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Nanotechnology and Social Control

In the pursuit of full control over every aspect of existence, the ruling order has begun to push the development of technologies that manipulate matter on the scale of the nano-meter, that is to say a millionth of a millimeter. At this level, the level of atoms and molecules, and thus of proteins, carbon compounds, DNA and the like, the distinction between living and non-living can begin to get hazy and many of the proposals relating to this technology stem from this haziness. Nanotechnology creates new products through the manipulation of molecules, atoms and subatomic particles. While biotechnology manipulates the structure of DNA to create new organisms through the recombination of genes, nanotechnology goes further, “breaking down” matter into atoms which can then be put back together to form new materials, literally created atom by atom. At present, attention is focused on the carbon atom, but scientists would like to have control over the every element of the Periodic Table to use at will. This would allow them to combine characteristics (such as color, resistance, melting point, etc.) in ways previously unknown.

Much of the research in nanotechnology is also connected to biotechnological research, looking into the possibility of manipulation of atoms on the biomolecular level. This is the origin of nano-biotechnology. The proponents of this research speak publicly of a myriad of possibilities that this toying with the borderline between living and non-living matter on the atomic level could provide: self-cleaning plastics in which enzymes feed on the dirt, airplane wings full of proteins that function as adhesives if the wing is damaged and thus repair it, ensembles of atoms intended to be used as food or drink that are capable of combining in varieties of ways to create the desired food or beverage, ultra-fast computers with circuits based on a “framework” of DNA, electric conductors of dimensions on a nano-scale in a protein base – i.e., the “living plastic” built upon a genetically manipulated bacterium capable of producing an enzyme that scientists claim can polymerize.
But these are just the worthless knick-knacks displayed before the public to provoke infantile desires in the consumer who will then crave their satisfaction. These gadgets are little more than public relations activity. Much more significant are the miniaturized information processors to be found in each of these gadgets. This miniaturization opens the door to the presence of intelligent micro chips on any product on the market. Already, certain manufacturers are having chips placed on products that permit their movements to be traced. Miniaturized to the nano-scale such chips would be impossible for the consumer to detect.
As with every technological development of recent years, the proponents of nanotechnology also publicly proclaim the “humanitarian” uses of this technology – in medicine, in food production, in the general “improvement” of our way of life. But the real interests of the rulers of this world in developing this technology lies elsewhere (as was hinted at above).
Nanotechnology, like nearly every technological system developed in the past sixty years, has been largely developed in the framework of military studies. A clear example is that of the MEMS (micro-electrical-mechanical systems), the first generation of nano-machines. These are miniature receivers and motors the size of a grain of dust, the prototypes of which are already coming into use in industry. The application currently being studied is that of a surveillance powder that would be sprayed onto a battlefield or into an area under observation in order to gather certain kinds of information.
In fact, this is much like the “smart dust” the proponents of which present it as a “convenience” that could be spread on walls of buildings, connected to heating, air conditioning and electrical systems and switch on or off heat, air conditioning, lights, etc. as needed. But experiments have also been going on with possible uses of the “smart dust” as a means of police surveillance.
The robo-cop or robo-soldier of the future is likely to be a micro- or nano-robot, versatile, relatively inexpensive, nearly impossible to detect, capable of intruding into almost any space.
Nano-technology is an ideal medium for vastly extending social control. Consider the Veri-Chip, a product of the Florida company, Applied Digital Solutions. This chip is about the size of a grain of rice and is intended to be inserted under the skin through injection. It can be programmed to hold information about the person into which it is injected and can also be linked to the Global Positioning System (GPS). It has been offered on the market since April 2002. The company advertises it as a means for storing one’s medical information directly on one’s body and also as a kind of electronic bodyguard against abduction for the rich. But other possibilities of a much more sinister sort are not forgotten. The company’s CEO suggested that the Veri-Chip would make a great alternative to the green card and has also recommended its use on children, the elderly and prisoners. A technology with so much potential for social control is likely to be brought in to use on broader and broader levels until it is considered normal . Then it would just be a small step toward making it mandatory – at first through an indirect blackmail: “No, you don’t have to get this chipped placed under your skin but if you don’t, you won’t be able to get a job, collect benefits, have a bank account, make purchases, etc., etc…” But quite possibly they will eventually be legally required with penalties for refusal or removal of the chips.
In fact, in Britain the government has proposed implanting chips in convicted pedophiles. These chips would not only register the location of the “wearer”, but also the heart rate and arterial tension. Another words, not the specific signs of sexual arousal, but those of nervousness and fear – the same nervousness and fear that a thief or a saboteur might feel while in the act. Using the alarm that has been roused by the media over pedophilia – a definitive case of creating a public consensus favoring increased social control in the name of children who have no say in the matter – the project of carrying social control directly into our bodies is justified. And once people are used to the idea that certain people should be monitored, this monitoring will be easily broadened in scope.
The fear for the safety of children already provides another are for the broadening of this monitoring. Experts and parents’ associations in Britain recommended that all children be chipped after two girls were raped and murdered in 2002. In this way all children would become the wards of the state and its technological apparatus for life. The question then becomes: who will protect the children from the penetrating eye of their parents and the state? Who will protect them from the inescapable network of technological control?
The importance of nanotechnological research to those in power is made evident by the huge appropriation of funds for this research. The US government invests 600 to 700 million dollars a year in this sector. The European Union also invests several hundred million Euros in this research in which multinationals such as Philips, Motorola and STMicroelectronics are involved.
These chips demonstrate only one of the ways in which micro- and nanotechnology blur the distinction between living and non-living beings through the penetration of the machine into the living body – the cyborg of science fiction. But nano-biotechnology takes things further, with the actual creation of organic machines through atomic manipulation. It is here with the creation of machines that seem to carry out biological functions (proponents of nanotechnology have talked of machines capable of reproducing themselves using methods similar to that of the asexual reproduction of cells), that the fear of the “grey goo” arises, the fear that these microscopic machines capable of reproducing themselves could eventually penetrate into everything, tearing down molecules to carry out their programmed functions and in the process melt everything down.
Of course, this fear is of the most extreme and apocalyptic sort. But in the name of “progress” even the most legitimate fears – like the fear of the total monitoring of existence, or the fear of possible infection from nano-biotechnological developments – are to be set aside. The misdeeds of techno-science and the disasters it causes are always attributed to “bad use”, because technology, of course, is neutral. That these disasters seem to follow one right after another somehow does not raise any questions about this alleged neutrality, about whether any “good use” is possible.
The role of the experts has always been to justify the technological system, to explain how the ongoing parade of disasters are mere separate incidents, aberrations that do not reflect at all on the system itself. We can no longer let them be the ones to make the decisions about these matters. And taking back the capacity to decide for ourselves on this matter can take only one road, that of attack against the system of domination and exploitation in all of its aspects. By the time the scientific experts are telling us about these technologies, they are describing a decision that has already been made over our heads. To seek any dialogue with them or with the ruling powers they serve at this point about them is useless. We need to recognize these developments for what they are – a further stealing away of our lives, an attack upon any capacity for self-determination that may be left to us.
The opposition to these latest technological developments cannot go the path of so many past movements of opposition, that of attempting to dialogue with the masters of this world. In such dialogue, the masters always win. Perhaps in a few places, the monstrosities produced by these technologies have to be labeled, so that we have a “choice”, But the monstrosities still become a normal part of our existence.
Nanotechnology creates the tiniest monstrosities capable of the greatest horrors, because they are capable of carrying the systems of social control directly into our bodies. We cannot even pretend that there is any room for dialogue here any longer. This is a blatant display by the rulers of this world that the maintenance of social peace is an act of war against all the exploited and dispossessed. It is necessary for those of us who desire the freedom to create our lives on our terms, who desire to remain human individuals capable of any sort of autonomous action, to act destructively against the entire system of social control, the totality of this civilization in which machines ride people and people slowly transform into machines. Here and now.