openDemocracyUK

What the ‘Drone Wolf’ tries to teach us

The event at Gatwick airport, surely orchestrated by a resentful philosopher, demystifies the workings of our everyday.

Marijn Nieuwenhuis
21 December 2018
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FILE PHOTO dated 25/2/2017 of a drone and an aircraft. John Stillwell/Press Association. All rights reserved.

As I am writing, we are entering day 3 of the drone’s occupation of Gatwick Airport in London (or thereabouts). Events surrounding the drone are reported in the live-feeds of several, if not all, major press outlets in Britain; hundreds of flights have been rescheduled or cancelled; the army is called in to ‘take down’ the unmanned object; and patrols are taking place across many other UK airport to prevent a further escalation on a national scale.

Brexit is forgotten, even Corbyn’s allegedly misogynistic mumbling no longer matters. A single drone has led an entire country on lockdown to look up at the air, while its government decides to securitise the national airspace. One unmanned aerial vehicle with an unclear purpose. It is the stuff of sardonic albeit suggestive Kafkaesque novels.

The event, surely orchestrated by a resentful philosopher of sorts, demystifies the assumed stability and fixity of the workings of our everyday. It exposes the organisational fragility of the aerial infrastructures that we take for granted when getting from point A to B. It teaches us humility against an arrogant faith in the infallibility of imaginary superior technologies that can master nature. (If one drone can challenge the gargantuan force of mass tourism, what chance does geoengineering have against global climate change?).

It shows how something so seemingly peripheral and local can challenge the political, economic and legal architectures of the wealthiest of countries. An executive of Gatwick Airport explains that “This is an unprecedented issue. This isn’t a Gatwick Airport issue. It’s not even a UK issue. It’s an international issue.” The sad truth is that he might be right.

This reality, one that centres on the governance of air, or, rather, the belief therein, has already long been known and felt in places where atmospheric violence is not the exception but the norm. That is to say that what is happening in London is global and deeply disconcerting, legally, geographically, philosophically, but it also must be understood as a local and political event. Context, I mean to say, almost always matters:

One drone striking Gatwick; 0 deaths (fortunately)

430 minimum confirmed strikes in Pakistan: 2,515-4,026 deaths

328 minimum confirmed strikes in Yemen: 1,019-1,383 deaths

4,978 minimum confirmed strikes in Afghanistan: 3,916-5,346 deaths

125 minimum confirmed strikes in Somalia: 839-1,037 deaths

(all data from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/)

Yes, of course, I wish travellers all the best in getting to their destinations safely and smoothly to be with family, friends and loved ones. In short, to experience life and happiness in a trouble-free fashion. The drone and its pilot, however, also give us, ie. those for whom infrastructure works are enabling, a chance to reflect on the privilege of enjoying safe air in a world where other atmospheres are turning increasingly hostile and lethal.

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