain Gazans are to be made to legitimately feel. As such, acts of torture and terror aimed at forcing civilians into political compliance conferred on their makers a dignified image. Those proportionaly admin- istering the level of pain could now see themselves as being responsible for the necessary and tragic task of calculating and responsibly choosing the lesser of all possible evils.