As I read the latest crop of news articles invading my inbox each morning, I often pause to think of how far removed the world of theory is from what I rather pedantically like to call 'the real'. Kenya's Westgate Mall siege has just ended and they are still counting the bodies as the 'white widow' begins her tour of duty as the next boogyman in Western media. Syria continues to burn as Russia and US wrap up their latest game of chicken over the chemical weapons used to kill over 1,400 civilians. (The 100,000+ killed conventionally before that was only worth what amounted to a sternly worded letter, but whatever.) Baghdad clings viciously to the dubious title of car-bomb capital of the world. (A title I assign to it based solely on my readings of the news, a statistic too gruesome and depressing for me to actually want to verify.) North Korea is as schizophrenic as ever, US government is in shutdown, economic markets are jittery, a typhoon is raging in the South China Sea, and apparently Hollywood was helping Nazis or something. This is where I stop reading and go make coffee.
This daily routine continues each morning: the list of ugliness scrolls past my screen as I click mechanically from one to the next. Another suicide attack, another bomb, another war… And people wonder why realism is so hard to disabuse of its cynicism even as academia continues to exude liberal preference across the Western world. It seems in International Relations all realists have to do is point to the news, and go have a bagel. The others can sweat over how to explain all this away. But this academic rivalry, as I mentioned before, is no longer my problem. Don't got no skin in the game, to put it colloquially. I now dwell in the frigid comfort of Law, the reassuring certainty of precedent and the age-old traditions of the court. And yet…
And yet here I am each morning, still wondering how to make it all better, how to make the suffering I see on the faces staring at me from those BBC articles go away, faces begging for help from the rich world too busy re-watching YouTube videos of twerking gone bad. My mind returns to my old field, frantically trying to analyze the appropriate response to the injustices before me. Military intervention? Humanitarian aid? Economic stimulus? Then I remember that I'm supposed to hail from that vicious camp of Thucydides, coldly reminding those would listen that the world is cyclical and cynical and the war continues as always and it's all for naught… At this point I chug my coffee and go hide in the law library.
There has been much said of this disconnect between theory and reality, the certain lack of humanity necessary to the academics rationalizing the world around them. I shall not repeat it here. I will say this: the theories we expound in journals and articles have been primarily formulated in the West, in American, European and Australian universities. It's not what makes them cruel, and it doesn't make them wrong. Perhaps it is only in wealth and prosperity that humanity can afford the time to theorize and pontificate on philosophical topics, when one's survival is no longer at stake. Yet it is too rarely that we question the fundamental assumptions of our civilization, and even then only in a rather detached manner.
I don't want to come across as one of Huntington's disciples, though his Clash of Civilizations thesis is not one to be taken lightly. Nor do I want to trivialize the monumental research that goes into the identifying the peculiarities of the Western, as opposed to Southern or Eastern, scholarship. What is perhaps missing though is an honest appraisal of the lack of humanity inherent in our attempts at dispassionate analysis of the horrors which we have worked so hard to isolate ourselves from. Analysis not of academic nature but in terms of that everyday injustice we commit in finishing this kind of work and then calmly opening a new browser tab and losing ourselves in the banalities plaguing our Facebook walls. Not everyone is guilty of this. But most are. I know I am.