Anyone considering Ihering’s adage that the Roman Empire conquered the world for the third time with law, after earlier military and religious victories , might notice that Christianity, like the Law, traditionally places responsibility for salvation on the individuated self. Far from being the only Empire to do so, this slave-society was functionally and narcissistically dependent on the separation of wealth from the work that created it, distributing power through a monopoly on individual and corporate identity, respectively, Civitas and Collegia.
Law has always been a post-human project, even before it was recognised as humanist. Animal, Earth, and Corporate rights attest to this, although it’s in libertarian relationships to law that some of the difficulties pertaining to the legal ramifications of cyborgs are most visibly being tested, concerning objectives such as self-determination, autonomy, privacy, consent, and even the intersubjectivity of experience.
Selfhood is still the normative unit of justice, particularly for the powerless. No individuals were convicted for the 2008 financial crisis, whereas consequently out-of-work mothers were given prison time for stealing food. To quote Leo Bersani, “The self is a practical convenience; promoted to the status of an ethnical ideal, it is a sanction for violence” . Bersani was examining whether sexual submission had wrongly been devalued by Reaganite society due to its perceived relinquishment of self-determination, and whether America felt more threatened by gay plurality than homosexuality as such. The mutability of selfhood, from ancient Shreni guild systems, to Roman collegia, to modern Corporate Personhood, has long been stringently policed.
To distinguish “cyborg” from “body”, it might be possible to say that, while a body is composed of cells, any “cell” has to belong to more than one cyborg, before it is the cell of any cyborg at all. If the defendant is a body, then the law might expect total dominion over that body. But to conceptualise the defendant as a cyborg cell is to recognise that the law only ever holds a stake in the defendant, never full control. The total incarceration of a guilty “self” is an abomination because it removes that cell from every cyborg that it is part of, which all suffer as a result. Legal deliberation might attempt moderation, but the innocent family is still punished for the incarceration of a criminalised member.
Sarah Schulman has recently suggested a queering of conventional victim/perpetrator binaries in order to identify a specific kind of power abuse, where the powerful party masks their own abuses by claiming victimhood. As cyborgian split loyalties bring national law into conflict with corporate interests, legislatures may find their dominion over the defendant increasingly challenged, necessitating a wider view of the defendant as a being predicated on multiple cyborg structures.
A Hundred Cyborgs, #82 by Samuel Thomson, a part of All-Comers April.
Check out the new ebook edition of The Virtuous Cyborg!