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What Would An Old Steve Martin Have Looked Like?

Steve martin.44 vs 64 What would Steve Martin have looked like if he had allowed himself to age? I found myself pondering this when he was hosting Saturday Night Live earlier this year, since alas, he has chosen plastic surgery in preference to natural ageing. You can see the outcome of his operation in the opening picture, which shows Mr. Martin at age 44 (in the movie Parenthood) and age 64, as he is now.

Now I am not entirely opposed to plastic surgery; I have some sympathy for Dolly Parton's claim that “If I see something sagging, bagging, and dragging, I’m going to nip it, tuck it, and suck it. Why should I look like an old barn yard dog if I don't have to!” But I worry about a culture that has so valourised youth that the rich and famous feel obligated to hide their actual age.

I imagine Steve Martin would have looked wonderfully distinguished at 64; instead, he looks like a slightly mauled wax visage of his younger self. Am I alone in wishing our celebrities might be encouraged to age gracefully?

Abortion vs Suicide

Where-I-End Liberals believe individuals have a right to abortion and euthanasia, while conservatives believe the state has a right to execute prisoners and wage war. It seems everyone agrees in killing, we just differ over who and how.

In a previous attempt to consider the tricky question of abortion, I tried to strike a balance between the two key camps on this issue, and suggested that since we all agree that we want to minimise the number of abortions, this should be our focus rather than attempting to outlaw abortion (which will in no way prevent abortions, but merely make them more horrific). However, there is another tack that might prove fruitful: to step back from viewing abortion in isolation, and widen our view to consider the ending of human life collectively from the perspective of relative ethics i.e. from the acceptance of difference in moral beliefs.

The centre of my case here is the claim that if one believes in a right to suicide, abortion is generally unproblematic, and that conversely opponents of abortion are also in the main against suicide. Certainly one can see that if ending one's own life is acceptable in all cases, then abortion no longer presents a moral barrier – suicide would end the life of the mother and the foetus. Under an ethical system that permitted this, abortion could be the ethical choice: if it is despair over the pregnancy which motivates the mother to kill herself, terminating just the foetus will seem like a morally acceptable outcome.

Because the majority of abortion opponents are operating within some form of Christian ethics, the converse usually holds – both suicide and abortion are abominated, because human life is afforded a sacrosanct status. However, for some reason the majority of conservative Christians in the United States do not extend this status to the condemned. Liberals object to the death penalty not because they are against killing (they generally support at least two forms of killing – abortion and euthanasia) but because of the number of innocents that are executed by the state. But conservative Christians are more likely to view justice as ratified by God (and thus not prone to the human error that in fact riddles every legal system). That the majority of those executed are both poor and black also somehow makes it of lesser import to many on the political right – even though it is nearly impossible to imagine Jesus condoning execution. In fact, this is the entire thrust of the Gospel of John, chapter 8, where Jesus says “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”.

However, in the context of both abortion and euthanasia, the position dictated by conventional Christian morality is consistent, and furthermore I would contend it is a valuable counterweight to the liberal stances on these issues, which are just as prone to inflexible moralising as their opponents. While it is not hard for most people to accept the position of the women's rights movement that access to abortion is essential to the dignity of women, nor the position of the right to die movement that access to euthanasia is essential to the dignity of humanity (after all, we allow a terminal animal to die humanely) these ethical conclusions need to be understood from a wider perspective, and balanced against a reckless disregard for life.

By defending abortion in all cases, the “pro-choice” camp risks claiming that termination of a foetus is trivial – something that denies the distressing nature of this procedure, and which is understandably upsetting to their opponents who possess an idealised image of children born solely in wedlock. There is nothing wrong with this ideal of marriage – except when it is effectively enforced on others without their consent. Christians in this regard should bear in mind that pre-marital sex is not a new phenomena, and was always already happening. As the philosopher Charles Taylor has noted, prior to the industrial revolution villagers tolerated (while still castigating) the young generations sexual exploits since knowing that a coupling could produce children was important at that time, as infant mortality was incredibly high and a barren marriage was a considerable blow to the community. The change in infant mortality rates can be seen as a justification for contraception in this regard – and Christians who oppose contraception because it “encourages pre-marital sex” are perhaps kidding themselves as to the potency of sexual desire.

In a similar vein, Christian opponents to euthanasia raise quite practical concerns as to the slippery slope implied. When the Swiss assisted suicide group Dignitas were helping the terminally ill to die, many people were in full support of what they are doing. But a fifth of those assisted in ending their life at Dignitas have no terminal condition, and this has raised wider concerns about their activities. A key anti-euthanasia argument worth considering is the idea that the financial pressure of caring for the elderly will encourage families to psychologically pressure their older relatives to die rather than becoming a burden. But at the same time, it must be acknowledged that euthanasia is already widely practised in hospitals the world over under the auspices of “pain management”, and pretending that we are not already assisting people to die is tantamount to denial.

In all of these cases of abortion and suicide the fact of the matter is that we have always already possessed the means to terminate a pregnancy (herbs were regularly used to induce abortions in ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece and China) or end one's own life (of which the possible methods are innumerable). This knowledge is neither new, nor repressible. Trying to manipulate the law to create a blanket prohibition of abortion or suicide denies the right of the individual to determine their own ethics – a freedom which no Christian can deny without going against the God-given free will which is axiomatic to almost all modern theologies. Even if the law rendered these acts illegal, they would still happen, and they would be far more undignified and horrific than if they were permitted.

Legal need not mean encouraged. Christians who wish to act as a moral counterweight against abortion and suicide must be willing to do more than campaign for laws which do nothing but brush these problems under the carpet. In the case of abortion, they must be prepared to help fund and support adoption and charitable child support – if involuntary parenthood or adoption are the desired outcomes, the supporters of these actions must be prepared to both financially and practically assist in the necessary arrangements. They will find little opposition to this course of action. In the case of euthanasia and suicide, they must be equally willing to lend support to those they wish to persuade against ending their lives. Jesus' “eleventh commandment” – that we love one another – is not met by substituting lawmaking for the duty of care.

And for the non-Christians who in stubborn opposition to their most draconian moral opponents become as blinkered and partisan as those they despise, a similar caution must be extended: one cannot claim the moral high ground by ignoring the situations of the real people caught up in these crises of life and instead focussing solely upon the battle for the law. If we are ever to move beyond the cultural impasses of abortion and suicide, it may take a willingness to abandon our faith in absolutes ratified by law, and instead to respond hospitably to the needs of those others – whether at the end of their life, a troubled midpoint, or at the mere possibility of beginning – who need our openness to a compassionate understanding of the complexity of their individual circumstances far more than they need our angry dogma.

The opening image is Where I End by vhm-alex, which I found on a desktop wallpaper site. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended, and I will take the image down if asked.

Bread & Circuses: Big Brother & Reality TV

Reality Has reality TV become the Circus Maximus of the modern age?

The Roman poet Juvenal employed the Latin phrase panis et circenses (“bread and circuses”) to express his view that the populace had given up its interest in political involvement, caring instead only that they were fed and entertained. Today, cultural critics might accuse the West of devolving into a similarly truncated interest – perhaps best expressed as “beer and reality TV”. While I have my doubts that ideals of a fully politicised electorate are even plausible, I find the “modern circuses” of reality TV a fascinating phenomenon.

One of the most successful formats is Endemol's Big Brother, which airs in seventy different countries, enjoying its greatest success in Europe where relatively loose restrictions on broadcast media mean the show frequently features nudity, sex acts, swearing and even occasional outbreaks of violence. People in the US may wonder what the fuss is about, since the US version of Big Brother has been thoroughly neutered, but the European versions represent an utterly different proposition. On the UK show, which enjoys considerable popular support and is lapped up by a gossip-hungry tabloid media, we have witnessed a wide range of altercations and general weirdness, including spontaneous naked body painting, an incident that narrowly avoided domestic abuse, and perhaps most memorably of all, the near total mental collapse of two contestants who were sealed away in a private bedsit and given the access to the camera feeds to spy on their fellow housemates.

Crucial to the show's success is the fact that the housemates involved are sealed away from all other human contact, and thus must either interrelate with the exact same group of people day in and day out (which tends to become intolerable as the weeks roll on) or enter the diary room to bitch about them – essentially to the rest of the nation. Thus, contestants are robbed of their privacy – they cannot gain any alone time in the house itself, so their private outlet becomes talking on camera to the masses. It effectively elevates gossip to a sport, and engages the audience on a personal level by having them vote (and pay) to have individuals evicted each week.

The prize that putatively motivates contestants is a large cash purse offered for the “winner”, that is, the housemate most popular with the voting audience after the unpopular housemates have been eliminated over the space of about three months. However, as Big Brother has become such a cultural phenomena in both the UK and various other countries, contestants frequently view the show as a springboard for a potential showbusiness career of some kind (usually fallaciously). What is most curious about this is the naivete of most of the contestants, who often (despite having watched the show before) expect to be treated as celebrities while they are in the house, when in fact they are likely to suffer considerable stress and emotional turmoil during their tenure, as the organisers tweak all events for maximum dramatic effect.

The parallel with the Circus Maximus may seem overly dramatic – after all, the gladiatorial contests were generally fights to the death. In fact, once interest in such fights had reached its peak in ancient Rome the demand for gladiators outstripped supply and most of the fighters (especially the popular ones) were spared from death almost all of the time. Indeed, Emperors (such as Caligula) who did not spare the popular fighters when they lost became considerably disliked as a consequence.

The stakes in a reality TV show are lower, in that one cannot actually die as a result of the game, but are still comparatively high by modern game standards: an unpopular contestant faces considerable ridicule and psychological trauma; every housemate receives mandatory counselling after leaving the Big Brother house, since the effect of having been demonised both by the skillful editing of the show's producers (who via a media lens effect inflate the quirks of contestants into more dramatic forms) and by the tabloid media which delights in baying for the blood of those housemates whose weakest moments can be used to paint them in the most hated light.

Curiously, a great many of the people who make it onto the show feel a real sense of achievement for having been selected – they are validated by having been chosen, even though in many years the housemates are selected purposefully to form something of a freak show, or at least to give the best chance of romance or conflict emerging in the course of the show's run. Each contestant is the embodiment of Andy Warhol's fifteen minutes of fame; instant celebrities created in a goldfish bowl solely for the entertainment value of watching them suffer emotional, physical and psychological stress and pain for the amusement of the audience.

In Bioethics in the Age of New Media, Joanna Zylinska turns her attention to one particular reality TV show, The Swan, and considers it from the perspective of Foucault & Agamban's notion of biopolitics, the ubiquitous process of life management which now plays a central role in our modern (Western) societies. She questions the biopolitical logic of modernity within which the “bodies and lives of others... are always already in need of a makeover”, singling out 'ugly' or misfit women (The Swan) or countries that 'are not democratic enough' (the “Iraq makeover”) as examples of biopolitics in action.

Big Brother also represents this biopolitical concept – the lives of the contestants constantly manipulated for entertainment value. But then, so were the gladiators in the Circus Maximus. The people today may have greater qualms about the death of contestants, but we are perfectly content to have other people's lives forcibly arranged, ordered, manipulated and misrepresented for entertainment. And even if we had ethical objections to what transpires (and since the participants are there voluntarily, it can be tricky to construct such arguments) it wouldn't significantly change the fact that what happens in microcosm in a show such as Big Brother happens in macrocosm all around us, every day. In a world of 24 hour news, satellite imaging and a horde of mobile phones that can deliver a video feed to an audience of millions on the internet, we are all inside a global goldfish bowl.

The Roman poet Juvenal also coined the phrase Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? – often translated as “who watches the watchers?” Between reality TV and YouTube, the answer these days seems to be: we all do. The unanswered question might be: what we are able to do beyond merely watching?

Positive Game Design (ihobo)

Over on ihobo today, a piece I've been working upon for some time which explores what would happen if we adapted positive animal training to game design:

The highest principle of positive game design (as in positive animal training) is reward not punishment. The player should thus be rewarded for their successes, but not punished for their failures... there is no reason that a game need punish players, and it is perfectly possible to design games that reward the player without punishment (although of course such games look very different from many of the videogames we usually see). In some respects, we can already see something akin to positive game design in games such as the hugely successful Animal Crossing (which has no punishments, and has already sold 10 million units on DS), or in advanced tamagotchi's such as the phenomenally successful Nintendogs (which has no punishments, and has already sold 22 million units on DS). These titles may not have been designed with positive game design as a foundational principle, but they demonstrate how successful this approach can be in appealing to a wide audience not so willing to endure punishments to enhance their rewards (as with many gamer hobbyist titles).

You can read the entire piece by clicking here - and yes, before you ask, it was influenced by Boomer!

Bioethics in the Age of New Media

Bioethics in the Age of New Media Until recently, the term “bioethics” had been used solely to denote ethical issues within the field of medicine, a practice which (Ivan Illich not withstanding) has largely escaped criticism. In Joanna Zylinska's radical and challenging new work Bioethics in the Age of New Media, the idea that bioethics should be the sole concern of doctors comes under considerable scrutiny. Moving far beyond the concept of medical bioethics, Zylinska explores the relationship between human, animal and technology in fresh and engrossing new ways.

The goal of this book is to propose an alternative framework for thinking about bioethics, constructed through the interplay of media studies and philosophy. The main focus of the content is an exploration of various conflicting moral positions concerning human and non-human life, and the various possible technological transformations therein. Sadly, the book is slow in starting because of the necessary burden of recapitulating the conventional perceptions of bioethics (which is to say, medical ethics). This makes for a rather dull opening, but once the foundations have been laid, Zylinska moves into increasingly fascinating territory.

The alternative bioethics that Zylinska proposes is rooted in the work of a number of key twentieth century philosophers, including the concept of alterity (“Otherness” or difference) considered by Emmanuel Levinas, and the notion of biopolitics explored by Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agambens. A grounding in this background material is not necessary for understanding Bioethics in the Age of New Media, and indeed it serves as an extensive introduction to several pivotal ideas in recent philosophical thought (although this is far from an introductory text to philosophy, and will present a considerable a challenge to anyone who has not tackled a work of this kind previously).

From Levinas, Zylinska examines ethics from outside of its usual presentation as a normative, humanist conception, comprised of universal rules (following a tradition rooted in Kant). The Levinas-inspired position on morality is effectively an ethics of hospitality, taking responsibility for the “infinite alterity” of the other. To put this another way, according to Levinas the fundamental ethical question emerges when we meet someone that is not us, and that question concerns how we will react: with violence, or with hospitality? However, whereas Levinas comes at this issue solely from the perspective of the human having a monopoly on ethics, Zylinska attempts to push beyond the assumption of “the human” entirely. Her goal is not some kind of reconstructed animal rights agenda, but rather to deconstruct the underlying assumptions of our concepts of “human”, “animal” and “machine” (a perspective that owes a debt to Donna Haraway) thus interrogating the assumption of a privileged position for our species. This allows her to bear on issues such as genetic engineering with an extremely fresh point of view.

In addition, the notion of biopolitics forms a key concept in the arguments that Zylinska explores. Zylinska claims one of the vectors of the twentieth century was an increasing degree of life management – from the brutality of the labour camp to the “democratisation” of countries, the political machinery of nations are pursuing vast (and often unstated) agendas of life control, and this includes the life management of the citizenry with respect to desirable lifestyles (such as not smoking, eating balanced diets, assumptions of appearance etc.) Rather than pre-supopose that this life management is necessarily wrong or bad, Zylinska recognises that the political organisation of populations will always be conducting this kind of life management, and that it is from this that both dominion and freedom result. Thus, biopolitics is examined as an inescapable background to life as a citizen within a nation, a network of relations and forces that occurs both between the State and the individual, and between the individuals themselves.

Four essays (three of which are grouped as the second half of the book, “Bioethics in Action”) constitute the core of what Zylinska is exploring, and are considerably more engaging than the necessary but slightly tedious prefatory materials. The topics explored include the role of narcissism in blogging, the biopolitics of extreme makeover television shows, the effects of branding DNA as “the secret of life” and the ethical dimensions of what is called “bioart” (the use of biological materials as an artistic medium). Each examination is highly engaging, and leaves the reader with much to think about. There is little pre-assumed moralism behind Zylinska's discussions; indeed she expressly calls for “a clearly articulated ethical supplement to counteract anti-ethical moralism and profit-driven economism”. It is this project which clearly has engaged Zylinska's concern and imagination.

While media studies has certainly taken a shine to so-called New Media (including, but not restricted to “Web 2.0” i.e. community content and social networking), this book is perhaps the first attempt to take on this domain from a philosophical perspective. In looking at the phenomena of blogging, Zylinska conducts a highly revealing dissection of existing reactions to an activity which occupies an uncomfortable position for many people, being both too public (anyone can read your personal dirty laundry) and simultaneously not public enough (most blogs are read by no-one, and disappear into the infinite abyss of the internet). The criticism that blogging can be reduced to mere narcissism is both accepted and rejected – yes, narcissism does underlie the act of writing a blog, yet there is no reason to presume that this is necessarily negative. Indeed, cannot one claim that narcissism is an emotional root to the work of most artists? Following Derrida, Zylinska suggests that there are “good” and “bad” narcissisms, and that narcissism might even be an inevitable and necessary condition for sociality.

Her analysis of “extreme makeover” TV shows and in particular The Swan, which combines elements of both the freak show and the beauty pageant, is one of the most insightful pieces in the book. In reality TV, biopolitics – the ubiquitous process of life management – is packaged as entertainment. Zylinska suggests that, contrary to the mythology that the show's makers deploy, the viewers of such a show glean much of their enjoyment from the branding of the contestants as “abnormal”, thus reassuring the viewer of their normalcy. But far from being unequivocally hostile to what The Swan is doing, she finds within it aspects both terrible and promising. The concentration camp fascism of the reality TV show “training camp” is chillingly compared to real “zones of indistinction” such as the Guantánamo bay detention centre, but at the same time she seems to believe that such shows have the possibility of exploring the ethical ambivalence of the kinship between humans, animals and machines (the women, having been altered by plastic surgery, bearing the artifacts of machinery upon them and being, in effect “cyborgs” of some kind). She finds that the show forecloses on this potential, but still acknowledges that there was some potentiality to be explored.

Although not intended as a work of philosophy of science, the chapter discussing how the term “the secret of life” came to be applied to DNA and research into the genome is one of the more penetrating critiques of the interface between science and the wider world that have been published in recent years. Studiously researched, she catalogues how the trope of “cracking the secret of life” was used to reposition biology (previously seen as somehow inferior to the mathematically-grounded physical sciences) as a matter of serious importance. From this “rebranding” stems a wide range of modern biotechnological fields, almost all of which have not yet come under serious critical scrutiny from the philosophical community. Zylinska argues compellingly that having allowed the “secret of life” gloss to be applied to genetics, and from there, to allow genetics to obscure the realities of life in favour of an information theoretical slant that elides precisely what life means to most of us, the question of what life is, should be, or could be, has been lost in favour of a glorification of an imperialistic biopolitics, the consequences of which could be dire if not addressed thoughtfully.

Finally, Zylinska explores the field of bioart with a critical eye, and while she concedes that some work in this arena has been thought provoking, she accuses many of the artists of falling into didactic, moralising, deterministic and excessively pro-technological stances which ultimately undermine the credibility of bioart as a medium. However, she identifies a few interesting cases, and in particular expresses admiration for the work of Stelarc (an artist perhaps best known for grafting a cell-cultivated ear onto his left arm), whom she notes considers technology “first of all an environment... rather than merely an object”. This perspective clearly resonates with Zylinska, but on the whole the chapter on bioart serves as more of a media studies review than a philosophical enquiry. This need not be a deficiency of the chapter, but it rests in a slightly uneasy space in the wake of the essays that have preceded it.

This, on the whole, is the principle problem with Bioethics in the Age of New Media: the individual pieces from the latter part of the book are all magnificently compelling and leave the reader with much to think about, but in terms of the overall goal of generating an alternative framework of bioethics the individual chapters fail to cohere into a tangible whole. It is not that Zylinska fails in her goals – rather, it is that this book can only begin to scratch the surface of the challenge that is being mounted here. It is perhaps impossible for one lone individual to achieve the outcome that has been posited. However, I will not criticise Zylinska for not attaining the impossible – it is surely the work of many individuals to re-envisage bioethics. As a multi-faceted signpost to this emerging and ongoing ethical project, this book warrants considerable praise.

Bioethics in the Age of New Media by Joanna Zylinska is published by MIT Press, ISBN 978-0-262-24056-7.

For full disclosure I wish to note that the cover of the hardback first edition carries an endorsement by me; I was invited by MIT to read the book, and offer an endorsement. After reading the book, I was happy to do so. You can read the endorsement on the Amazon page for the book.

Books vs Internet

Ebooks We tend to look at the internet as an entirely new phenomena, but isn't it simply an accelerated  successor to books and letters? Following in the theme that we were always already cyborgs, what, other than the speed of response and the sheer volume of text now being generated, differentiates the internet from the world of print and writing that proceeded it?

I have been wondering for some time about the frequency of my internet use... I am constantly looking things up, often via the Wikipedia. I have severe questions about the epistemological validity of the Wikipedia, which is to say, I believe its claims at presenting "knowledge" are even weaker than these claims usually are, but I still use it. I use it as a source of trivia - to see what the internet geeks collectively think. Some information (precisely that information one might need in a "pub quiz") is well provided for... much is dreadfully presented, confused, or just plain incorrect. But it still serves as a useful point of revision, even if I often suspect it's content.

Before I could google a topic and find a wiki entry, I turned to my reference books - encyclopedias and dictionaries, specialist references and technical manuals. I still prefer to do so. But I can only do this from within reach of my bookcases - with an iphone in my pocket I can look up something on the internet from practically anywhere. The reliability of the information is certainly lower on the internet, but the ubiquity of access is phenomenal. (And to be fair, my reference books are also often in error - particularly on subjects with a high rate-of-change, such as a great many scientific fields, where knowledge is not so much "revealed" as it is "constructed", not to mention the fluid national borders of geography).

In his 1984 essay Hypomnemata, Michel Foucault comments that the arrival of notebooks in Plato's time were as disruptive then as the arrival of the computer has been now - he sees the ancient Greeks as using these notebooks as external memory, and as a means of building a relationship with oneself. Joanna Zylinska sees this same theme in the modern blog.

We don't tend to see the person with a notebook as a cyborg, yet it is easy to see the person with an iphone as something of a cyborg (and even easier if we imagine implanting an iphone)... the science fiction narratives we have encountered presuppose that the cyborg's technology must be electronic in nature, and that it must become one with the flesh. But there is no need for it to be this way. The person with a notebook is also a cyborg of a kind... who they are, what they can be is radically altered by their interaction with technology, as it was for Plato.

Thus, the internet can be seen as a step along a path that began with language, written language, and eventually print media. Nothing the internet allows us to do was impossible previously - even virtual worlds - it just took far longer before the computer. We've had six millenia of writing, and nearly fifteen hundred years of printing. For how long, I wonder, will the internet serve as the backdrop to a technological era?

I'm uncertain how to attribute the opening image, it may be a book cover commissioned by Brian Judd. As ever no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down at the lawful copyright holder's request.

BrainHex: How Do You Play Videogames?

BrainHex Cross-posted from; please use the ihobo post for comments - thank you!

International Hobo is proud to announce the launch of its new audience model and player survey, BrainHex. This model is the culmination of several years of work, examining data from previous surveys and comparing case studies to the latest neurobiological research.

You can take the BrainHex test yourself and learn about how your brain responds to videogames, while helping us further our research into how and why people play games.

You can also go straight to the BrainHex site and learn about the different classes in this new player satisfaction model.

Many thanks to everyone who participated in the alpha and beta testing of the model, and to everyone who takes the test and contributes to this new study.

Please feel free to pass the test link on to anyone who might be interested! Thank you!

Always Already Cyborgs

Cyborg futures We have a tendency to think of cyborgs as a pure science fiction concept – a thing to come. But ever since Donna Haraway published her Cyborg Manifesto in 1985, a whole new perspective on cybernetic organisms has emerged: we were always already cyborgs.

In her seminal postmodern feminist essay, Haraway states: “We are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs.” The claim being made is that the distinctions we make between our biological matter and the technological world in which we live are largely artificial, or even contrived. Following in this vein, Professor of Architecture Andrew Ballantyne writes:

Just as for the hen, the nest and the eggshell are machines – one made internally in the body, the other made externally – so our houses are machines that help us to live, and we are parts of the mechanism that allow our houses to live. We are always already cyborgs. It is a matter of indifference under this description whether the parts of the machine are permanently connected (naturally developed within the body, or surgically implanted) or whether we just connect with them when we need them (as tools, casings, clothings, buildings).

The cultural theorist Joanna Zylinska links this train of thought to the work of the philosopher Bernard Stiegler, who reassessed the early palaeontological narratives and presented a new view of the history of early humans as “always already technological... emerging in-relation-to, and in-difference-with, his tools”. She notes: “The human is thus for Stiegler always already technological: he is co-constituted with and through technology (a flint, say) and depends on... "non-living organs" for his survival.”

From this foundation, Zylinska takes a bold step: she asks us to consider “what if the cyborg rather than the human had been adopted as [bioethics'] foundation? Or, to put it another way, what would a bioethics for humans, animals and machines look like?”

Welcome to the bioethics mini-campaign.

Next Tuesday I'll be running a review of Zylinska's new book Bioethics in the Age of New Media (which I was invited to endorse, and after reading it was delighted to do so), and later I'll be following this with a special dialogue with the author herself. Zylinska's work forms the Rosetta stone for this ethical adventure; her call for a new way of thinking about both life and the ethics of life will serve as inspiration for the pieces that follow, and I shall be riffing off her ideas while simultaneously working through my backlog of ethical topics including explorations of the ethical dimensions of reality TV, plastic surgery, and an entirely new look at the ever-inflammatory topic of abortion.

I hope you enjoy the “mini-campaign”, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and considering your arguments in the comments over the weeks to come.

The opening image is Cyborg Futures by crescentsi, which I found here, part of his Flickr photostream. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.