Is Utopia of Cyborg Falling Down.?
January 15, 2010 Leave a comment
The way to get to utopia is to model your view of human nature and then invent a technology to control or direct that model — whether a political technology like the one Thomas Hobbes portrays in his Leviathan, a biological technology as in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a psychological technology as in B. F. Skinner’s Walden Two, epistemo-technologies, as in Bacon’s The New Atlantis, information technologies as in Orwell’s 1984, or just plain old technology generally, as in H.G. Wells’ A Modern Utopia. I call these utopian visions “technologies” because they are deterministic in all senses of that word: systems that seek and believe in perfect control. When the human is inserted into the utopian system, the result is a feedback loop, in which the system encourages the “best” part and controls the “worst” part of human nature, while the human, in return, maintains the system with material, energy, information, flesh, and spirit.
In other words, the result of the inscription of a utopian vision onto a human is a cyborg: a natural organism linked for its survival and improvement to a cybernetic system. Of all the great utopianists, Sir Thomas More, Francis Bacon, Campanella, Restif de la Bretonne, Locke, Rousseau…, it is Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan (1651) who understands the essentially cyborg quality of utopia.
Seeing [that] life is but a motion of limbs, the beginning whereof is in some principal part within, why may we not say that all automata (engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a watch) have an artificial life? For what is the heart but a spring, and the nerves but so many strings; and the joints but so many wheels giving motion to the whole body such as was intended by the Artificer? Art goes yet further, imitating that rational and most excellent work of nature, man. For by art is created that great Leviathan called a Common wealth or a State [in Latin, civitas] which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength.
Scratch the model for a utopia and you get a blueprint of human nature. As we revise our technologic, different versions of utopia become imaginable, which in turn are fed by and feed into different versions of the human, which in turn are fed by and feed into new technologies, and so on, creating a feedback loop the byproduct of which is an ever more sophisticated version of the cyborg, whose generations can be measured by the turns of this spiralling loop.
The blueprint of human nature has always been subject to revision. But never as radically as now, when our own utopian technologies are physically transcribing themselves onto our bodies and re-creating the human in their own image, or forcing our evolution into what many have come to call the “posthuman” through a combination of mechanistic and genetic-biological manipulations. In short, the posthuman is the inscription of the ultimate controlling technology onto the human, the cybernetic technologies of selfhood, of mental identity, of cognition, of the mind, of intelligence itself, of communication, of language, and of The Code. To that extent, we are all cyborgs already, controlled by the systems we’ve embraced or which have embraced and defined us through our media, our computers, our systems of communication. For this reason, virtual reality, or cyberspace, is the perfect expression of postmodern trends.