Of cyborgs and men

What's the biggest threat: cyborgs, hooligans, or a healthy diet?

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics

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  • Inhuman quarrels

Francis Fukuyama’s latest prognosis for humanity, Our Posthuman Future, is already causing a stir.

Fukuyama – who is debating his new book at the Institute of Ideas event A Posthuman Future on 30 May – fears that advances in biotechnology and cybernetics will generate an anti-egalitarian society, with a genetically enhanced, cyborg super-race at the top, and a disenfranchised, common-or-garden homo sapiens at the bottom.

Nonsense, says Gregory Stock, author of Redesigning Humans: ‘Enhancement is not wrong, and when such possibilities become safe and reliable, large numbers of people will seek them.’

The coming age of the cyborg has weighed heavily on the minds of science fiction writers and postmodernists for some time. Just as Philip K Dick and William Gibson couldn’t decide whether mechanically enhanced man was a good thing or not, so the postmodern left has displayed a similar ambivalence on the subject.

Feminist writer Donna Haraway is a postmodern champion of the cyborg. As she argued in her 1985 essay ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’, the cyborg (cybernetic organism) is a figure we should hail at both a metaphorical and literal level. The cyborg is an ‘either/or’ figure, neither man [sic] nor machine; the cyborg challenges dualistic ways of thinking, collapsing the dichotomy between nature and science. The cyborg will literally demonstrate that identities are not ‘given’, but are created. If the notion of ‘woman’ is a product of society and history, rather than a function of nature (after de Beauvoir), then how better to go beyond gender binarism than literally (re)create ourselves? ‘The cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world’, wrote Haraway.

Nonsense on stilts, protested Jean-François Lyotard, whose 1979 book The Postmodern Condition argued that a post-humanist age would see the withering of such arrogant Western illusions as ‘the individual’, ‘agency’ or ‘reason’. But the coming age of the cyborg gave Lyotard the willies. In The Inhuman Condition (1986), he said ‘techno-science’ would benefit only multinational corporations. Technology would be used to erase ‘difference’, creativity and dissent, and implement standardisation and conformity. In an about-face, Lyotard declared that we should, after all, believe in ‘the self’, the organic, and the human capacity for individual reason – if only to counter capitalism, his loathing of which never diminished.

Lyotard’s analysis is characteristically blinkered: capitalism leads to more choice, it is in essence a heterogeneous enterprise. However, I think he and Fukuyama are correct to prophesise that it will be the rich that will benefit from the cyborg era. Lyotard’s fears are telling, hinting that the left’s flirtation with postmodernism is insincere. Scratch a postmodernist and not far underneath you’ll find someone deeply disillusioned.

  • Win or Lose

‘Given the exceptional atmosphere of the event, we must face the possibility of unwanted babies fathered by foreigners who rape our women.’

According to Time magazine, these are the words of Takayoshi Konno, a senior Japanese politician clearly concerned about the fans arriving for Japan’s World Cup tournament. And it doesn’t take a genius to work out which nation’s fans he’s talking about.

Recent Channel 4 and BBC2 programmes on soccer violence suggest that English football hooliganism has not disappeared – and anybody who watches Nationwide League football regularly will know this is true (though I’ve yet to see fans being raped).

It is with trepidation that other Nationwide League supporters anticipate visitations from the likes of Cardiff, Birmingham City, Millwall or Stoke City. Fans of Stoke City have a particularly nasty reputation; their supporters were involved in race riots during a visit to Oldham Athletic last season.

Then again, I’m biased – having seen my team, Brentford, lose 2-0 to Stoke on Saturday in the Second Division play-off finals in Cardiff. To be honest, the event was fairly clement, and supporters mixed freely before and after the game. Stoke fans’ rendition of Tom Jones’ Delilah as the final whistle drew nearer was spine-tingling, as you realised how much promotion clearly meant to them.

Play-off finals are the rawest and purest form of football spectacle, capturing why football can be so appealing in these insufferable non-elitist times. Winning is dependent upon someone else losing, and the bigger the stake, the greater the chasm of emotions affecting (and afflicting) the two sets of supporters.

As my friends and I took the train back to London, the only consolation I could muster in my mind was the thought of all those Stoke fans singing all the way home, utterly elated. (Oh, and I hope they get relegated next year.)

  • Three nutritionists

Dr Robert Atkins, American champion of high-fat, high-protein diet. Died last month, aged 71.

Willi Dungi, Austrian champion of dieting, exercise and a low fat diet. Died last month, aged 64.

Dr Frederick Stare, American nutritionist who said carbohydrates and protein should make up the majority of people’s consumption, and that exercise, vegetables and fruit had their proper place too. He spoke out against dieting, health fads, hypochondria and charlatanry. Sugar, he said, was ‘a quick energy food…put a teaspoon in coffee or tea three or four times a day’; E numbers were ‘our friends…. Eat your additives’; Coca-Cola was ‘a healthy between-meals snack’. Died last month aged 91.

The unscientific moral of this story: beware extremists.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics


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