Haraway and the (Im)possibility of Cyborg Eugenics – Presentation by Joshua St. Pierre

Last week, on March 23, 2012, Joshua St. Pierre, one of the summer interns from the Living Archives Project who is currently working on his MA in Philosophy at the University of Alberta, gave a presentation entitled, “Haraway and the (Im)possibility of Cyborg Eugenics.”

His abstract from the conference is as follows:

While the discourse of so-called “new eugenics” is becoming increasingly popular in cyberculture, I argue that new eugenics is discussed as a mere technological overlay of pre-existing eugenic ideologies, ideologies undercut by “A Cyborg Manifesto.” Donna Haraway’s cyborg resists the natural and essential properties (racial, class or genetic purity, normalized categories such as “feeble mindedness,” or binaries like primitive/civilized) which made twentieth century eugenic programs, and by extension new eugenics, possible. However, Haraway’s politically and eugenically resilient cyborg opens the possibility for a “cyborg eugenics” proper.

Instead of essential properties, Haraway argues that human diversity and biotic components must be conceived of in terms of “design, boundary constraints, rates of flow, systems logics, costs of lowering constraints” (162). Thus, the Harawaian cyborg translates the modern concepts of ‘eugenics’ and ‘perfection’ to the concepts of ‘population control’ and ‘optimization’ (161).  While the terms ‘optimal’ and ‘population control’ lack the totalizing ideological overtones of a “master race” or the “feeble minded,” such categories force the choice of what sorts of people there should be, fragmented or not, and therefore what sorts of people there should not be.

Paralleling Hannah Arendt’s account of the banal holocaust logistician Adolf Eichmann, I argue that cyborg eugenics arise indirectly from the non-reflective fixation of the cyborg on optimizing technical problems. The Harawaian cyborg thus resists forms of eugenics rooted in claims of nature, telos or purity, but is seemingly unaware of the dark eugenic possibilities latent in the language of instrumentalization and optimization.

 It was a very interesting presentation, that provided a lot to think about in terms of the role of eugenics as modern technology evolves and becomes incorporated in the human, and the role of eugenics in posthuman literature.
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