The Commodification of the Inhuman
The end of the Anthropocene has occurred at various moments throughout history. Theorists argue that the Anthropocene, or the human era, will end due to our selfish and extractive processes on the earth. However, others argue that this discussion of the Anthropocene universalizes the human experience by erasing the effects of racism and colonialism by only focusing on environmentalism will be incorporating the theoretical works of Rosi Braidotti, Giorgio Agamben, and Kathryn Yusoffin describing the creation of the Inhuman. In this essay, I argue that "Chaos," a Fable by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, illustrates how bio-politics, geo-politics, and necro-politics led to the creation and commodification of the Inhuman.
Theorists argue that the Anthropocene, or the human era, will end due to our selfish and extractive processes on the earth. However, others argue that this discussion of the Anthropocene universalizes the human experience by erasing the effects of racism and colonialism by only focusing on environmentalism. Theorists like Kathryn Yusoff claim that there is a white Anthropocene, which associates the beginning of the end of the human era with the creation of the steam engine. The beginning of our carbon footprint initiated the beginning of global warming.
"Theorists like Kathryn Yusoff claim that there is a white Anthropocene, which associates the beginning of the end of the human era with the creation of the steam engine."
Contrary to white environmentalists, Yusoff claims that for Black and Brown bodies, the end of the Anthropocene began when we were deemed as disposable Inhumans. Events such as colonization, genocide, racism, and anti-immigration laws contribute to the creation of the Inhuman. In this essay, I argue that Chaos, a Fable by Rodrigo Rey Rosa illustrates how bio-politics, geo-politics, and necro-politics led to the creation and commodification of the Inhuman. I will also be incorporating the theoretical works of Rosi Braidotti, Giorgio Agamben, and Yusoff.
Bio-politics, or the state’s control over the functions and processes of life, regulates populations through biopower. Several issues related to bio-politics are reproductive rights, sterilization, scientific human trials, warfare, access to vaccinations, and immigration among many others. In the case of reproductive rights, in the mid-1950s, the first large-scale human trial of birth control was launched in a public housing project in Puerto Rico. In the newspaper article “Guinea Pigs or Pioneers? How Puerto Rican Women Were Used to Test Birth Control Pill” Theresa Vargas, states, “Puerto Rico's overcrowding and poverty made it especially attractive to biologist Gregory Pincus, who was concerned about global population control” (Vargas 2017). Despite Puerto Rico being heavily Catholic, the absence of laws against birth control, overpopulation, and poverty attracted the interest of medical researchers. As many as 1,500 women in Puerto Rico would take the drug over a year and three women would die during the trials. Despite Enovid (birth control) being priorly tested by a small sample of Massachusetts women, Puerto Rican women would be the test subjects for the large-scale trial of the effects of the birth control pill.
In addition, the Puerto Rican trials would be compared with the Tuskegee syphilis experiments in which Public Health Services researchers observed poor Black sharecroppers with syphilis in Macon County, Alabama, for decades and prevented them from receiving treatment. In the article “The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis and Public Perceptions of Biomedical Research: A Focus Group Study,” Tina Harris and Benjamin Roy Bates discuss how the primary goal of the Tuskegee syphilis experiments was not to observe the natural progression of syphilis but to develop serological testing for the U.S. commercial market. Due to the pursuit of eradicating syphilis, the market for STD testing turned into a lucrative market during the 1930s to1950s at the expense of the Inhuman.
Similarly, to the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, Guatemalans from 1946 to1948 were subject to biopolitics when they were transformed into biospecimens. In the article “From in Vivo to in Vitro: How the Guatemala STD Experiments Transformed Bodies into Biospecimens,” Kayte Spector-Bagdady and Paul Lombardo discuss how Guatemalans were subject to intentional exposure to syphilis and other STDs. Bagdady and Lombardo state “more than 1300 soldiers, commercial sex workers, prison inmates, and psychiatric patients [were intentionally exposed] to STDs without their consent or sometimes even knowledge” (Bagdady and Lombardo 248). Methods of exposure included inserting a toothpick coated in gonorrheal pus deep into the urethra or into the eyes. The syphilitic emulsion was injected into subjects’ arms or rubbed into their intentionally abraded genitals. What makes the connection between the Tuskegee and Guatemalan syphilis trials more apparent was the participation of the same medical researchers in both the Tuskegee and Guatemalan experiments.
Another example of biopolitics is the sterilization of migrant women in detention centers. In the article “Sterilization in US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE's) Detention: Ethical Failures and Systemic Injustice,” Elizabeth Ghandakly and Rachel Fabi discuss the forced sterilization of immigrant women in Irwin County Detention Center. Hysterectomies were performed on detained patients and they describe reports by numerous women who did not understand why they had received a hysterectomy (Ghandakly and Fabi 2021). The sterilization of migrant women in the detention center of Georgia accounts for one of several violations ranging from the lack of medical and mental health care, unsanitary living conditions, and the fabrication of medical records among many others. Furthermore, to silence the claims of forced sterilizations of migrant women, ICE had deported six women who contributed to the claims of forced and unconsented sterilizations. In the article “The US Deports Migrant Women Who Alleged Abuse by Georgia Doctor,” Nomaan Merchant interviews a migrant woman named Yanira who said “We are humans. We are women. We have feelings...Just because we are detained doesn’t mean we should be treated like animals,” demonstrating the in-humanization of migrant women. For the Inhuman, they are placed outside the species hierarchy. According to Braidotti, there is a species hierarchy in which the Human (those with citizenship) are placed at the top followed by companion species, animals of the market economy and labor force, and animals deemed for scientific research. The Inhuman is placed outside of this social hierarchy given how they are not welcomed or protected. Furthermore, the inhuman subject to the effects of medical research, are often denied or do not receive treatment despite being used for the advancements in science.
In the second chapter of her book The Posthuman titled “Post-Anthropocentrism: Life beyond the Species,” Rosi Braidotti demonstrates the effects biopolitics has on the inhuman. Braidotti states “The opportunistic political economy of [bio-political] capitalism induces, if not the actual erasure, at least the blurring of the distinction between the human and other species when it comes to profiting from them” (Braidotti 63). For the Inhuman, their ability to produce profit for a capitalist society is what allows them to exist within a limited space. On the other hand, those who are not able to produce profit for a capitalist society are stripped from being seen as living matter, this is when they become seen as Inhuman.
In the book Chaos, a Fable by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, the reader can witness how bio-politics led to the creation of the Inhuman. The book introduces the reader to a prodigal Greek boy named Xenophon Galanis (Xeno for short). Xeno witnesses how immigrants are subject to the effects of bio-politics when he accompanies his father Dr. Galanis to the Greek island of Leros to treat immigrants infected with meningitis. Xeno states “now the sick immigrants were being taken toward 16-a kind of large, covered pool with a ceramic floor and very high walls” (Rosa 70). This demonstrates the lack of medical attention that is placed upon immigrants. The covered pool with high walls can quite literally represent the immigrants’ grave. By being placed in this deep covered empty pool, the immigrants are without escape, forced to meet their timed death.
"The covered pool with high walls can quite literally represent the immigrants’ grave. By being placed in this deep covered empty pool, the immigrants are without escape, forced to meet their timed death."
According to theorist Giorgio Agamben in his article “Beyond Human Rights,” the concept of humans does not apply to everyone. Agamben states “Rights, in other words, are attributed to the human being only to the degree to which he or she is the immediately vanishing presupposition (and the presupposition that must never come to light as such) of the citizen” (Agamben 6).
Therefore, the treatment of immigrants is deemed justifiable since they do not hold citizenship. Immigrants and refugees are placed in this space of limbo in which they are not citizens in the country they are in and they are no longer residents of their home countries. In essence immigrants and refugees are both nationless and stateless and are unable to receive protection or rights. Furthermore, the treatment of immigrants in the book replicates the contemporary treatment that immigrants receive in various societies around the world.
Immigrant detention centers and refugee camps lack basic services such as health care, educational services, social services, and legal services. Immigrants and refugees are confined to these overcrowded and inadequate areas in which they are subject to physical abuse, psychological trauma, and diseases among other issues.
"Immigrant detention centers and refugee camps lack basic services such as health care, educational services, social services, and legal services. Immigrants and refugees are confined to these overcrowded and inadequate areas in which they are subject to physical abuse, psychological trauma, and diseases among other issues."
In addition, the act of placing these immigrants in a “covered ceramic pool with high walls” demonstrates the lack of funding that goes into caring for immigrants in various regions of the world. In a conversation Dr. Galanis has with a nurse, they state “In the middle of the floor, the shit gets mixed in with the leftovers. There is hardly any bedding. And not a single mattress…[today you’re the only doctor we have] and there are no antibiotics, no painkillers, not even aspirin” (Rosa 71). This demonstrates the unsanitary and disregard for immigrants as living matters. The immigrants are forced to eat food that has been contaminated with their feces due to the lack of bathrooms.
Their right to relieve themselves of secretion and excretion has been denied causing them to release their wastes upon the same floor that they sleep and eat on. According to the CDC, due to these immigrants suffering from meningitis and the lack of medical personnel and medicine, there is a high probability that they will die within a few hours. The last piece of evidence of biopolitics in the book Rosa is when Galanis states “They’re biological bombs… that’s what they are” (Rosa 70). This statement further strips the immigrants from being seen as living matter. They are deemed as biological weapons that will cause countless deaths. They are seen as a biological threat that needs to be confined. Due to this, they are no longer beings composed of living matter; they are simply Inhumans whose death is patiently being waited for by the nation.
For the full analysis, see the document linked below.
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