"The outbreak narrative fuses the transformative force of myth with the authority of science. It animates the figures and maps the spaces of global modernity. It also accrues contradictions: the obsolescence and tenacity of borders, the attraction and threat, and especially the destructive and formative power of contagion. It both acknowledges and obscures the interactions and global formations that challenge national belonging in particular." - Priscilla Wald "Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative"
"The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms also are sending more personnel to the border. The effort also will place a spotlight on existing technological programs, such as backscatter mobile x-rays, fingerprinting databases and ATF's weapons tracking system called e-Trace" quoted in Politico.com "Napolitano announces border plan"
Mobile x-rays, "e-traces", fingerprints, and databases. Such technologies and techniques, tactics and regimes, signify a series of methodological and categorical relations; they register and codify certain affects and effects, bodies and subjectivities, places and spaces. That is, they point to a particular associative vocabulary: medical (i.e in terms of the management and regulation of illnesses and diseases) eugenic (databases are enlisted for purposes of technical arrangement and categorization, they speak their own languages of bureaucratic memory, control, documentation, insidious detail, etcetera), and surveillance (not just a matter of what bodies enter the United States, but also about how, where, when, and why these bodies move.) All three vocabularies have been formalized and mobilized in recent public policies and discourses surrounding the so-called "Drug wars" in Mexico. They converge and disperse in new discursive formations that at one moment can be called a "preemptive response" (remember the "preemptive power" of the Bush Administration) and at another, a strategy of containment, or a form of benevolent "protectionism". Regardless of their shifting names, these formations contain within them (produced as their "effects") systems of references and representations that point to more pernicious narratives: narratives about globally "illicit" flows and economies, the populations that "carry" or disperse these flows into "our" first-world cities, suburbs, and paranoid selves, as well as the "necessary" preventive (again the medical language) measures, techniques, and epistemologies that must be mobilized in response. In light of the current media talk concerning Mexico's "drug wars" (a phrase that implies a battle on both sides of the border, a race war between purity and criminality.), it may be helpful to insert or translate Priscilla Wald's concept of the "outbreak narrative" in terms of the global flows of drugs, guns, and violence within the context of the U.S.-Mexico "drug wars".
Dominant media have indeed reported (as they always do) that the convergence of cartel violence, weapons-trafficking, thousands of femicidal murders, and a centralization of police and military power in the border state of Sonora, "exploded" virtually out of nowhere. An "outbreak" implies a kind of chaotically corrosive, random emergence of a disease and a panic, one without a knowable/identifiable site of origin. Such a production is intentional: it establishes the validity of its own affects/effects by pointing to the ultimate uncertainty of its objects. The "outbreak narrative" can produce official reports, statistics, documents, and figures, but these assemblages point more to the fact that the object of analysis must become knowable (and thus regulated, surveilled, and conditioned) but never "known". This epistemological instability is created in order to make supposedly "obvious" conclusions become more visible, ready-made, and available. "Obvious conclusions" activate racial sterotypes formed in previous im(em)perial histories, projects, and formations. They channel previous, racially embedded figures, images,and vocabularies into newly productive networks and paranoid national desires. From the immigration debates of the 1980's, 1990's, and 2000's, we "know" that Mexicans are "violent", "dangerous",and "threatening"; we "know" that the conditions of globalization, "free trade" and late modernity have established "promiscuously" porous borders, borders that "threaten" white security, supremacy, and privilege.
The new side of this story can be found in Foucault's insight that power contains "discrepancies" as well as "differences of potential". Secretary of State Clinton's recent public admission that the United States has failed its own "Drug war", supposedly establishes a break in this narrative. These "breaks" or ruptures have recently increased in number, Senator John Kerry's recent op-ed noted that the United States is equally responsible for the flow of weapons into Mexico. However, even such breaks have a productive impulse. By admitting to U.S. failures, a discursive and material (real, actual) space of intervention is actualized. Now the the U.S. must "correct" its failures (which means discipline, punish, and intern its own "contagious cultures") and contain the failures of Mexican governance (of course those unruly, uncivilized people can't contain their reprehensible and infectious flow of drugs, violence, and death across "our" borders"). Further, this space of intervention acts as threat to racialized populations currently living within the U.S. (already constructed as "impossible subjects", who know full well the sinister scope of a digitized panoptic gaze that establishes the very texture of reality in terms of the constant threat of arrest, internment, disappearance, and death), as well a further convergence between state-security apparatuses and immigration control. What under Bush was a convergence between the "war on terror" (a phrase that Obama administration, under advice from the pentagon, has removed from official discourse) and immigration control, has become under Obama , another racialized project of "protectionism" that decontextualizes as it narrates. What is apparent from this rhetorical "shift" is that power contains the ability to cut-off certain narrative flows and reterritorialize or "disperse"( in Foucault's terms) them in other moments, conjectures contexts, and events:
"1.Yes the U.S. does sell weapons to Mexican drug cartels, but those who sell weapons are "criminal" individuals, not actors of the state. The mexican cartels however, are clearly state agents that constitute a threat to "American" sovereignty, security, and life.
2. Look what globalization has done! We give them "free trade", new "economic opportunities" and incentives, and "they" return the favor by killing "our" citizens and themselves.
3. Mexico is the site of origin where drugs, violence, criminal culture "enters" "our" communities and now "we" are forced to "respond". The U.S. state clearly has no investment in illicit economies and black markets, "we" are the ones that since Regan, have declared a "war" on all drugs (and thus propped up murderous authoritarian regimes in almost every country in South America, impoverishing millions and creating the global labor chains that "give" "third world citizens" the "opportunity" to "find" a "better life" in the "land of tolerance and equality").