“Not a Bug Splat” – Drone Warfare and Utopia


from “Not a Bug Splat: Artists Confront U.S. Drone Operators with Giant Picture of Pakistani Child” (linked to image)

The above image is an aerial view of a 100’x70′ vinyl banner entitled “Not a Bug Splat,” depicting a Pakistani girl said to have survived a drone attack that took the lives of her parents and either “two siblings” or “a sibling” (the information at Democracy Now! is inconsistent). A product of collaboration between French, American, and Pakistani artists and activists (or activist-artists or artist-activists), the work takes its title from jargon referring to computer-generated bomb damage models.

Our friend b psycho asked for comment, and my twitter response was that “as a political gesture it’s pointed, possibly late” and that “there’s a second order of intention or meaning to it.” I now have  some time to expand on the thoughts, if not yet to incorporate them into a theory of The Drones, a project whose urgency has subsided along with the frequency of drone attacks ((As was predictable.)): thus the “possibly late” part of the reply tweet.

As I’ve argued before, to understand The Drones requires attempting to comprehend the system of systems in which they are located. If the transnational terrorist is a reverse image of the jet-setter, or another expert tourist like the journalist who specializes in terror and anti-terror and anti-anti-terror, all of them leading citizens of a global order that is either still arriving or can never fully arrive, and if the drone assassination campaign is a reciprocal extension of that either way incomplete order, then the portrait of a child visible from high above suggests, at least symbolically, a still further extension, or a further organic network integration. Our dystopian premonition, of a lethal world-spanning sky net, summons a utopian counter-image, of an internationally collaborative co-realization of the shared and equal humanity of drone operator and drone victim.

The sympathy that neither terror nor anti-terror terror has succeeded in erasing prevents us from simply affirming a forced higher socialization of Waziristan or a part of it as a beneficial consequence of power projection, an end that billions of dollars in counter-insurgent playground construction, medical services, and civil-political consultation and so on and on may have not been noticeably better at bringing nearer. This piece of political concept art cannot by itself be taken as God’s frustration of Mephistopheles – the evil one condemned to achieve good despite himself – but neither is it exactly entirely not-that.

7 comments on ““Not a Bug Splat” – Drone Warfare and Utopia

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  1. The counter-image as affirmation of humanity works as art, but it clearly has a purpose in making that affirmation: hope that the humanity of the drone operator prompts reconsideration of their actions, if not skepticism about the strategy that put them in that seat in the first place, due to reminder of the real human costs. To fully internalize the message being sent would lead to the Fire button not being pressed.

    As for “higher socialization”, to be honest I can’t imagine those living in a war zone and literally fearing death from above thinking much about the concept. Fight or Flight conditions don’t tend to be fertile ground for long range discussion. I get the feeling though that if given respite from such and exposure to the strategy as you describe it they would likely have one question: “Why?”
    Even if there were some long run benefit to the people of Waziristan as you suggest, who but them are appropriate to make such a call on their way of life? Suppose they hear of the globalization context and they reject it?

    • I was going to say that the character of a discussion wasn’t really key, but, as I think about it, I disagree with you. What else is an abstracted “fear of death from above,” but contemplation of one’s mortality and relation to the global order as the realest possible reality, but also at a very high (literally) level of abstraction?

      I also realized that what the work reminds me of the Nazca lines, made famous during the “Ancient Astronauts” boomlet some years ago – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazca_Lines – whose precise purpose, if purpose is even the right word, remains a mystery, since, of course, they depict images that none of the people who made them would ever have been in a position to view (unless hitching a ride with an ancient astronaut). A bit lamely, anthropologists agree they must have had some kind of “religious” significance, possibly astronomical, possibly not. Whether or not they were somehow or literally meant “for the gods to see,” they clearly appear to relate in some way the life-world of an ancient people to a “trans-topical” being of some kind. In fact, they have that meaning for us today regardless of what we imagine they ever meant for anyone else, thus the resort to “ancient astronauts” as explanation, super-aliens being the physicalist rendering of demigods.

      The global order is not just a political order – it may not be a truly political order, political in a strict sense, and that’s one reason I avoided the word “globalization” in the post. It’s the order on the same level as the species being, a than-which-there-is-no-greater, and certainly at a higher level than the temporal political order of the real-existing U.S. government, even if in another sense the silly old USG and its DOD, constituting the world-historical regime of our era, would be the highest real-existent and more or less coherent political entity mediating between individuals, groups, nations, etc., in time, on the one side, and species-being in eternity on the other.

      This isn’t praise for the U.S. or, in the long view, even a particularly happy forecast for the U.S. It’s just a statement of fact viewed concretely. The completing of the circuit, where the object of the neo-imperial power looks back and symbolically initiates a dialogue (in this case from below and from above at the same time), emerges as a “face of the other,” is even more than anyone’s mere humanization, since the dialogic moment is also divinization or (for Levinas, Voegelin, Cohen, et al) “true humanization,” humanization not just as human animals or physical creatures but as beings known in relation to the eternal, which is also to be known in relation to death, that thing you say they are constantly thinking about.

      • I’d say that the fear in areas susceptible to bombings goes beyond musing on mortality & ones place in the world. There’s the knowledge that you won’t live forever and consideration of global order, and then there’s “I could die *today*, violently”. Abstraction threatening to cease being abstract.

        Whatever the global order is called, to extent there is a plan for it, there are (and always will be) people who want no part of it, who wish to be left alone. If there is a problem with granting that which justifies overriding such a desire for the sake of the order, then that order itself has a fatal flaw.

        • The fatal flaw of the global order (I think you’re getting a little hung up on the term for its “political” and ideological resonances) would be fatality. Opting out of it would be opting out of being an embodied self connected to a global ecosystem. You can wish whatever you want, and be frustrated like De Sade’s libertine that you can’t catch the sun and burn up the world with it, but it won’t likely get you very far in any way and least of all in burning up the world (except possibly through suicide achieving a singular type of success in the latter).

            • Can’t challenge it without deepening or extending your relationship to or dialogue with it. Not sure what you mean by “political,” but they have mostly been passive victims, other people’s objects. The bug splat piece symbolizes their assertion of selfhood or agency within the system, or level of organization of the system, that “other people’s politics” have forced on them. I have no idea whether or how much it goes or can go beyond symbolism at this point, but with assertion of agency also will come responsibility: The artists want the world to see them as “responsive” – capable of responding, “real people.”

  2. Benazir Bhutto was unavailable for comment, because of what the boys of Apbara helped bring about, some of these same folks were on first name basis with UBL, a drone is a tool, like the tomahawk or a DEVGRU strike team, overuse can make an ineffective tool,

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