Attack of the Cyborg Insects

The dangers of science in the service of the state

by , May 21, 2010

In the course of promoting a conference on "Warring Futures: How Biotech and Robotics Are Transforming Today’s Military—and How That Will Change the Rest of Us," a May 24 conference in Washington, D.C.,co-sponsored by Slate, Arizona State  University, and the New America Foundation (i.e. George Soros),  ASU’s Brad Allenby averred

"Telepathic helmets. Grid-computing swarms of cyborg insects, some for surveillance, some with lethal stingers. New cognitive-enhancement drugs. (What? Adderall and Provigil aren’t good enough for you?) Lethal autonomous robots. Brain-chip-to-weapon platform control systems on a ‘future force warrior‘ platform. American military technology is getting very frisky."

As my friend Lew Rockwell put it, "The article, a defense of sci-fi war, is a reminder, not only of how much loot is taken from us for these murderous purposes, but how many scientific and engineering brains are enlisted into Starship Trooperism. How much freer, wealthier, and more advanced our civilization would be without the Pentagon, the CIA, the whole military-industrial complex. How many people would not have had their lives ended too soon."

Militarism distorts the development of civilization, deforming the natural evolution of culture and even science: the end result is the birth of misshapen monsters, such as nuclear technology, the love child of war and the Leviathan. Allenby’s cyborg insects are the Bizarro World version of productive achievements: they are the cancer cure, the clean power source, the life affirming and life-prolonging innovations that might have been invented, but weren’t. 

Massive state intervention in the form of something like the Manhattan Project distorts the natural development of technology as it unfolds over time. It not only mis-directs resources to unproductive and even horrifically destructive activities, it upsets the natural progression of theoretical science and its technical applications, altering the sequence and tempo of the advance of human knowledge. The result is that some possibilities – e.g. a cancer cure – are aborted, while others – nuclear power and "telepathic helmets" – are unleashed prematurely on a world that isn’t ready, either ethically or otherwise, to make the kinds of moral decisions they are suddenly confronted with. It is like a young child suddenly faced with a life or death issue: he has neither the capacity nor the wisdom to deal with it.  

Our elites glory in the term "technocrat" because it is synonymous with the kind of cool competence that supposedly elevates them above the common herd. Draping themselves in the mantle of science imbues their regime with an aura of ersatz legitimacy, the modern analogue of the divine right of kings. While tyrants of yore invoked Bible verses to justify the Crusades, their modern day equivalents rely on Power Point presentations of incomprehensible complexity and elaborate flowcharts. That’s "progress" for you. 

Allenby argues that we can’t "stop" technology, but quite naturally fails to see these are the mutant offspring of an unnatural course of development, one distorted by the "Starship Trooperism" he epitomizes, and that every decent person rightly abhors. The consequences of this massive diversion of human and material resources are potentially fatal to the human race. We just barely escaped nuclear annihilation of much of the planet at several points during the long cold war between the US and the Soviet Union. Who knows what new monsters will be unleashed from state laboratories tomorrow?  

Well, Allenby, apparently, for one, as well as the other attendees at the conference, which will doubtless attract the cream of the military-industrial-academic complex, hawking their wares and handing out their resumes to the warlords of Washington. Those telepathic helmets are sure to come in handy.  

We don’t make much of anything here in the United States anymore, at least not anything that anyone wants to buy. Aside from the ethereal financial "instruments" mass-produced by Wall Street to such deleterious effect, our only other vital and growing industry is the manufacture of advanced weaponry. This is the one industry that our rulers have no intention of shipping overseas. As the rest of the economy hollows out, the military-industrial complex will absorb a greater share of economic activity. In the end, we shall wind up as the world’s arsenal, while China is the global factory and Europe a museum.  

"Starship Trooperism," as Rockwell cleverly dubs it, is a reference to Starship Troopers, the famous novel by Robert Heinlein, which celebrated the cult of the warrior in a future world of perpetual conflict against the backdrop of an expansionist "Terran Federation," a "limited" democracy in which only those who serve in the military are given the right to vote or run for office. Service to the collective in its military aspect is the principle dramatized in the events of the story: it was Heinlein in his uptight, pre-Stranger in a Strange Land phase, a period that lasted all through the Vietnam era, when he signed a full-page advertisement in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in support of the war, and in answer to a group of "New Wave" writers who had previously published a statement calling for US withdrawal. Luckily for us and for his artistic and ideological development, he dropped that for the libertarianism of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

In his personal and political development, Heinlein followed the course taken by many of that era, and many of his own readers, from Goldwater conservatism to libertarianism, and today many on the right are taking a similar path, suddenly discovering their inner libertarian. Including some of the worst warmongers and self-declared enemies of libertarianism, such as Glenn Beck, who now sidles up to Ron Paul and says he has doubtsabout the wisdom of perpetual war. As the "progressive" New America Foundation teams up with the conjurors of "lethal autonomous robots" and pushers of "cognitive enhancement drugs," it is too much to expect the Glenn Beck crowd to wake up to the horrific implications of these sorts of weapons in the hands of our present rulers?

In the end, I can’t help but think of the character of Dr. Robert Stadler, in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Stadler was a brilliant scientist who sold out his brilliance to serve as the front man for the State Science Institute. It is he, as the brains behind the government’s "Project X," who invents an energy beam weapon that can strike with terrifying power. In the end he is killed by his own invention when it falls into the hands of incompetents.  As the efforts of government and industry to stop the spread of the oil spill off the Florida coast combine to little avail, one wonders what will happen – and who they’ll blame – when those cyborg insects get loose. 

Contra Allenby, the creation of weapons of mass destruction and totalitarian control – telepathic helmets! – can and must be stopped, and it will be stopped, in the end, by those who are paying for it: the long-suffering American taxpayers. It will be stopped by the imminent bankruptcy of the Western world, and the crisis consuming the once-productive non-military sectors of the economy. In the meantime, however, the furies unleashed by Starship Trooper-ism can do a lot of damage. To borrow another reference from the realm of science fiction, these "monsters from the Id" must be killed before they’re spawned – and that means defunding military and scientific research, and making the union of academia and the military industrial complex a living issue on campuses across the country.  

Come on, you "antiwar" student leftists and libertarian activists – let’s get the academy out of the trenches, and back into the classroom. It’s time to sever the ties between the War Party and America’s universities – and, in the meantime, let’s make sure those cyborg insects stay in their cages.

Read more by Justin Raimondo