The Duck of Minerva

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The Drone and the Cyborg

October 17, 2010

The drone and the cyborg were born near the dawn of the nuclear age (i.e. the Vergeltungswaffen and the Kamikaze), and appeared in several previous conflicts, but they did not simultaneously reshape the dynamics of war until after 2001.

The armed drone represents a displaced subjectivity that eludes the laws of war and Eurocentric/ anthropocentric notions of sovereignty. The soldier operating the drone spies, hunts, and kills from thousands of miles away; s/he murders combatants and non-combatants without taking any risk or responsibility. The drone violates the sovereign territory of foreign powers for days at a time – the drone is becoming a permanent armed presence in the skies of the targeted zones. The armed drone is the manifestation of a literally disembodied soldier on the battle zone; the armed drone is an avatar.

The cyborg seems to be the opposite of the drone; s/he is flesh over mind. There is a temptation to view the cyborg as more human because of the relatively primitive technology employed in its manufacture. Nevertheless, the cyborg is also transhuman or a portent of a posthuman future – s/he fuses flesh and explosive matter in a manner that becomes indistinguishable. As Faisal Devji reminds us:

“And indeed the cyborg as a sign of the posthuman future is nowhere more clearly made flesh than in the figure of the suicide bomber who transforms his own body into an explosive device.  Can the human and nonhuman parts of this cyborg be distinguished from one another so that we can say which does the killing and who does the dying?” (Faisal Devji, The Terrorist in Search of Humanity, 2008).

Like the drone, the presence of the cyborg has grown rapidly in the zone of combat. Before 2002, for example, Pakistan had only had one cyborg attack. Last year, there were ninety. In fact, the cyborg is increasingly integrated as a component of insurgent attacks.

Both the drone and cyborg are immoral and extralegal instruments of terror and vengeance. (If war is socially sanctioned murder, then neither technology has been socially sanctioned. The cyborg has been explicitly condemned by the ‘ulema). Both technologies are highly accurate, nearly unstoppable, and devastatingly lethal. These technologies are marked by a moral and tactical equivalence at least in the public statements of insurgents.

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Vikash is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. His main areas of academic interest are (post-) globalization, economic development, and economic freedom, with a regional focus on South Asia