The Q Lecture

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Terrorism in an Age of Quantum Insecurity

‘From Imagined Communities to Quantum Insecurity: Entanglement, Non-Locality, and Atmospheric Terrorism in the 21st Century’

Speaker: Dr. Jairus Grove, University of Hawaii Center for Futures Studies

The University of Sydney
Thursday, 11 February 2016
6 pm – 7.30 pm
Quadrangle Building, General Lecture Theatre K2.05

This is a free event. Registration is closed.

This talk starts from the presumption that the quantum challenge, as a set of philosophical questions, was a dialogue far beyond the discipline of physics. Quantum sociologist Gabriel Tarde, and philosophers Henri Bergson and Alfred North Whitehead, amongst others, were active participants in the debates over causality, time, and action at a distance, as well as the grander metaphysical questions about life raised by Bohr and Schrödinger in particular. Following Bohr and Tarde, I argue that quantum phenomena are not constrained to the subatomic, but in fact are essential components of human social and political relations.

Mostly ignored until recently, the panpsychist traditions that emerged from these early interdisciplinary debates over quantum are essential to understanding the character of contemporary terrorism, and more broadly global politics in an age of non-scalable events. By non-scalable I mean that the measurement of the brute materiality of an event does not in any predictable way translate into its effect. In our age, apocalyptic crises barely register, and statistically insignificant events shake the entire international order. In fact, International Relations theory has, from its beginning, endeavored to explain ‘spooky action at a distance’, as the relations of the international are by definition both in a no-space of the international, and habituated into the local practices and places of diplomacy, deterrence, and war. While the entangled and non-locality of global politics has always been true, I argue that media and quantum savvy organizations like ISIS succeed precisely because of their ability to leverage this characteristic of global life.

Given the difficulty of theorizing such events, it is necessary to revise Benedict Anderson’s model of the imagined community as an imaginary space of shared continuity and simultaneity in favor of a quantum-inflected notion of virtual entanglement. Here, the ‘community’ is created by the non-spatial but still real acceleration of distrust for the world, and those bearing the marks of racialized difference. Events like those that erupted in Paris, France and San Bernardino, California are only the most recent examples. The latter event had no explicit connection to ISIS, and yet this spectacular violence is an undeniable asset to the atmosphere of terror that ISIS requires to increase its international significance. In fact, no amount of discourse about the non-connection of San Bernardino to ISIS was sufficient to disentangle them. Events such as those in France and California do not operate in a three dimensional space in which we can measure something like speed or mass. Instead, contemporary terrorism takes place in an affective dimension where space/time is often irrelevant to the intensity of the consequences of an event. When a pineapple soda can becomes a ‘bomb’ and takes down a Russian airliner, the everyday objects around us provoke a sense of metaphysical doubt or skepticism most commonly known as horror. Therefore, International Relations needs a quantum turn so that we can understand the very real consequences of events and things whose capacities defy both physical and casual explanation, but far exceed constructivist concepts of discourse or ideas.

Image: Cornelia Parker, ‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’, 1991

jairus-grove-webJairus Grove is Director of the University of Hawaii Center for Futures Studies. His research focuses on the relationship between technology and global politics, specifically the transformative effects of what are often called ‘disruptive technologies’ and the ways technical innovations undermine political order and governance systems. He has been a guest of the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Japanese Ministry of Science and Technology, and is currently engaged in the co-design of a mobile governance platform for indigenous and island communities displaced by sea level rise and climate change. His recent publications can be found in Critical Studies on Security, Theory & Event, and The Boston Review. He has recently completed two book manuscripts, Thinking Like a Bomb: Essays on The Insurgency of Things and Must We Persist to Continue.

Listen to the full lecture (audio only)