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I have recently finished the television show Fringe which began in 2008 and finished in 2013 with 100 episodes. The last season dealt in the evolution of a species called the Observers. This species seems to have been created through synthetic biology. One of the interesting questions I think the series asks in this particular story-line is what makes us human and what exactly is the price we pay by thwarting or changing Natural Selection. The Observers are a species that at first seems to have evolved to be much more intelligent than homo sapiens, but lack emotional responses we would deem human like. Love is no longer an emotion this species feels because it seems to be the thing that makes our species weaker (according to the Observers). Of course this is exactly the question of the series. Does emotion make us stronger or weaker as a species? How will evolution be directed by us?
This last question is not without some controversy. Let me start with the idea of the Robot Rebellion (a book written by Keith Stanovich). Stanovich in chapter one seeks to shatter any illusions that we are anything except vehicles for our genes, and not the other way around. This of course follows Dawkins in his idea behind the selfish gene. We are simply cyborg (he uses the term robots) pawns which allow genes to replicate into the future. Our telos is simply or not so simply to allow the gene to survive and replicate. We are often controlled by a mental system which reacts to automatically to “domain relevant stimuli which he calls TASS (The Autonomous Set of Systems). TASS allows us to make quick decisions in once very dangerous situations (predatory ones). Very often we are unable to explain our behavior but only to add false testimony in order to explain it. This is exactly why Lacan and to some extent Freud rarely believed in explanations but instead tried to understand why exactly the particular words are used in order to narrate the behavior, but I regress. Now imagine for one second the Observers that are created without this system and everything is explainable, “You behaved this way because your amygdala sent an electrical response to your hypothalamus, which resulted in an aggressive reaction instead of a peaceful one, our species has regulated all of this and we no longer feel this aggressive tendency”. Will we evolve less emotive responses in the future and will this be something we want? If there is a correlation between intelligence and emotive response will this be something we want to examine?
Dr. David Comings made an extremely controversial assertion in his book The Gene Bomb. His assertion is that genetically inherited disorders are increasing in the human population. Our species is evolving ever greater number of behavioral disorders such as ADHD, depression, addiction and impulsive, compulsive, cognitive disorders (think Autism Spectrum Disorders). Selection can select for these things if they allow an advantage and these things will increase in the gene pool. Can these ways of being offer an advantage? The Observers as very Asperger like characters seem to be asking the question whether or not emotion thwarts the ability to rationalize and analyze logical situations effectively. Stanovich actually points to the fact that so called “lower animals” (I absolutely do not believe in this classification) show a higher degree of what is called an “axiom of rational choice”. This of course shouldn’t be surprising since homo sapiens are vocationless, and must create a vocation for ourselves. This vocation has even changed the very idea of evolution and natural selection for us.
Natural Selection is simply a logical necessity, something will always be selected for, but we have changed the predatory relationship, we have stopped hunting and gathering which allows a stasis in our food supply, medicine and technology has allowed us to live longer and longer. We will also merge closer and closer with technology building a symbiosis with machine. This will also be something that is necessary into the future not necessarily to allow the human to exist, but instead allow a consciousness that does not rely on the signifier, no longer caught in the dialectic of a master slave relationship and to move further, understand that the human subject is not an individual entity shut off from the ecological and technological objects surrounding it but in a symbiotic network that is in the midst of becoming which is similar to Rosi Braidotti’s Nomadic Subject.
In the last few episodes of Fringe we see a character called Michael. Michael communicates without signifiers, he lacks what we would call emotional responses (he does tear up once), but also characters seem to bond with him quickly. Michael is in a sense a human that no longer functions according to a symbolic structure, instead he envisions time as a flattened space, uses no tenses in his speech because he doesn’t use words. He allows us to envision something that comes after the human, a posthuman future.
Two great resources on Ebola
On October 15th, 1976 the WHO released a bulletin that read:
Haemorrhagic Fever of Viral Origin. Between July and September 1976, it was observed in the region spanning N’zara to Maridi, in southern Sudan, sporadic cases of fever with haemorrhagic manifestations. It is thought that the first cases occurred among agricultural families. During the last week of September, the situation worsened considerably, 30 of 42 cases occurred in Maridi hospital among members of the staff; it is thought the disease was spread directly from one person to another. By October 9, 137 cases, 59 deaths, were reported for the region comprising N’zara, Maridi and Lirangu. The epidemic has caused panic on the local level…Samples from Sudan and Zaire have revealed the presence of a new virus, morphologically similar to Marburg, but antigenically different
This bulletin we read here is the beginning of the written and classification of what is now known as Ebola virus disease. Now in 2014 we see the headlines “A potential threat of a human catastrophe unparalleled in modern human times”, and President Obama stating it is “spiralling out of control, getting worse … with profound economic, political and security implications for all of us”. The CDC stated that the worse case scenario is that 1.4 million will be infected by January. However, with that said the EU stated that the threat to Europe of contacting Ebola is “low” which perhaps explains why the response from the global powers has been equally so.
Adia Benton at somatosphere.net writes a piece titled Race and the immuno-logics of Ebola response in West Africa which provides us with an example of a response or lack of response to the contagion of Sierra Leonean’s Dr. Olivet Buck by WHO officials. Adia states that. “this operating logic has a racial dimension, which has for too long gone unexamined and whose impact has been woefully underestimated”. With race comes intentional and not so intentional dividing practices.
Ebola Virus Disease is classified as a filovirus which are RNA viruses. The genetic makeup or material that makes up their genes is composed of ribonucleic acid. One of the most common viruses of the RNA type is the common cold which like Ebola and other RNA type viruses has a high mutation rate (due to the lack of DNA “proofreading”). The “specific components of filovirus infection are hemorrhage and disseminated intravascular coagulation” this hemorrhage is caused by blood clotting within the capillaries. This results in the body releasing chemicals which results in fever, swelling, and a drop in blood pressure. glycoproteins in infected cells results in a suppression of the immune response, which can eventually destroy the immune system. Different outbreaks (different species) have different mortality percentages.
With this short description of the pathogenesis of filoviruses we now must ask the question where does it come from, what is the origin story or reservoir and where is the virus when it hides? This spatial aspect of the disease is rarely thought about in the general public because the idea that contagions exist among (without actually causing symptoms) us still seems to be an esoteric idea. As we can see from the conspiratorial news starting to go viral (intended) on social media the origin is now either the United States Government or ISIS. It makes little sense if any sense at all this is the case in regards to this outbreak. However (to not mention this would be a disservice), because there is documentation that the United States discontinued their biological weapons program in 1969, and The Soviet Union continued theirs much longer and because other outbreaks have occurred in the past due to accidents (Marburg in 1987 and 1998) that have occurred in labs the possibility that these programs could be implicated in some way is not completely impossible. The case of negligence and apathy for the marginalized and poor is much more guilty: in other words inaction and not action should be put on trial.
The outbreak in Zaire in 1976 was not random at all as Paul Farmer explains, “This epidemic was anything but random, for it was amplified by substandard medical practices” Farmer recounts a page from Richard Preston’s best-seller The Hot Zone: “It hit the hospital like a bomb. It savaged patients and snaked like chain lightning out from the hospital through patients’ families. Apparently the medical staff had been giving patients injections with dirty needles.” In Zaire the disease was spread by nosocomial means: “only five syringes were issued to its nurses (who were actually nuns with little if any medical training) each morning, and they were used and reused between 300 and 600 patients each day.” This was in 1976, and now in 2014 where established state of the art BSL facilities exist (a new one being built in the US to be ready in 2017) we are seeing a classificatory Public Health Emergency of International Concern (WHO) issued only for the third time.
As Benton stated above and as Paul Farmer puts it here:
Much was made of the fact that non-communicable pathologies such as coronary artery disease and malignancies caused the majority of all world deaths in 1990. A very different picture emerges however when we compare causes of death among the wealthiest fifth of the world’s population to the afflictions that kill the poorest fifth: although only 8 percent of deaths among the world’s wealthiest were caused by infections or by maternal and prenatal mortality, fully 56 percent of all deaths among the poorest were caused by these pathologies, with infectious diseases at the head of the list.
Instead of the current blaming of the victims in the media (they are combative, paranoid, primitive) J. Daniel Kelly writes in Nature: “But the desperate shortage of Ebola diagnostic centres in Sierra Leone is fuelling the Ebola outbreak. People who think that they might have the disease do not want to spend several days trapped in an isolation unit, away from their families and surrounded by workers in spacesuits.”
The spacesuit is a sign of affluence and power which separates even more. The spacesuit acts as a liminal space between life and death. This space is of course part of the symbolic universe of all the participants. This is the place where imperialism lies and even the place where a determination of zoe and bios (infected not infected) resides. Our symbolic universe is tied up with the imaginary, the imaginary is the place where a lack of decision was made regarding the first case (of just this outbreak) which happened in 2013. Now that a case in Texas has occurred and the possibility remains that others can become infected ‘which could be me and not them’ I am vigilant and this has entered what we (United States citizens) deem important. We can even create our myths in order to deal with a lack of the Big Other. There is something to see here.
Farmer, Paul Infections and Inequalities 1999 University of California Press
Kelly, Daniel J Making Diagnostic centres a priority for Ebola crisis Nature, September 11,2014 pg 145 Print
Smith Ph.D, Tara C Ebola and Marburg Viruses 2011 Chelsea House Publishers
Originally posted on Foucault News:
Details of workshop on book below description.
This book takes up Foucault’s hypothesis that liberal “civil society,” far from being a sphere of natural freedoms, designates the social spaces where our biological lives come under new forms of control and are invested with new forms of biopower. In order to test this hypothesis, its chapters examine the critical theory of civil society — from Hegel and Marx through Lukacs, Adorno, Benjamin, and Arendt—from the new horizon opened up by Foucault’s turn to biopolitics and its reception in recent Italian theory.
Negri, Agamben, and Esposito have argued that biopolitics not only denotes new forms of domination over life but harbors within it an affirmative relation between biological life and politics that carries an emancipatory potential. The chapters of…
View original 209 more words
Let me begin to answer this question with a rather lengthy quote from Evelyn Fox Keller:
Even a curriculum vitae is a kind of autobiography. Rudimentary and transparent though it is, it may reveal deeply personal traits. Certainly my own does; it makes abundantly clear that I have something of a problem with borders: in my peculiar psychic and intellectual economy borders are meant crossing. More, they constitute irresistible lures. I seek them out~~not to test their limits but to worry them as a dog does a bone. Even as a working scientist, I found it hard to stay put, to keep from straying back and forth~~in those days between biology and physics, between theory, and experiment. And once I strayed beyond the borders of research science, shifted from doing science to writing about it, the problem only grew worse, for now I had many more boundaries to worry
I am reminded of the Israel-Gaza barrier created/constructed in 1994 by Israel, or even in the USA where the symbolic construction of racial difference becomes an even larger construction similar to the Matryoshyka doll when trying to articulate a view of police power. Everywhere dichotomies and walls, configurations and confederacies being built with brick and mortar. So of course I take Nietzsche quite serious when he states that man is a bridge and not an end in itself. Following Nietzsche in a sense is to read Rosi Braidotti (one of the things I have been doing), “This ethical principle breaks up the fantasy of unity, totality, and one-ness, but also the narratives of primordial loss, incommensurable lack and irreparable separation”. Braidotti here takes this thought in part from Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto in which Haraway writes about the cyborg as a new construction of fluidity where it lives in a post-gender world with no original mythology which can explain our origins. Haraway writes further that the cyborg is no Frankenstein where patriarchy iterates itself upon the enframing of our symbolic and imaginary universe.
So in a sense I am learning to live and write without the original unity: God. I am learning from Zarathustra (Nietzsche) to ‘curse the ideal’ and to bear our disadaptation (Lacan) and to invent a will which provides “the spine of man”. It is the chasing of the demon/savior of nihilism that I embrace and curse. To find and embrace things that have no meaning or to accept that there is no other of the other. It is the place where we meet Lacan and Nietzsche, a place where we embrace the fact that desire has no object, no end in itself but it is here that we find the call of Zarathustra convincing. \
So this short post will tell you what I have been doing: Donna Haraway, Rosi Braidotti, Evelyn Fox-Keller, Nietzsche, and of course Lacan as the overseer.
The trending topics on Facebook and other social media such as the suicide of one our beloved characters (Robin Williams) and the militarization of our police force in Missouri we are reminded of the Human All Too Human-ness of our existence. I am also quite aware through memory that this news is almost to an extent banal, and again I use this word in the Arendt sense–where we begin to accept these things as a natural occurrence of our modern age. The Missouri anger is the backlash that yes we are starting to believe in the fact that we are alone (as the government is part of the problem, even if they are better than the ridiculous state governments of these small areas), and that yes maybe Nietzsche is correct that ‘god is dead’, but as Slavoj Zizek reminds us this is simply a fetishistic disavowal because in the United States the belief in some kind of fate or “everything happens for a reason” is still highly prevalent. With this said, we can see the existential scene where a women looks up to the faithful sky after watching Fox News and does her best Zarathustra: the earth is in desperate need of a new meaning, we need a new direction because the old one is no longer working.
Nietzsche is helpful in that we have come to a place in our time where he writes that we need to stop idealizing and moralizing reality. He writes, “perhaps this very renunciation will lend us the strength to beat renunciation; perhaps man will rise ever higher when he no longer flows off into a god”. To become overhuman, to improve the human not at the expense of the planet but in order to think a new, not an idealized state of Christianity in a world to come, or a Platonism in which to remove error as much as possible will reveal a world over this one, but instead an immanent technologically mediated egalitarian one. We must be clear and not falter back into a humanism in which we assume the idea that man is a rational animal, and will always make the morally correct choice, but instead As Nietzsche states here, “If the motion of the world aimed at a final state, that state would have been reached. The sole fundamental fact, however, is that it does not aim at a final state”. With no finality of the earth, we must make one, very much in line with the idea of Existentialism that humans must create their essence.
As Nietzsche claims, “I teach you the Overman. Man is something that should be overcome.” Man’s time has come, the time is right for an overcoming of man or a post-anthropocentrism that is bio-mediated or even as Deleuze and Guattari write, ‘becoming-machine’. Deleuze wrote in a hermetic tradition that releases the existential burden of the body, but only now can we begin to consider this possibility. The body is something that shows extreme plasticity. Here I follow Rosi Braidotti, “The ‘becoming machine’ understood in this specific sense indicates and actualizes the relational powers of a subject that is no longer cast in a dualistic frame, but bears a privileged bond with multiple others and merges with one’s technologically mediated planetary environment. The merger of the human with the technological results in a new transversal compound, a new eco-sophical unity, not unlike the symbiotic relationship between the animal and the planetary habitat.” We must begin to think in the terms of what Guattari called autopoietic subjectivation, which is a link between organic matter and machinic matter.
As you have read so far let me be clear that I agree with Katherine Hayles that this does not mean the end of the human but:
the posthuman does not really mean the end of humanity. It signals instead the end of a certain conception of the human…What is lethal is not the posthuman as such but the grafting of the posthuman onto a liberal humanist view of the self…Located within the dialectic of pattern/randomness and grounded in embodied actuality rather than disembodied information, the posthuman offers resources for rethinking the articulation of humans with intelligent machines.
The anthropocene needs to be reconceptualized and steps need to be taken in order to right the wrong. The ‘murderer of god’ needs to stand account and then to be overcome with biotechnological remediation where the standard humanist rhetoric needs to be replaced with a posthuman, post anthropocentrism.