On Attention and Just War - As Autumn Falls

In recent months, articles on the website have been centred focus on longer investigations and essays, be they concerning Marvel, Intervention in the thought of Hedley Bull, Oakeshott’s rationalism, or political hermeneutics. As winter appears to be drawing closer with every tumbling leaf, my task in the final quarter of 2021 will be to provide an increasing number of political posits that are no longer than six or seven paragraphs long; stemming from my own reading. So, what am I reading at the moment?

First of all, the late Professor Nicholas Rengger’s ‘Just War and International Order: The Uncivil Condition in World Politics’ has proved to be a delightful companion as summer has slowly morphed into autumn. Here, to quote - as I am yet to finish the text and thus holding back on fully placing my own understanding of Rengger’s argument into words, it being only a partial understanding – Rengger contends that:

“For most of the modern period – and especially for much of the past hundred or so years – the ‘scope’ of justifications of the use of force has in fact – and contrary to a widely believed narrative – been expanding, not contracting, and that the most influential tradition that is supposed to be about the restraint of war (the just war tradition) has in fact been complicit in this.”[1]

This perhaps may seem to become a rather interesting, if not fruitful, choice of reading material, given that this is the year that the United States’ ‘forever war’ in Afghanistan came to its embarrassing end – as globally televised on twenty-four-hour news-media as when it began. In this regard, a critique of just war theory, and its historico-theoretical trajectory, may indeed reveal itself as a tonic amidst a sea of reappraisals.[2]

Aside from this, James Williams’ ‘Stand out of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance in The Attention Economy’ has, so far, bee a thought-provoking read. Williams reflects on how our entrance into a digital media-driven or information age has birthed a new phenomenon – one of attention economics. Williams explores this new phenomenon, one of clickbait, pop-ups and cookies, with a bifurcated focus upon: (a) firstly, the ethics of technology in relation to freedoms, rights and public discourse; (b) and secondly, the manner in which our modern political condition – how we exist as political and social animals – is fundamentally adapting. In all of this, Williams ultimately asks of us to be on the look out to resist not only those Orwellian limitations to our freedom, often overtly observable, but Huxleyan manifestations of such limits equally, i.e., those we do not realise are slowly crystallising all around us, wrapped in layers of socially coercive persuasion – in this case, for our attention as citizens.[3]

[1] Nicholas J. Rengger (2013) Just War and International Order: The Uncivil Condition in World Politics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. xii.

[2] A non-exhaustive list of other works on the topic that have been recently published include: Tamar Meisels (2018) Contemporary Just War: Theory and Practice, Abingdon: Routledge; James M. Dubik (2016) Just War Reconsidered: Strategy, Ethics, and Theory, Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press; John W. Lango (2014) Ethics of Armed Conflict: A Cosmopolitan Just War Theory, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

[3] James Williams (2018) Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance in The Attention Economy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. I, personally, think this would make a great pairing with ‘The People vs. Tech’ by Jamie Bartlett.