Why Cyborg Pride?

Why Cyborg Pride?

We know what gay pride or national pride is, but what is cyborg pride and why is it needed?  Before we can answer this question, perhaps we need to understand better what a cyborg is.  A cyborg was originally conceived to be a cybernetic organism, but I argue that the modern definition necessarily includes nearly all modifications, not just cybernetic ones, and in some cases, none at all.  And that is where the controversy begins.

 

The history of cyborgs is contemporaneous with the history of humankind.  That moment we evolved our daily existence to include tools, clothing, and body modifications was the same moment we became cyborgs.  We adapted ourselves to enhance and embellish our bodies because the ones we were born with proved insufficient to live as productive and happy humans.  Humans have become so closely associated with clothing that to see a naked one is often unusual.  And so it goes with performing work with tools or assisting our bodies with eye glasses, dentures, hearing aids, orthopedic shoes, and so on.  The human of today would be alien to our ancestors because of our dependence, physical and cultural integration with our implements, and wear.  And it is this adaptive gap between us-as-humans and them-as-humans that I believe is what makes us cyborgs.  The gap can also exist between ourselves and our contemporaries and our descendants.  Indeed, this cyborg gap has as much to do with identity as it does with any sort of physical difference.

 

“You are abnormal, doing unnatural things that normal humans would never do.”  This is the dangerous logic of people who lack tolerance.  The words “normal,” “natural,” and “human” are notoriously, arbitrarily self-defined and have long been used to justify the persecution of anybody different or non-conforming.  Disappointingly, cyborgs can expect a history and future marred by ignorance, fear, prejudice, and violence; but presently, I am observing a bright moment in cyborg history—a time when more of us are recognizing ourselves as cyborgs and embracing the cyborg identity.

 

I believe the moment began when Oscar Pistorius began to win races and the world became aware of a “disabled” man who could run faster than most people with “normal” legs.  Forcing mainstream culture to re-consider the definition of “disability” and “normal” will be central to the cyborg community.  Already, the discourse includes “super-ability,” “performance enhancement,” unfairness and cheating.  It’s insightful how the mainstream culture copes with disability.  It’s not cheating if you’re “handicapped”, but if you’re better than “normal,” than your modification is “unfair.”

 

Unfortunately, all the definitions impacting the cyborg community are arbitrary.  Why is it unfair to run with Cheetah prosthetic legs but it’s okay to swim with “shark skin” suits or shoot rifles with scopes, enhancing your vision?  Indeed, the very definition of “male” and “female” continues to mire competitive sports in controversy as we are forced to evaluate drugs and hormones that blur the lines of what American culture used to think was an obvious gender classification.

 

In fact, drugs, hormones, dietary supplements, and pharmacognosy may well be the gateway through which most of us experience cyborgization.  And for those of us who regularly consume caffeine, Adderall, Viagra, and the like, we may not even recognize how open to performance enhancement we already are.  Unfortunately, many communities are strongly opposed to enhancement such as professional sports where it is known as “doping.”  I believe that Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, and A-rod are “pharmaborgs” and that our cultural fascination with extreme sports will ultimately provide an arena for modified and enhanced humans.  But in the meantime, athletes will continue to undergo the most rigorous and invasive testing we have for determining what is a “normal” male or female, for as long as arbitrary normalcy and gender matters.  The irony is, that there is nothing normal about people who are able to compete in world-class athletics.  That’s what makes such competitions interesting, isn’t it?

 

If there is any question that people are afraid or prejudiced against cyborgs, we need to consider how we treat the “disabled” today, how we feel about athletes and co-workers who “cheat”, and the rapid cultural rejection and grassroots prohibition of Google Glass.  Imagine how intense the rejection of cyborgs will become when people begin to feel like they are losing their jobs to more capable co-workers and applicants better equipped to perform specific tasks and duties.  Already, many are feeling competition from automation, but I believe perceived competition from super-enabled humans (whether they are or not) will be a cultural tipping point.  Have you ever been discriminated for being something you’re not?  Anyone who looks or acts like a cyborg—whatever that is—will face some risk of discrimination.

 

Because I anticipate this tipping point, I want to get ahead of the discrimination resulting from ignorance and fear and create a pride festival to support the cyborg community, their friends and families.  While some of us will become cyborgs intentionally, there are many who will become modified, enhanced, or augmented due to war, accident, illness, disease, or congenital “defect”.  These people did not choose to become cyborgs, yet they will likely experience the discrimination faced by the whole community.  Furthermore, the issue of “choice” is not one that the LGBT community has to grapple with, but it is one that the cyborg community must resolve because many of us make the decision for reasons including professional, personal, religious, stylistic, aesthetic, and political—many of which are protected forms of expression.

 

So if any type of body modification counts, including clothing, and tool usage, who’s not a cyborg?  Technically, we are all cyborgs, but practically, some of our cyborgization has been culturally mainstreamed enough that it’s not negatively impactful.  It’s when mods make you feel like you belong to a sub-culture—whether willingly or not—that’s when you are most likely to understand and appreciate the cyborg identity.  These cyborg sub-cultures or communities of modification exist all around us for support and education—breast cancer survivors, amputees, transplant recipients, transgender, body mod’ers, body hackers, transhumanists, transgender, and more.

 

Interestingly, some cyborg purists are skeptical of my philosophy of inclusion, but I’m concerned that their desire to define purity (of percentages thereof) are as dangerous as all of the blood politics we have faced so far in an effort to identify how Black or Jewish one was.  I’d rather go the other way.  If you want to claim your cyborg identity, then our community will accept you as you are.  When you go to a gay pride event you are not stopped and questioned–Are you gay?  How gay are you?  What makes you gay?  What was the last gay thing you did?  Of course not, and we will not interrogate you either.
If you are interested in cyborg pride, join Borgfest and help us create the world’s first pride event for cyborgs.  I’ll also be moderating a panel at Bodyhacking Con on the topic of cyborg pride (Feb 21 4:15).

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Richard MacKinnon

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