Bad academic writing: Rebecca Biron and the Mexican drug war in PMLA

In “It’s a Living: Hit Men in the Mexican Narco War,” Rebecca E. Biron writes:

Hit men in the twenty-first-century Mexican drug war engage in paid labor at the extreme end of capitalist exploitation. By “extreme end,” I mean the period of late hyper- capitalism in which transnational profit seeking trumps national as well as international regulatory systems designed to serve broad social stability. I also mean the outer limits of how capitalist interests use (up) human beings [. . .]

But “the twenty-first-century Mexican drug war” isn’t a good example of capitalism at work: to the extent that capitalism is about selling people things they actually want, with a (relatively) limited amount of state control, drugs should be legal: there’s a willing buyer, a willing seller, and no intermediary who gets hurt. Yet the state—which is conventionally associated with communism / socialism—prohibits drug use, using the logic of “serv[ing] broad social stability” and similarly bogus euphemisms.

If anything, the hit men should be considered exploited by state policies around prohibition, rather than capitalism or capitalists.

Plus, if exploitation is inherent capitalism, what kind of economic or political system doesn’t or hasn’t involved exploitation? And I’m not talking about a theoretical one: I’m talking about a real example in the real world. I don’t think any exist, at least in any meaningful sense. Although the U.S. and Western Europe certainly aren’t without warts and blemishes, both historical and contemporary, it’s notable that the Soviet Union exterminated millions of its own citizens in a calculated, industrialized fashion. The Soviet Union also engaged in foreign conquest and terror to a vastly greater extent than the U.S. did or, today, could even aspire to.

I've been writing academic

For the last couple weeks I’ve been spending a lot of time on my (second) publishable paper, this one on the contrasting temperaments in Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado and Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. They share many superficial characteristics: both tell the stories of decadent Americans in Europe shortly after World Wars; both feature protagonists who do not have major or pressing financial responsibilities; both feature a period of time in Paris punctuated by a trip to Spain that ends up back in Paris; both include characters lacking specific, tangible objectives that propel their travels. Thirty years after The Sun Also Rises, The Dud Avocado continues the tradition of having Americans wander through Europe, but the attitude it takes is predominantly comic, in contrast to the tragic temperament its predecessors shows.

I think it’s an interesting paper—but authors are inclined to think as fondly of their papers as parents are of their children—but writing it sucks up most of the time I’d otherwise use to blog. Blogging and academic writing are usually complements, not substitutes, but in this case the increasing price of blogging relative to paper writing makes me do less of it.

For now.

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