Some Reflections on the Point of it AllPosted: August 26, 2014
Sorry for the radio silence lately. I taught a short course at the University of New South Wales in Sydney a few weeks ago, and now classes have started back in here at Alabama. Fortunately, Jean-Pascal has done some excellent posts in the interim.
I suppose I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking lately about my professional life – maybe I’m having a mid-career crisis. I probably am. The “what’s the point of it all?” type of questions.
I wonder at times if the costs and frustrations of doing this blog, and trying to engage with communities outside of the international law scholarly community, are producing enough utility and benefit to justify them.
It’s quite clear that the nonproliferation “expert” crowd in NGO’s and think tanks in the US is not interested in meaningfully engaging with me on issues of nuclear energy and nuclear nonproliferation law. They consistently circle their wagons and reference each other’s superficial and often erroneous legal analyses, in order to reassure themselves and others that my views are marginal and “in the minority,” so they don’t have to engage with them seriously.
That goes hand in hand with another problem – the lack of a robust field of international legal scholars working in arms control law. There are certainly some excellent people working in the field, and a number of them write for this blog. But compared to other specialized areas of international law, there are still very few of us. This means that there is not in this area the kind of healthy, collegial exchange of ideas and analysis, at a deep and rigorous scholarly level, through books and law journal articles, as there is in other areas of international law. If there were, it would be easier to point to others in the scholarly community writing in this area, to provide support for serious international legal analysis of arms control law sources, which would hopefully help to convince the NGO types of the superficial and erroneous nature of so much of what they assume to be correct about nuclear nonproliferation law.
It’s tempting at times to just give up and go back to only writing books and articles that maybe a few other legal academics and students will read. I do think that, in fact, writing quality scholarship that can be of use for the education of the next generation of not only international lawyers but also diplomats, is one of the most powerful ways that a legal academic can hope to contribute to the real world. And I think that is a fine meaning upon which to found one’s professional life.
Perhaps I’m just being overly pessimistic and morose. But it is hard to see the point of this endeavor sometimes.
On an only somewhat lighter note, Paul Pillar published a good op-ed in the National Interest yesterday, urging Americans to take a deep breath and view ISIS in perspective. I think he’s absolutely right, and I’ve been doing a lot of eye-rolling at the alarmist hype coming out of DC about how serious a threat ISIS is to the US, and how we definitely have to eradicate them now before they come for us. How many times have we heard that song?