A reconfiguration of power has been in process for some time and is now rapidly emerging as part of a medical-political-economic institutionalised complex that I will refer to as biopower.
The current lockdowns and quarantine travel measures are only a foretaste of what is to come once new regimes of biopower become fully established. Biopower is now knocking on our doors and gaining entry and dominion over the whole domain of personal sovereignty.
What we are seeing unfold – after the ‘trigger’ of COVID-19 was pulled – is a radical alteration of legal and power narratives that control and categorise life and death. With the “pandemic landscape” now being formed,1 we are witness to a post-sovereign world where biopolitics legitimises a network of socialising regimes from biocapitalism to biosecurity.
The World Economic Forum’s Klaus Schwab says these “COVID times” are “our defining moment” and that “we will be dealing with its fallout for years, and many things will change forever.” In the pages of his book The Great Reset, he brazenly declares the coming “economic disruption of monumental proportions, creating a dangerous and volatile period on multiple fronts – politically, socially, geopolitically – raising deep concerns about the environment and also extending the reach of technology into our lives.” We are told that life for many of us is “unravelling at alarming speed.”2
I contend that we shall see newly defined, and pervasively employed, forms of biopower in the age of this ‘Great Reset’.
The French philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault is credited with coining the term biopower in his work in the mid-to-late 1970s. Foucault traced the development and application of power to the rise of “disciplinary” measures and institutions set up by governments to regulate populations in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries.
An array of “corrective institutions” started spreading across the social field – asylums, prisons, factories, schools, hospitals, universities, etc. – each serving to inculcate a mode of human conduct and consciousness.
Above these socialising institutions stood the Sovereign (the Monarch) which later became the State. According to Foucault, the classical privilege of sovereign power is the “right to take life or let live.” It was the model codified in classical politics and remained essentially unaltered during the transition from traditional sovereign power (monarchical) to modern State power.
“For Foucault, biopower is a technology of power for managing humans in large groups; the distinctive quality of this political technology is that it allows for the control of entire populations,” notes the scholar Mark Kelly.3
Foucault’s description of disciplinary power as exercised by institutions is again relevant to what is happening now. We see a pervasive, fluid, almost free-floating, administration of power – on the State and global levels – to control societies in the post-sovereign era. Welcome to a new age of biopower.
Producing what Foucault called “docile bodies” (the masses of people) – the basic unit of disciplinary power – is now the purview of modern States. The modern human condition is such that the individual is not the object but rather the subject of biopower.
Within the context of a biological threat, the subsequent ‘pandemic’ is establishing a social-political engineered construct – the ‘new normal’ – for human society. This overly hyped ‘new normal’ is being enacted by a series of measures granting biopower authority over the individual and the collective body. In short, biopower exercises control over the administration of life.
Biopower over the human body means the State has the legal right to place individuals under surveillance and punish by incarceration. We have seen this in numerous cases as in the 28-year-old Perth woman who broke the Western Australian quarantine rules and was handed a six-month prison sentence.4 The form of biopower exercised under the pandemic ‘state of emergency’ is concerned with mapping all of life – social, political, and economic.
Biopower has come into existence today via the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It utilises a language of ‘health risks’ for intervention and intrusion in private lives. This includes jurisdiction to enter a person’s house without permission to forcibly remove people either considered a health risk or who are failing to ‘obey’ quarantine measures.
Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Health Emergencies Program, on 30 March 2020 stated that authorities might have to enter people’s homes to remove suspected family members to an “isolated designated facility.” Such measures have now been enacted into law. For example, under the New Zealand state of emergency, police officers now have the power to enter homes to enforce self-isolation rules.5 In a similar move, the Australian State of Victoria deployed 2,000 military personnel to enforce what they refer to as “virus-control measures.”6
In an ironic twist, citizens opposing such draconian measures are negatively labelled “sovereign citizens.” The term sovereign individual used to mean the moral or natural right of a person to have bodily integrity and maintain exclusive control of their own body and life. Here we see a deliberate twisting of language to support and enforce the regimes of biopower.
Biopower refers to a range of strategies backed by “specialised medical knowledge” and adopted by the State along with a supporting network of institutions, agencies, and non-State actors. One disturbing trend is the empowerment of private military actors and ‘authorised officers’ to enforce new public health directions.7 In the future, these officers might be given police-level powers to impose State directives such as searching homes and cars without a warrant (for example, such officers could detain and imprison someone they believe represents a health ‘threat’). This emerging state of affairs has already led to many reports of overreach and overzealous policing (especially in the State of Victoria, Australia).
Continuous localised lockdowns, track-and-trace impositions, constant surveillance, the loss of the right to protest, and other such measures are now becoming established in the ‘new normal’ regime of biopower exercised by States across the world. These forms of control and regulation are without precedent and serve to increasingly affect the psychological well-being of citizens.
Biopower is also seen in the regulation of social life (mask-wearing, social distancing, ‘dobbing in’ and reporting violations of rules, etc.), and the self-policing of the mental landscape (right thinking, self-censorship).
Severe financial penalties are yet another way biopower will intrude into everyday life, for example, the new coronavirus rules enacted in the Australian State of Victoria in early October. ‘Illegal gatherings’ such as bringing people into a household above the limit set by the State, or more than five people meeting in a local park (even from the same family), can attract a $5,000 fine per breach.
The new field of biopolitics binds the individual and the collective into a strengthening mix of the technological, the political, the legal, and the financial. Modern biopolitics ties into the global restructuring of power (‘The Great Reset’ – covered in New Dawn Special Issue Vol 14 No 5) and new regimes rendered into existence in response to the pandemic emergency.
We are being lined up for a twenty-first century medical totalitarianism. Biopower and biopolitics, along with biocapital and biosecurity, combining to create a totalised and singular form of power.
In terms of collective humanity, the biopoliticising of the human race is developing new forms of population management. To be clear, the biopolitical agenda is the control of societies and the rendering of human life as “docile bodies” that do not resist intervention. To frame human life under a regime of total biopolitical power, State authorities seek to render conscious life under its rule. What we ‘think’ and who we are in the physical sense is being brought under State jurisdiction. The State automatically assumes the power to dictate our thinking from birth.
From this perspective, we see why the current regime of censorship (in particular, across the internet where information can freely circulate across the globe) and curtailing of free speech has been so dominant and heavy-handed. Total power requires total domination – external control over an individual’s body and their thought processes – mental (conditioning, programming) and biological (health treatment, vaccination).
The biopolitical agenda incorporates non-State bodies to enact strategies – most notably philanthropic organisations, social pressure groups, NGOs, and assorted globalist organisations. This field extends from annual health check-ups, health insurance, and preventive medicine to incorporate pandemic measures of random testing, forced isolation, and vaccination.
All human life is ‘biopoliticised’. There is no refuge from its reach when both the exterior and interior life of an individual falls under the jurisdiction of total State control. A person’s body, health, and happiness – even their right as an ‘individual sovereign self’ – is to be subsumed into the realm of authoritarian biopower.
Biopower and biopolitics is a dangerous mix of narratives based upon a monopoly of so-called ‘scientific knowledge’. In this sense, biopolitics harnesses ‘science’ and an array of ‘experts’ to formulate ‘evidence’ that justifies policymaking.
Non-State bodies play a key role in the biopolitical agenda, especially with the rise of the pharmaceutical industry, global healthcare strategies, and tech giants. The field of biocapitalism covers the strategies and policies that develop and maximise profits for pharmaceutical markets and other healthcare interventions.
With COVID-19, the administration of biocapital policies upon the majority of the world’s population is technologically feasible in ways not possible in the past. This should give every thinking person cause for concern. It is now urgent that we develop conceptual tools for critically analysing how biopolitics will play out in relation to biocapital. This is the merger of health (and health economics) with the data of surveillance capitalism.
With the accelerating expansion of datasets – data tracing and tracking – we see a burgeoning rise of surveillance capitalism.8 Contact-tracing applications developed by the likes of Google and Apple are gathering colossal amounts of new data, adding to the escalating data supply chains. Healthcare and biomedical data collection is doubling every 12-14 months. Back in 2012, a Ponemon Institute study found that the healthcare industry utilised 30% of all the digital data storage in the world.9 Imagine how much that figure has increased in the intervening years. The move to digital has been rapid over the past decade; for example, Electronic Healthcare Records (EHR) adoption rates for US hospitals rose from 10 to 90% in that time.10 The range of medical wearables on the market is extensive and growing. It is now possible to monitor most aspects of an individual’s health. It is estimated that remote patient monitoring and health trackers will generate $20 billion annually by 2023.11
Analysis of digital healthcare data and its use for predictive analytics is profoundly changing the way patients are managed as health wearables are part of patients’ treatment plans. Patient health data will heavily influence the business models of the biocapital market. This data will only increase from the track & trace apps that most governments are pushing upon their populations.
Biocapitalism is firmly embedded in the portfolio expansion of the tech giants. A cursory glance at the list of projects owned or invested in by the FAMGA (Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Apple) tech giants reveals an unsettling array of healthcare projects – medical patient databases, hospital research data, pharmacy retail collaborations, AI research facilities, and insurance. In autumn 2018, Google’s parent company Alphabet invested $375 million in Oscar Health, a ‘next-generation’ health insurance company.12 According to CEO Oscar Health, it aims to manage people’s health care from a reinvented and rebuilt technological perspective.13
Biocapitalism is wedded to biopolitics. In March 2020, the UK government’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, signed an agreement to provide legal backing for the National Health Service (NHS) which sets aside its duty of confidentiality in data-sharing arrangements. The so-called ‘Covid-19 Purpose’ is a new data-sharing agreement for NHS organisations and general medical practitioners (GPs) to share patient data with any organisation they choose, as long as it’s for the purpose of “fighting the coronavirus outbreak.”14
The pharmaceutical industry is also clearly at the forefront of biocapitalism. Big Pharma will make huge profits from the current pandemic situation, especially from vaccination. Big Pharma’s warning to governments that they need substantial upfront funding – if vaccines and testing are to be rolled out faster – has been heeded.15 Most COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing costs are expected to be offset by government funding. One example is pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca which reached agreement with Europe’s Inclusive Vaccines Alliance (IVA) to supply up to 400 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine. AstraZeneca also completed similar agreements with the UK, US, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, for 700 million doses. The Australian government, which is aiming for a 95% vaccination rate, has secured 85 million doses of a vaccine (34 million from AstraZeneca and 51 million from CSL, Queensland), although only having a population of 25 million. AstraZeneca has agreed on a license with the Serum Institute of India for the supply of an additional one billion doses. This is one company out of many, and this is likely the first vaccine out of many more to come.
In a 2020 report,16 public ‘health expert’ Tony Fauci and epidemiologist David Morens claimed that humanity has “entered a pandemic era.” The report states that the current pandemic is only the first of more to come and we are likely to see an accelerating rate of future outbreaks in the years ahead.17 What this indicates is that the future of vaccine rollouts must be secured alongside a continuation of emergency powers.
A consequence of lockdowns is the huge economic bombshell for struggling business. Many businesses, particularly in the middle-to-small scale, are on the cusp of collapse, or have folded. Larger players are likely to seek State financial intervention. Some major corporate enterprises – especially if they are seen as providing critical supplies or services – might come under the control of the State. A trajectory that mimics China’s State control of the commercial sector.
The changing biopolitical arena of the 21st century, with its biocapitalist economic agenda, implies a rising need for biosecurity.
It is no surprise that State institutions are determined to preserve a monopoly over the use of force to ensure biosecurity of the population.
On 18March 2020, the Governor-General of Australia declared that a ‘human biosecurity emergency’ existed. This declaration gave the Minister for Health unprecedented power to issue any requirement or direction under the Biosecurity Act 2015.
For example, during the human biosecurity emergency period, the Health Minister may issue any direction to any person and determine any requirement the State considers is necessary to prevent or control the spread of COVID-19 in Australia. Each and all individuals must comply with the emergency requirements. Any person found engaging in conduct that “contravenes a requirement or a direction” can face a maximum penalty of imprisonment for five years and/or a fine of 300 penalty units ($63,000).18
These new powers under the Biosecurity Act 2015 were quickly put into effect. In July, 3,000 people living in public housing tower blocks in Melbourne were confined to a police-guard lockdown without prior warning. Food parcels were left on doorsteps for the most vulnerable tenants.
In the new biosecurity regime, no-one is granted liberty unless they succumb to the new rules of ‘immunity’ jurisdiction, likely to include an ‘immunity passport’. This will create reconfigured spaces of mobility and access in which travel, public and social events, and State services, may be closed to those who, without verified biosecure immunity, are persona non grata.
Travel within nations and across international boundaries will become possible only through a highly regulated architecture of surveillance and on-body tracking. If a person does not submit live bio-data, travel is likely to be disallowed or highly curtailed. The early signs of this exercise of biosecurity is already emerging in States such as Singapore which is tagging citizens for bio-surveillance.19
The danger is these draconian strategies silence and stifle life for people, including basic rights to free speech and protest. The threat and fear of being ‘cut off’ or punished for noncompliance place us on course for an unhealthy relationship with power. Biosecurity measures become the instruments of a biopowered authoritarian dictatorship operating through the façade of health and safety. Human biological life is merged with the physical-digital structures of State biopower.
We move perilously toward a future in which, in the words of one CEO, “Humans are biohazards, machines are not.”20 The citizen is subjected to external authority in ways never before possible. Humans are targeted as objects – or ‘units’ – to be controlled, both our bodies and minds – the new colonies to be conquered.
Does this mean that the only way to escape is renouncing one’s citizenship – to be a ‘non-citizen’? Could stateless places exist in the contemporary world? Will this trigger the rise of new people’s ‘republics’? In light of recent events, we are compelled to ask – what is an authentic human? Is it possible to live authentically when subjected to the external power regimes of authority that deny a person individual sovereignty?
We should recognise there exists the ‘biopower’ of the human collective that stands in opposition to top-down State control. As individuals, we have our very real human power.
Biopolitics is fast being used to turn us into the “docile bodies” for the ‘Great Reset’ agenda and its technocratic future. It is not an overstatement that the future of humanity is on the table. How the next years unfold will determine not only the direction of our human future but also, importantly, the physical and mental environment of thathuman future.
It seems many have forgotten the Hippocratic oath that states: “Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course.” The politics of life (and death) are being usurped by an agenda that shows little, if no, human compassion and fellowship.
State biopower is concerned with power over life rather than life itself. The World Economic Forum’s envisioned ‘Great Reset’ speaks of renewal and recalibration, but this technology-dominated era is voiding the core qualities of being human in a living, organic world. We face the central question: What does being human mean to me? Hopefully from the answer to this question we can each find our own source of power and inner strength.
© New Dawn Magazine and the respective author.
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