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Excerpt from Welcome to the Machine

Übersoldiers (p. 45)

From chapter "Control "

When earlier we described the military’s attempts to create übersoldiers, we’re afraid we sold the military a bit short. Those at the Pentagon want to do more than create invisible exoskeleton-clad soldiers who can leap tall buildings (capes optional). I have before me a postcard inviting me to the “DARPA Bio Booth” at a big DARPA conference, which is called “Harvesting Biology for Defense Technology.” The focus of the first day—and dust off your old books of feminist theory before you check out their terminology, because the feminists were right, those military wonks really do get off on this stuff—is “Enhancing Human Performance” (“Thrust areas include: Neurosciences; Metabolic Engineering; Nutrition; Genomics”). The focus of the second day is “Protecting Living Assets”—by which they mean übersoldiers, not living landbases—(“Thrust areas include: Environmental Detection and Surveillance; Biomedical Science Technologies; Biological Processing and Manufacturing”). The third day they’ll study “Improving System Performance” (“Thrust areas include: Biomimetic Materials, Assembly, Manufacturing; Biomimetic Robots; Intelligent Machines; Biomimetic Signal Processing and Sensors”).

At the end of the third day they will see everything that they have made, and behold, it will be very good. And on the fourth day they will rest.

Before we describe in more detail some of their “thrust areas,” let’s take a look at some of their workshops. Monday morning they start off bright and early with “Metabolic Engineering & Dominance,” followed not by “Leather & Submission” but by “Persistence in Combat,” then “Continuous Assisted Performance,” “Brain Machine Interface,” “Augmented Cognition” (can we hope for a guest demonstration involving the Commander-in-Chief?), and so on. The most interesting workshop on Tuesday will be “Triangulation Identification for Genetic Evaluation of Risks (TIGER).” Now, I don’t know about you, but when I hear those in power talk about things like “Identification for Genetic Evaluation of Risks,” I immediately think of four things. The first is smallpox- laden blankets. The second is the Tuskegee Syphillis Study, in which several hundred black men were recruited to participate in what they thought was a study of treatments for “bad blood,” but what was in reality titled “A Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” For the next forty years, until the study was halted, findings were regularly published in medical journals and in public reportsThe third is that the United States is currently planning to build at least three new bioweapons laboratories dedicated to the creation of new classes of toxins, including genetically engineered toxins. Presumably the mantra of those who work there will be: “We are research and development people. We think about what’s possible, not what the government will do with it. That’s somebody else’s job.” If they repeat this often enough they may eventually believe it. Or at least they may believe that they believe it. But even if they do, that will not protect them from someday following their moral predecessors to their own Nurembergs. The fourth thing I think of is the line we mentioned a few pages ago, from a document called Rebuilding America’s Defenses put out by the Project for the New American Century, an organization with members including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Jeb Bush, and Paul Wolfowitz, generally considered the “mastermind” behind the invasion of Iraq. On page sixty, the authors state, if you recall, that “advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target’ specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.”These people, too, will face their own versions of Nuremberg.

Other exciting workshops for the day include Biosensor Technologies and Activity Detection starts with a rush: Biologically Inspired Multifunctional Dynamic Robots. They move from there to Controlled Biological Systems (which I’m presuming is a description of their desired endpoint for the entire planet). Later in the day they have Spectroscopic Observation of Remote Environments, and they finish with Exoskeletons.

We have mentioned before the Brain Interface Program, in which rats are convinced by means of electrodes in their brains to do “the right thing.” But we didn’t mention that the chief of the project, Alan S. Rudolph, has what’s left of his heart set on transmitting images and sound directly into rats’ brains. That would, of course, just be a first step. Later will come soldiers, and perhaps more interesting, prisoners: the potential for mind control (and torture) is staggering. Probably literally. But certainly the most interesting use of all would be to transmit images and sound directly into the brains of the general public. Oh, we forgot, those in power already have that capacity: it’s called television. But at least we can turn off (or smash) TVs.Imagine the agony of living your entire life with advertisements for Coors Light, McDonald’s, and the U.S. Army blasted continually and directly into your brain, and you can never turn them off. (Wanna take bets on how many years before this happens? My bet is ten. And I have to tell you that when the time comes that these ads are blasted directly into my brain I’m going to buy a gun. And lots of bullets. And when that time comes, I will, as the cliché goes, save the last bullet for myself. But only the last one.)

The next workshop is on Persistence in Combat. Let us translate this militarese into English. When soldiers are wounded, they are often rendered ineffective as fighting “assets.” Technologies aimed at Persistence in Combat would have the goal of reducing pain or stopping blood flow. The primary purpose—indeed the sole stated purpose—is not to save persist in combat, to keep fighting (that is, killing) despite broken legs, despite having been shot in the gut.

Riddle: What do you get when you combine the Brain Interface Program with Persistence in Combat?

Answer: Electrodes in soldiers’ brains that disallow them from feeling any pain whatsoever.

Combine those electrodes with pills being developed that inhibit fear (“mastering the means,” one journalist wrote, “of short-circuiting the very wiring of primal fear”) and those in power have taken another step toward destroying their soldiers’ humanity (that is, what remained after boot camp). The last of this humanity can then be made to disappear forever whenever a soldier pops a pill—also being developed—that can, to quote the same journalist, “over the course of two weeks, immunize him against a lifetime of crushing remorse,” that is, a pill that medicates away one’s conscience. (Dr. Leon Kass, chair of the President’s Council on Bioethics, calls this “the morning-after pill for just about anything that produces regret, remorse, pain, or guilt.”)

One final workshop should satisfy your taste for the conference. Continuous Assisted Performance has nothing to do, surprisingly enough, with Viagra. It has to do with attempts to find biotechnological means to allow soldiers to persist in combat for up to seven days without sleeping. This is, as you may know, nothing new. Amphetamine use by soldiers—legal, enforced—is routine and has been at least since World War II. It’s used to keep them awake. (And it has the added benefit of reducing pesky premature ejaculation.Now that should make the wonks happy.)

In case those in power have not been clear enough about the level of control they aim to assert, we should consider the words of a 1996 report by the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, which speaks of “the [hoped for] development of electromagnetic energy sources, the output of which can be pulsed, shaped, and focused, that can couple with the human body in a fashion that will allow one [and we know who this “one” is] to prevent voluntary muscular movements, control emotions (and thus actions), produce sleep, transmit suggestions, interfere with both short-term and long-term memory, produce an experience set, and delete an experience set. This will open the door for the development of some novel capabilities that can be used in armed conflict, in terrorist-hostage situations, and in training.”

Are you scared yet?

Let me ask this another way. Whom do these übersoldiers and übercops serve?

Let me ask this yet another way. Do science, technology, and the military better serve living breathing human beings, or corporations? Hint: When was the last time you saw armored police officers fire tear gas at corporate CEOs for deciding to allow cancer-causing chemicals in the workplaces of millions of Americans?

Do you believe this society’s power structures have been designed in your best interests? The interests of your family? Your community? Your landbase?

What do these structures protect?

How do you want to live?