Fear Under a Microscope: ITS & the Conflict With Nanotechnology
A closer look at the ideas which driveIndividualidades Tendiendo a lo Salvaje(ITS) to attack nanotechnology researchers across the state of Mexico. By Scarlet Sable
“The continual advancement of technology will worsen the situation. The more the system grows, the more disastrous will be the consequences of its failure.”
-Individualists Tending toward the Wild, third communiqué, August 9th, 2011
As 2013 came to a close, researchers at the Institute of Biotechnology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico continue to have charged conversations amongst themselves over their work, but their minds will likely stray from their experiments to thank the patron saints that they are still alive. This year saw the second assassination attempt on researchers and their colleagues.
Since 2010, a series of attacks have been carried out against the institutions and researchers at Mexican universities associated with the development of nanotechnology and biotechnology. Though some of these acts remained unclaimed, the majority have been claimed by a few terroristic anti-civilization groups. The most consistent group calls itself Individualidades tendiendo a lo Salvaje (ITS) or in English, Individualists Tending toward the Wild.
ITS defines their group as “…an anti-industrial, anti-technological, and anti-civilization group formed by radical environmentalists.”1 They stand out as one of the groups willing to go to extremes in their critique of science, technology, the domination of nature and leftist politics. The most predominant controversy about this group is not their analysis, but rather their methods and tactics.
ITS has claimed at least seven attempted attacks on biotechnology and nanotechnology researchers’ lives; the majority of which have missed their mark. The attempts, which utilized parcel bombs, incendiary devices, and guns, resulted in between two and five unintended injuries of postal workers and security guards 2 and injuries of two targeted researchers. Most significantly, on November 8th, 2011, biotechnology researcher Ernesto Méndez Salinas was assassinated by a shot to the head on Teopanzaolco Avenue in Cuauhnáhuac, Mexico. The assassination was claimed two years later, on February 18th, 2013 in the seventh ITS communiqué, which surfaced after police claimed they had arrested those responsible for Salinas’ death.
These actions inevitably beg the question, why do ITS want to kill scientists? Judging by the insinuating remarks to the overt threats of ITS in their communiqués, it seems to me that their driving intention is not to target a few individuals, but to sow seeds of terror in the hope that fear may force scientists to back away from their research.
The media has called them terrorists and ITS themselves embrace the term, stating in their third communiqué:
“…they call us terrorists, those useless members of industrial society, who know that we take this term as a compliment … [and] if they categorize us as terrorists, they are right, because our goal is to mutilate and even kill these scientists, researchers, professors and other scum who are reducing the Earth to mere urbanized waste.”
Although I believe a criticism of ITS’ use of parcel bombs is due — if only for their low success rate and high margin of error — debating the effectiveness and ethics of their tactics is not the intention of this article. Rather, I am more interested in looking at what motivates ITS to target individuals and institutions in a bloody struggle against modern science and technology.
In order to understand their motives, we must get a grasp of what nanotechnology is. A pro-nanotechnology article published in The Guardian, “A User’s Guide to Nanotechnology”, defines it as:
“…a technology that operates on the nanoscale, about one billionth of a metre. If a living cell were a large city, then a nanometre would be about the size of a car. Nanotechnology is the art of engineering down at this hard-to-fathom scale.” 3
Due to its broad definition nanotechnology — like biotechnology — encompasses numerous fields of study with applications in industry and military, and has already been used in hundreds of commercial products.
In their first communiqué,which heavily critiques nanotechnology, ITS describes the faith of scientists developing nanotechnologies, offering a long list of medical and environmental solutions nanotech advocates have dreamed up to justify their work.4 ITS sarcastically calls the collective beliefs of nanotech advocates, “…an innumerable list of ‘wonders’ …thought up by those who persist in nanometrically developing another ‘superior way of life’.”
In their first communiqué, ITS identifies several fields of nanotechnology which they anticipate could have catastrophic side effects.They cite the potentials of nanorobots and nanoparticles as two developments which could be used for terrible ends. They write that nanoparticles could “…travel at a very high speed inside the body, [invading] the bloodstream and [penetrating] organs… where they destroy cell membranes, where they can spray toxic material and create a reaction much more agonizing and lethal than nuclear contamination. These manipulated particles can be inhaled by humans, plants and animals alike.”
In their fourth communiqué, ITS quotes at length from Harold Kroto, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and molecular engineer Erik Drexler’s critiques of nanotechnology from within the scientific community. Both scientists offer foreboding predictions of the consequences of nanotechnology. Erik Drexler’s 1986 book, called Engines of Creation, is quoted at length, citing his fears of nanoparticle bacteria entering the ecosystem, replicating and out competing all life, and turning the globe into a ball of “grey goo.” (Considering that science lacks any thorough understanding of the impacts of nano and biotech organisms entering the environment, Drexler later retracted this critique stating he wished he’d never used the term “grey goo.”)
Even as Drexler assures the world that nanotechnology is safe, other scientists such as Bill Joy, chief scientist of Sun Microsystems, continue to offer scepticism. In his article “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us” published in Wired Magazine, Joy states:
“The experiences of the atomic scientists clearly show the need to take personal responsibility, the danger that things will move too fast, and the way in which a process can take on a life of its own. We can, as they did, create insurmountable problems in almost no time flat. We must do more thinking up front if we are not to be similarly surprised and shocked by the consequences of our inventions.”
Throughout their writings, ITS demonstrate that they are well researched in the industry of nanotechnology in Mexico, explaining who the major players are and how business interests network with researchers. However, one weakness which stands out for me in their writings is the fact that although nanotechnology has existed for over 30 years, ITS’ critiques of nanotechnology rely almost exclusively on their anticipation of a crisis somewhere in the near future as these technologies advance. Nanotechnology today has already had far-reaching effects on the environment and the conceptions of what is possible for military and industrial development. Focusing only on dystopic futures leaves the reader with the impression that ITS’ motivations originate in part from paranoia.
’Not just the Atoms, The Molecules’
Explicitly stated throughout ITS’ communiqués is the fact that their critiques are not exclusively based on the potential consequences of nanotechnology. Borrowing heavily from anti-civilization theorists, they identity urbanization, industrialism and state governance as some of the institutions responsible for the continued domination of human and non-human life. They believe that throughout society, both wild nature and our own wild instincts are being destroyed.
Another influence on ITS’ analysis is the writings of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. Kaczynski led a seventeen-year campaign against people involved in complex technologies in the US, killing three people and injuring twenty-three. ITS’ tactic of sending targeted parcel bombs imitates Kaczynski’s, as well as their language, which regularly uses the term Techno-Industrial System which they define as,
“… [referring] to the conjunction of physical components as well as conceptual ones (values) that include complex Technology, science, industry, Civilization and artificiality. The Techno-industrial System is the target to strike because from it (and its population [the Techno-industrial Society]) emanates the functioning, improvement and perpetuation of the megamachine called Civilization.”5
In their fourth communiqué, ITS even addresses the question of if they might be Unabomber copycats. They state that they are indebted to Kaczynski’s work but differ on a few points, which they don’t elaborate on.
Within their systemic critique, they identify science and technology as being at the forefront of a continued war against the wild, which is why they choose to target them. From the beginning of their first communiqué, ITS maintain that “Nanotechnology is the furthest advancement that may yet exist in the history of anthropocentric6 progress. It consists in the total study, the scrutiny and the manipulation and domination of all the smallest elements, invisible to human eyes.”
ITS elaborate on this idea in their third communiqué, stating that, “nanotechnology focuses on and situates itself in strategic areas for the continuation of Domination.” They identify genetic engineering as the act of domination of flora and fauna and medical research as an effort to control death. Again, they state that the strongest motivation for the pursuit of nanotechnology is the desire to develop the nano-military field to expand government power domestically and abroad.
Wild Instincts in an Isolating World
Viewing their struggle as a spectrum of opposing forces — with technology and civilization on one end — ITS places themselves among nature and the wild. They claim that they are defending themselves from the aggression of civilization.
In their flowery language, they describe their expectations of a life of struggle:
“Please! Let us see the truth, plant our feet on the ground and let leftism and illusions fly from our minds. The revolution has never existed, nor have revolutionaries; …in this dying world only Individual Autonomy exists and it is for this that we fight.
Although all this is useless and futile, we prefer to be defeated in a war against total domination than to remain inert, waiting, passive, or as part of all this. …We prefer to continue the War that we have declared years ago, knowing that we will lose, but promising ourselves that we will give our greatest effort.”
This acceptance of the futility of everything represents an interesting departure from the idealism of other extremists past and present. Has the pervasive alienation and isolation which the newest high-tech generation grew up with spawned a new form of hopeless resistance, one which never expects to win? This question could lead us to despair, but perhaps there is something inspiring in considering it, and the fact that, in the face of everything we stand against, someone has chosen to do anything at all.
Throughout their analysis, ITS present the popular narrative that within every scientific field is the promise of humanitarian efforts or solutions to the problems of industry and the environment. Yet rather than developing these ideals, it is the ready application in commercial goods and military development that has led governments and industry to pour billions of dollars into nanotech research. This research is destined to change the conditions of everyday life and extend the far reaching hands which seek to control everything.
After a careful reading of their writings, I remain personally conflicted about both ITS’ tactics, and a number of their positions on leftism and domination. Having said that, their critique of technology and the unknown risks associated with the newest fields of science is a truly frightening, and cannot go unchallenged.
However your ideas might differ from those of Individualists Tending toward the Wild, engaging with their ideas makes it difficult to dismiss them outright as merely terrorists with a complete disconnect from reality. ITS represent just one response to the world around us, but the ideas that drive them can inspire so much more.
You can find ITS’ complete writings translated to English on the website: waronsociety.noblogs.org, which is an anarchist counter-information website dedicated to translating texts from the Spanish-speaking world.