Eradication as the Strategic Final Solution of the 21st Century?


Anthony Judge – TRANSCEND Media Service

Indicative Checklist of Possible Domains of Application


The purpose of this exercise is to collect together the domains in which “eradication” is somehow considered the most appropriate manner of responding to what is framed as a problem. The exercise is seen as a way of clarifying the appropriateness of current statements regarding the eradication of ISIS jihadists in their quest for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate.

A recent articulation is that of US General John Allen:

A comprehensive American and international response now – now – is vital to the destruction of this threat… The Islamic State is an entity beyond the pale of humanity and it must be eradicated. If we delay now, we will pay later. (Obama must eradicate ISIS NOW — or pay the price later, The Daily Mail, 22 August 2014)

A more general view is offered in the light of the warning of the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, that Islamic State was an organisation with “an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision”:

But if the jihadists are to be eradicated rather than just contained, General Dempsey’s conclusion must be accepted that strikes against them in their strongholds in Syria are unavoidable. (Failed states pose terror threats, The Australian, 25 August 2014)

Related uses of strategic eradication include: How do we eradicate ISIS? MSNBC, 23 August 2014; James Foley death: Eradicating the evil of Isis, The Independent, 21 August 2014; Islamists Vow to Eradicate Christians From Parts of Nigeria, CharismaNews, 3 September 2012; To Eradicate the Islamist Killers, We Must Destroy the Mechanism that Produces Them, The Big Picture, 5 September 2007; Samar Fatany, Eradicating a Distorted ‘Jihadi’ Ideology, Jerusalem Post, 17 February 2014; Raymond Ibrahim, Obama Tries to Eradicate Radical Islam, Pajamas Media, 8 April 2010; Bill Roggio, Boko Haram plans ‘to eradicate Christians’ from areas in Nigeria, Threat Matrix, 4 March 2012.

Use of eradicate as the framing of a strategic modality merits reflection in the light of the argument of Donald Schön with respect to “generative metaphor”, namely the figurative descriptions of social situations, usually implicit and even semi-conscious but that shape the way problems. As summarized in a separate review (Generative metaphor and policy-making) of his early formulation (Generative Metaphor: a perspective on problem-setting in social policy, 1979):

Donald Schön (1979) argues that “the essential difficulties in social policy have more to do with problem setting than with problem solving, more to do with ways in which we frame the purposes to be achieved than with the selection of optimal means for achieving them.” For Schön: “the framing of problems often depends upon metaphors underlying the stories which generate problem setting and set the direction of problem solving.”

As an example he explores the case of slum housing. If the underlying metaphor is a slum is a “blight” or “disease”, then this encourages an approach governed by the corresponding medical remedies, including the surgery whereby the blight is removed. On the other hand, if the underlying metaphor is that the slum is a “natural community”, then this orients any response in terms of enhancing the life of that community. The two perceptions and approaches are quite distinct and have quite different consequences in practice.

In this sense problems are not given. For Schön, they are constructed by human beings in their attempts to make sense of complex and troubling situations. Ways of describing problems move into and out of good currency“. Furthermore, new understanding of problems does not necessarily result as a logical consequence of the success or failure of instrumental responses to problems as previously defined. Rather attempts at solutions, based on partial understanding, generate other kinds of problem situations, without necessarily resolving those that existed initially. For Schön, the “social situations confronting us have turned out to be far more complex than we had supposed, and it becomes increasingly doubtful that in the domain of social policy, we can make accurate temporal predictions, design models which converge upon a true description of reality, and carry out experiments which yield unambiguous results. Moreover, the unexpected problems created by our search for acceptable means to the ends we have chosen reveal…a stubborn conflict of ends traceable to the problem setting itself.”

Schön’s insights have been notably developed by Frank Barrett and David Cooperrider (Generative Metaphor Intervention: a new approach for working with systems divided by conflict and caught in defensive percpetion. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 1990).

Somewhat ironically with respect to the following argument, descriptions of Schön’s blight/disease metaphor tend to suggest that policy is then “rooted” in a disease framework — with “root” offered as a further metaphor. It is the latter implication that merits exploration with respect to the many uses of “eradication” in addressing policy and other problems.

The most obvious example is provided by any understanding of weeding, framed as the necessary removal of an undesirable species of plant. The use with respect to plants can be extended to culling in its many forms, as with “weeding out” animals considered unsatisfactory. This may be extended to people who do not meet a certain standard, or who do not correspond to a certain norm.

The term is most widely used with respect to the eradication of many diseases. As many gardeners are aware, the challenge of eliminating roots can be especially problematic if regrowth is to be prevented. The painful challenge of eradication with respect to any psychosocial problem can be ironically compared to the individual experience of any form of root canal surgery. with the further irony that the surgical metaphor is carried over into references of surgical strikes in achieving eradication.

The collection of references below serves to highlight the variety of ways in which eradication is fruitfully or misleadingly used in order to respond to a condition perceived as problematic. As an exercise, the result should be considered as primarily indicative of a possible framework through which to understand its generative implications and how it may inhibit, constrain or distort the emergence of other possibilities.

It is appropriate to precede the presentation of the checklist of domains of application of eradication by consideration of the “philosophy of weeding” — given the unexpected literature on a process so familiar to gardeners worldwide. This is followed by discussion of the even more surprising preponderance of references to “eradication of zombies”, with which an equally surprising body of music is associated.

The checklist suggests that strategic responses across many domains are curiously determined by eradication as a generative metaphor. A concluding section therefore considers whether eradication strategies should be evaluated on those terms. The question is highlighted by long use of the term to the eradication of rats in urban society — although it is widely recognized that there are typically as many rats as people in such environments. Ironically this raises the paradoxical question as to whether it is “eradication” which should be eradicated from the cognitive frameworks by which strategies are framed — as with use of “war” (Review of the Range of Virtual Wars: a strategic comparison with the global war against terrorism, 2005).

If so many problems persist, despite decades of effort to eradicate them, is it possible that use of “eradication” may be indicative of a cognitive trap — as highlighted by the insight of policy scientist Geoffrey Vickers: A trap is a function of the nature of the trapped (Freedom in a rocking boat: changing values in an unstable society, 1972).



This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 1 Sep 2014.

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