Posts Tagged ‘politics’

John Locke “Second Treatise On Government”

Locke, John 1980. Second Treatise On Government. Indianapolis; Cambridge: Hackett Publishing.

[…] no body has originally a private dominion, exclusive of the rest of mankind, in any of them, as they are thus in their natural state: yet being given for the use of men, there must of necessity be a means to appropriate them some way or other, before they can be of any use, or at all beneficial to any particular man. (18-19)

Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hat mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. (19)

We see in commons, which remain so by compact, that it is the taking any part of what is common, and removing it out of the state nature leaves it in, which begins the property; without which the common is of no use. And the taking of this or that, does not depend on the express consent of all the commoners. (19)

But the chief matter of property being now not the fruits of the earth, and the beasts that subsist on it, but the earth itself; as that which takes in and carries with it all the rest; I think it is plain, that property in that too is acquired as the former. As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property. He by his labour does, as it were, inclose it from the common. (21)

[…] the condition of human life, which requires labour and materials to work on, necessarily introduces private possessions. (22)

[…] though the things of nature are given in common, yet man, by being master of himself, and properietor of his own person, and the actions or labour of it, had still in himself the great foundation of property; and that, which made up the great part of what he applied to the support or comfort of his being, when invention and arts had improved the conveniences of life, was perfectly his own, and did not belong in common to others. (27)

[…] but freedom is not, as we are told, a liberty for every man to do what he lists: (for who could be free, when every other man’s humour might domineer over him?) but a liberty to dispose, and order as he lists, his person, actions, possessions, and his whole property, within the allowance of those laws under which he is, and therein not to be subject to the arbitrary will of another, but freely follow his own. (32)

Man being born, as has been proved, with a title to perfect freedom, and an uncontrouled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of nature, equally with any other man, or number of men in the world, hath by nature a power, not only to preserve his property, that is, his life, liberty and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men; but to judge of, and punish the breaches of that law in others, as he is persuaded the offence deserves, even with death itself, in crimes where the heinousness of the fact, in his opinion, requires it. But because no political society can be, nor subsist, without having in itself the power to preserve the property, and in order thereunto, punish the offences of all those of that society; there, and there only is political society, where every one of the members hath quitted this natural power, resigned it up into the hands of the community in all cases that exclude him not from appealing for protection to the law established by it. (46)

Those who are united into one body, and have a common established law and judicature to appeal to, with authority to decide controversies between them, and punish offenders, are in civil society one with another: but those who have no such common appeal, I mean on earth, are still in the state of nature, each being, where there is no other, judge for himself, and executioner; which is, as I have before shewed it, the perfect state of nature. (47)

And thus the common-wealth comes by a power to set down what punishment shall belong to the several transgressions which they think worthy of it, committed amongst the members of that society, (which is the power of making laws) as well as it has the power to punish any injury done unto any of its members, by any one that is not of it, (which is the power of war and peace;) and all this for the preservation of the property of all the members of that society, as far as is possible. (47)

If man in the state of nature be so free, as has been said; if he be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to no body, why will he part with his freedom? why will he give up his empire, and subject himself to the dominion and controul of any other power? To which it is obvious to answer, that though in the state of nature he hath such a right, yet the enjoyment of it is very uncertain, and constantly exposed to the invasion of others: for all being kings as much as he, every man his equal, and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very unsecure. This makes him willing to quit a condition, which, however free, is full of fears and continual dangers: and it is not without reason, that he seeks out, and is willing to join in society with others, who are already united, or have a mind to unite, for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property. (65-66)

[…] The supreme power cannot take from any man any part of his property without his own consent: for the preservation of property being the end of government, and that for which men enter into society, it necessarily supposes and requires, that the people should have property, without which they must be supposed to lose that, by entering into society, which was the end for which they entered into it; too gross an absurdity for any man to own. (73)

Reinhart Koselleck “Crisis”

Koselleck, Reinhart 2006. Crisis. Journal of the History of Ideas 67(2): 357-400.

[…] “crisis” also meant “decision” in the sense of reaching a verdict or judgment, what today is meant by criticism (Kritik). Thus in classical Greek the subsequent separation into two domains of meaning – that of a “subjective critique” and an “objective critique” – were still covered by the same term. (359)

Above all, it was in the sense of “judgment”, “trial”, “legal decision”, and ultimately “court” that crisis achieved a high constitutional status, through which the individual citizen and the community were bound together. (359)

From this specific legal meaning, the term begins to acquire political significance. It is extended to electoral decisions, government resolutions, decisions of war and peace, death sentences and exile, the acceptance of official reports, and, above all, to government decisions as such. Consequently, krisis is most necessary for the community, representing what is at once just and salutary. For this reason, only one who participated as judge could be a citizen. For the Greeks, therefore, “crisis” was a central concept by which justice and the political order could be harmonized through appropriate legal decisions. (359)

[…] medical theory of crisis, which originated in the Corpus Hippocraticum and which Galen (129-99) firmly entrenched for about fifteen hundred years. In the case of illness, crisis refers both to the observable condition and to the judgment (judicium) about the course of illness. At such a time, it will be determined whether the patient will live or die. This required properly identifying the beginning of an illness in order to predict how regular its development will be. Depending on whether or not the crisis led to a fill restoration of health, the distinction was made between a perfect crisis and an imperfect crisis. The latter left open the possibility of a relapse. A further distinction, between acute and chronic crises, has led – since Galen – to a temporal differentiation in the progression of illnesses. (360)

With its adoption into Latin, the concept subsequently underwent a metaphorical expansion into the domain of social and political language. There it is used as a transitional or temporal concept (Verlaufsbegriff), which, as in a legal trial, leads towards a decision. It indicates that point in time which a decision is due but has not yet been rendered. (361)

At all times [whether legal, theological or medical use] the concept is applied to life-deciding alternatives meant to answer questions about what is just or unjust, what contributes to salvation or damnation, what furthers health or brings death. (361)

Although the metaphor of the body or organism has been applied to the community since antiquity, it was not until the seventeenth century that the medical concept of crisis was applied to the “body politic” or to its constituent parts. Thus in 1627, Rudyerd used this term during the battle between parliament and the absolutist crown: “This is the Chrysis of Parliaments; we shall know by this if Parliaments life or die.” A little later, at the time of the civil war, the word became anglicized, lost its exclusively medical meaning, and perhaps began to refer more to its theological roots. In 1643, for example, Baillie wrote: “this seems to be a new period and crise of the most great affairs.” This expression became generally established, while increasingly acquiring religious connotations. (362)

Although we can presuppose that many scholars were familiar with those [juridical and theological] meanings, it appears that the primary point of departure for the expansion of the term into political and economic sphere was the medical usage. (365)

[…] the metaphorical extension of crisis into the German vernacular entered first through political rather than economic language. Thus Pierer in 1845 points to the political but not yet economic application of the term. At the same time, however, French lexicography already provides a comprehensive article on “crise commerciale” and gives it parity with “crise (médicine)” and “crise politique“. (366)

In Germany, however, such an economic application was not made until 1850 with Roscher’s article in the Brockhaus’s Gegenwart (The Present), in which he writes of “production crises considered with special reference to the most recent decades.” (367)

“Crisis” was used appropriately to describe concrete civil war situations that divided the loyalty of citizens. Pleading along this line, Count Reinhart, in a petition to the King of Westphalia, used the term to prevent him from carrying out summary executions. On the other hand, he could apply the same term in 1819 – “political crisis” – to a mere change of cabinet in Paris. (369)

The spectrum of political applications thus ranged broadly. “Crisis” marked external or military situations that were reaching a decisive point; it pointed to fundamental changes in constitutions in which the alternatives were the survival or demise of a political entity and its constitutional order; but it could also describe a simple change of government. The common use of the word had neither been validated nor sufficiently enriched to be elevated into a basic concept. (369)

From the second half of the eighteenth century on, a religious connotation enters into the way the term is used. It does so, however, in a post-theological mode, namely as a philosophy of history. At the same time, the metaphor of illness as well as the associational power of the “Last Judgment” and the “Apocalypse” remain pervasive in the way the term is used, leaving no doubt as to the theological origins of the new way in which the concept is constructed. (370)

[…] the concept of crisis can generalize the modern experience to such an extent that “crisis” becomes a permanent concept of “history”. This appears for the first time with Schiller’s dictum: “Die Weltgeschicte ist das Weltgericht” (“World History is the Last Judgment”), the impact of which cannot be overestimated. Without actually taking over the term “Last Judgment”, Schiller nonetheless interprets all of human history as a single crisis that is constantly and permanently taking place. The final judgment will not be pronounced from without, either by God or by historians in ex post facto pronouncements about history. Rather, it will be executed through all the actions and omissions of mankind. What was left undone in one minute, eternity will not retrieve. The concept of crisis has become the fundamental mode of interpreting historical time. (371)

Another variant lies in the repeated application of a crisis concept that represents at the same time – like the ascending line of progress – a historically unique transition phase. It then coagulates into an epochal concept in that it indicates a critical transition period after which – if not everything, then much – will be different. (371)

As it pertains to historical time, then, the semantics of the crisis concept contains four interpretative possibilities. 1) Following the medical-political-military use, “crisis” can mean that chain of events leading to a culminating, decisive point at which action is required. 2) In line with the theological promise of a future Last Day, “crisis” may be defined as a unique and final point, after which the quality of history will be changed forever. 3) Somewhat more removed from the earlier medical or theological semantic spheres, are two new historical (or temporal) coinages. The first uses “crisis” as a permanent or conditional category pointing to a critical situation which may constantly recur or else to situations in which decisions have momentous consequences. 4)The second new coinage uses “crisis” to indicate a historically immanent transitional phase. When this transition will occur and whether it leads to a worse or better condition depends on the specific diagnosis offered. (371-372)

All of these possibilities reveal attempts to develop a single concept limited to the present with which to capture a new era that may have various temporal beginnings and whose unknown future seems to give free scope to all sorts of wishes and anxieties, fears and hope. “Crisis” becomes a structural signature of modernity. (372)

Chateaubriand similarly uses the term as a key concept essential to all political parties: “In this moment of crisis no one can say “I will do something tomorrow” without having foreseen what tomorrow will bring.” Everyone is equally in the dark. All therefore must seek to discover the origins of this crisis, one’s own situation in it and the path to the future. This was to be his task. He compared all earlier revolutions with the ongoing French Revolution. For him, “crisis” is the point at which the present situation intersects with universal historical conditions that must first be understood before a prognosis could be offered. (376)

[…] Herder employs the decisive concept of crisis: “since for a variety of reasons we are living in the midst of such a strange crisis of the human spirit (indeed why not also of the human heart?), it is up to us to discover and assess all the inner forces of history rather than continue paying homage to a naive idea of progress.” (377)

“Crisis” plays only a peripheral role in the German Idealist philosophy of history in which the spirit (Geist) that drives reality naturally triumphs over any acute crisis. But the concept of crisis assumed a central place among its heirs, the Young Hegelians (Junghegelianer). This praxis- and action-oriented philosophy seeks to achieve that freedom, the absence of which is the object of its critique. At odds with reality, that critique is pushing for a decision, which, historically understood as “crisis”, is already pre-programmed and prepared. (384)

Because it is able to see the direction of history, this critique is propelling the crisis. In Bruno Bauer’s words: “History … will elevate to power the freedom which theory has given us and thereby create the world in a new form. … History will take of the crisis and its outcome.” Judging history correctly will determine whether the problems of state, church, and society demanding a decision can be solved in practice. The concept of crisis thus remains within a philosophy of history calling for the execution of tendencies revealed through critique. (385)

[Lorenz von Stein, Geschichte der sozialen Bewegung in Frankreich von 1789 bis auf unsere Tage, 1850]: “Throughout Europe there is a sense that the present condition cannot last much longer. Powerful and terrible movements are coming to the fore; no one dares to predict where they will lead. Hence no one has the right to offer a magic formula for the future.” […] The 1848 Revolution, which announces “the sovereignty of industrial society”, is merely one “act of that mighty crisis.” As with Saint-Simon, von Stein’s concept of crisis is drawn from an all-encompassing view of history which sees the revolutions of the nineteenth century as steps in the transition toward industrial society. At the same time, Stein prognosticates only two alternatives: a just social order or collapse. Thus his theory of the three epochs contains a decidedly eschatological component. (385-386)

[of Burckhardt]: The wars of the nineteenth century were only a part of this larger crisis, into which the forces of democracy and material ambitions, lust for power, and intellectual utopias all merged. But the “principal crisis” will come only with the convergence of technology, wars, and social revolutions. “At that point, the main decision must come from the nature of humanity itself” (thus transforming once and for all the metaphor of the Last Judgment into and anthropological and historical category). (388)

Surely our concept would never have become a central concept had it not acquired an additional interpretive content that reflected and experience increasingly common in daily life: economic crises. In Germany these were initially due to the costs of the wars against the French, to agrarian surpluses, as in 1825, or to failed harvests, as in 1847. But from 1857 on, economic crises were increasingly viewed as global occurrences caused by the capitalist system itself. (389)

From the 1840s on, the economically-based concept of crisis permeates the growing literature of social criticisms – coming from all political and social camps – that had begun to flood the market. “Crisis” was well suited to conceptualize both the emergencies resulting from contemporary constitutional or class specific upheavals, as well as the distress caused by industry, technology, and the capitalist market economy. These could be treated as symptoms of a serious disease or as a disturbance of the economy’s equilibrium. This undoubtedly prompted Roscher, in 1854, to coin the general formula: these are crises “the changing substance of which may take changing forms. Such crises are called ‘reforms’ if they are resolved peacefully under the auspices of the established legal system, but ‘revolutions’ if they produce changes violating the law.” Thus, in the economic sphere as well, “crisis” had been elevated into a historical “super concept” (Oberbegriff) with which to analyze the challenges of the century. (391-392)

“Crisis” remains a catchword, used rigorously in only a few scholarly or scientific contexts. Schumpeter denies its utility even for political economy, which is why, in his analysis of business cycles, he gives “no technical meaning to the term crisis, but only to the concepts of prosperity and depression.” (397)

The concept of crisis, which once had the power to pose unavoidable, harsh and non-negotiable alternatives, has been transformed to fit the uncertainties of whatever might be favored at a given moment. (399)

An Interview with Elizabeth Grosz: Geopower, Inhumanism and the Biopolitical

February 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Grosz, Elizabeth; Yusoff, Kathryn; Clark, Nigel 2017. An Interview with Elizabeth Grosz: Geopower, Inhumanism and the Biopolitical. Theory, Culture & Society. DOI: 10.1177/0263276417689899

NC and KY: Historically, the inhuman has been posited as a condition that was understood to be against life (Lyotard, 1991) or as a form of bare life rendered through a deadly exercise of biopower. How might the inhuman be rethought as a stratified condition that both supplements and subtends biopolitics? What kind of shift in genealogy does this represent for the conceptualization of the body politic of the human?

EG: If the inhuman is not understood as against the human, its opposite or overcoming, but rather both the preconditions and the excess within the human, if we understand what is creative and inventive in the human as something impersonal, with forces we summon up rather than control, then it is a line that runs through human actions. In fact, it may be part of the explanation for the cultural necessity of biopolitical regulation: there is something in humans (and other living beings) that is beyond conscious control and social regulation. The increasingly microscopic interventions of biopower take as their object smaller and smaller forces and processes of the body as something to be mastered while leaving inadequately addressed the body’s inhuman even quantum forces. Biopower requires as its other precisely the inhuman, which it aims to make an object of regulation. Or put in other words, it is the inhuman in the human that resists biopolitics and perhaps requires some form of it. The inhuman within the human, as resistance, is the creative force that enables (some) humans to transform their conditions of existence, to make, create, invent. Moreover, this inhuman is the gel of a human collectivity that is perhaps best understood through art, which musters both the elements from the earth and from the inhuman effects of the human.

NC and KY: You have suggested that art carves out a relatively safe corner of the earth’s chaos in which to perform experiments. One of the key differences between the spheres of politics and art – at least in a conventional modern framing – is that politics involves justifying our actions or inaction to others (i.e. giving reasons for our decisions), whereas it is presumed that artistic interventions can to some degree speak or act for themselves. So we are wondering what your approach does to complicate or trouble these differences. If a politics worthy of the name calls for trials and experiments whose outcomes cannot be anticipated, is the emphasis on the providing of reasons or giving an account of oneself over-rated? Or alternatively, if art has the capacity to recompose social formations in potentially momentous ways, are we perhaps not being demanding enough of its ethical and political responsibilities?

EG: I think that art and politics do function quite differently, although there is no reason that each mode of practice cannot borrow from or help to develop the other. But the most fundamental difference is that art is very rarely, with the exception of film and performance arts, a collective process (though of course it is capable of collective creation – it more commonly is marketed rather than produced collectively). Art is possible in a relation between a single individual and a small part of the earth. Politics, by contrast, is always collective, always social, completely ineffective if it relies on individuals alone. What both art and politics can share, though this is increasingly difficult in a political order in which the domination of politics occurs through the financial intervention of restabilizing orders (such as the interests of particular industries and the operation of lobby groups), is that at their best, they are fundamentally experimental, open-ended, without a clear-cut goal, but modes of exploration of different possible (or virtual) orders.

Giorgio Agamben “Stasis”

January 25, 2017 Leave a comment

Agamben, Giorgio 2015. Stasis. Civil War as a Political Paradigm (Homo Sacer II, 2). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

  1. Stasis

The ambivalence of the stasis, according to Loraux, is thus attributable to the ambiguity of the oikos, with which is it consubstantial. Civil war is the stasis emphylos; it is the conflict particular to the phylon, to blood kinship. It is to such an extent inherent to the family that the phrase ta emphylia (literally, ‘the things internal to the bloodline’) simply means ‘civil wars’. According to Loraux, the term denotes ‘the bloody relationship that the city, as a bloodline (and, as such, thought in its closure), maintains with itself’ (Loraux 1997, 29). At the same time, precisely because it is what lies at the origin of the stasis, the family is also what contains its possible remedy. (7)

Insofar as civil war is inherent to the family – insofar as it is, that is to say, an oikeios polemos, a ‘war within the household’ – it is, to the same extent – this is the thesis that Loraux seems to suggest here – inherent to the city, an integral part of the political life of the Greeks. (8)

Toward the end of her essay, Loraux analyses the case of a small Greek city in Sicily, Nakōnē, where, in the third century bce, the citizens decided to organise the reconciliation following a stasis in a particularly striking way. Tey drew the names of the citizens in lots, in order to then divide them into groups of five, who in this way became adelphoi hairetoi, ‘brothers by election’. Te natural family was neutralised, but this neutralisation was accomplished simultaneously through a symbol par excellence of kinship: fraternity. Te oikos, the origin of civil strife, is excluded from the city through the production of a false fraternity. Te inscription that has transmitted this information to us specifies that the neo-brothers were to have no family kinship between them: the purely political fraternity overrules blood kinship, and in this way frees the city from the stasis emphylos. With the same gesture, however, it reconstitutes kinship at the level of the polis: it turns the city into a family of a new kind. It was a ‘family’ paradigm of this kind that Plato had employed when suggesting that, in his ideal republic, once the natural family had been eliminated through the communism of women and goods, each person would see in the other ‘a brother or a sister, a father or a mother, a son or a daughter’ (Rep., 463c). (9)

Let us attempt to summarise the fndings of Loraux’s essay in the form of theses:
1) In the frst place, stasis calls into question the commonplace that conceives Greek politics as the
defnitive overcoming of the oikos in the polis.
2) In its essence, stasis or civil war is a ‘war within the family’, which comes from the oikos and not from
outside. Precisely insofar as it is inherent to the family, the stasis acts as its revealer; it attests to its irreducible presence in the polis.
3) The oikos is essentially ambivalent: on the one hand, it is a factor of division and conflict; on the other, it is the paradigm that enables the reconciliation of what it has divided. (10-11)

What relations should we suppose between zōē and the oikos, on the one hand, and between the polis and political bios, on the other, if the former must be included in the latter through an exclusion? From this perspective, my investigations were perfectly consistent with Loraux’s invitation to call into question the commonplace ‘of an irresistible overcoming of the oikos on the part of the polis’. What is at issue is not an overcoming, but a complicated and unresolved attempt to capture an exteriority and to expel an intimacy. (12-13)

In the stasis, the killing of what is most intimate is indistinguishable from the killing of what is most foreign. This means, however, that the stasis does not have its place within the household, but constitutes
a threshold of indifference between the oikos and the polis, between blood kinship and citizenship. (14-15)

Te stasis – this is our hypothesis – takes place neither in the oikos nor in the polis, neither in the family nor in the city; rather, it constitutes a zone of indifference between the unpolitical space of the family and the political space of the city. In transgressing this threshold, the oikos is politicised; conversely, the polis is ‘economised’, that is, it is reduced to an oikos. Tis means that in the system of Greek politics civil war functions as a threshold of politicisation and depoliticisation, through which the house is exceeded in the city and the city is depoliticised in the family. (16)

Te document in question is Solon’s law, which punishes with atimia – which is to say, with the loss of civil rights – the citizen who had not fought for either one of the two sides in a civil war. As Aristotle bluntly expresses it, “whoever did not join sides [thētai ta opla, literally ‘provide the shield’] with either party when civil strife [stasiazousēs tēs poleōs] prevailed was to be held in dishonour [atimon einai] and no longer a member of the state [tēs poleōs mē metēchein].” (17)

Not taking part in the civil war amounts to being expelled from the polis and confned to the oikos, to
losing citizenship by being reduced to the unpolitical condition of a private person. Obviously this does not mean that the Greeks considered civil war to be a public good, but rather that the stasis functions
as a reactant which reveals the political element in the extreme instance as a threshold of politicisation that determines for itself the political or unpolitical character of a certain being. (17)

Te Athenian amnēstia is not simply a forgetting or a repression of the past; it is an exhortation not to make bad use of memory. Insofar as it constitutes a political paradigm inherent to the city, which marks the becoming-political of the unpolitical (the oikos) and the becoming-unpolitical of the political (the polis), the stasis is not something that can ever be forgotten or repressed; it is the unforgettable which must remain always possible in the city, yet which nonetheless must not be remembered through trials and resentments. Just the opposite, that is to say, of what civil war seems to be for the moderns: namely, something that one must seek to render impossible at every cost, yet that must always be remembered through trials and legal persecutions. (21-22)

Te form that civil war has acquired today in world history is terrorism. If the Foucauldian diagnosis of modern politics as biopolitics is correct, and if the genealogy that traces it back to an oikonomical-theological paradigm is equally correct, then
global terrorism is the form that civil war acquires when life as such becomes the stakes of politics. Precisely when the polis appears in the reassuring fgure of an oikos – the ‘Common European Home’, or the world as the absolute space of global economic management – then stasis, which can no longer be situated in the threshold between the oikos and the polis, becomes the paradigm of every conflict and re-emerges in the form of terror. Terrorism is the ‘global civil war’ which time and again invests this or that zone of planetary space. It is no coincidence that the ‘terror’ should coincide with the moment in which life as such – the nation (which is to say, birth) – became the principle of sovereignty. Te sole form in which life as such can be politicised is its unconditioned exposure to death – that is, bare life.(24)

  1. Leviathan and Behemoth

What is decisive, in any case, beyond the opposition between land and sea, is the surprising fact that the  ‘mortal God’, ‘the Artifciall Man called Common-wealth or State’ (as Hobbes defines him in the introduction), does not dwell within the city, but outside it. His place is exterior not only with respect to the walls of the city, but also with respect to its territory, in a no-man’s-land or in the sea; in any case, not within the city. Te Commonwealth – the body political – does not coincide with the physical body of the city. (35, 37)

Te unifcation of the multitude of citizens in a single person is something like a perspectival illusion; political representation is only an optical representation (but no less effective on account of this). (41)

‘The people’, he writes, is something single [unum quid ], which has one will and to whom one action can be attributed. None of these can be said of the multitude. Te people reigns in every city [Populus in omni civitate regnat]; even in a monarchy the people commands, for the people wills by the will of one man. Te citizens, that is, the subjects, are the multitude. In a democracy and an aristocracy, the citizens are the multitude; but the council is the people [curia est populus]. And in a monarchy, the subjects are the multitude, and (although this is a paradox [quamquam paradoxum sit]), the king is the people [rex est populus]. Common men, and others who do not notice these things, always speak of a great number of men, that is, of the city [civitate], as the people; they say that the city rebels against the king (which is impossible), and that the people will and nill what troublesome and murmuring subjects will and nill; under the pretext of the people, they rouse the citizens against the city, that is, the multitude against the people. (Hobbes 1983, 190) (42)

Te people – the body political – exists only instantaneously at the point in which it appoints ‘one Man, or Assembly of men, to beare their Person’ (Hobbes 1996, 120); but this point coincides with its vanishing into a ‘dissolved multitude’. Te body political is thus an impossible concept, which lives only in the tension between the multitude and the populus-rex: it is always already in the act of dissolving itself in the constitution of the sovereign; the latter, on the other hand, is only an ‘Artifciall person’ (Hobbes 1996, 111), whose unity is the effect of an optical contraption or a mask. (44-45)

It is a commonplace that in Hobbes the multitude has no political significance; that it is what must disappear in order for the State to be able to exist. Yet if our reading of the paradox is correct – if the people, which has been constituted by a disunited multitude, dissolves itself again into a multitude – then the latter not only pre-exists the people-king, but (as a dissoluta multitudo) continues to exist after it. What disappears is instead the people, which is transposed into the figure of the sovereign and which thus ‘rules in every city’, yet without being able to live in it. Te multitude has no political significance; it is the unpolitical element upon whose exclusion the city is founded. And yet, in the city, there is only the multitude, since the people has always already vanished into the sovereign. As a ‘dissolved multitude’, it is nonetheless literally unrepresentable – or rather, it can be represented only indirectly, as happens in the emblem of the frontispiece. (47)

Te people, that is to say, is the absolutely present which, as such, can never be present and thus can only be represented. If we call ‘ademia’ (from dēmos, the Greek term for people) the absence of a people, then the Hobbesian State – like every State – lives in a condition of perennial ademia. (51)

Te state of nature, as Hobbes explains in the preface to De Cive, is what appears when one considers the city as if it were dissolved (civitas […] tanquam dissoluta consideretur […] ut qualis sit natura humana […] recte intelligatur) (Hobbes 1983, 79–80), which is to say, from the perspective of civil war. In other words, the state of nature is a mythological projection into the past of civil war; conversely, civil war is a projection of the state of nature into the city: it is what appears when one considers the city from the perspective of the state of nature. (53)

If our hypothesis is correct, the image from the frontispiece presents the relation between the Leviathan and the subjects as the profane counterpart of the relation between Christ and the ekklēsia. Yet this ‘cephalic’ image of the relation between Christ and the Church cannot be separated from the thesis of Pauline eschatology, according to which, at the end of time, when ‘the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him’, God ‘will be all in all [panta en pasin]’ (1 Cor. 15: 28). This apparently pantheistic thesis acquires its properly political sense if we read it together with the cephalic conception of the relationship between Christ and the ekklēsia. In the current state, Christ is the head of the body of the assembly; however, at the end of time, in the Kingdom of Heaven, there will no longer be any distinction between the head and the body, because God will be all in all. (62-63)

If we take seriously the Hobbesian assertion according to which the Kingdom of God should be understood not metaphorically but literally, this means that at the end of time the cephalic fiction of the Leviathan could be erased and the people discover its own body. The caesura that divides the body political – a body visible only in the optical fiction of the Leviathan, but in fact unreal – and the real, yet politically invisible multitude, will be bridged at the end in the perfect Church. But this also means that until then no real unity, no political body is actually possible: the body political can only dissolve itself into a multitude and the Leviathan can only live together up until the end with Behemoth – with the possibility of civil war. (63)

Roberto Esposito “Freedom and Immunity”

January 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Esposito, Roberto 2013. Freedom and Immunity. – Terms of the Political. Community, Immunity, Biopolitics. New York: Fordham University Press, 47-56.

Whereas both American neocommunitarianism and organicistic German sociology link the idea of community to that of belonging, identity and ownership – that is, the community as something that identifies someone with his/her own ethnic group, land, or language – the originary term community has a radically different sense. One need only open a dictionary to learn that common is the exact contrary of one’s own; common is what is not one’s own, or what is unable to be appropriated by someone. It is what belongs to all or at least to many, and it therefore refers not to the same but to the other. (48)

Whereas communitas opens, exposes, and turns individuals inside out, freeing them to their exteriority, immunitas returns individuals to themselves, encloses them once again to their own skin. Immunitas brings the outside inside, eliminating whatever part of the individual that lies outside. What is immunization if not the preventive interiorization of the outside, its neutralizing appropriation? (49)

Whether we declare that freedom has already been realized in our liberal democracies or defer it by claiming it belongs to a far-off tomorrow, we remain within the same interpretive model. that is, we remain within a subjectivist metaphysical framework wherein the political scene is occupied by a preformed and predefined subject – the individual – who regards freedom as an object to defend or conquer, to possess or extend. (50)

Freedom thus is understood as that which makes the subject the proprietor of himself or herself; as essentially “proper” and no longer “common”. (50)

Nevertheless the true immunitary turn takes place during the Middle Ages, when freedom – that is, every freedom – takes on the character of a “particular right”: an ensemble of “privileges”, “exemptions”, or “immunity” […] that exempt certain collective subjects (classes, corporations, cities, convents) from an obligation that is common to all others and grant them a special juridical condition (like that of the libertas ecclesiae) within the hierarchical order. It is here that the passage from an open and affirmative notion of freedom to one that is restricted and negative, as well as immunized and immunizing, is carried out. (52)

When, beginning with Hobbes and the model of natural law, modern political philosophy attempts to restore universality to the concept of freedom, it can only do so within an individualistic framework that has now been extended and multiplied by the number of individuals who are made equal by their reciprocal separation. Freedom is what separates the self from the other by restoring it to the self; it’s what heals and rescues the self from every common alteration. From then on, with all of the possible variations – that is, from the absolutist – to the republican or the liberal type, freedom will always be conceived as a right, good, or faculty of the individual who holds it, either through the protection of sovereign law (Hobbes) or, conversely, by protecting the individual from it (Locke). (52-53)

In both cases, this protection, first of life and then of individual property, assumes a starkly oppositional quality to the political dimension as such. As Arendt observes, beginning in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, freedom is tightly bound to security: We are free only insofar as and if we are secure – if freedom is “ensured” by its defensive and self-identifying connotation. (53)

Freedom is nothing but the effect, or the consequence, of property; a figure of what is “proper”, the opposite of what is “common”. (53)

But freedom is either a fact or it is not. Either freedom grasps our experience such that freedom subsumes experience, or freedom remains blocked in the self-dissolving circle of idea, essence, or concept. Therefore, freedom must be understood not as something that one has but as something that one is: what frees existence to the possibility to exist as such. (54)

[…] the very task of contemporary political philosophy lies: liberating freedom from liberalism and community from communitarianism. That is, we must deconstruct the first and most entrenched of those false antitheses that modern political philosophy has built in an attempt to fill in the void of thought that it has carved out around and within the great concepts of politics. if it is thought affirmatively, freedom can only be “common”  – belonging to each and all because it’s not proper to anyone. (55)

Freedom confronts community with its own outside, or projects that outside within as it is, without neutralizing community preventively. (56)

Nikolas Rose “Reading the Human Brain”

August 2, 2016 Leave a comment

Rose, Nikolas 2016. Reading the Human Brain: How the Mind Became Legible. Body & Society 22(2): 140-177. DOI: 10.1177/1357034X15623363


[…] despite the many unresolved quandaries that haunt those debates, and the many criticisms that can be, and have been, levelled against them, this new ‘materialist’ ontology of thought is taking shape, not through a philosophical resolution of the age-old dilemmas, but through developments in technology. Notwithstanding the explanatory gap – the daunting gulf that exists between a knowledge of molecular events in the neurons of the brain and an explanation of how the mental events that are ‘subserved’ arise – and despite all the critiques – these technologies embody and enact the premise that the brain is the place where mental events are located and that there must, therefore, be material traces of such mental events in the brain itself. And if those traces exist, it must be possible – both in principle and now it seems in practice – to make them legible. (144)


[…] as proposed by Franz Joseph Gall, it [phrenology] entailed two theses with lasting impact on the sciences of mind and brain (Gall, 1810). First, that the brain was the seat of the mind. Second, that the brain was organized in such a way that different mental functions were located in specific areas. (144)


It appears that this is how the infamous Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature (BEOS) test is being used in India. There was much publicity when the BEOS test – a ‘guilty knowledge’ test developed by an Indian neuroscientist Champadi Raman Mukundan, which operates on the same principle as Farwell’s P300 method – was used in 2008 to convict Aditi Sharma for murder – giving her husband sweets laced with poison–on the basis of her ‘neuro-experiential knowledge’: it was claimed that characteristic brain patterns showing such knowledge were elicited during an

EEG examination when she heard statements concerning the act of poisoning. It was not her words that were used to convict her – she remained silent – but the evidence of the brain itself. (150)


There was rather less publicity when she was released on bail pending appeal, after the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) declared that brain scan evidence did not meet appropriate criteria of scientificity and could not be used in court. In 2010, in a ruling also considering the admissibility of evidence from the polygraph and from narcolepsy, the Indian Supreme Court ruled – largely on the grounds of the rights not to selfincriminate – that no individual can be forcibly compelled to take a lie detector test, whether a traditional polygraph or a neural lie detector – and that evidence from such tests was inadmissible in Indian courts. But according to Angela Saini, the BEOS test is still widely used in India, not in the courtroom but in the investigative process, where it has apparently induced numerous suspects to make confessions. (150)


The thesis that is beginning to acquire plausibility is that while deceitful words are cheap and easy, and bodies can be trained to deceive, the brain cannot lie. But from the lab to the real world is a rather longer and more difficult journey than the inventors suggest – for in the real world, innocent individuals being tested are awash with confusing and competing affects, the potentially guilty are alert to the need for countermeasures, and, at least as far as the law is concerned, each defendant must be judged as an individual rather than on the basis of probabilities (although this last proviso does not apply to those detained at borders on the basis of algorithms of riskiness). And what is a lie? For if a mistaken belief, genuinely held, is a lie, who among us is not a liar? We should not be surprised to find an emergent neuroethical discourse on the nature and limits of neural privacy (Farah et al., 2014; Langleben and Moriarty, 2013; Wolpe et al., 2005). (151)


For while both body and brain may rendered ‘readable’, in the materialist ontology of the person that is taking shape, the brain has the advantage over the body in being both a potentially legible surface of thoughts and intentions, and the potentially modulatable locus of those thoughts and intentions. In that respect, at least for those whose objective is control – whether that be for  security or therapy – legibility in itself is only a first step: reading out the messages from the brain leads to the hope that one might read back messages into the brain to modulate those thoughts and intentions themselves. (157)

Stephen Lilley “Transhumanism and Society”

Lilley, Stephen 2013. Transhumanism and Society. The Social Debate over Human Enhancement. Dordrecht; Heidelberg; New York; London: Springer.


  1. Introduction to the Transhumanity Debate

I will be using the label, ‘‘transhumanists,’’ as a catchall for a variety of notable figures, many of whom accept this descriptor and all of whom advocate human enhancement. ‘‘Conservationists’’ is the term that I have chosen for their opponents because of their stand to conserve human nature and institutions. (2)


Transhumanists and their critics also understand these technologies to have the capacity to intervene or to interfere (depending on one’s perspective) in life at the most fundamental level. Most of us are familiar with this idea as it pertains to biotechnology. DNA and related genetic structures are regarded as the code of life, ‘‘cracked’’ by scientists and now open to manipulation through engineering techniques. Stem cells, basic in their pluripotency, have been coaxed from

embryos, placentas, and skin and are being primed to promote regeneration. (5)


In the Foreword to Brave New World, Aldous Huxley asserts that ‘‘It is only by means of the sciences of life that the quality of life can be radically changed…This really revolutionary revolution is to be achieved, not in the external world, but in the souls and flesh of human beings’’ [(1932) 1969]. (7)


The conservationists contend that if liberal democracies go down the transhumanist path and allow free choice for enhancement technologies, consumers knowingly or unknowingly will suffer modifications that diminish free will. Governments would exploit them. According to the transhumanists, if liberal democracies take up the conservationists’ cause, the state would become more involved in the regulation and control of reproduction, the body, and parenting through banning enhancement technologies, and monitoring and policing illicit use. This would entail an increase in state power and loss of personal autonomy. (10)


At least in terms of political-economic leanings, transhumanism is not a radical ideology, not even a reform ideology. We need to keep in mind that all ideologies, including transhumanism, are designed to serve movement interests. Transhumanists keep their eyes on the prize. If there is every expectation that biotechnology, nanotechnology, neurotechnology, and computer technology will continue to flourish under the political economy of Western societies and the global system, it makes perfect sense to back these. (11-12)


  1. Transcend or transgress?

Whether or not scientists and engineers favor engineered transcendence is debatable, but we know for sure that the transhumanists explicitly propose it. They are the visionaries. This is evident right from the start with Julian Huxley’s coining of the term transhumanism: “The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself—not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity. We need a name for this new belief. Perhaps transhumanism will serve: man remaining man, but transcending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature” (1957:17). (14)


Cosmic Transcendence

In Kurzweil’s model, as humans pass through the technological singularity an accelerating evolutionary process working on intelligence will yield new beings. He makes it clear that there will be as little in common between posthumans with evolved intelligence and standard humans as there is between bacteria and Homo sapiens. He predicts that these super beings will harness stars and eventually operate on the scale of the universe or universes. Generations of humans that forego this evolution, in comparison, will be hopelessly primitive. (15)


Personal Transcendence

For More, transcendence is primarily a personal experience, a process of selftransformation. This is best expressed in his Principles of Extropy (2003) which he crafted while serving as chairman of the Extropy Institute. In defiance of entropy is experienced by individuals as disease and decline, he recommends the bold application of enhancement technologies for extropy: ‘‘seeking more intelligence, wisdom, and effectiveness, an open-ended lifespan.’’ (2003) Essential to transcendence is one’s will to advance and one’s intolerance for passivity. One must embrace rational thinking over faith that constrains and one should challenge traditional notions of human limitations. Believing in perpetual progress and being proactive and optimistic vis-à-vis science and technology leads one ‘‘creatively and courageously to transcend ‘‘natural’’ but harmful, confining qualities derived from our biological heritage, culture, and environment.’’ (2003) He values an open society through which individuals may self-direct and voluntarily cooperate to secure advantages. (16)


Civitas Transcendence

James Hughes, a former secretary of the World Transhumanist Association, offers a vision of transhumanity in his book, Citizen Cyborg (2004), which is meant to be consistent with secular humanism and the Enlightenment project of using science and technology for the collective good. His training as a sociologist shows through with his attention to social and political systems. He advocates improvements to minimize social injustice, promote social solidarity, and safeguard human populations. Like Max More, he finds cosmic transcendence so abstract and future distant to be a distraction for immediate concerns, but he also finds fault with the libertarian streak of the extropians. Hughes distrusts the free market, opposes unchecked individualism, and believes that a safe passage to a transhuman civilization requires ethical standards, public oversight, and some regulation. (16)


I use the Latin term, civitas, which denotes citizenship and also planned settlement, to describe Hughes’ vision of transcendence. He foresees the progression to a more just, equitable, prosperous, and peaceful world through democracies that encourage citizens to utilize safe and effective enhancements. Because they are augmented by biotech, nanotech, and neurotech, cyborg citizens will be more capable and energetic citizens and be able to contribute more to community and society. A virtuous spiral develops such that as enhanced citizens become more socially productive, societal goods increase, as more individuals share in this bounty, their quality of life increases and, in turn, they contribute more to the common good. (17)


Whereas Kurzweil values science and technologies for the lift that they might provide for superior intelligences, and More values these as resources for the overman, I see Hughes following Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte and embracing science and technology for the purpose of social engineering. (17)


[…] conservationists warn of transgression, or a point of no return from which humanity will suffer a most grievous, irretrievable loss. (18)


Critics operating from faith traditions charge that Kurzweil’s model of cosmic transcendence lacks an accounting of God’s involvement with individuals and humankind. They take exception to the elevation of science and technology as the agents of history. Michael DeLashmutt (2006) writes: ‘‘Though a posthuman eschatology wrestles with similar themes present within Christian eschatology, a Christian eschatology is ever aware that the fulfillment of its hope lies in the hands of the God who is in control of history, in contrast to a posthuman eschatology that places the onus of control upon human technologies.’’ (19)


Elaine Graham (2003) warns of ‘‘hyper-humanism’’: “Such talk of humanity as in some degree self-constituting via its own technologies, of being capable of influencing the course of its own development is to fall prey to what we might term ‘hyper-humanism‘: a distortion of modernity‘s faith in the benevolence of human reason, producing the hubristic belief that humanity alone is in control of history” (2006). (19)


Whereas these critics see problems with transhumanism being insufficiently attuned to divine grace and God’s plan, secular critics find fault with it for being too influenced by Christian eschatology. David Noble, in particular, has advanced the thesis that Western science and technology were inspired by Christian millennialism and these institutions remain essentially religious endeavors directed today by men motivated by a quest for transcendence. (20)


Mark Hanson (1999) writes that ‘‘[w]ithin a Protestant understanding of our nature, the disvalue occasioned by enhancements might consist…in the loss of recognition of the providence of God working through the contingencies and weaknesses of our human form.’’ (21)


Although the following is a very simplified formula, excellence of character or proper living is said to be achieved through practicing virtue (which is self-effacing) and avoiding vice (selfishness). Is personal transcendence consistent with this formula? ‘‘No,’’ assert the critics of transhumanity. It is egotistical, too grasping, and may result in new forms of injustice. Living a good life accepting of human mortality, on the other hand, has intrinsic value and it helps promote the greater good. Worried about overpopulation that may occur with elongated life spans and increased demands placed on natural systems, Bill McKibben sees finite living as the choice consistent with conservationism. (22)


Transhumanists treat death and decline as major impediments to overcome. Simon Young (2006) bluntly states, ‘‘Death is, to me, an obscenity’’ (15) and he refers to illness, disability, and senescence as ‘‘biological slavery’’ (41) One’s existence, in his view, takes place only within life’s frame. There is no afterlife. Conquering death is a way to extend life’s frame. In terms of the overman, moreover, the will is strengthened through death’s conquest. (22)


Can a child have true autonomy if parents genetically design his or her capacities and proclivities? Maureen Junker-Kenney believes the answer is no: “Genetic enhancement exemplifies a total reversal of the preconditions for autonomy: The offer of pre-implantation enhancement and selection constitutes the victory of parents’ projections over the otherness of the child. In co-creating the specificities of its reality—sex, bodily features, character predispositions—it is being denied the singularity that is based on an unmanipulated originality” (2005:12). (23)


  1. Transformation of Body and Mind

They pose a bold, rhetorical question: If the very constitution of the human body is what makes us and our loved ones susceptible to disease, decline, and death, why not transform it? In the past there was no reason to expect that such a thing could be done. Now there is. (25)


Transhumanists disassociate their movement from religions and cults. They make it clear that they do not appeal to supernatural forces (or aliens). In some ways this makes building a case for their audacious idea that much harder. Transhumanists associate their movement with science and engineering and therefore must abide by scientific-secular norms of persuasion. (26)


Individuals who wish for restoration of mobility can find hope in Miguel Nicolelis’ statement that ‘‘The body does not have a monopoly for enacting the desires of the brain.’’ (Blakeslee 2008) Many transhumanists also take heart in new possibilities emerging from the confluence of neuroscience, computing, and robotics. They readily conceptualize the human body as one substrate for the mind, dispensable once better replacements are engineered. Prosthetic limbs, artificial hips and knees, cochlear implants, and pace makers are standard medical devices. Artificial bone, tendon, muscle, skin, blood, etc., are commercially available or are being developed. Each component may be seen as just one exception to an otherwise natural form, however taken together one is left with the impression that the organic body is replaceable. At the very least, it makes you wonder, ‘‘What is so special about human biology?’’ (27)


Andy Clark, a cognitive scientist, asserts that humans have always been cyborgs, in the sense of incorporating our best creations as a way to extend our reach. He identifies ‘‘cognitive hybridization’’ as the quintessential feature of our humanity: “[I]t is our special character, as human beings, to be forever driven to create, co-opt, annex, and exploit nonbiological props and scaffoldings. We have been designed, by Mother Nature, to exploit deep neural plasticity in order to become one with our best and most reliable tools. Minds like ours were made for mergers. Tools R-Us, and always have been” (2003:7). (28)


Warwick welcomes the therapeutic applications but he also imagines posthuman capabilities: “At present our method of communication, speech, is very slow, serial and error prone. The potential to communicate by means of thought signals alone is a very exciting one. We will probably have to learn how to communicate well in this way though, in particular how to send ideas to one another. It is not clear if I think about an ice cream are my thoughts roughly the same as yours – we will have to learn about each other’s thoughts. Maybe it will be easier than we think, maybe not. Certainly speech is an old fashioned, out dated means of communication – it’s on its way out!” (2008) (29)


Simon Young (2006) pronounces Homo cyberneticus to be the next stage in human evolution. He traces cyberneticus to the Greek, kubernetes, or steersman of a ship. He understands the mind to be the steersman and the body to be an unworthy vessel. He asserts, ‘‘The body may want to self-destruct—but does the mind? No. Yet our genes insist upon it, against our will.’’ (371) Freed from ‘‘genetic slavery,’’ minds will evolve, thereby setting the stage for these cognitivist triumphs: 1) the evolution of a cybermind emerging from the network of interdependent minds (318), 2) ‘‘the mind of evolution become conscious of itself’’ (39), and coming to know the ‘‘Mind of God.’’(367) (29)


Human intelligence is an evolutionary milestone that Kurzweil readily admits has a biological basis, nevertheless as its pattern is made known through neuroscience, informatics, etc., ways will be found to replicate it or reformat it to allow symbiosis or mergers with newly created forms of computation and artificial intelligence. The pattern that is intelligence will continue to evolve. Like Young, he foresees nothing, including the organic brain, getting in the way: ‘‘[I]ntelligence is the most powerful ‘‘force’’ in the universe. Intelligence, if sufficiently advanced, is, well, smart enough to anticipate and overcome any obstacles that stand in its path.’’ (2005:206). (30)


[Barbara] Becker asserts that the transhumanist vision of radical transformation is similarly seductive, promising many more degrees of freedom to play and self-experiment. She dismisses this for being ‘‘a reconstruction of old fantasies which are returning in new technological clothes and making a great deal of noise.’ (33)


One such ‘‘old fantasy,’’ according to John Sullins (2000), comes from Descartes’ philosophy. Rene Descartes treated the mind and body as being distinct. The body, but not the mind, is of the physical world, influenced by natural laws and operating in a similar fashion as machines. Through the body’s sensory receptors, information is presented for the mind’s perusal. In his famous thought experiment Descartes imagines a demon manipulating the senses. He also offers ordinary examples of sensory error. The lesson to be drawn is that the body is not to be trusted as a source for certainty regarding one’s existence. Only the action of the mind, or the ‘‘I’’ that is thinking, is certain. The primacy of the mind is clear in his epistemology that favors rational thought and deduction. (33)


Configurations that provide identity will emerge from a more extensive network of advanced processes just as surely as they have emerged from a more limited ‘‘ensemble of tools.’’ Kurzweil believes that we are sufficiently pliable to retain continuity of identity as we change. Hayles, however, does not preclude negative outcomes. She takes seriously a concern raised by Norbert Wiener, a principle architect of cybernetics, that the subject may be subsumed. Estrangement is very possible. Exploitation and manipulation need to be considered as well: ‘‘The ultimate horror for the individual is to remain trapped ‘‘inside’’ a world constructed by another being for the other’s own profit.’’ (162). (34)


Stock and others present moderate transformation as the means to bountiful longevity, but so-called ‘‘life cycle traditionalists,’’ such as Leon Kass, assert that there will be costs. He believes that the normal human lifespan promotes a more focused approach to life projects. He warns of ennui at the personal level and generational conflict over finite resources at the societal level. (36)


Andy Clark explains that not only has the species changed over time through biological evolution, it is unusually dynamic in other ways: “It is our natural proclivity for tool-based extension, and profound and repeated selftransformation, that explains how we humans can be so very special while at the same time being not so very different, biologically speaking, from the other animals with whom we share both the planet and most of our genes. What makes us distinctively human is our capacity to continually restructure and rebuild our own mental circuitry, courtesy of an empowering web of culture, education, technology, and artifacts” (2003:10). (38)


In his article, ‘‘In Defense of Posthuman Dignity,’’ Nick Bostrom (2005) questions whether human dignity is fostered through conservation by challenging an underlying premise that human nature is set or pinned down by the human genome. He insists, instead, that ours is a species that extends and transcends biology through social and technological constructions, and as these change, we change, generation after generation. There is no stable state to preserve: “What we are is not a function solely of our DNA but also of our technological and social context. Human nature in this broader sense is dynamic, partially human-made, and improvable. Our current extended phenotypes (and the lives that we lead) are markedly different from those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors… Yet these radical extensions of human capabilities– some of them biological, others external – have not divested us of moral status or dehumanized us in the sense of making us generally unworthy and base. Similarly, should we or our descendants one day succeed in becoming what relative to current standards we may refer to as posthuman, this need not entail a loss dignity either” (213). (38)


  1. Rhetoric of Risk

Following Martin Heidegger and Jacques Ellu, Leon Kass (2002:35) defines technology as ‘‘the disposition to rational mastery.’’ He asserts that commercial interests drive research and development and ‘‘soft dehumanization’’ will occur ‘‘unless we redeem ourselves by nontechnological ideas and practices, today both increasingly beleaguered.’’ (22). (45)


FINRRAGE (Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive and Genetic Engineering) extends the critique to gene technologies: “The central technique aimed at achieving biological ‘‘quality control’’ today is genetic engineering, a method of analyzing and manipulating the hereditary substance of all life forms. Gene technology is inherently eugenic, because it treats all living beings – microorganisms, plants, animals and human – as inefficient or outright defective and in need of technical ‘‘optimization’’ to fit the interests of profit and power. Genetic engineering is already being applied to many different areas of our lives – in medicine, agriculture, the industrial production of food, chemicals and other products, by the police and the military. Women will increasingly be faced with the adverse effects, not only with regard to reproduction, but also as producers and consumers, in the areas of food, health care etc. Last but not least, we will all bear the brunt of future ecological disruption, while the profits of the ‘‘new genetic revolution’’ will flow to a few multinationals.” (46)


Critics of transhumanity are skeptical of reason (instrumental rationality devalues life), progress (a myth used to justify exploitation), and science (effectively under corporate control). Transhumanists, on the other hand, uphold reason, progress, and the virtue of science. Elaine Graham (2003:38) calls transhumanism the ‘‘high-tech heir to Enlightenment humanism’’ and I believe that is a fair characterization in that transhumanists cherish these Enlightenment values. They firmly believe in the Enlightenment project of using reason to improve the human condition. Progress is unabashedly proclaimed and, as Simon Young states, the ‘‘new technologies are joyously celebrated as the wonders of the modern world.’’ (2006:20) Gregory Stock evokes Benjamin Franklin’s enthusiasm for industry, innovation, and science. (46)


Urlich Beck (1992:19) asserts that advanced modernity is characterized by ‘‘the social production of risks’’ in at least two ways: 1) the economic production of hazards such as pollutants and toxins, and 2) sociopolitical enterprise built around the promise of security and ‘‘discovering, administering, acknowledging, avoiding or concealing’’ risks (20). Beck criticizes this oversight system for being too reactive and permissive of the production factors that generate hazards. Most importantly, burden of proof is placed on consumers or advocacy groups to precisely identify hazards, establish cause and effect, and calculate future risks—a task that Beck (1995) asserts is made nearly impossible by the complexities of global production. (49)


Transhumanists utilize a systems approach when they describe the risks associated with new technologies as a necessary condition of progress. Max More (2005) asserts that the advancement of civilization could not have happened without taking risk: “If the precautionary principle had been widely applied in the past, technological and cultural progress would have ground to a halt. Human suffering would have persisted without relief, and life would have remained poor, nasty, brutish, and short: No chlorination and no pathogen-free water; no electricity generation or transmission; no X-rays; no travel beyond the range of walking.” (52)


Transhumanists could charge that their adversaries exaggerate, however this might appear inconsistent with their own claims in the power of these technologies. Instead they utilize an interesting counter strategy of embracing the risk object. They assert that GNR research is taking place around the globe and that there is no way to return to a period of innocence. Even if nations agreed to relinquishment, clandestine operations would continue. Gregory Stock (2002) warns that rogue regimes or terrorists would develop weapons against which peaceful nations would be helpless to defend. The risk of mass destruction would increase, rather than decrease. The safest policy for democracies is to always stay ahead in the advancement of technologies in order to provide effective countermeasures. (55)


Always thinking one step ahead, they imagine that new drugs or other neurotechnologies will not only target pathologies but extend the upper range of emotional and cognitive functioning. For instance, David Pearce (1998) foresees a time when nanotechnology and genetic technology will be used to promote a higher state of well being: “Over the next thousand years or so, the biological substrates of suffering will be eradicated completely. ‘‘Physical’’ and ‘‘mental’’ pain alike are destined to disappear into evolutionary history. The biochemistry of everyday discontents will be genetically phased out too. Malaise will be replaced by the biochemistry of bliss…. This feeling of absolute well-being will surpass anything contemporary human neurochemistry can imagine, let alone sustain. The story gets better. Post-human states of magical joy will be biologically refined, multiplied and intensified indefinitely. Notions of what now passes for tolerably good mental health are likely to be superseded. They will be written off as mood-congruent pathologies of the primordial Darwinian psyche. (58)


  1. Inevitability

Whereas the conservationists often take the offensive in the rhetoric of risk, the transhumanists clearly are the aggressors in this contest. First, the transhumanists convey a sense of inevitability through their sweeping account of technological innovation. This is most effective when describing human history in terms of successive waves of beneficial technologies used to alter, control, or bypass nature, for example, fire-building, agriculture, vitamins, and vaccines. According to proponents, transtechnologies represent the next step in progress. (63)


Gould’s take on human evolution is not shared by the general public. The common understanding is that humans are the most evolved species with regard to thinking, language, and sociality. For many it is a source of pride to think that nature selects for these capacities and our species has come out on top. Transhumanists tend to utilize this flattering interpretation but add the caveat that the selection process continues and that humans will not be the pinnacle of evolution. Kurzweil (2005) argues that intelligence provides a competitive advantage because ‘‘[i]ntelligence, if sufficiently advanced, is, well, smart enough to anticipate and overcome any obstacles that stand in its path.’’ (206) Modifications that increase computation power tend to be retained, and in the long run the trajectory is ever upward. Humans are on the high end of the continuum of smart species but we will evolve in synergy with our most advanced technology to become higher-order computation beings. (64)


The transhumanists, in contrast, do not anticipate that humanity will remain idle. Young’s (2006) model of ‘‘harmonious complexification’’ (366) portrays life as moving toward increasing order, complexity, and self-organization and he sees humans as both producer and product of this process. Our species will initiate and ride the transhuman and posthuman wave. Kurzweil emphasizes the inevitability of this progression: “[W]e are a product of evolution, indeed its cutting edge. But extending our intelligence by reverse engineering it, modeling it, simulating it, reinstantiating it on more capable substrates, and modifying and extending it is the next step in evolution. It was the fate of bacteria to evolve into a technology-creating species. And it’s our destiny now to evolve into the vast intelligence of the Singularity” (298). (64-65)


Evolution may be harsh and unforgiving but, according to the transhumanists, evolution has produced one species, homo sapiens, that is equipped and prepared to direct it. We are ‘‘steersmen,’’ Homo cyberneticus, proclaims Simon Young. This is a bold declaration meant to inspire confidence and forward-thinking. Clark (2003) explains thatweare the creative project. In other words, because we are essentially dynamic and self-constructing and have the ability to expand with our technologies, we will continue to be the most innovative species. “Our self-image as a species should not be that of ancient biological minds in colorful young technological clothes. Instead, ours are chameleon minds, factory-primed to merge with what they find and with what they themselves create (141). Our cognitive machinery is now intrinsically geared to self-transformation, artifactbased expansion, and a snowballing/bootstrapping process of computational and representational growth…Plasticity and multiplicity are our true constants” (8). (65)


According to Kurzweil’s (2001) ‘‘law of accelerating returns,’’ the rate of technological change is greater than commonly understood because “technological change is exponential. In exponential growth, we find that a key measurement such as computational power is multiplied by a constant factor for each unit of time (e.g., doubling every year) rather than just being added to incrementally. Exponential growth is a feature of any evolutionary process, of which technology is a primary example. One can examine the data in different ways, on different time scales, and for a wide variety of technologies ranging from electronic to biological, and the acceleration of progress and growth applies. Indeed, we find not just simple exponential growth, but ‘‘double’’ exponential growth, meaning that the rate of exponential growth is itself growing exponentially. These observations do not rely merely on an assumption of the continuation of Moore’s law (i.e., the exponential shrinking of transistor sizes on an integrated circuit), but is based on a rich model of diverse technological processes.” (66)


In his seminal work, Risk Society (1992), Beck points out that modernization represents in the minds of its recipients a tradeoff between comfort and risks. For example, to have air conditioning, suburban enclaves, and economic growth we consume more energy and in the process run the risk of global warming. Mass transportation and international travel increase the risk of terrorist attacks and viral epidemics. Mass production of food entails the passage of pesticides, growth hormones, and antibiotics into our diet. Civilization has come to be associated with a level of endangerment. Many people accept that progress has a price, and it is worth paying. If enhancement technologies are understood in terms of progress, and not in terms of weapons of mass destruction, the case for relinquishment will be a hard sell. (71)