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Posthuman Development in the Age of Pancapitalism

Lecture given at the Viper festival, Basel, 1996, and it is related to the "FleshMachine" performance and a talk held in Public Netbase, Vienna, 1997

For the first time in history there is one globally dominant political-economy, that of capitalism. Under this regime, individuals of various social groups and classes will be forced to submit their bodies for reconfiguration so they can function more efficiently under the obsessively rational imperatives of pancapitalism (production, consumption, and order). One means of reconfiguration is the blending of the organic and electro-mechanical. Potentially, this process could produce a new living entity distinct from its predecessors. This process, now termed posthuman development, is in its experimental stages, which in turn has lead to speculations and theories on what form this new being will take and on its probable functions. The two entities of posthuman existence most commonly postulated are the cyborg and downloaded virtual consciousness. While robots, androids, and artificially intelligent machines are also generally considered part of the posthuman family, they do not emerge directly out of human organics, and hence constitute a different line of development. Cyborgs and virtual consciousness, on the other hand, are dependent upon human individuals who desire or are condemned to interface with the machine. The cyborg is a being which typically has an organic platform integrated with a complex technological superstructure; Virtual consciousness is the transference of being into digitized form so that it may exist in immersive informational landscapes.


VR as a liberating future habitat for humanity seems quite unlikely. In fact, VR seems to be used for every imaging purpose except as a liberating habitat. Its use in the spectacle is minimal, as no investing agency seems able to conceive of a useful (instrumental) application for it. Currently, VR takes a very secondary position to older nonimmersive screenal systems. While the World Wide Web, the internet, and cable television seem to be exploding with new possibilities (both compelling and loathsome), VR is beginning to stagnate. Its position is limited to arcade entertainment and to secondary-display technology that can help boost consumption. One example of this latter variety of application is the use of VR in some department and furniture stores in Japan. A shopper can enter a virtual environment and (within the limits of the product line) render a desired domestic environment to see if it meets with he/r expectations before purchasing the needed merchandise. If he/r virtual vision does not meet he/r expectations, s/he can redesign the space until it does. The buyer is thus given extra assurance that s/he will get what s/he wants. Obviously, a system like this functions only when there is a variety of purchasing options, when the object of consumption cannot be physically displayed, and when the purchase is costly. Hence this application has very limited spectacular use. Further, this application is only one small step beyond the use of X-ray machines in shoe stores back in the 1930s and 40s. The shopper could X-ray he/r foot to make sure the shoes about to be purchased were a perfect fit. In terms of the spectacle of consumption, the real problem for VR is that there are very few occasions when the institutions selling the products want to give even the smallest amount of authentic choice to the consumer.that is, to make possible better control of the material world and its populations. This combination of myth and hardware is setting the foundation for the material posthuman world of the cyborg.


If the habitat of VR and the virtual entity are eliminated as practical categories of the posthuman, the only possibility left is the cyborg. In terms of social perception in technologically saturated economic systems, being a first-order cyborg covers a broad range of possibilities, ranging from a desirable empowering condition to an undesirable, dehumanizing one. However, there is plenty of time for spectacle to sort out differing perceptions of the first-order cyborg. Cyborg development is moving at a pace which allows adequate time for adjustment to the techno-human synthesis. Currently, the process is in very different stages in specific institutions. For example, the military has advanced furthest, and has developed a fully integrated second-order cyborg, while corporate and bureaucratic institutions are meeting with reasonable success in their attempts to convince workers of the need to meld body and technology.


There is no need to dwell on the development of a second-order military cyborg. The only surprise here is that took so long to happen. From the common grunt to the heroic jet fighter pilot, the military conversion of humans to cyborgs has become a necessity. The Hughes Corporation has successfully developed a custom-fitted techno-organic interface for the infantry which offers an integrated system of vision, communication, and firepower. Soldiers are no longer soldiers; As the military says, now they are "weapons systems". The posthuman has announced itself in a happy moment of military efficiency. However, the "weapons system", while actual and functioning, is a minor interface when compared to the developing "Pilot's Associate" (McDonnell-Douglas). In addition to having a state-of-the-art interdependent pilot/machine interface (unless the machine thinks that the organics are failing, and it must take over the mission), the "Pilot's Associate" offers AI support analysis in mission planning, tactics, system status, and situation assessment. Here we find a clear indication of what body "enhancement" is going to mean in the age of the posthuman. Body enhancement will be specific to goal-oriented tasks. These tasks will be dictated by the pancapitalist division of labor, and technology for body modification will only allow for the more efficient service of a particular institution.Most people have seen the first phases of the civilian cyborg, which is typically an information cyborg. They are usually equipped with lap-top computers and cellular phones. Everywhere they go, their technology goes with them. They are always prepared to work, and even in their leisure hours they can be activated for duty. Basically, these beings are intelligent, autonomous workstations that are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and at the same time can be transformed into electronic consumers, whenever necessary. 

In this phase of posthuman development, the will to purity, explicit in the spectacle of anxiety, manifests itself in two significant forms: First is the purification of the pancapitalist cycle of waking everyday life. Cyborgs are reduced to acting out rational, pragmatic, instrumental behaviors, and in so doing, the cycles of production (work) and consumption (leisure) are purified of those elements deemed nonrational and useless (by the pancapitalist system). It seems reasonable to expect that attempts will be made to reduce or eliminate regenerative, nonproductive processes like sleeping through the use of both technological and biological enhancement. The second is a manifestation of ideological purity in which the cyborg is persuaded to overwhelmingly value that which perpetuates and maintains the system, and to act accordingly. The prime disrupter of this manifestation of purity is the body itself with its endless disruptive physical functions, and the libidinal motivations inherent in the body's psychological structure. Hence technological advancement alone will not create the best posthuman; It must be supported by developments in rationalized body design.


The military has long understood that the body must be trained to meet the demands of its technology. Consequently, it puts its organic units through very rigorous mental and physical training, but in the end, it is clear that this training is not enough. Training can only take a body to the limits of its predisposition. Pancapitalism has realized that the body must be designed for specific, goal-oriented tasks that better complement its interface with technology in the space of production. Human characteristics must also be rationally designed and engineered in order to eliminate body functions and psychological characteristics that refuse ideological inscription. To accomplish this goal, a heavily funded complex of institutions has emerged with knowledge specializations in genetics, cell biology, biochemistry, embryology, neurology, pharmacology, and so on. Together they form what Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) calls the "flesh machine". Its mandate is a complete invasion of the flesh, with vision and mapping technologies that will begin the process of total body control from its wholistic, exterior configuration to its microscopic constellations, as well as development of the new market frontier of flesh products and services.opportunity that appears to be the greatest market bonanza since colonization? Digital flesh is significant in mapping the body, but its value depends upon the practical applications that are derived from it; These in turn, can be looped back into the material world. The body is here to stay. Unfortunately, the body of the future will not be the liquid, free-forming body which yields to individual desire; Rather, it will be a solid entity whose behaviors are fortified by task-oriented technological armor interfacing with ideologically engineered flesh. Little evidence is available to indicate that liquescence will be different in postmodernity from what it was in modernity – the privilege of capital-saturated power vectors.

Content type
Projects Non Stop Future
World-Information Institute
Date 1996
Location Basel


capitalism consciousness cyborg pancapitalism informational landscape Age of Reason posthumanity virtual consciousness FLESH MACHINE Social Darwinism anxiety body entertainment interactivity machine military spectacle surveillance World Wide Web Pilot's Associate androids jet fighter simulator robots artificial intelligence screenal technology X-ray Japan Netscape Yahoo Hughes Corporation Marshall McLuhan Critical Art Ensemble CAE McDonnell-Douglas Critical Art Ensemble
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