Technologically Empowered Body as a Weapon

No:

27 Hacktivisme

Type de contribution:

Court essai

Mot-clés:

Résumé

Nous vivons à une époque où les rudiments de la vie ont été mesurés et appropriés par le domaine technologique. Nos données fondamentales sont converties en la propriété exclusive d’entreprises influentes, de géants pharmaceutiques, des élites dirigeantes et des services de sécurité, pour ensuite être vendues, échangées et mises en circulation. Cette guerre est menée par l’entremise du corps biopolitique, une arme est pointée sur vous. Comment faire pour renverser la situation? Cet article tente d’examiner les façons dont le corps peut retrouver des informations à son sujet : le self-hacking du corps, la récupération des données élémentaires au sujet de ses fonctions, de ses limites ainsi que de son potentiel comme moyen d'auto-défense contre les pratiques injustes de l’État, mais aussi comme une extension naturelle de l’Homo sapiens. La guerre peut être combattue par le corps technologiquement habilité, une arme pointée sur ceux qui ont volé votre propriété fondamentale depuis trop longtemps déjà.

We’re obsessed with numbers, codes and algorithms. We live in a time when even the very rudiments of life have been measured and appropriated by the domain of technology. The body described by intramolecular sequences loses its fleshy character and becomes abstract, inorganic or, to use Freud’s terminology, uncanny. Processed and transformed into numbers: almost an abject [1]. Our elemental data is converted into the exclusive property of influential companies, pharmaceutical moguls, ruling elites and security services, then sold, exchanged and released into circulation. The body serves as a powerful weapon of the state. It becomes a medium, a carrier spreading disease, while at the same time, entangling itself in the network of politics, medical services, information distribution, transport and databases, etc. The war is being fought via the biopolitical body, a gun pointed at you.

The biopolitical state as a utopia. Functioning upon the theme of absolute security and fostering of life. Utilizing the rhetoric of constant menace that may put an end to the glorious yet abstract and nonexistent condition of thorough safety and order. Since at the core of the utopian notion of security lies its absence, what is in fact being secured is this very notion itself [2]. The state protects security as its most valuable rudiment by means of forever performing the spectacle of the imminence of threat. The essential aim of this protective masquerade is to intimidate people by maintaining their belief in the likelihood of a crisis. Thus, biocitizens are constantly being attacked with redundant messages concerning the danger lurking on all fronts. The emergency, the pandemic, the hoax, the disaster and other synonyms of those catastrophe-heralding words are repeated by political actors like mantras. The endless rush of such announcements and the escalation of fear that they cause turn the reality of the security state into a permanent state of emergency. Yet paradoxically, the great incidence of these announcements, accompanied by very few actual calamities, results in the naturalization of security maintenance strategies and a voluntary adoption of this state of things. Not only do we accept the great variety of detrimental safety precautions, destined not necessarily to protect us, but rather to govern us and incessantly constitute the fundamentals of the state, but also we willingly offer ourselves up to these custodial methods.

It is precisely the emergence of new technologies that allowed for a greater exercise of control. Bodies are now being tracked, counted, measured and identified in various ways. Surveillance cameras are oppressively following bodies in public space. Biometric systems subject the body to thorough fragmentation in order to constitute one’s identity from scattered biodata. They are by definition redundant, which means that they gather more data than needed. Function creep – a situation in which personal data is accidentally released or intentionally sold to third parties – is the reality of these systems. What happens with your biosamples after routine medical testing? Are they destroyed or sold to third parties for further testing, statistical analysis and specific targeting of biocitizens? From the point of view of pharmaceutical supercompanies it seems extremely profitable to obtain specimens through the backdoor. After all, would you knowingly give up your biological data and contribute to corporate profits based on the appropriation of your very personal property? Not to leave these claims unsubstantiated, I would like to recall the case of John Moore, whose cells have been patented by the University of California and two of its researchers without his knowledge. Subsequently, the information has been sold to, among others, Genetics Institute, Inc. for 75,000 shares of stock and US$330,000. In an appeal, the California Supreme Court stated that the patient had no property rights over the tissues of his body.

Next, we have pharmacogenomics, the miraculous branch of preventive medicine aimed at excluding disease on the genome level before it has a chance to develop. Yet what we, lured by the promise of longevity, well-being and elimination of illness have overlooked, is that since the pharmaceutical moguls are capable of re-engineering and re-designing our genome, they are also infecting us with a certain model of health and that such interventions may serve the interests of those in power. What does our body become when it is subjected to recombination of DNA? What do we become in consequence? Do we reflect upon the unified model of health or do we vacantly accept it, trusting the good intentions of Pfizer, Roche or Bayer? Are genetically tailored drugs serving us or are they serving political and economic interests by transforming our very selves into machines for exercising control? It all sounds like a conspiracy theory. But sadly, this conspiracy theory is coming true.

Is there a way of reversing this situation? Is it possible to regain control over the body? Of equipping it with technology so that it becomes empowered to turn the gun the other way, against those who have been misusing its data and violating its inalienable rights? As Donna Haraway stated in the famous Cyborg Manifesto: “Communications technologies and biotechnologies are the crucial tools recrafting our bodies”. [3] Therefore, there is a way in the emancipatory terror, in the subversive use of technologies, that is contradictory to the desired model promoted by the dominant constellation of power. Knowledge and awareness seem to be crucial factors in the process of empowering the body. For this reason, I would like to propose a new understanding of the term biomedia, introduced by Eugene Thacker [4]. While Thacker understands remediation, in which flesh is made data and subsequently data is made flesh, in a Marxist manner, as a necessary translation of the body into products that serve the body, I think it is necessary to point to the possibility of perceiving it as a way in which the body regains information about itself. This information is not only empowering, it can also be perceived as an essential extension of Homo sapiens. This biorevolution is already happening in the homes and studios of artists, activists and biohackers who try to open the hermetic domain of biotechnology, which until recently was reserved for a group of masters and slaves communicating science achievements by means of unintelligible jargon.

Artists like Critical Art Ensemble or Bioteknica are not only raising social awareness when translating the exclusive language of biosciences into intuitive and easily understood yet radical artistic metaphors, they are also pursuing DIY attitudes by delivering inexpensive, accessible, substitute reagents and methods for self-hacking the body and retrieving elemental data about its functions, limitations and possibilities. In the 2002 project entitled Molecular Invasion, Critical Art Ensemble invited audiences to experiment with chemicals that enable the reversal of genetic modifications of food, that which feeds our moist bodily machines. The food is subjected to biohacking in order to revert the process of genetic altering inscribed into the mass production, mass consumption and massive profits of those who patented these solutions. It also enables us to choose not to consume genetically altered food. Another project, Cult of the New Eve (1999-2000), discredits biotechnological companies who portray themselves as leaders of the new religion with their promissory rhetoric of well-being, longevity or even eternal life.

Bioteknica also focuses on the dangers of biotechnology, illustrating the mechanisms of growing organs on demand, and bringing to light the issue of monstrous beings produced accidentally or purposely behind closed doors of laboratories. There are also other, lesser known characters, who, via popular social media platforms, share their know-how concerning simple techniques of hacking the body. Armed with this knowledge, you are, for instance, able to see your own DNA extracted from blood. And it is not by means of the electron microscope but through a simple experiment comprising substances available at your local chemist.

This is exactly the essence of biohacking and these are the prosthetics of rebellion, the self-defence against unjust practices of the state system. Knowing the body on the macro, micro and nano level. Knowing precisely how the body functions and what exactly it can do. Knowing what to do in order to expand its possibilities. Perceiving this knowledge as empowerment and as an extension. Setting up a home-based lab with easily accessible reagents. Finding cheap substitute substances to make self-experimentation with cells or tissues possible. Retrieving bioinformation from influential biotechnological companies, hospitals and pharmaceutical moguls, which is stored on multiple servers. Yes, retrieving, not stealing, because we are the owners of this information. Experimenting forever. Opening up biotechnology so that it serves you, instead of serving those who want to exercise control over you. Altering yourself in the way you desire. Turning biotechnology into your own tool, your personal weapon. When you understand and are able to utilize the remediated codes, numbers and algorithms produced by your body, they are no longer reifying. On the contrary: they become your extension. To paraphrase Haraway, for us, in imagination and in other practice, biotechnology can be a prosthetic device, an intimate component, a friendly self. The war may be fought via the technologically empowered body, a gun pointed at those who have been stealing your fundamental property for far too long.

Notes

[1] Julia Kristeva (1982). Powers of Horror. An essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press.
[2] Robert B. Lisek (2011). “CRASH [MANIFESTO],” RitaBaum 18: 85.
[3] Donna Haraway (1992). “A Cyborg Manifesto. Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, p. 164.
[4] Eugene Thacker (2004). Biomedia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Crédit image :
Marta Heberle, Biophomet, 2012, Łódź, Pologne. Permission de l'artiste.

 

Biographies

Marta Heberle est une théoricienne et critique de la culture graduée de l'Université de Łódź (Pologne) en art des nouveaux médias et en Cultural Studies. Elle se spécialise dans les questions liées au bio-art et au transhumanisme. Elle prépare actuellement son doctorat à l'Université de Poznan (Pologne) sur l'art actuel, en lien avec les questions d'extensions humaines, dont l’aspect performatif offre la possibilité de créer une réalité contemporaine face au phénomène de la singularité technologique. Heberle est aussi une artiste et sa pratique se concentre sur des expériences sensorielles transgressives situées à la frontière de l'audio et de la performance.

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