It is a tragic fact that humanity has been living amidst a regime of perpetual warfare since known history. From the last 100 years alone, we have seen (amongst many others), two major European world wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the War on Terror, and now the Virus Wars. In line with the unfolding trend of technology, the ‘wars’ are shifting from inter-bodies (between bodies) to intra-body (within bodies). In this current state of ‘perpetual warfare’, there are now attempts to colonise the terrain within our most sacred space – the human biological body.
In my previous essay on biopower (see New Dawn 183), I noted there had been a shift from the disciplinary societies as described by French philosopher Michel Foucault toward more fluid networks of biopower control. As Foucault noted, the biopower model functions to tax rather than organise production, and to rule on death rather than to administer life. The older biopower models focused on the exterior modes of enclosure – school, factory, hospital, prison, etc. – whereas what I put forth in this essay is that the new reign of biopower is about gaining access to our interior spaces. Older exterior institutions (school, factory, etc.) have an expiration date – the human being, in contrast, is an ongoing and continuous ‘body’ available for generational control. The new regime seeks an ongoing vested interest in the exterior and interior spaces. These are the reconfigured social-body politics of control – or, the politics of control-biology. The new reign of biopower is concerned with continual modulation, adapting to ongoing events more like a wavelength than a fixed broadcast.
The ‘virus wars’ (to use their terminology) represent an enemy that attacks and infiltrates not only inter-bodily but especially intra-bodily. Human societies exist in open, not closed, systems. As such, the emerging biopower regimes need to gain access through these porous social-body systems. To gain control, they thus need to have proprietary dominion over an individual’s body, outside and within. We only have to recognise the rise in molecular engineering, genetic manipulations, and pharmaceutical interventions to see how external systems have been increasingly gaining interior ground.
The rapid rise in city and nationwide COVID-19 testing stations gives the impression of an open-society granting permission for mobile freedoms – yet they are the facades for the encroaching control systems. As an example of what is to come, Liverpool in the UK began a city-wide ‘mass testing’ program with walk-through and drive-through testing stations set up around the city.1 Liverpool was chosen as the pilot for a new ‘Lateral Flow System’ testing scheme. Broadgreen International School is running a pilot scheme with Public Health England that will: 1) bring in the military to run COVID-19 tests; 2) test children without parental consent; 3) identify each individual with a “unique barcode,” and 4) “isolate” and “secure” anyone who tests positive.2
The new regimes of biopower are establishing continuous variations of ‘testing,’ with continual iterations of ‘being at risk’. If we are to be continually ‘at risk’, then we have to be perpetually monitored – the two concepts go hand in hand. And in the present age of heightened mobility, we cannot expect a fixed ‘administration of control’. Instead, it will come through the fluid flows of always-on, surveillant tracking/tracing.
As I write this, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had placed himself in self-isolation after receiving notification from his track-and-tracing app. He stated in a video address, with a tone of deprecating ‘programming’ humour, that: “The good news is that NHS Test and Trace is working ever-more efficiently, but the bad news is that they’ve pinged me and I’ve got to self-isolate.”3
‘Track and trace’ record-keeping is now being imposed not only on the hospitality sectors but also places of worship, businesses, and other organisations. For example, governments in Australia are mandating businesses and organisations to collect data on “every person including staff, patrons and contractors entering the premises.”4 Further, any records collected on paper must, by law, be digitised within 24 hours. Similar measures have been implemented by the UK hospitality sector, although not yet across the whole board or fully digitised. Also being implemented is government access to card payment data for tracking people in “coronavirus hotspots,” as announced by the Australian government recently.5
In Spain, where this author currently lives, all arrivals into the country from 23 November will need to show certification of a negative COVID-19 test taken 72 hours prior to arrival. Such procedures are likely forerunners to the ‘soon to be expected’ arrival of digital health passports, such as CommonPass which is being trialled by a small number of passengers flying from the UK to the US.6
At the G20 summit – an online meeting of heads of state from the world’s 20 largest economies hosted by Saudi Arabia over the 21-22 November weekend – Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a “global mechanism” that would use QR codes to open up international travel.7 As if in direct response to this, a day later (23 November) the boss of Qantas Airways announced that international air travellers would, in the future, need proof they have taken a COVID-19 vaccine to board Qantas flights. He claims it will be a “necessity” once vaccines are available and that it’s going to be a “common thing” in other airlines around the globe.8 As with risk and monitoring, the tracking goes hand in hand with testing. And in order to undergo testing, people must succumb to giving up their biological data. Intra-body data will enter the burgeoning biometric data-machine of huge corporations.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in October 2020, the US administration’s appointed ‘vaccine czar’, Moncef Slaoui, stated that tech giants Google and Oracle were to “collect and track vaccine data.”9 In a previous interview, Slaoui referred to this tracking “data-driven timeline” as a “very active pharmacovigilance surveillance system.”10
This almost real-time biosecurity testing and tracking will soon be necessary for most everyday activities, such as going to a live music concert. Ticketmaster, which merged with Live Nation in 2010 to create the music industry’s foremost concert promotion and ticketing agent, announced in November 2020 that it would check the COVID-19 vaccination status of ticket buyers before issuing passes when live events return in 2021.11Ticketmaster has been working on developing what they call a system for “post-pandemic fan safety” to verify fans’ vaccination status or whether they’ve tested negative for the coronavirus within a 24 to 72-hour window. Ticketmaster plans to combine the Ticketmaster digital ticket app with third party health information companies like CLEAR Health Pass or IBM’s Digital Health Pass, and testing and vaccine distribution providers. When the person receives their test/vaccine certification via their “health pass company,” the health pass would verify COVID status to Ticketmaster. If all was ‘clean’, Ticketmaster will issue the fan the credentials needed to access the event. On the other hand, if a person tested positive or didn’t have a valid, up-to-date vaccine certificate, they would not receive a ticket. Ticketmaster president Mark Yovich is on record saying that he expects the demand for “digital screening services” will attract a new wave of investors and entrepreneurs to “fuel the growth of a new COVID-19 technology sector” (i.e. biopower capitalism). Marianne Herman, co-founder of a company that focuses on assisting entertainment companies develop COVID-19 strategies, stated: “In order for live events to return, technology and science are going to play huge roles in establishing integrated protocols so that fans, artists, and employees feel safe returning to venues.”12 Welcome to the new biopower capitalism of “integrated protocols.”
Some major players in healthcare and business have already come together to declare what these “integrated protocols” may likely consist of. The Riyadh Declaration on Digital Health was formulated during the Riyadh Global Digital Health Summit, 11-12 August 2020. It called itself a “landmark forum” for highlighting the importance of digital technology, data, and innovation for “fighting pandemics.” According to their Health Summit webpage: “It aims to bring together leaders of healthcare systems, public health, digital health, academic institutions and businesses in order to discuss the vital role of digital health in the fight against current and future pandemics.”13
The Lancet medical journal did a feature on The Riyadh Declaration in which a “panel of 13 experts” articulated seven key priorities and nine recommendations “for data and digital health that need to be adopted by the global health community to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and future pandemics.”14They outline that the first priority for the health and care sectors to adopt is applied health intelligence (HI). According to the report, “HI is used for the surveillance, monitoring, and improvement of population and patient outcomes.” The second priority relates to “interoperable digital technology” and for this technology to be scaled up and sustainable. The third priority is to support the adoption of artificial intelligence.
From the nine recommendations, the following are of particular interest: 2) Work with global stakeholders to confront propagation of misinformation or disinformation through social media platforms and mass media; 3) Implement a standard global minimum dataset for public health data reporting; 7) Ensure surveillance systems combine an effective public health response; and 9) Maintain, continue to fund, and innovate surveillance systems as a core component of the connected global health system for rapid preparedness and optimal global responses.
At the very least, these recommendations sound ominously like the framework for establishing a biosecurity apparatus of a biocapitalist consortium of healthcare businesses, digital health corporations, and governments.15 Do not think for a moment that the average working person will not need to pay for this apparatus. It was recently announced that Deutsche Bank researchers propose a 5% tax for people choosing to work from home rather than the office. The reality, as we know, is that many people will not be given a choice; yet, as per the new report from the German bank, the average person would be “no worse off if they paid this tax” because by working remotely “they save money on travel, food, and clothes.” One of the report’s authors (a research strategist at Deutsche Bank) said: “Working from home will be part of the ‘new normal’ well after the pandemic has passed. We argue that remote workers should pay a tax for the privilege… That means remote workers are contributing less to the infrastructure of the economy whilst still receiving its benefits.”16 In other words, within the new biopower regime, people may not be contributing enough ‘into the system’ if they are working from home – and so must be taxed for the privilege.
The Question of Human Sovereignty
The new enclosures are no longer disciplinary institutions (as identified by Foucault) but the fluid flows and networks of inter and intra-body spaces and the new regimes that are arising to govern these social-biological terrains. The individual human body is being fully incorporated into the global body politique. There are no ‘fixed markets’ for biopower; instead, there are flexible networks of exchange. Yet the question remains – who sets the parameters of legal authority on these exchanges?
We have truly entered the age of the erosion of biological boundaries. We are all being targeted as possible mobile hosts for our own crippling disease – regardless of the true potency of the viruses – just as a person could be a suspect in the War on Terror. In both cases, the human being has been re-cast as a site of suspicion and risk. The body is now re-classified as a ‘site of weakness’ – which may itself play into a later transhumanism agenda.
Becoming ever clearer is that the new reign of biopower will deny us our rights to keep the frontiers of the human body closed. The fundamental right to health (health safety) is being reconstituted as a legal obligation to health (biosecurity).17 This process, overtly and covertly, attempts to reorganise human citizenry in a way to create maximum obedience to institutions of governance and security. This is also a process that will eventually lead to denying each person their individual sovereignty.
The rise of biosecurity amid the converging health intelligence (HI), along with tech-based “integrated protocols,” and increased reliance on Artificial Intelligence both within healthcare systems as well as state-sponsored surveillance, all point towards a worryingly cohesive ‘full spectrum dominance’ over human life. It is a biopower-enforced control system not only between bodies and within bodies but also within the human mind.
Biopower is also, I propose, a control system for human consciousness. This is confirmed by rapid moves on the internet to censor any information that criticises or is contrary to consensus narratives and programming. A case in point: the UK Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth (Labour) is demanding a law be put into effect, with financial and criminal penalties, to “stamp out dangerous” anti-vaccine content online. It is time for all political parties, says Ashworth, “to work with the government on a cross-party basis to build trust and help promote take-up of the vaccine.”18