by Lia Yoka
Hotel des Etrangers #7, Spring 2005 (original in Greek)

Hope-producing political hardware looks as rusty as ever, yet rust never sleeps. From Berlin to Palestine, a wall is built for a wall that falls, the Third World War faded into the cries declaring the desperate triumph of the Fourth with the 1991 Iraq invasion. Each expedition brings home bitter loot. What is it worth?

The language of the media which confuses genocide with crusade, and bombardment with humanitarian intervention can hardly think up any convincing answers. The "end of history" and the "clash of civilizations" were announced in the same breath. In a final flicker of political radiance, the Spectacle produced the realization that there was nothing to be said beyond the end of time and the conflict over space. The Spectacle became its own insurance company.

For what is the "end of history" if not the very description of the full-scale occupation by Capital of Time. What is the end of history for the neo-liberal conception of social evolution if not the desired completion of the process of colonization at once of populations at large and of individual bodies, turning every day into productive «durations» and every body into a sum of recyclable parts?

And what is the alleged "conflict of cultures" if not a series of violent arrangements of space ownership and access? Any effective resistance to the blind tumult of capital is labelled "cultural" so that it can be explained away through a deactivated term, so that it can be blunted by the logic of perpetual war and economic imposition, the logic that goes beyond all "culture". After all, the commodity relationship itself, and the processes by which it spreads spatially and temporally, form the ultimate "culture of cultures". There is controlled access to everything, control of borders, control of data circulation, control of resources like water, oil, knowledge or medicine - how "cultural" is resistance to control?

All agree that security is the main ideological commodity which can still safely reproduce itself, even more so since 9/11. Security preserves the sperm of fear within its cryogenic womb. But then, why all this fun? The "Western world" still consumes pornography, takes training courses in management and self-promotion, campaigns for voting at elections where arty types like Cicciolina or Reagan have been replaced by fundamentalist Christians and neo-con ecologists, floods history museums (out of a radical inability to feel nostalgia for any viable future), joins mass demonstrations advertized on TV for football, for peace, for the pope, for Orthodox or Muslim minorites and majorities, goes furious over abortions or drugs, actively supports the barter of human organs and the pharmaceutical industry?

The subjects of the Antiterrorist Empire do not cease to piously celebrate the daily rituals of the capitalist calender, whether they derive from the old world of Enlightenment ideals, or the even older one of submission to the priesthood. What kind of apocalypse are they expecting? What is keeping the societies of surplus value from exploding?

The effective propagandas of democracy, consumerism, or socialism in the last century just about managed to keep the ideology of the "active citizen" alive. Their credibility would lose vital points with every Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Vietnam or Chernobyl. But at least each camp in the Cold War had its own distinct rhetoric.

Today, two acts after the curtain call of the Cold War, the language of the spectacle of terrorism, while never boring or exhausted, can nevertheless hardly keep reproducing the fear that created it in the first place. Fear might be productive as a parasite, yet it is sterile when it cannot feed on a counter-feeling like hope, hate, or greed: hence the conservative turn. Yet capitalism cannot survive forever on its bygone glories. It cannot restore the political promises of the old world of the liberals who talked of freedom of transport and consumption, social mobility and easy trade, or of the communists who preferred to talk of equality before the law, mass education, and independence of the people and its productive classes? For sheer long-term effectivity and intensity, traditional political illusions cannot compete with plastic surgery and brain transplants.

There is only one promise that carries the magic wand of a unifying ideology. Its twin roots are the deceptive impression that one can manufacture the human species in an optimal codification of its ingredients on the one hand, and the twisted desire to overcome all technical limits to intervening with life on the other. Sounds like the swan song of culture: The fear of death is mingled with a guilty drive for self-destruction.

It seems the only stable and constant 'content', rather than form, of images, genetically programmed into the Spectacle, is the biotic discourse: From facelifts to diets, from biometrics to iridology, to cloning and genetic engineering of plants, a new totalitarianism is steadily attacking and corrupting the Social Question. Three basic ideas inspire the metaphysical technoscientific propaganda, the research programmes and the market of biotechnology: the generalization of intelligence, the mass restoration of health and the ending of poverty. These three ideas ironically address people who have lost all intelligent hope (otherwise how would they ever trust those in charge?), people who die of the diseases of civilization, (like heart disease and cancer, but know there are no research funds left for older diseases claiming millions of lives in the Third World), and who see wealth growing at the same rate as the inequality of its distribution. Yet the hope is born of a fundamental fear of managers and politicians before the last magical process on earth. How can they actually control human, animal and plant reproduction, the last vestige of whatever Nature ever used to be? That is their question.

The reversal of the genitive in the title of this text, the biotechnology of spectacle and the spectacle of biotechnology, offers, we feel, a precise description of our age, rather than yet another go at nostalgic wordplay. Biotechnology, the endpoint of technoscientific military progress and also the only hope for the industrial amelioration of the species, is the dominant content of the Spectacle and provides its main ideological justification. Biotechnology is the utopia of the Spectacle. Reversely, the Spectacle today can unravel – its entire biopolitical influence, after it has managed to usurp all aspects of life. Capital fully classifies and consumes the time and space of all conceivable entities, from genes to planets, while the logic of the Commodity duplicates and claims the creative processes of conscience.

The biotic discourse directly aims at the body, separating it from its voice, its time and its space. Today's emerging type of person listens to their own voice dubbed on TV through synchronized speaking. Their everyday time is departmentalized into work time, free time, sleep time - partytime for biopolitics. Their time produces capital intensively until Time becomes capital itself. Their space is a measured quantity pending between material virtuality and virtual materiality: From the nucleus of the universe to the remotest galaxy, the norm is set by property rights, patents, access codes and data banks, all with emergency button attached for every violation.

And what are we to do? Does it suffice to merely demystify reality with the conventional weapon of a crystal historical conscience? If the Spectacle always determined publicity, was it ever enough to merely talk of "seeking the Truth" through "exposing lies", in an effort to counter the effects of propaganda through propaganda? Geneticists believe they can pose (and solve) the question of conscience in a slightly altered fashion: The DNA chaingang workers and the gene conspiracy theorists believe they will soon "demystify" the function of the human brain itself and will thus explain the mechanics of ideas - and while they're at it, why not also the historical evolution of human societies? Those who offer their elms for bioethical reservations are merely dragging their good intentions along with them on the road to hell. How long until they are convinced too?

How are we to recognize the current dynamics of domination if we too are blinded by the rays of biotic transparency, today's pseudopublic sphere, for which all social pathologies are reduced to matters of genetic correctibility? Biopolitics, more than an echo of postmodernist mottos, is about the genome, the elementary building unit, as much as it is about the global family, it is about the Soul as much as it is about the Ecumene, it cannot distinguish between subject and object, it resides within institutions and is reproduced by them, you cannot escape it, since there is no escape from the prison of language or the prison of power-knowledge. There is no subject, there is only "subjectivity", there are no relationships between people, there is only a certain substance, capitalist value, which runs through their blood stream and determines their needs.

Indeed, how can one talk of subjects, when the objectivity against which the subject is measured (nature and society) is merely the mirror image of a quantitatively database, a kind of planetary bio-mass? For bio-ideology, natural selection favours less densely populated areas with charismatic bio-types. Biotypes on overpopulated territories, consisting of slums, shantytowns and pure border areas, tend to be fundamentalist, poor and uneducated, they are useful when they don't do too much noise at work, and also serve as human spare-parts: that way they are productive even after they are dead.

A population management based mainly on the collection of data and on the design and employment of disciplinary methods within existing institutions, (which often operate on their lower hierarchical levels as "participatory" and "representative" organizations), has almost established a new nature. It looks like it has always been there. Resistance looks impossible, if not irrational. For the first time, the principles of democracy are cooperating so smoothly with forms of outright totalitarianism in order to disseminate the feelings of confusion and impotence. War is named peace, every time a military attack (Iraq, Bosnia, or Afghanistan lately) is named a humanitarian intervention. But, more to the point, peace is actual war. The condition of peace is perpetual war against the whole of society, a society potentially "criminal" and "ill", that can only be saved by the systems of institutionalization, surveillance and scientific correction.

In his Comments to the Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord wrote that "once the running of state involves a permanent and massive shortage of historical knowledge, that State can no longer be led strategically." Is there a strategy then? Is the war machine of technoscientific Spectacle, promising wholesale immortality and mass intelligence and wealth, actually programmed to lead somewhere? Is there any farreaching plan to clone and train a new bionic elite alongside indefatigable and obedient soldier-slaves? Is there any plan as to where to end the vicious circle of pharmaceuticals that function as antidotes to other pharmaceuticals, where to set a limit to patents on life? It looks like there isn't one.

We definitely have no excuse whatsoever to rely on the biotic pseudo-discourse. They want us to decide: Do we or don't we want to know the percentage of gmos in supermarket products, do we or don't we accept gm crops next to conventional ones, do we or don't we like cloning, pesticides, family programming, cosmetic surgery etc etc? The process of dehumanization cannot be halted through such false dilemmas. Dilemmas phrased that way are designed to keep us blind to the paranoia of those who manage and monitor society through their industries and governments, and to condition us into believing that it is all up to the voter-consumer's momentary choice at the counter. We should never allow ourselves the comfortable illusion that it's all a matter of handling our individual consumer guilt. Awareness of the biotechnology of the spectacle and the spectacle of biotechnology refines our understanding of capitalist domination today and our collective tactics to resist it.

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