There has been a paradigmatic shift from the biopolitics definitive of the early twentieth century to that of the present. With this shift came a transformation in the relationship between the government and the populace regarding the health of the nation. Whereas once the strength of a nation state was hinged on the fitness and health of the population, the socioeconomic gravitation towards individualism has led political apparatus’ astray from the collectivist approach towards national health, which in its past formed alliance with eugenics and racial purification.
The ideological framework of eugenics was inspired by the archetype of Darwin’s theory of evolution. The idea of ‘natural selection’ transmuted into domestic breeding and ethnic cleansing. ‘Population’, ‘race’, ‘quality’ and ‘territory’ determined the strength of a nation and justified genocide through the logic of eugenics in the first half of the twentieth century. However, “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is a theory in crisis in light of the tremendous advances we’ve made in molecular biology, biochemistry and genetics over the past fifty years.”
This has had tremendous implications not only in the medical sphere, but in the molecularization of biopolitics as well.
Ensuing World War II, the negative associations eugenics held due to the monstrosities of the Nazi Regime triggered a shift in the biopolitical rationalities of democratic societies. The optimization of public health was achieved through a ‘non-directive’ approach hinged on preventative measures. The responsibility of the overall health of a populace fell no longer within the territory of politics, but on the individual. Over the past thirty years, however, the tenets of individual optimization gave rise to a social neurosis consumed by the premeditation of genetic risk.
In tandem to the biomedical advancements made in the field of genetics came the rise of a corporate model of healthcare that hinged profit on the deployment of risk. Genetic dispositions are now determined by speculation, rather than actualization. Furthermore, with the obligations of the state free from the responsibilities of the national population’s health, natural selection becomes hinged on class. Drug consumption relies on premeditated risk. Pharmaceutical company’s profit margin soar, as the working class invest every dime of their income in the plausible prevention of a disease they don’t yet have. We have become a risk society that has found refuge in the promise of a pill.
Of course, one can argue that the molecularization of biopolitics and its aforementioned implications can be perceived in a positive light when paralleled to its eugenic predecessor. Yet, I would argue that this movement away from a social healthcare system does not imply the banishment of eugenic ideology- with sterilization and reproductive laws still very much present. Furthermore, the modern nation-state and capitalist medical apparatus’ regulate the cost of health care so that one’s financial state and thus social status dictates coverage. With two million people dying a year from preventable diseases, this mutation is best articulated by the term: “letting die”. This paradigmatic shift is seen in other realms of the power apparatus such as the socioeconomic doctrine of “lassiez faire”- an intrinsic methodology of neoliberalism.
I think now more than ever before, this form of biopolitics needs to be addressed. With the rising cost of health care, we witness conglomerates capitalizing on the sickness of others. Profits soar with the manipulated consumption of drugs by pharmaceutical companies and an inclination towards self diagnosis in quick fix prescription nations like America. Life insurance is being sliced up into bonds whose value is hinged on the untimely death of another. In short, capitalism guns down democracy when profit is contingent on the exploitation, pain and death of an individual.