A 2001 essay interpreting such phenomena as the rise of reality TV shows, public video surveillance networks, unethical human experimentation and internet exhibitionism as battlefronts of the "subjugation and exploitation" of "the human being himself, his most intimate nature, his dreams and desires, his personality, his body, [and] the genetic code itself" by capitalism, which is preparing the population for "the destruction of nature and its replacement by an artificial and inhuman environment".
Consequences of the Misuse of Electricity-Jose Manuel Rojo
(On the experimental phase of the capitalism of the spirit)
The unconscious is truly the most extensive region of our minds, and for precisely that reason the unconscious is like the interior of Africa, whose unknown frontiers could be very distant indeed.
Jean Paul, 1804
The exploitation of man by man that alternately employs economic, moral or passional weapons, or all of them at once, is born of man’s biological and physiological diversity. Until now, these weapons left some space for possible revolts, but at this point a new element enters upon the scene: the doctor who is transformed into a biologist and begins the transformation of man. With the analysis of unconscious conflicts, synthetic hormones, vitamins, genetic orientation, he already controls the decisive levers of the living machine. At the request of his master, since all technology is subordinate, he will light the fire or put it out, to act on the desire, that is, to reach the very origin of the problem of freedom. From now on, man is included in livestock breeding.
Pierre Mabille, Minor Considerations on Freedom, 1947
Among the many pathologies which made the end of the 19th century an especially turbulent and pathetic time, the most detrimental were undoubtedly those which were never recognized as such. For example, the establishment of sports as mass entertainment, which Leon Bloy believed was “the surest means of producing a generation of pernicious idiots”. Or the unhealthy passion for geographic discovery, which in many respects shares certain characteristics with sports (the obsession with records, their jingoist roots). An irrational furor led the European “wise men” to the ends of the earth, in search of the sources of rivers, the location of the poles, the extent of the deserts, and in the persecution of even the smallest unknown island. It is well-known how the newspapers encouraged these expeditions, how they led to international conflicts, and how, ultimately, they served not science but western imperialism. “Whenever there are rumors of a rebellion in India, you organize an expedition in search of the Abominable Snowman”, expostulated Sherlock Holmes to a representative of the London Royal Geographic Society (1); spies, but also catalogers, dissectors of the world’s wealth, of all the material and human possibilities which the colonies offered the vampirism of an economy already embarked upon the second phase of the industrial revolution.
The epidemics which terrorized (and delighted) the fin de siecle have, 100 years later, seen different fates. Unfortunately, some have diminished almost to the point of disappearance, like anarchy or the faith of the symbolists in a reality understood as a living unity shot through with symbols and relationships (and nonetheless…); others, not diagnosed by official medicine, have grown stronger, sprouting new intertwined branches, until they have become the normal standard of health of the social body. We know their names: sports, of course, consumerism, and the spectacle, still germinal in the incipient media of mass communications at the turn of the century. As for the “discovery” mania, it continues, only having mutated, and is not directed toward geography or nature but towards other parts. Not yet towards extraterrestrial space, however, since the necessary technology is still lacking. No. The new field of conquest, of subjugation and exploitation is not the exterior, but the interior. Not the reality which surrounds the human being, but the human being himself, his most intimate nature, his dreams and desires, his personality, his body, the genetic code itself. The inside, not the outside. If it is true that the advanced economies have left the factory behind in order to enter another phase of capitalism, if today, especially, a post-industrial economy predominates which is based upon immaterial labor, networks, and the production and consumption of knowledge, then this new phase of expansion is founded upon the exploitation of the self instead of this or that raw material or energy resource.
This is not necessarily something new, insofar as advertising has for many years been refining almost perfect Pavlovian mechanisms for the creation of false needs, and spectacular society is sustained, in effect, by the manipulation of individual subjectivities. Consumption is however ultimately directed towards manufactured products and the spectacle is above all else passivity and therefore the stall of the hypnotized spectator. It now demands something more from this spectator, his active participation: it is obvious that the image of the television viewer has been replaced by that of the internaut, or perhaps they have fused. This participation cannot be sporadic or partial, but must be constant and total, because the threat of stagnation which weighs on capital, and which calls into question its logic based on a perpetual movement to nowhere, must be exorcised through the invention and the plundering of something more than a circumstantial market (even if it is as gigantic as the former USSR or China). It will have to discover a continent, a world, a virgin terra incognita. This terra incognita is human nature, in all its meanings, which has undoubtedly already suffered grave assaults and amputations, but which still makes itself felt up to a certain extent. Like Africa at the end of the 19th century, we find ourselves confronted by a new edition of the Conference of Berlin, which has already set the example and fired the starting pistol for the conquest and definitive dispossession of the human being.
The commodities which the new technologies are putting into motion are basically and precisely the thoughts, the feelings, the illusions and the dreams, the obsessions and the desires, the secrets and the confessions of men and women. And it is absolutely necessary for this immense auction of consciousness that the interested parties are also themselves put into motion, that they accept the transformation into raw materials of that which previously was the exclusive attribute of their private lives, that which, it was said, no tyranny could seize, which, even in a concentration camp, yet allowed the prisoner a certain feeling of freedom.
In this way, nothing must remain outside the empire of the economy. There are no neutral zones, no watertight compartments, no nature reserves that could allow a moment of peace, an occasion for reflection or even resistance. It is not only a question of all activities being distinct forms of labor, of the annihilation of leisure and even of laziness, which have been forcibly objectivized in lucrative entertainments. There is something more: everything, absolutely everything, has become raw material, everything is potentially a commodity which enters into the play of supply and demand, because in this kingdom there is no longer any room for ghosts.
Perhaps, however, we have not yet arrived at this boiling point. The step from the exploitation of a passive consciousness to an active one is not so simple. It involves a new training which demands the definition of the limits of this consciousness, weighing its faculties, possibilities and deficiencies, establishing a plan of conquest and exploitation. On the other hand, the instruments of control and repression must not be abandoned, since, although everything is based upon the active participation and submission of the victims themselves, it will still be necessary to rely on supplementary measures which eliminate any dysfunction or timorous hesitancy on the part of the social body. Finally, since we are speaking of the body, the human being’s own carnal nature will also have to be the subject of experimentation, not only by means of the obvious sale of the commodity-body which we witness, but also by putting its capacity of endurance to the test. Endurance in the face of back-breaking economic flexibilization, endurance of the poisonous saturation of information and consumption and, finally, endurance of the destruction of nature and its replacement by an artificial and inhuman environment.
The current experiment actually has a double face. If on the one hand it catalogs, ausculates, uncovers, on the other hand it prepares the population for the changes which will issue from the knowledge which it supplies. These two faces are intrinsically united, in such a fashion that they are not just various comprehensible manifestations of science, technology, art or the entertainment industry if we keep this principle in mind. Similarly, research will not prosper if it starts from separate or unconnected disciplines, but only if it treats them all as a whole; not the pioneer who blazes a trail through the jungle, or the three caravels that sailed the mysterious Sargasso Sea, but the system as a whole which sets off united upon the new enterprise of discovery, thereby constituting a vanguard of domination composed of activities which in another epoch were kept at a certain distance from one another. It would not be vain to pass review upon some of the manifestations of this vanguard of domination, observing how they are mixed up to the point of confusion, following the stages of their objectives and consequences, as well as drawing up a death certificate of the hopes they have been able to ruin. Perhaps in this manner some profitable lessons could be learned concerning the new forms of social conditioning which are underway and which sooner rather than later will be applied in society: forms of control, of economic exploitation, of simulacra which definitively discredit reality, of survival in intolerable conditions, of the reinvention of the human being himself.
One can begin with what is most obvious. Television programs like Big Brother can be understood as a methodical test to see how far one can go with the industrial utilization of the black gold of the 21st century, privacy. The result could not be more encouraging for capitalism, since nothing is still sacred for the enthusiasts who submit to the “contest”, understanding that the spectators as well, sitting in their homes, participate in the action. And we already know with what success. Up to the point where many supposed that it was not a matter of “normal” contestants, but professional actors, without perhaps noticing that if such were the case we could breathe easier. It is the authenticity of the protagonists of Big Brother that makes their disinhibition, their unconsciousness, their servility before the cameras, so aberrant. Another consolatory opinion proposes that maybe they were not actors, but that they behaved like actors, feigning an impostrous naturalness. “But here is a totally manipulated proximity, an entirely represented familiarity: the participants are actors of their own lives (and they do it quite well), inventing themselves as fictional personalities, from a virtual series whose protagonists they could be, as if from a theatrical work or a television mini-series.” (2) A fragile consolation, because everything indicates that this “entirely represented familiarity” has not been born from and for the television studio, but has already nearly replaced their original form of being, it has absorbed it, and their gestures and behaviors have been adulterated by their fictional models to the point of making the originals unrecognizable. (3)
The trail blazed by Big Brother has, of course, found promising spin-offs. “A television contest in the US presents 50 candidates and shows a tycoon getting married, live” (El Pais, 12-17-2000). “One television network puts the fidelity of couples to the test on an island full of temptations (….) Four stable couples will be subjected to the constant scrutiny of the television cameras” (El Pais, 1-9-2001). The island of the thousand and one nights shares with other products of the same kind some very revealing peculiarities which characterize the style of power in this epoch and which also disseminate the orders of the day to one and all. Above all one must accept it at its word when publicity which justifies this type of programming presents it as a scientific experiment. In effect, we discover in these programs the rigorous conditions of the laboratory: absolute isolation of the guinea pigs in an artificial environment, constant and scrupulous vigilance which oversees the unfolding of the studied phenomenon, and the overwhelming utilization of technology: “Ten anonymous Spaniards will share a house on the outskirts of Madrid for 100 days. They will not be able to leave; nor will they be able to avail themselves of television, radio, newspapers or telephones. Their only contact with the outside world will be the cameras of the twenty electronic eyes and sixty microphones that will monitor every one of their movements, from fits of rage to calls of nature, or simply combing their hair or washing the dishes.” (El Pais, 3-12-2000). “On Temptation Island, Fox will broadcast the life of four couples in stable relationships isolated on an almost deserted island; they are imprisoned in a terrestrial paradise with a surfeit of food, alcohol, luxuries and meat, in the fullest sense of the word.” Like the rat in its maze.
The real objective of the experiment, however, is not necessarily that adduced by the television networks: for example, Fox wants us to believe that Temptation Island will be a “sociological experiment that attempts to demonstrate whether, as many believe, infidelity is an innate weakness of the human being.” Beyond such genuflections and preposterous smokescreens, the ultimate goal pursued is much more ambitious and sinister. Thus, the technological apotheosis under which the actor-tenants of these programs live, and that espionage which it allows and to which they are subjected is presented as a crude assay, as a scientific trial/test of the society which is being prepared for us, a definitively wired one, as watched as it is watching. In this way, two historical models of control are combined before our very eyes: the voluntary transparency of the Calvinist or puritan communities, where the lack of privacy and constant public confession conferred faith in the predestination of the soul, and the asphyxiating framework of spies, delators and secret services of the Venetian Republic, where the life of its subjects was controlled by infinite and unsuspected means. In this way, the technological domination which arises from this combination gains access to all aspects of life thanks to a sophisticated, complex, and invisible network of tentacles which go unnoticed for some citizens who, on the other hand, are quite disposed to voluntarily make themselves transparent and to spy on the life of others, without knowing why or on whose behalf. There is thus a hybridization of panoptics which develops in the cathode laboratory, concerning which Paolo Vasile, director of Tele 5, certainly clarified some points, perhaps by mistake: “The experiment consists of knowing how these people live together and get along, which they do by their own free will. And we all participate in this experiment with our reactions” (El Pais, 5-10-2000).
This is precisely the meaning of interactivity, whether on neo-television or the Internet: in training, in domesticating the consciousness and behavior of those whom it permits and encourages to participate in their own process of domestication. Not only to participate, but also to create. Just as it is said that outside the factory or the office one continues working, even if it were only by virtue of the fact of sharing and forming the affects, feelings and social desires from which capitalism will extract new forms of consumption, we can say that political domination is also designed by the men and women who suffer under it, that it appeals to their collaboration, for the most part unconscious and outside the channels of traditional politics, in order to protect, to construct, to test and to manage the mechanisms of repression and control which are considered necessary.
But if “we all participate in this experiment with our reactions”, then it is as if the experiment does not exist, or it has been a complete success. The scientific method is based upon conducting experiments in conditions of impermeable and antiseptic isolation, so as to objectively analyze the phenomenon, without the destabilizing influence of external agents from the world that seethes around the laboratory, which is converted into a fortress. Congruently, the experiment in itself must not pass the hermetically sealed door; it must not in turn influence the world’s progress. But today “the world has been transformed into a laboratory”, and the effects of scientific research disrupt the very roots of a nature which it was supposed to limit itself to studying, since “the latest technologies and procedures in the artificial environment of research have been mixed with the world to the point where the separation of causes and effects is impossible”. (4) This explains phenomena which only the diabolical innocence of a Mengele could call “scientific experiments”. For example, the “quasi-experimental intervention in the food supply” carried out in Mexico since 1997 by the International Food Policy Research Institute, in connivance with the Mexican government itself: “Ten thousand poor and homeless families from 506 rural Mexican districts were excluded from an official anti-poverty program beginning in 1997, under the administration of Ernesto Zedillo, with the well-intentioned objective of evaluating the differences between those who were helped and those who were not. The consequences were obvious, and irreversible: the children who benefited from the aid program grew a centimeter more each year, their academic performance improved and illnesses among the adults decreased in number. Those who were excluded endured centuries-old marginalization.” (Juan Jesus Aznarez, El Pais, 1-14-2001). Of course, this method is applied to all levels of reality, from transgenic foods to birth control in the Third World or the new flexible and outsourced exploitation, since all of society, and all of life, has been chosen as the decisive testing ground.
From this perspective one understands that a true isolation of the guinea pigs of Big Brother is not desirable, and that this isolation is only complete in a formal sense, or on a small scale (5), while its effects are destined to interact with the world in order to manipulate it in an irreversible way; the experiment is constructed as the epicenter of an earthquake whose consequences spread over the whole planet until they shatter it. The same thing is repeated on the plane of social psychology, a fact noted by the Encyclopédie des Nuisances, which observed in relation to the tests that measure the degree of danger posed by transgenic foods: “The genetically modified organism cannot ‘exist’ if it does not form a unity with nature, and it remains beyond a doubt that it will therefore be transformed by said unity, and it will also transform that very unity…. Thus, either the tests succeed in an isolated environment, and are therefore not tests (they provide no information at all concerning the effects of the dissemination in nature of the ‘tested’ transgenic plant), or they are not carried out in an isolated environment, in which case they are no longer tests, since they are actions in the world, and cannot be retracted.” (6)
Nor can the spectacle go backwards, and that which is freed by the television screen remains among us forever, modifying our behavior just as chemical agents corrupt the organism, embedding themselves in the genetic code of society which they are obligated to mutate like the radioactive contamination which has already in fact become inherited. And just as it was no coincidence that those “hidden camera” programs which became popular in the 1970s coincided with the installation of video cameras in banks and public buildings, we can also assume that Big Brother will not be content with staking out the regions of privacy for their later profitable exploitation, but that it also paves the way for the invasion and the definitive conquest of what still remains of unspoiled public space and, beyond that, of private and domestic space itself. Technical means are not lacking. It is merely a matter of preparing the ground. Thus, in the 1970s many did not see the diminution of freedom which was entailed by the inquisitive eye of the camera because they remembered instead the televised joke, because they had become accustomed to its ominous presence. Naiveté becomes pathetic in some of us when, as we pass by a store with a surveillance camera connected to a closed-circuit television, we slow down and we pose in its field of view to see ourselves caught on screen, which does not provoke disgust or fear, but a mad joy. Neo-television resuscitates that demented felicity and extends it to every home, and in this manner tests for signs of resistance, of scandal or weariness, but they are nowhere to be found, rather to the contrary. And from this test for resistance, it passes to the experiment itself, which consists of testing the efficacy of the strategies of exploitation and repression which correspond to the new economy, and in putting them into practice. Do you remember Glengarry Glen Ross? In that film, some insurance salesmen compete among themselves to avoid being selected by the boss for their low sales level, which would mean getting fired. It is understood that the present-day friendly capitalism and its alternative managers no longer want to do the dirty work: from now on, it will be the workers themselves who, like contestants in a television program, will eliminate one another, deciding who will go and who will not when capital feels like announcing that there is a “crisis”. Perhaps the customers of the business will also have a vote, or the families of the workers, or why not, their neighbors. We will see this soon enough. For now, we are already accustomed to the idea, which is evidently entertaining and diverting.
Within a more short-term time frame, however, the fruits of the experiment in which we all participate with our reaction are already visible. “Salisbury, a small town with 39,000 inhabitants located in the south of England, is under total surveillance. In this city, no one turns a page, no one commits a robbery, a pair of lovers do not kiss on the street, a married couple cannot argue, no one stumbles out of a bar . . . without one of the 84 cameras installed throughout the town seeing and recording it (….) Salisbury just inaugurated this police mechanism a few weeks ago, a service which is dedicated to following the steps of some citizens who felt insecure and wanted the cameras to accompany them on their walks on the streets” (El Mundo, 12-20-2000). The Birmingham police project the faces of the most-wanted criminals upon the walls of the city (….) Their internet site now includes the photos, personal data, and crimes committed by ten crooks, among others the three men shown on the city walls (….) Television programs sponsored by the police, like Crimewatch, have also made their particular contributions to civil security. After about a decade of broadcasts, it has uncovered the whereabouts of criminals with the help of the audience and is, according to the police officers themselves, one of their most prized weapons.” (El Pais, 11-23-2000)
Video cameras in some prisons in the United States, pioneer and leader in these experiments, are being connected to the Internet so that the bold internauts can observe the prisoners “24 hours a day”, so that they, too, become convicts. The success of this initiative is as predictable as its effects on the internauts themselves. Because they are not very different, we recall the famous “experiences” of those pathetic losers who exhibit their daily inanity, putting cameras in every corner of their homes, allowing, at a distance, anyone who wants to be a witness to a shared degradation. These situations often attempted to pass themselves off as anthropological or artistic experiments (or both at the same time), which is actually true. “A youth spent six months hooked up to the Net without leaving his home. He has not left his apartment in Dallas, Texas, since last January 1st and will remain there until the year 2001 arrives. Mitch Maddox buys everything—including his food—over the computer from his apartment (….) A system of twelve television cameras, installed in his apartment, permit the internauts to see him 24 hours a day. The idea is to focus on the possibilities of electronic commerce and how the latter could help families” (El Pais, 7-4-2000). This means: how the Internet can definitively isolate people, reducing them to the unity of home, work and consumption, making any human contact impossible, preparing the techno-hermits of the future. This experiment, which is neither the first nor the last of its kind (7), unites the above-mentioned conditions of the scientific method applied to the domain of life: isolation, technology, continuous surveillance, willingness of the human material which is the object of the study, interaction with the public who follow the experience at a distance, and, of course, the ambivalence of the experiment itself, which is no longer antiseptic in so far as its effects enter into play. Perhaps the conclusions, the confirmation or rejection of the hypothesis upon which the test is based, are of less importance than the process itself, of which we all form a part. Why give publicity to experiences that an ancient, now-extinct prudence would have preferred to preserve from public attention? Why this obscene exhibitionism which celebrates the nameless triumph of the most absurd apparatus required for the new domination? “Hawley is crazy. They pay him for it. ‘Within ten years the chips will be edible’, says Michael Hawley, who has already eaten some. He directs the Thinking Objects program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (….) As for the shoes, MIT has many prototypes waiting for some business to demand them. There are some which move themselves to the rhythm of the music. They have some sensors which, if they hear a tango, make the shoes dance the tango. It is the karaoke of the feet. It should be very popular in Japan, but I am never right.” (El Pais, 10-1-98). “The symbiosis between man and machine can also be achieved through less radical methods. Various important universities in the US and Canada are constructing prototypes of miniature apparatuses called wearables because they are always with you, as if they were clothes or jewelry. (….) At the same time, scientists are now working on the second generation of wearables, which will be totally deserving of the name because they will be completely fused with one’s clothing. Maggie Orth, researcher for Media Lab, has transformed a Levi’s denim jacket into a ‘musical jacket’ (….) The next step seems like science fiction, but Maggie already dreams of it: ‘Fibers that can weave themselves and that are not only conductive, but also possess the properties of micro-processors must be invented. One day, we will be able to weave memory and logic into our clothes’”. (Yves Eudes, “A Computer under the Skull”, El Pais, 1-16-2000). The worst experiments are thus presented as the innocent mischief of a knowledge gone astray, craziness as inoffensive as it is amusing, perhaps so as to gild the pill of its real applications (8): Michael Hawley would be the friendly face of doctor Frankenstein, raised, he and his colleagues in nightmare, to the level of mass idols who prepare the ground of mental structures for the triumph of a world where there will be no quality, no human value which could affirm itself without the prostheses of techno-science.
But the best is yet to come. “At the same time, the whole body will be fused, in its turn, with an infinitely wider digital environment: thanks to the omnipresence of the Internet, it will be possible to connect oneself, according to the requirements of the moment, with the external organs which you desire, which could be in our living room or on the other side of the world. The information networks will be an extension of the nervous system” (Yves Eudes). One must insist on the opportunities which such a panorama offers the economy. At this time, verily, human existence in its entirety will be directed towards production and profit: the slightest trembling of the spirit, the most trivial desire, the vaguest feeling, but also dissatisfaction or the most obscure and incipient unease will be communicated from the brain to the information networks, and from there to the central computers where it will be processed so as to manufacture the corresponding answer or placebo in the form of a commodity (material or immaterial, it’s all the same). Not to speak of the obvious applications for the law and order industry.
And someone had possessed Clary, strong, with all the hot blood of youth, radiant in his beauty, and he had chosen it so he could change his power of devaluation into pleasure, and his life’s blood into atony. He undermined it as much physically as spiritually and, methodically and scientifically, he risked losing his intelligence and his character. And all to experiment on it farther on, to be treated like a cadaver destined for medical research.
--Paul Feval, Los Misterios de Londres (1843-1844)
That there is nothing left of me but my sterile putrefaction, and that I only survive from despair of living. You want to destroy the land and to leave nothing but stubble; to harvest the world like a sheep. Yes, you will strangle the future, the possibilities imprisoned within hope, those which perhaps sleep within the shell of the egg. We will assassinate the Redemption. The dream will not awaken.
--Remy de Gourmount, Historia tragica de la princesa Fenissa (1894)
Having come to this point, perhaps we can no longer go on talking about minds, of consciousness, of the human being. It will no longer be a matter of continuing to explore them while molding their limits, but of overcoming them. After capital, the flood; but after the flood, the cyborg will arise. “Although the cyborg attitude has not penetrated deeply into America, the cult of technological innovation, the taste for competition, the desire for individual self-improvement and the appetite for power are combined to make the public accept a very simple idea: after pacemakers, hearing aids, implants, plastic hip-joints, and silicone breasts, the moment has arrived to move on to silicon neurons, artificial eyes and microprocessors implanted in the nervous system” (Yves Eudes). One must not ignore what the cyborg represents, or the mutant product of genetic manipulation which is about to arrive, or both. The ideology of neo-capitalism (innovation, competitiveness, egoism, power) paves the way for the technology which will make its realization possible, since the cyborg will be the “new man” (they say: improved man) of the economy, who will be totally and unreservedly at the latter’s disposal, and the only thing capable of surviving in the artificial and pathogenic environment which is its logical consequence. If that is a man…. (9)
There is, then, a cyber-eugenics in progress, since “genetic manipulation is part of a politics of population control just as it is a politics of eugenics which consists more of adapting man to the subhuman conditions of industrial society than in creating a supposedly superior race.” (10) And why not both projects at once, a superior race which realizes the despotic dream of every aristocracy in history, and a race of slaves forever dispossessed of the intellectual, spiritual, physical and material wellsprings that could make their liberation possible? Be that as it may, it is undoubtedly in sports and in recreational activities that its inhuman logic contaminates, that we can find so many other experiments which put the human body’s capacity for suffering to the test, and which provide as well the necessary data for the reconstruction of man and his consciousness as the media propaganda of this reconstruction. For example, the publicity of the cases of athletes’ doping, the obsessive description of the virtues and potentials of drugs and stimulants which the “teams of experts” administer to them, who count on the complicity of the “pharmaceutical industry”, the insistence with which it is recalled that so many admirable records are due to the use of these substances . . . all an ideology which associates human success with the miraculous potions of technoscience, and which increasingly dissimulates, through a false moralistic preoccupation with “public health”, its real purpose of making the poisons which will multiply our labor power and increase our adaptability to contamination, attractive and fashionable. Have they not succeeded? Sports fanaticism—has it not been the probe launched into our interior, in order to ascertain how far one can go without hitting bottom, in this respect as in others? Not to speak of the overwhelming display of technology that assaults the bodies of “highly competitive” athletes, who are constantly measured, weighed, analyzed, trained, monitored by machines for which they are nothing but appendices and which negate, even in the most immediate arena of the sensory, the illusion of sports understood as agon, as a naked duel between the will of human consciousness and the natural limits of the body. (11) As a logical corollary, the latest fashion consists in predicting how far an athlete can go thanks to genetic manipulation; here, the publicists go into ecstasies praising the feats of tomorrow and the abolition, in short, of the slavery of space and time which will undoubtedly be swept away by the bionic man, endowed, who knows, with the speed of light and the force of the atom.
On the other hand, where sports overlap with exhibitionism, loquacity, or the circus, we find once again the total surveillance of the human body at the service of the most obtuse research. In the gallery of the castaways of post-history, together with the hermits of neo-television and of the Stylites of Houston, we shall now consider Michel Siffre, the “cave man”, a miserable speleologist who spent “76 days in a cave carrying out a scientific experiment (….) For Siffre it was a question of attaining a new experience of ‘the action of aging on physical biorhythms’ (…) And while he said this he pointed to his body, covered with electrodes which, at each minute, measured the speleologist’s body temperature, his pulse, his heart-rate, the intensity of his sleep and the hours during which he was overcome by the latter. He submitted each day to examinations of urine, saliva and blood (…) The medical crew who carried out the study of Siffre yesterday announced that ‘the work of computing more than a million pieces of data we want to use will be slow and time-consuming, but probably most rewarding.’ For Pierre Simon, a researcher who has studied sleep problems for years in order to help French and U.S. astronauts, ‘these kinds of frontier experiences allow us to discover much about normal men in everyday situations.’” (Octavi Marti, El Pais, 2-15-2000). How and why a frontier experience can provide information about everyday life, which under bourgeois civilization is by definition the very opposite of the exceptional, remains a mystery to us, even more so when, in the hole chosen by this maniac of premature burial, “the constant temperature was 15 degrees and the humidity above 97%. Life was carried on on a platform of 40 square meters, equipped with a tent, a freezer and a bed.” Equally enigmatic is the fact that the underground isolation aided in the understanding of “aging” or “the physical biorhythms”, since up until now it is under the full light of the sun or in the night and against or with the wind that the human being lives, ages and dies, and not in the catacombs, and the only knowledge we can recognize concerning the nature of man is that which obtains in the usual conditions in which his real existence develops, and not in conditions which are the opposite, their antipodes. Unless it is a matter of conditioning and of the new everyday situations that Pierre Simon and his henchmen dedicate themselves to inventing and extending everywhere, where we will live in confinement, vampirized by the machine, exiles from what was once nature, even left out of the natural succession of day and night, of the sense of cosmic and human time, where, you can bet, aging and the physical biorhythms will know a new experience: the experience of catalepsy. (12)
If Michel Siffre’s experiment shares with the television experiments or the cloistered internaut the holy alliance of isolation, surveillance, technology and interactivity applied only in extreme circumstances, we can close the circle by returning, after a fashion, to our point of departure: an “experimental program” of the BBC, Castaway 2000, “filmed to the smallest detail”, which entails an illuminating turn of the screw when compared to Big Brother: “British public television wanted to carry out an anthropological experiment with a group of people settled in the Northwest of the United Kingdom”, for which they selected “36 adventurers who are trying to form a community where ‘social values and existence itself’ can be studied, as the television program itself states.” And where will such a community be formed? Perhaps on Fox’s happy island? “Taransay was chosen as the site of the Castaway 2000 series because it was inhospitable and had been uninhabited for three decades. An upside-down paradise, with strong winds blowing at 200 kilometers an hour, which the new community must conquer in front of the television cameras (….) It never stops raining; mud is everywhere and no landscape is as daunting. But if life on Taransay is almost impossible, why was it chosen by the BBC for the experiment?” (Isabel Ferrer, El Pais, 1-24-2000). Because such meteorological conditions are exactly what make Taransay the suitable place to scientifically test the possibilities of the human being’s adaptability to environmental disorder caused by climate change, where disasters will be the norm and not the exception. As in the case of the haunted cave, unless its real goal were to be of another kind, such as testing the ways of life which involve an alternative to the dominant order, the abnormality of the conditions upon which the experiment is founded falsify its result. Will the BBC attempt to found a Phalanstery? Will it promote the creation of autonomous communes? This is not very likely. Rather, its purpose is to obtain data that will allow them to design the “eugenicist policy for choosing, eliminating and ultimately creating a man capable of enduring life in the final stage of the degradation of nature, a consequence of industrial society, a completely artificial nature without for that reason being any more predictable or peaceful since the outstanding sign of its submission to technoscience will be the exponential development of catastrophes.” (13) Most importantly, however, it will allow the process to be visualized, so that the public, fascinated and terrorized at the same time, accepts this project as the only possible and desirable one. Of course, the attempt was aborted before it even began: the “adventurers” came down with the flu and the storm destroyed the “community’s” infrastructure. We do not consider it a total failure: the stupefied British public has accepted this result as proof that the old human being, forged by natural evolution and history, is incapable of surviving in the era of cataclysms. Faced with this scientific proof, we do not doubt that they will accept all the electronic implants and all the genetic improvements that will be recommended to them in order to become the “new man”, master of survival, already announced by the portents and signs of this somber time. Those who would deny this characterization of the examples referred to above, considering them instead to be mere aberrations of the television industry, will then have to contend with another kind of warning which also leaves no room for hope. Castaway 2000 is alarming only because it repeats, in another context, the very scientific, very serious and very real experiments carried out by States and corporations, such as the Biosphere II project, which in 1994 launched a demented (and unsuccessful) attempt to create an artificial planet: in the middle of the Sonora desert, isolated from the world but connected to the Internet (how could it not be?), a gigantic structure of metal and glass enclosed an area of 1.27 hectares where various ecosystems were re-created (desert, savannah, forest) and where yet another “community” of scientists was founded “in order to prove the viability of human life in a closed ecosystem.” Is this a model for a lunar base or a project of refuge for the ruling class when the real planet finally collapses? The armored and impermeable vehicles which the Pope uses on his “visits”-- do they not make him resemble an astronaut, an extraterrestrial who is inspecting a biologically hazardous territory? The “Popemobile” is not an exception, but a prototype—but of what?
There is one quality which we would not deny to domination; it is creative. Science and repression, ideology and conditioning are today characterized by the embodiment of the virtues of the human imagination, and not only by the enterprise of de-realization and aestheticization everyday life in which they are immersed. It has been said that science no longer discovers, but creates: it is, therefore, artistic. And domination has a sense of humor (surely an excessive one), and it likes to play (to its heart’s content), characteristics which we are accustomed to associate with artistic activity. But art is today also the vanguard of domination, and we are not talking about recuperative mechanisms.
During the 20th century, movements like Dada, surrealism, and the Situationist International sought to open and explore the limits of the real in order to amplify and enrich life in a revolutionary project. Many of their ideas were recuperated, like automatic writing or detournement, but they were recuperated later and despite their original emancipatory purpose, and after a period of rejection by bourgeois culture which allowed it to freeze and to attenuate their effects. Today art collaborates elbow to elbow, in real time, consciously or not, with the laboratories and research teams of the large corporations and the States, and often depends directly upon them: as if not enough Pharoanaic projects were being financed. Thus, the SI could warn that “artists and the police compete in a race to dominate the new instruments of life.” Today they play on the same team. “He walks through life with an identification chip under his skin. Like cattle or domestic dogs. Or like the convicts of the future in certain science-fiction films. With this difference: the 36 year old Brazilian artist Eduardo Kak has voluntarily implanted this most recent version of the ancient chains of slavery. The implant was the culmination of a multimedia artistic representation intended to symbolize the growing relationship between biology and technology.” (El Pais, 10-2-98). “A work of net art creates a cyber-hunter of personal odors. ‘Smell.Bytes’ assigns an odor to each user.” (R. Bosco/S. Caldana, El Pais, 2-10-00). What makes artists like Jenny Marketou, inventor of “Smell.Bytes”, so odious, is the hypocrisy with which they conceal the logical beneficiary of their technophilic lucubrations: “I have created Smell.Bytes to show my critical position towards a certain type of classification, which turns into racism and discrimination. By means of parody, I want to point out the irony of these scientific methods of analysis and encoding.” Perhaps she is unaware that her contraption will end up swelling the arsenal of the police, and that, like Eduardo Kak, she is testing the new technologies of control, as well as the psychological reactions they provoke in those people who concur with her “action”? Which should we doubt, her good faith or her sanity? Not to speak of the loathsome jargon of these imbeciles, of their pious reverence for scientific procedures and technology, an alienation which on the other hand is not new, although it is accelerating: “The E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology) promoted in 1967 by Rauschenberg and the Bell Telephone engineer, Billy Kluver, with the goal of reconciling the aspirations of engineers and artists, considered that an effective working relationship between artists and engineers, sponsored by the industrial sector, will be conducive to the will to new possibilities which will benefit the whole society.” (14) We now know where these possibilities lead, this obsession with the useful, with productivity; this art which objectifies itself, which wants to pass through quality control like one more artifact, which functions like a machine, which converts us into machines, which affirms itself through technological progress, and which agrees with scientists, publicists, and cyberneticians insofar as they think, imagine and create for the economy and for control. And for nothing more. That which is unfolding here is the civilizing delirium of the hand which increases the power of man and transforms it, of the hand which has reduced itself to an instrument of appropriation of the world and which in order to constitute itself as a machine “projects itself to the whole technical universe and to the para-nature which the former elaborates (….) The machine can thus be defined as a destiny of cancer or of exo-osmosis of the individual organism to which it bequeaths its powerful pseudopodia; the machine confers upon man the possibility of creating an exo-skeleton and exo-musculature, up to the point that Samuel Butler was able to define modern man as a ‘mechanical-vertebrate mammal’” (15). This reflection on the part of Jean Brun, which in 1968 might perhaps have been considered adventurous, has today met its experimental confirmation, and precisely by way of the artistic vanguard: how could one not think of those torturers of the human body, who inflict upon themselves the most severe penances of technology and who, under the cover of a critical will as indisputable as it is inoffensive and counterproductive, practice upon the meat itself the hybridizations and orthopedics of the future, gullible enemies of the human species, perhaps without knowing it, like Marcel Antunez, that “futurist performer encrusting himself in progressively sophisticated successive models of exo-skeletons” (16). As his ecstatic exegete explains, “Marcel Antunez is the proto-cyborg, a living premonition of the future life.” Insofar as this “future life” is non-life, all the anticipations which in the present demonstrate its morbid viability and which therefore prepare its advent are under a legitimate suspicion, and deserve nothing but our vigilance.
One cannot, then, take seriously the “antagonistic” declarations of the art which bases itself of the technology or the misery which it claims to criticize. And certainly no other. “In a world which is really upside down, the true is a moment of the false.” The case of Cristoph Schlinensief appears to prove Guy Debord’s proposition. As one will recall, this Austrian artist set up a performance-installation, a parody of Big Brother, with the intention of denouncing the racism of Haider and of Austrian society. Twelve “undocumented” immigrants were established in a trailer, in the center of Vienna, so that the public would decide who lost the contest (the losers were to be “expelled” from the country, transported in a van to the frontier), and who won (he would get an arranged marriage to a naturalized citizen and thus obtain his legal citizenship). Even so, the Madrid magazine enCartel, a publication dedicated to leisure and to “spectacles” which allows itself certain critical whimsies (homages to Thorstein Veblen or Vaneigem, humanitarian denunciations of pitiless globalization, etc.), understood exactly the contrary: “Naturally, it has been the occasion for much polemic and widespread revulsion, which the Liberal Party itself has timidly joined, which has not prevented the municipal authorities from giving the green light to this neo-fascist delirium” (enCartel, No. 11).
Everything is a symptom. When everything is a joke and a lie, there is no longer any room for irony. It was not only this magazine (it could have been any other) which took Schlingensief’s proposal literally and had to pose the question of the real motives for the enthusiasm demonstrated by a number of honorable Viennese. (17)
One must also, however, cast suspicion upon the fastidiously ludic character of so many works which insist on the idea of play, almost always of an interactive sort, since play, understood uncritically as a banal activity resembling pastimes and sports, forms a part of domination, for the first time in history, and meanwhile “capitalism no longer opposes itself to the pleasure principle: it has integrated it, it bases itself upon it, it will be able to say that it is founded on it, that it constitutes its cornerstone” (18), and we will say that it is not opposed to play, either. We must add to the equation, Venice + Geneva = Salem, one more factor, which could well be Las Vegas or Disneyland, and the result will be the ludic panopticon: surveillance understood as a game, and it is very entertaining to participate in the networks and mechanisms of one’s own exploitation. We will cite one last example which sums up everything set out above, and which is advertised as a sociological experiment, as a display of technology, as artistic effort, and as interactive play. The city of Berlin was the scene and witnessed, last year, a game that was broadcast in real time over the Internet thanks to the positioning of video cameras throughout the city. It consisted of the virtual hunt for a disguised actor who went into hiding and wandered through the streets leaving behind him certain traces of his presence. The internauts, connected to the cameras, were able to monitor the city like the police until they found the fugitive and won the game. It is undoubtedly a question of the Great Game of the future, a game in which only domination will know how to collect its reward. This reward will be you, me, all of us. To come to that point, to fall into that hole, how much patience, how much skill at dissection and conditioning, and how much innocence in our voluntary gestures are required?
Because the land within was then also, and still is, that unknown and immense interior territory where we move freely outside the law; that deep zone where the memory of another life lived or livable in loving harmony with nature and the yearning for an endless gallop come to us, and from which can arise, with the frightening barbarism of the unconscious, the avid attacks of desire inciting us to rebellion.
--Silvia Guiard, Tierra Adentro (1986-1991)
I speak of something simple which everyone has experienced at each and every moment: I speak of life which consumes itself, independently of the usefulness possessed by this self-consumption.
--Georges Bataille, What I Understand by Sovereignty (1953)
Jean Paul was not mistaken when he compared the unconscious to the unknown Africa of his time, but what would he have said of the one that exists today? The annihilation of the unconscious, and by extension the annihilation of the whole interior world, is not total, as its unconditional submission to the mechanisms of the economy is not total, nor has it been transformed into a simple ideological reflection of the fantasies of the spectacle. As Anselm Jappe reminds us, the reign of the simulacrum has not erased the existence of reality, which continues under the surface, perhaps rotting away from within but still offering itself up to all kinds of explosions; likewise, the recently initiated process wherein the human being accedes to a new and more complete domestication, is just that, a process, which has not yet ended, which surely cannot have an end, and which in any case cannot absorb the infinite shades of the road ahead. Human nature still emerges as a reality, as deteriorated or adulterated as it may be, and to proclaim its ultimate subsumption in the shifting sands of the spectacle would basically be as reactionary as the postmodern judgment which decrees the assassination of the thing signified at the hands of the sign. In this sense, Silvia Guiard was not deluded and had good reason to compare the “land within” of the Argentina of the 19th century, a wild territory dominated by indigenous tribes in constant struggle against the Argentine army, with that “interior zone” of man, origin and source of the spiritual insubordination which manifests itself on all levels of reality, interior and exterior.
We have no illusions in this respect. We know how and with ease this insubordination is defanged, is deceived and accommodates itself without a word to the theatre or joins in the distribution of variety shows. One cannot exercise enough precaution in the matter of granting any confidence to “the new relations which the spirit establishes with everything else.” To begin with, a permanent withdrawal is absolutely necessary, a conscious lack of will for and a militant distaste towards the trap-games which the economy places before our every step: neither spectators nor players, any concession to their solicitations is from now on a crime of the highest treason. Beyond this elementary prophylaxis, the real dilemma begins: how to feel, how to imagine, how to dream, how to experiment with fragments of life outside of habit and alienation; and how to share this desire with others, without drawing the attention of the economic machinery, without becoming profitable, leaving not even the slightest margin for profit. If the economy feeds upon our desires, if it is nourished by social life itself, if like the Napoleonic armies it lives off the enemy’s territory, “making the war pay for the war,” then we must practice the tactic of the scorched earth campaign, always escaping from it but leaving nothing behind, in retreat, which can serve it in justifying the necessity and the logic of production and consumption. One must then demand an extreme degree of caution in the analysis of that which comes to us from the mouth of darkness, of that which we feel and that which we desire to express and communicate to others. To measure to what degree this idea, this happiness, this ecstasy could or could not be objectivized, and how rapidly, in order to judge whether or not to grant it any credence.
Finally, it is the problem of leisure and of laziness which returns to pose itself in a new light. Of course, not all activity, sensation or pleasure can be automatically reduced to a previously unknown modality of work or a new market sector. As has already often been said, economic activity is capable of setting the imagination, the affects and the communication suitable for the free human being into motion, but it does so in a rationally organized and controlled temporal framework which seeks the greatest level of production and the maximum profit for the least possible cost, saving time, energy, raw materials or labor power. Free time, to the contrary, when it also comes into its own and is possessed in full, does not recognize rules or fixed hours, it does not look for savings, but rather seeks its own extravagant waste, and it has no other goal than its own existence. It makes itself sovereign when it is exhausted in its outburst, without aspiring to anything else, without seeking any other justification. “The enjoyment of the possibilities which utility does not justify is sovereign (utility: that whose end is productive activity). What is beyond utility is the domain of sovereignty.” This principle of sovereignty proposed by Bataille today acquires a new currency, but also its negation, because we know that everything in our day can find an application, or rather, that the economy ends up finding everything which surrounds it to be useful. So much so that sovereignty, as well as being stubborn, concentrating itself in its audacious inanity, must in addition be secret.
Paraphrasing an author who is certainly a great supporter of secrecy and anonymity, it would be desirable for those of us who will begin to feel a little and in a different way, to conceal our experience in this regard. It is understood here that, above all, it is not proper to leave a trail, that our experiences, emotions and imaginings are not explained, much less reduced to formulas, not so as to lead us into autism but to an encoded communication which would protect the purity of the phenomenon in itself, protected precisely by the incomprehensibility it derives from its character as an incommunicable and individual experience, unlike its power, its capacity for suggestion and contagion, in short, its capacity for reproduction in other people, by other means, in other forms.
Whether this encoded language could be poetic language, or that of reason brought to its extreme, or a fusion of the two, is not for me to say. Whatever it will be, the question is to know if the moment of demanding the true and profound concealment of the spirit has arrived, and to work accordingly.
Jose Manuel Rojo
This essay originally appeared in the journal Salamandra, No. 11-12 (Surrealist Group of Madrid, 2001-2002).
1. Dialogue from The Secret Life of Sherlock Holmes, by Billy Wilder, 195_.
2. Gerard Imbert, "La transparencia posmoderna", El Pais, 5-16-2000.
3. For example, one can no longer speak of the non-language of youth, for which 100 words are enough to signify its emptiness (at least an elemental, savage emptiness, where only sex, intoxication and death have a place), but only of spectacular neo-language, that imbecilic loquacity of the self-help books, of the talk-shows and the made-for-TV movies, where many words are spoken but nothing is said and where, in particular, emotional dilemmas are simulated to perfection along with the most complex and ambiguous feelings and emotions. This jargon and chatter, so natural to Big Brother, today conceals real communication, and participates in the reconstruction of personalities according to the mold of the spectacle.
4. Encyclopédie des Nuisances, Observaciones sobre la agricultura geneticamente modificada y la degradacion de las especies, Alikornio ediciones, 2000.
5. In effect, those responsible for these programs, like those responsible for other experiments that we shall examine below, maintained control of events, preventing the eruption of any chance or eventuality which could distort the rational, measurable and quantifiable objectivity of the test, except when these interferences were already foreseen and programmed to form a part of the process itself.
6. Op. Cit.
7. In another case, various men and women of different ages were imprisoned in their homes in order to measure to what degree all human necessities could be satisfied in a regime of confinement, using the services of the Internet to provide food, medicine, etc.—fortunately, it was a total failure.
8. No one will be surprised that the first and principle clients of MIT and of the wearables have been the Marine Corps, the police, the CIA, the prison industry, and the government of Singapore, all famous for their unconditional respect for liberties.
9. Perhaps we can intuit the level of alienation that will support the “improved man” in the course of his survival, by taking as a reference-point the current lifestyle of a “Father of the Net”, one of those “gurus”, as they like to call themselves, responsible for the adulteration which he also brings us: “Leonard Kleinrock works 10 hours at the office and 4 hours at home. He devotes two hours to exercise and three hours to spending time with his family, which leaves only five hours to sleep, which is enough for someone who now dedicates his intellect to the creation of computers which are permanently connected to the Internet, at high speed and without cables or telephones” (El Pais, 10-21-1999). For what purpose—to augment, perhaps, his own misery?
10. Renauld Miailhe, “La Solución Final”, Maldeojo No. 2.
11. These neo-men, athletes, are also the image of the superior race. In the last Olympics, an ad for sports gear and footwear presented a series of athletes of different races, physically perfect, who were presented as the “superior race” (indeed, “capital has no fatherland”, and the cosmopolitan elites of globalization recognize one another as equals in the enjoyment of their power). This ad was shown during the same broadcast segment as an ad for an Internet company, which preached about the infinite possibilities of the new inventions, which one would have to join if one does not want to miss the train, etc. The two ads had the same slogan: Are You Ready? The bugle call for enlistment in the New S.S. has just sounded.
12. Obviously, Michel Siffre is not an isolated case. Another athlete of stupidity, in this case an aircraft pilot, went for a ride around the whole world, also equipped with electrodes, sensors and monitors connected to the researchers’ computers, so that they could control the “experiment” “24 hours a day”, and could provide “decisive data” concerning “the organism”, etc. What a hoax for true adventure, which found in the world tour one of its outstanding modern archetypes!
13. Renauld Miailhe, op. cit.
14. Francisco Javier San Martin, "La obra de arte en la epoca de su produccion tecnica", Lapiz No. 166.
15. Jean Brun, "Dionisios, el surrealismo y la maquina", in Entretiens sur le surrealisme, Cerisy-la-Salle, 1968.
16. Jordi Costa, Mondo Brutto No. 23.
17. But also, the false could be a moment of the true, and perhaps Jordi Costa, that addict of the detritus of popular culture and the most “bizarre” aspects of decomposition, hits the mark in his delirium. In one of his homilies about the “ownerless world”, Costa feigns to have a premonition that the “mad cow” epidemic and their sacrifice on a massive scale is nothing but a conspiracy of conceptual and vanguardist nazi scientists who sought “an obscene parodical representation of the holocaust—in a bovine key, conceived with the perverse intention of erasing, by means of hilarity, the memory of that historical tragedy” (El Pais, 12-22-2000). And maybe he is right. But then, what world are we living in? In that of our masters.
18. Jesus Garcia Rodriguez, "Nuevas industrias de la subjectividad", Salamandra No. 10.