Thursday, 18 October 2007

War on Terror - Phone In Votes Uncounted Shock!

Picking up on a post by The Consumerist about Senate approval for phone tapping got me thinking about an article I read recently by Keith Grint in the Sage Publications journal Human relations, which I'm afraid you will have to subscribe to to read in full called Problems, Problems Problems: the social construction of 'leadership'

This is a fascinating article in which Grint discusses the whole concept of The War on Terror. Significantly for The Consumerists post Grint offers an explanation for how such things as 'phone tapping' become justified.

Extending the work of Rittel and Webber, Grint suggests that leaders characterise situations for the consumption of those they wish to influence as:

Tame Problems - where the situation and solutions for dealing with them are 'tried and tested'

Wicked Problems - where the situation is ambiguous and complex and requires imaginative, non-routine solutions

Crises - where the situation is depicted as a clear and present danger that warrants sacrifices to be made in terms of due process, and legal obligations

An example of tame interpretation of the Cuban Missile affair is given in which the military saw it as a confrontation that could be solved by 'bombing the hell out of the enemy' with tried and tested means; a known problem with a known solution. The Kennedys however saw it as a wicked problem, more complex and uncertain and sought a solution outside conventional lines through a sophisticated and tough negotiation.

As for The War on Terror, Grint suggests this has been painted as a Crisis to justify the favoured course of action of the administration. Whereas, that the annual global death rates from road traffic accidents,HIV/AIDS, breathing problems, diarrhoea and smoking are 'hugely more significant than terrorist incidents (Grint 2005 quoting WHO stats)

In 2000 one million (yes one million!) people committed suicide, and such it is strange that we don't have as Grint says a Global War on Suicide, or a Global War on Diarrhoea where there are 4 billion cases per annum. (How about John tapping?)

The 'Crisis' status simply serves to endorse the reality that terrorism is an assymetric endevour in favour of the terrorist and that the political significance outweighs the empirical evidence. A 'command' style of governing is justified by this approach and any other attempt to characterise the problem as 'Wicked' requiring debate and questioning of the methods can easily be dismissed as 'weakness that won't happen on my watch'

What I'm wondering is...if the administration have got it taped (sic) as a Crisis why do they care what people might saying on the phone to each other because 'talking' about the subject is a sign of weakness!?


  1. Hi rr

    What an interesting post - I'm still thinking about it! I couldn't get the link from Grint to work though - can you help?