Bio Resistance: About Problems of Biotechnology, Cloning and Genetic Engineering, Critical Art Ensemble


Critical Art Ensemble is a collective of five artists of different specialization. Collective is dedicated to exploration of intersection between art, technology, radical politics and critical theory.

Steve Kurtz, Chicago

Transcription of the lecture:
We'll start from conflation between information and communication technologies and re-structuring of the body and what that could potentially mean for us and certainly what it already means, especially in Western Europe and North America. There are two things to think about, in beginning of this, is one of the ways that we framed our theorizations of this particular topic, was assuming principles of efficiency and rationalization in relationship to capitalist economy. That was always one of the pressures and one of the things that this particular political economy would want to fulfill, not just in general forces of production, but in creation of labor in particular, which is really all it cares about. How labor will act and how it will consume following its work activities. Those of you familiar with classical Marxism know the principle of work intensification. That is one of the easiest ways to raise profits, and it's one that is located primarily in the construction of the body. How is it that you can make someone work harder, longer and more intensely within given time unit?

So much of technology now, whether it is ICT or whether it is biotechnology, is conflating, is creating a kind of virtual environment in which this re-making of the body can happen. So, where we started in thinking of this is the concept of cyborgs itself, which often times is misunderstood and blurred into singular category that perhaps is not exactly appropriate. Cyborg, theoretically, is interrelationship and interdependency between flesh and technology, whatever that might be. Usually it has some type of implantation, so there is interaction between flesh and technology itself. We began with dividing cyborgs in two types, two generalize types: first order and second order cyborgs. By second order, the lowest run, this is when technology is used in some way to construct the body, to bring it to normalization. This is, for example, medical technology is to only make it so that the body is of the normal regime that is generic, that it falls into the normative. We don't really have too much sympathy with that. That's just more or less not so much developing a cyborg class, but only maintaining flesh class, that's pre-cyborg. If we look at it in that sense, it's not very cyborgian at all, which is why we make distinction into fist order of cyborgs, where we start to get into very different phase of technology/flesh interaction. We have started with work cyborg, the labor cyborg. I see them all the time working on their computers and they are not of the highest order but they are definitely here, with a phone stuck in their ear and a computer stuck to their hand. There is this extension of the body that is there to make them beyond what they can be just by themselves. That is McLuhan definition that the extension of the body going so that the telephone makes distances smaller, it spreads the body over distance. It could be just something like web camera in terms of compressing distances, enabling you to work more efficiently starting with keyboard and computer and creation of word document, to the much more complex level of how body can work better interconnected with these particular technologies. The first order starts there and it follows us around. It's disconnectable which is why we make certain grades. You cannot put the phone down and leave your laptop at home and go on holiday, and kind of relieve yourself of the cyborg experience for a little bit. It's still within around of agency versus those things such as implanted chips for GPS that are put into children, so mum and dad always know where they are. Then you are starting to get into a little bit higher frame and in using that example too, that spaces begin to blur together for the cyborg, that the workspace can become anywhere. And we all know that. You can be sitting in a café and trying to have conversation with one of your friends, and all of the sudden the cellular phone goes of and that person goes from 'friendship human' to 'work mode' cyborg. And the shift is instantaneous and it's called into existence by the technology itself. The very fact of having it causes this way of being into existence and makes it realized. Then you can go step further which is probably at this point the highest edge, which is, as opposed to the business system/person, weapons system which has gotten fairly advanced at this point. Those of you that have been watching Iraq broadcast have seen the us weapon systems, which is what they refer to now by the high command. They are no longer thought of soldiers in the field - they've been striped of any kind of humanity, but there is system to be moved to the grounder system, there are small subsystems of weapons and they can be from the very small, where these soldiers have interrelationship with integrated communication weapons and target appropriation devices, all the way to one incredibly sophisticated such as various kinds of autopilot, ones that are there to monitor soldiers physiological reaction to the combat environment, and if they show signs which look to be either approaching psychosis or approaching anxiety levels that are too high, autopilot will kick in. So, that soldier doesn't mess up the mission. This is where you got to the very high end.

So much of cyborg mythology has been talked about as being something very positive and very utopian, yet when framed within the capitalist mode because it cares for little more then efficiency, cares for little more then getting something done, any kind of the human element that (what) could be possibility of benefit, of technological flesh interaction, seems to be draining away at a very rapid rate. And there doesn't seem to be any funding for more utopian projects, particularly in most complex societies where is all funding coming from, for different devices. Well, it's already pre-determined by those that are funding the research. It is not like there is a free zone of research to search for other possibilities. The great contradiction is that cyborg technology of the first order is moving much faster then the body is able to adapt. If we go back and think of it more in evolutionary sense, we are designed to be extremely slow things. We weren't meant to be going over great distances, to be working at such an intense way. These things are rather abnormal. Capitalism reaches the point of crisis of sorts in which the organic platform is unable to maintain the technological superstructure that's been heaped upon it. And hence we see all these unusual spikes in various kinds of physiological and mental illness. It's not just US, for example in Germany, the rate of psychiatry over the past then years has gone up somewhere around 500% since 1993, since the web went online. That's very interesting correlation. As has prescription rates for various kinds of antidepressants. So, there are other things that are now, one part of biotechnology is to buy time for the machine, to figure it out what kind of drugs they can develop that will keep the infrastructure, to keep the flesh infrastructure going, while they figure out how to up the bars of what is normal. That's the real crisis of this point: how do you fix this body? The war machine is fully developed, the sight machine is fully developed, and the work machine is fully developed. I didn't think that it could get any worse at this point. Back in 1993. when i looked at the Japanese work rate, the average has been a little over fifty hours - I was thinking that it couldn't go higher then this. But, the us is recently toped that with the average of almost 66 hours on average per working week. That means that some people are working even more then that. That is only average. Under such conditions no one can work that much. That level of production has been just too high. There have been some examples that are trying to change that, both from the Japanese and us, in which they've tried to combine in a way, play, or at least an environment of play with an environment of work. So, that there is some type of relief in work that goes on. The catch of course is that you're stay at work longer: you arrive earlier to go to the gym and you stay later for whatever reason, to play video games or similar. But, at the same time you are mixed in, mashed in with the work - techno environment. That hasn't worked very well. At least if we looked at the degree to which pharmaceuticals designed to keep the body going in normative environments, not necessarily trauma in a hospital, or in asylums for mental patients, but for those who are out in every day life, to keep these people functioning under extraordinary amounts of stress and anxiety. Physiologically, the rates for drugs are also gone up to; say something like cortisone for instance, to help with various kinds of muscle problems that are becoming emblematic for the past ten years or so, for technocrats and bureaucrats alike. This again is a part of collapsing element of the cyborg. So, the question becomes: What can be done about that? What do we do? And this is why the development of the "flesh machine" has in recent years, become such a booming industry, that the investment has started to skew off military and information and communication technologies. They have a long way to catch up, but the fastest growing is biotechnology, of how to fix this platform so it's not collapsing. It's understood that drugs will only that work for so long and different kind of physical therapies will only work for so long before, basically the cyborg collapses. You just can't type any more and it's over, you will never type again. The muscle damage and cartilage damage has become so severe that it can't be reversed. In doing that, there is a kind of return to the old 20th century concept of eugenics. This is where we entered this picture, of identifying this particular crisis. Of seeing that so much else was finished, and I'm sure that we'll see some advancements in ICT, but they're not going to be as profound as we've seen in the past ten years, ICT really being centralized type of technology that only immediately and directly affected a fairly small population, a small demographic of technocrats, till now, where almost everyone has a PC in complex economy, and that's expanding out all the time into other nations. What brought us to this, in spite of this theorization of cyborg and the crisis of the body in techno sphere, to just to speak personally for a moment, when we were at a conference in canada and out to lunch with women who asked me if i want to see a pictures of her child. And i said, sure and then she showed a picture of young lad probably about three years old or so. But then she said, would you like to see my son at eight cells? And she took out her wallet a picture, a micro snapshot of her child dividing at eight cells just before he or she was ready to be implanted in her uterus. And that's when i started thinking, OK, there is something very different happening right now. A new round of representation is happening and a new way of engineering the body, instead of just hoping that technology will prop it up or that various kinds of pharmaceuticals interventions will prop it back up, that something else could be done, and that something else was return to engineering model that would give control from molecular level on up. The great crisis, just in terms of socialization and internalization of ideology, has always been that it could never get into the inside. Internalization always cut from the outside out. This huge sight-machine had been made of surveillance on one hand, of the feeling ones being watched and internalization witch come from that (Big Brother looking), and on the other hand, that type of virtual envelopment that began when Guy Debord began speaking about spectacle. The barrage of images that are around us all the time that are inescapable, that speak to a certain way about being in a world. That is impossible to refuse, because there's no escaping that sphere of representation.

Where to go from there? Obviously, as you want bilateral rather then unilateral internalization of ideology and if pre-disposition can be made at the molecular level to begin with, that would help considerably in terms of speeding up and intensifying ideological internalization, particularly those that are of benefit to capitalist systems. It's not like this was new. The idea of doing this has been around since the late nineteenth century, particularly in England and US. They have started to expand out around 1920, so that European countries picked up on it, Germans with vengeance around mid twenties. Germans are often slow to come to things, but when they get a hold of them, they go all out. But what came clear very quick, they knew that it needed to be done, simply didn't have technical apparatus nor the scientific understanding to do that type of engineering. What they did was incredibly crude kind of importation of basically agrarian-farming technique and animal husbandry. That's not a very good way to try and reconstruct bodies at a rate that you can more or less count on the type of changes that occur. The reliability factor is very low. Also, it takes great deal of time. The generation of time that it would take would expand it into centuries. So, sterilization, abortion, in worst cases genocide, or on the other side positive eugenics of encouraging those that seem to have predisposition that capitalists want to reproduce itself. It's just wasn't going to work out and it didn't work out. Happily because of the need for most of Western Europe and North America, to distance themselves from the holocaust and other genocidal atrocities that were associated with eugenics. The "flesh machine" kind of got stopped dead in its tracks for a little while. Everything went over to information economy. But, it did come back again, slowly it made its way back, because information economy fully realized itself because of this crisis of the body, because of the crisis in labor as force of production. Where this leads us now is in to a kind of interesting place where the idea of militarized form of engineering of the body has been fairly well rejected and where the early theories of this came was from one of eugenicists named frederick osborne that argued very early on that it's probably not a good idea to militarized any type of genetic construction. Rather it should be done in voluntary way and, of course, you would say who's going to volunteer for this. His idea was that the post work construction of society would pressure people to volunteer. They wouldn't even realize that they are volunteering for - they would just do it. And the reason that he believes that, as he said, there are two key things that were occurring since the World War Two. The first was the collapse of "the extended family" and the raise of "the nuclear family", so that reproduction of the nuclear family would become all the more important, that you didn't have to have bunches of kids and if one turn to be a doctor, great, and the other one was completely retarded in one way, that doesn't matter. Things will continue on as they will, because you take care of it through quantity rather then assurances of quote - quality. If people are thinking about that, that there is a definite concern for the acquisition of more, that is to compete and do better - that's what capitalism likes, that's part of its engine, and it's encouragement and motivation for its workers. And if that feeling in conjunction with the idea of maintaining class position and the prestige, you couldn't make a mistake in terms of reproduction. And here it's the second part, if you have an economy of desire that will provide a service that is in demand, such as helping to stabilize reliability factors in reproduction, those products will be bought. And they won't be seen as anything sinister, they'll just be seen as new medical product of the many medical products that are available to help people, to get what they want. This was pretty insightful, because for the most part, what he claimed to be going on seems to be so. It's partly because of the turn of these very key institutions that it is bringing people to places where they probably would otherwise have not gone. That seeking out better genetic products is occurring. The funny part of this is, for example, that you can go to the sperm bank where you can buy sperm of the nobel ... that's not going to give you any guaranty that you will have a brilliant child. There's not that kind of correlation yet. You would probably do just as well to randomly choose the sperm. But, what's important is that there is a preparation of eugenic consciousness going on that the groundwork for the market is being laid, that the creation of the desire to have artificially structured reproduction is beginning to construct itself. This is very odd thing; something very different from the first wave, is that the test class is the wealthy people not only will it be voluntarily, they will also pay for it. What is happening in terms of learning new fertility techniques is that they're quite expensive. In US, the minimum is around 10000 dollars per try and there is only at the best clinics under the best conditions a 30% rate of success. Maybe some of the very finest clinics might get up to 38%, but usually that's artificially inflated, because they're only choosing the subjects that pretty sure is going to be successful. When you are looking into statistics, there are various kinds of tricky inflation rates and you have to look who the population is that they are working with.