Chris Hables Gray – Cyborg Citizen

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Chris Hables Gray. Cyborg Citizen: Politics in the Posthuman Age. Routledge, 2002.

Curiously, all the theories of posthumanism have been disappeared, and discourses of the postmodern have receded like a popular fad. As if there is not any longer a serious discussion on the virtual reality today, though we have just arrived the time we expected so much as a rosy future ten years ago, we keep quiet about the matter of the posthuman, or cyborg. Is it because that the posthuman was just a mere passing vogue in academia or it was only an absurd futurism? Though the frame (form) in which the problems was treated has been changed, the content of the problems could be still effective: the network-politics, human-machine interface, body transformation, and so on. Rather, according to the development and thus realization of then potential technologies, the issues and problems of the posthuman have been diversified and ramified. In other words, rather than its needlessness, the object of the posthuman project has been completed, thus unnecessary. However, we should not say that all the issues originally raised have been disposed, because although the paradigm of the posthuman has been obsolete. Paradigms change. The reason for taking out a futuristic discourse dated a decade is to reflect the present as the future of the past – to go back to the future.

Chris Gray defines cyborg as “a self-regulating organism that combines the natural and artificial together in one system” and argues that we already live in a “cyborg society, no matter how unmodified we are as individuals”(2). His definition is broad enough to include any kind of technological modification of body (and interface) as a cyborg. And insofar as we are anyhow those cyborgs, we can assume that our society has been cyborged. For Gray, in this cyborg society, what is at stake is how to build a foundation for the participatory entity of politics (government) in accordance with the political evolution of cyborgs. As Donna Haraway, in her “A Cyborg Manifesto” (1985), has tried to constitute a socialist-feminist cyborg (a liberatory or marginalized subjectivity from dominant – whether unitary or antagonistic – political imagination), Gray explores the problem of how to encourage and secure cyborged people’s political participation. Hence cyborg democracy (cyberdemocracy) and cyborg citizenship.

According to Gray, the issue of citizenship is, regardless of gender, race, and class, that of “competent participation in what some philosophers call a discourse community” (22). Put it another way, the issue of citizenship lies in the determination of which entities can participate to our discourse community and which cannot. That is why Gray proposes his Cyborg Bill of Rights, which is composed of ten amendments including “Freedom of Electronic Speech,” “Right of Electronic Privacy,” “Right to Life,” and “Freedom of Family, Sexuality, and Gender.” However, Gray thinks that these amendments alone cannot protect us. He argues that “we need active citizens and new political technologies to protect our rights from the relentless changes that cyborgian technoscience is producing”(29) – that is, we need to actively participate in politics and construct ourselves as cyborg in order to liberate and empower us. But how?

For Gray, a Jeffersonian anarchist, even “denial of service” attacks by the Electronic Disobedience Theater supporting the Zapatistas in Chiapas were violent – “really vandalism”(43). He thinks that “the protest is only symbolic”(43) and that “we must go beyond resistance”(31). However, though he points out that the diverse resistances through the Web, new media, or networks have fundamental limits, he cannot propose any concrete (practical) tactic beyond a manifesto. While he refers to Haraway and agrees with liberal-technophiles from Wired magazine, there is no Marx and even Foucault’s biopolitics. While he briefly mentions about cyborg medicine, he has no clear view on how genomics will have influence on our society and globalized political economy. His view is neither technological determinism nor social constructionism – maybe technological optimism. Be that as it may, he does not dialectically show a certain complex and subtle relations between them. More than describing the possibility of cyborg politics, he need to delve into how we the cyborg can intervene realpolitik where relentless development of cyborg technologies shackle and control us. Though I agree with his general position towards new body politics in accordance with technological (cybernetic and biological) evolution, it is uncomfortable to recognize somewhat banal and naïve perspective of culturalism – such as “The popular body-piercing craze fits right into our cyborg society”(189) – which does not look like anarchic at all.

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