Monday, February 14, 2011

The Cyborg: Recycling Humanity into Something More Useful

Many of you reading this have an image of cyborgs derived from popular genre media such as Robocop, Ghost in the Shell, Appleseed, The Terminator, various other fiction from certain subgenres of science fiction literature (e.g. Neuromancer) and certain DC and Marvel superheroes such as DC's Cyborg and so on. Some of you may even think of cyborg technology as being one road to a transhuman ascension from our frail fleshly shells into something that promises immortality as well as far greater endurance and resilience to the physical rigors of existence.

To quote Admiral Ackbar: "It's a trap!"

I will not argue that a cyborg possesses greater physical capacity than baseline human bodies, or that a cyborg--if incorporating computer technology--can surpass baseline human mental capacities in certain areas. I do not argue that cyborg technology is not a viable means of augmentation. What I argue is that this augmentation is necessarily a path to greater autonomy and freedom for one so augmented. Instead, I'm arguing that becoming a cyborg is instead enslavement in ways that many who transform themselves into cyborgs do not appreciate until well after the fact.

A cyborg, as usually understood, is an individual that originally was an organic being but integrated into himself various mechanical and electronic substitutes for organic body parts lost sometime during his life due to illness or injury, including "illness" such as "weak and puny compared to requirements of the job" as well as "injuries" such as "member of an unwanted or disfavored group". As this process of integration cannot be done by oneself, this path requires the cooperation of another individual to make happen; that this individual is in a position of power usually results in the cyborg being exploited somehow by that individual. The result is that the cyborg, for all of his physical capabilities, is often little more than a very powerful slave warrior who is dependent upon his master for such things as maintenance and sustenance.

This is the thing that many popular media don't put before the reader or viewer, and it is the actual flaw that acts to enslave the cyborg in most cases. (It also marks the difference between those cyborgs that do become free from those that don't; free cyborgs acquire the skills, tools and resources necessary to shorten the logistical train that any technology-heavy character has to deal with. Losing access to those parts, munitions and technicians that keep a cyborg in good working order and ready for action is a big fucking deal. This threat should be front and center in the minds of individuals that decide to play a cyborg character. It is exactly this issue that keeps cyborgs loyal to their masters, because otherwise they will degrade into a useless hunk of junk quickly as their power sources run out, their weapons run out and their damage accumulates past their capacity to work with or around.

All of this combines into the concept of "recycling" people, which is where (once again) the state has it over the individual. States--and, for my purposes here, I will include any group that acts as a government in any way such as corporations and clans--look upon people as resources, regardless of philosophical practices, because a state must use the people to exercise its powers and execute its duties and wise ones will place significant value in their human resources- especially if they possess expert knowledge or sought-after experience of some sort.

Therefore, states will tend towards monopolizing cyborg reconstruction as they would other forms of augmentation; furthermore, those states that have Juicer or Crazy technology will see this as a way to retain the best of their augmented operatives once that technology renders those agents sufficiently dysfunctional or non-functional. This is where the recycling idea comes from.

A cyborg, therefore, is someone sufficiently valuable for states to retain in active service when they otherwise would have died or forcibly retired; in return for this renewed life, they are permanently leashed to that aforementioned logistical train just as if they were the weapons and vehicles that they used every day. They may yet operate on a deniable basis, and they may be sent far afield in their work, but they remain leashed--enslaved--to the providers of the services and goods necessary to keep those cyborg shells (partial or full) operating as intended.

So, unlike the Juicer and the Crazy--who are both suckers--the Cyborg is a victim of circumstance. Like the other two, the real cost of his power comes is his freedom and autonomy; unlike the other two, so long as his brain is intact he can be rebuilt again and again, quickly turning a would-be Iron Man into The Man in the Iron Mask. Beware, therefore, the siren song of Steel Immortality.