Bill Hutchison, English, University of Chicago

“The Wind-Up Bird: Pigeons, Drones, and Biomilitarism”

This paper charts a particular type of biopolitical power that I call “biomilitarization.” I borrow the term from one of its earliest users, experimental psychologist Robert Lubow. In 1965, Lubow founded Behavior Systems: an institute for the development of advanced techniques in training animals for military applications. I reclaim the term from Lubow’s practical affirmation in order to critique evolving military technologies. Biomilitarization, I propose, seeks to perfect the biological by excising the biological: it is a process by which life is continuously refined so as to exercise military power. I offer one narrative of this process, from pigeon to drone.

My case-study falls into two parts. The first examines the accomplished arc that reaches from pigeon to drone. The second examines the ongoing project of excising the drone’s biological remnant. The pigeon is a highly plastic animal molded by centuries of human intervention. I will trace a lineage from the carrier pigeon to the surveillance pigeon to the “war in the air” to increasing deployment of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, in military applications. Current problems with drones are primarily with biological components – remote human pilots – or issues related to those biological components, such as a need for reliable communication networks that connect drones to pilots. The response is an uptick in research and development on autonomous, self-regulating drones, the next step in a process of biomilitarization in which the ideal state of life is reached through total elimination of the biological.

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