Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cristina Masters - Cyborg Soldiers and Militarised Masculinities

This is an excellent article on the interface of masculinity and militarism. The article comes from Eurozine and is part of their current series on the future of war.

The talk about cyborg soldiers in disturbing in some ways, in that these things (when they exist, and they will) will lack subjectivity in the sense we know it. There will be no inner sense of guilt, shame, empathy, or compassion.

On the other hand, this will address Warren Farrell's issues with only men serving in high-risk combat positions, what he has called the "disposability of men" (I'll have more to say about Farrell in a future post). Replacing men with cyborg soldiers would remove men from that high-risk role.

But the author here is a feminist, so her concern is about the continued representation, through these hyper-masculine "cyborg" soldiers, of the "desire for total masculinist control and domination." Maybe, maybe not.

Maybe that is a valid concern to feminists, but as a male, who believes war is at best the LAST possible action, I wonder about the perpetuation of men as soldiers, as killing machines.

Here is the first paragraphs and then only one excerpt from the article, which is quite long and worth the read - even if you do not agree with her position.

Cyborg soldiers and militarised masculinities

Increasing military interest in the body cancels the transgressive potential of the cyborg. Where humans become the weakest link in contemporary warfare, the cyborg represents a desire for total masculinist control and domination. Machines, not human bodies, are now the subjects of the text.

Feminisms, technology and the military

The absence of bodies in the discourse of a discipline that was born of a concern with war and hence violence against bodies, itself raises curiosity as to the conditions of possibility that enabled this absence.
~ Vivienne Jabri (2006: 825)

In "Fact and Fantasy: The Body of Desire in the Age of Posthumanism", Renée C. Hoogland (2002: 214) argues that "in the increasingly technologized age of posthumanism, bodily matters are, quite simply, too substantial to be left to the 'empirically' inclined minds of natural scientists", and therefore calls on cultural theorists to take up the weighty issue of bodily matters. Recent developments indicate, however, that bodily matters are more and more coming under the ambit of the "strategic" and "security" inclined minds populating military institutions and government administrative offices, in ways perhaps far more troubling and disturbing in all of its potential and real implications. In the post-9/11 context of the war on/of terror, one can scarcely overemphasize the dangerous possibilities signalled in this shift. Dangerous, in that bodily matters are being taken up by institutions primarily concerned with the defence and security of the nation-state in an increasingly biopolitical architecture of power.

For many, it is right that such matters should be taken up by the entity with which we have authorised to act in our name and in our defence – the state. Others, in particular critical theorists of international politics, have expressed grave concern over the deadly security practices at work in the US-led war on/of terror, including not only the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, but also and significantly, the new security measures around immigration and asylum, individual freedoms and liberties, search and seizure, and the power to detain indefinitely, to name but a few.

Feminists, as much as militarists, have pointed to the virtues of advanced technology in addressing some of the pressing issues of our day, whether explicitly those of identity politics or that of war. With regard to the latter, nowhere is this more apparent than in the US military, where technology has been lauded as the answer to the question of security and terrorism. With regard to the former, feminists such as Jean Bethke Elshtain (2003) have linked advanced military technology to just war practices, and a number of feminists have advanced arguments in favour of technology's transgressive potential both in terms of challenging the strictures of gendered regimes of power, and in support of women's participation in institutions such as the military.

Donna Haraway, the well-known feminist advocate of the transgressive potential of technology, has critically engaged the possibilities of technology in enabling the subversion of binary structures of gendered knowledge. She contends that the human/machine interface, captured in the figure of the cyborg, can fundamentally challenge traditional dualistic western discourses by making apparent the social construction of unitary and exclusionary identity. The cyborg, she argues, can reveal the multiplicity, contextuality, and contingency of gendered subjectivity by blurring distinctions between, for instance, mind/body, self/other and man/woman. At the same time, Haraway (1991: 151) recognises that "the main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism [...] But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential."

It appears, however, that the problem persists: in contrast to Haraway's hopeful observation, the figure of the cyborg remains rather faithful to its origins. Thus, while the cyborg may provide new grounds upon which to reveal gender representations as contingent and historically grounded social constructs, we need also to attend to the ways in which the figure of the cyborg may continue to represent a desire for total masculinist control and domination.

* * *

The distinctions between simulation and reality, training and battle, have been breached to the point that there is virtually no distinction, where the critical distinction should be that people are killed in the real world of war (see Der Derian 2003, 2009; Harris 2003; Kundnani 2004). A telling example is the description of the Combat and Maneuver Training Center in Hohenfels, Germany, by an American Colonel: "Once a unit goes into the Box, with the exception that they're shooting laser bullets, and that a guy, instead of falling down with a gunshot wound, will read from a card he's carrying in his pocket how badly hurt he is, virtually everything we do is real. There's nothing simulated in the Box." (Der Derian 1997: 121) The discursive collapsing of reality and simulation has deadly ramifications for the bodies violently inscribed by cyborg soldiers in real wars. The disciplining of soldiers to believe that simulations are reality, and conversely, that reality is a simulation, "produces 'a kind of isolation' from the violence of war that allows for its unrestrained prosecution [...] removed from the bloody results of their decisions" (Gray 1997: 200). Simultaneously, it rationalises and mystifies the disappearance of the body from war, and the denial of the "sentient physicality of human embodiment" (Gusterson 1998: 124).

The denial and suppression of embodiment is indicative of the inscription of military technology as the subject of techno-scientific masculinity and of human bodies, both soldier and civilian, as objects of power and knowledge. The discursive positioning of military technologies as superior to the human soldier has constituted machines as the subject of the text. Technology has become the surface upon which power has been inscribed – inscribed with the power to "write the world" through violent inscriptions and domination (Haraway 1991: 175). The transference of subjectivity onto technology has fundamentally grafted military technology with agency and power through the discursive reinscription of hegemonic techno-militarised masculinity as representative of machine. The language of the cyborg is the language of violence, a language that has the power to generate meaning and knowledge about the bodies upon which it acts. The other – gendered, racialised, and sexualised – is constituted as less human, as object, as different, as a "code problem" in need of techno-scientific solutions, as bodies-of-danger. The language of the cyborg necessitates the denial of the body of the self so that it can act upon the body of the other. Necessarily, this has required the naturalisation of the machine-man interface through techno-scientific discursive practices in order to legitimate practices of dominance, and thus the ethicality of the interface.

At the same time the constitution and production of the cyborg soldier is rearticulating the ever-present relationship between techno-scientific discourses and masculinist discourses. The characteristics traditionally inscribed on male bodies have been rearticulated by military techno-scientific discourses and remapped onto military technologies. So while the cyborg soldier has blurred particular distinctions between machine and man, where technology embodies masculinity, the distinctions between the cyborg soldier and the traditional soldier have become discursively formalised along the lines of masculinity and femininity. The effect is that military technologies have been techno-masculinised, while human soldiers apart from technology have been feminised and reconstituted within the realm of those needing protection.

As such, techno-militarised masculinity has come to symbolise the model American soldier represented in the machine-man interface where technology constitutes soldiers and militarised masculinity constitutes technology. In so many ways, the machine-man interface is literal in the American military where everyday experience is characterised by constant interaction with advanced technology from weapons to computers, surveillance, reconnaissance, delivery systems, and from training simulations to real battle. However it is also significantly metaphorical, in that clearly it is not only male soldiers that interface with technology. Rather, the interface represents the discursive unhinging of male subjectivity from the physical male body and the reinscription of male subjectivity on/into military technologies. Put differently, masculinity does not necessarily coincide with the bio-male body. "It is not that the soldier is influenced by the weapons used; now he or she is (re)constructed and (re)programmed to fit integrally into the weapon systems." (Gray 1997: 195) The significant effect is that advanced technologies are now the subjects of discursive constructions, and thus one of the key signifiers that perform and represent American identity.

In many ways, the inscription of technology with masculine subjectivity is easily recognised in military techno-scientific discourses: phallic shaped missiles, precision-guided missiles that easily find the target, and aerial bombings that leave one with the impression of an "orgasmic ejaculation" impregnating targets with death and destruction rather than life. These are only a few of the more obvious representations of the discursive inscription of masculine subjectivity on/into military technology. What is less obvious, but fundamentally crucial, is the transference of masculine intelligence (knowledge) on/into military technologies, particularly military technologies that are not overtly gendered in shape, size, and overall appearance, but gendered in capabilities, for instance computer and information technologies. "At the heart of most dreams for absolute information there is the ideal of pure intelligence. It is a peculiar version of rationality that is masculine, mathematical, emotionless and instrumentalist." (Gray 1997: 195) While masculine subjectivity has historically represented the mastery of mind over body, rationality over irrationality, and intellect over emotion inscribed on the white, heterosexual male body, the human male body has proven to be a serious liability to achieving if not absolute, at least superior intelligence.

Considering this, the cyborg can be read as fundamentally post-human, and significantly represents a profound rearticulation of the political; in other words, the constitution of the cyborg soldier can be read as a radical rearticulation of human subjectivity (see Springer 1998; Hoogland 2002; Shabot 2006). This post-human subjectivity is represented through the cyborg in the very processes of transferring human reasoning and thinking from human subjects onto technology. The infusion of technology with the ability to reason and think, without being interrupted by emotions such as guilt or bodily limitations such as fatigue, is indicative of the constitution of the fleshy body as no longer capable of producing and projecting desired representations of the American self.

Significantly, the constitution of the soldier as cyborg has also altered who is constituted as a soldier. Traditionally, the signifier soldier was confined to combatants, in other words, men who actually engaged in physical battle. The fusion of technology and masculinity has significantly blurred this traditional distinction, where now civilians can be considered soldiers, and more specifically, cyborg soldiers (Armitage 2003). Military personnel who will likely never be in physical battle, who literally sit in front of computer screens, have now been constituted as soldiers through the interface, effectively enlarging and reconfiguring the representations of soldiers. In the words of US military Colonel Ehrhard: "It is the software engineer who kills now." (Beal 2000) Cyborg soldiers, almost by definition, may never have to lay human eyes on their enemy again – the gaze will be that of the gun sight, the computer screen, and global positioning satellite targeting systems. On the continuum of traditional discursive depersonalisation and dehumanisation, the cyborg soldier represents the extreme of abstract disembodiment, in that the discipline traditionally required to remove oneself from the reality of war (if even possible) is no longer necessary. A mental image of an air fighter's "bomb's eye view" during NATO's humanitarian intervention in Kosovo, frighteningly captures this: "Killing people does not go through your mind [...] From the air, the human factor doesn't mean what it would in an army guy. When you're a fighter pilot, you don't see eyes. You see things – a building, a truck, a bridge, a dam. It's all so technological. I had no Serbian in mind [...] I was shooting at a radar pulse." (Wallace 2000)

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