Cooper Ch.3 “Preempting Emergence: The Biological Turn in the War on Terror”

Most of this was way outside my knowledge zone, but there were  a few bits I found particularly intriguing. Overall this idea of the cross-fertilization between biomedicine and militarism was interesting. I liked the details about language use from one influencing the other (such as mentioned on p.76), leading to this argument that public health must “mobilize” against “emergence itself” (80). Also was struck by the concept nearer the end of “transforming war into a process of permanent neoliberal counterrevolution” framed in terms of permanent preemption of emergence (88-9).

I was most interested in this idea of catastrophe risk bonds. I wonder why they’re abbreviated “cat bond”; is it just because it’s shorter, or does it remove the perhaps lurid/gauche way something called a “catastrophe bond” might come across? As the article mentions, these transform “uncertainty into a tradable event” (85). After looking some things up on Wikipedia and a few other websites,I found out a bit more about cat bonds. They were “created & first used in the mid-1990s,” following Hurricane Andrew (in 1992) and other natural disaster which caused many insurance companies to go bust paying out claims. Insurance companies issue “bonds through an investment bank, which are then sold to investors” in multiyear deals. If there’s no catastrophe, investors earn a nice interest rate, but if there is a catastrophe, they could lose some/all the money, which the insurance company would use to pay out claims. The cat bond market was $1-2 billion / year in the 1998-2001 period, rose to over $2 billion following 9/11, and is now over $4 billion following Hurricane Katrina. Particularly, following Katrina, the odds on these bonds were rapidly readjusted because scientific modelers changed their models of the likelihood of such a natural disaster occurring; thus the whole “industry” “live[s] at the mercy of these modelers,” as one article said. One website of a leading company in cat bonds, Swis Re, has on its website that it does “risk financing that makes societies more resilient” — it’s very interesting, this kind of language use, because who is it really making things more resilient for? The insurance companies, definitely, and a little bit for people with claims because they’re more likely to get their claims out, but it’s not like people impacted by catastrophes no longer are impacted by their material/financial consequences. The discourse of this industry seems set to take catastrophe and turn it into something “boringly normal,” this commodity that can be traded/used for profit, masking the experiences of the people impacted by such catastrophes in the process.

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One response to “Cooper Ch.3 “Preempting Emergence: The Biological Turn in the War on Terror”

  1. Kim-
    This post has me thinking about Povinelli’s discussion of the import of spectacular events in mobilizing human response. What does it mean when things like cat bonds turn even the most catastrophic events (or the “risk” of them) into commodities? It seems like even the response generated by “events” that Povinelli seemed to take as a given could be diminished by this type of thinking.

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