|The Male Bee, 2016
video installation / exhibition at Champs Libres in Rennes (France), 2016-2017
|On screens, arranged like they would be in the cockpit of a drone, except ten times bigger, we see the image of mountains over which the drone flies at a leisurely pace. And we hear a voice (see text below) that speaks of military drones, summary executions, video games, and the work of consumers.
|THE MALE BEE / VOICE-OFF TEXT
She didn't know she'd been chosen.
She observed the surface of the world. She was fascinated by the immensity of it, the infinite variety of its reliefs, colors, lights ...
Video games had made astonishing progress.
They were of incredible precision.
The time when you could distinguish between artificial worlds and reality was long gone. Now it was all alike. She thought of the several second time lag between the firing and the impact. During this time, she had sometimes caught sight of silhouettes running. And sometimes they were the silhouettes of children. But fortunately it was only a game. A huge multi-player game.
Most players connected to the game when it was time to release bombs. They were interested in destroying targets. But she liked to connect earlier. She liked the interminable flights over mountains, deserts and plains. It gave her time to think about all sorts of things.
She thought about the changing face of warfare. How firearms and canons defeated the cavalry. How Hussars, dragoons, lancers and the entire warring aristocracy had to submit to a new idea: to mount machines instead of horses. First tanks, then planes. The squadrons were winged and their heroism was in the skies. The fighters learned to live with this.
She remembered that later technology had once again revolutionized warfare. That after having deprived the cavalry of their mounts, it had vanquished heroism itself. The fighters were no longer on the ground or in the sky: they were at the other end of the world. Comfortably seated in airconditioned containers, they kept their eyes on their screens, pressed buttons and destroyed targets following strict protocols. A bit like she was doing in front of her screen.
She thought of Barack Obama and the importance he'd given to drones in these distant wars. She pictured him in his office in the White House signing “kill lists” every week, authorizing strikes from the sky. One person or more.
Summary executions, without trial.
A matter of routine.
In a sense she understood the choice of drones. They cost less in human lives. They averted having pilots parachute from planes, being taken prisoner and then having the hostages upset public opinion. And then of course drones cost less. It was as simple as that. But still. Killing like that, in such an expedient manner and with so many civilian victims ... She had her doubts. She flew over dune-streaked seas of sand, arid and rocky or mountainous landscapes not unlike those in her country.
She'd read that the word “drone” originally designated a “male bee,” one that would be killed in the end by worker bees. In other words, individuals born to be killed off.
Drone pilots were often recruited in the ranks of video game buffs, young people familiar with game controls and virtual worlds. They were told of the dangers threatening the world and the existence of good and evil so that they wouldn't doubt that theirs was a good cause.And in the beginning, they thought it was cool.
“An awesome video game!” they declared in initial interviews. It was a disaster for America's image. So they were briefed to make sure they wouldn't say such things anymore. The young recruits then spoke of the weight of responsibilities, the psychological stress, etc.
But actually it wasn't the stress or the sense of guilt that was the hardest. It was working across time zones.
And the boredom.
The explosions killed people in a given area. This is called the “kill radius,” the distance from where the targets were killed, in the hopes that they were really guilty. And an undetermined number of innocent people were susceptible to being killed at the same time. The French and British had experience with this type of warfare in their colonies: their bombings hardly won the hearts and minds of the people. Just the opposite: they triggered vocations and the emergence of new fighters.
There was no end in sight.
America had reconciled itself to this. Cutting the grass as soon as it grew back. Conducting a perpetual war.
And what if the pilots felt this was pointless?
That may be where the risk resided.
She saw the Tigris, the Euphrates, and the Indus.
All these names reminded her of the stories she'd heard as a child. She'd never understood what God was, but she was attached to these distant worlds. They were her childhood friends, like the giraffes and hippopotamus.
Watching her screens, she thought of all the volunteer agents, all the people who spent their days at home watching video surveillance feeds in the hope of catching sight of something. From the USA-Mexico border in particular. With joy, these amateur vigilantes would spot illegals in the area of Rio Grande and report them to the authorities.
And those who spotted a pickpocket were recompensed, like a sales representative getting something for kitchen or encyclopedia sales. What if you could become a drone pilot just like that, from home? Surely there were many volunteers in the United States ready to eliminate the enemies of the good. Patriots who would not have too many qualms.
She looked at her instruments. Her altitude was forty-three thousand feet. She was going to fly over her target in twenty-eight minutes.
She hadn't an inkling that the algorithm had chosen her.
For quite some time now consumers and users were being put to work. People were putting in orders from home, assembling furniture, and scanning their own purchases at self-checkouts... Until then, you could say that if manufacturers were delegating their work to consumers, the latter were still working for themselves. But a day came when they succeeded in employing them without their knowledge.
There were the CAPTCHAs, texts to be deciphered to prove that the reader is human not a computer but which contribute as well
to the scanning of books or street signs. There were also the buildings that users would construct in 3D, which contributed to modeling the world gratuitously. There were many other tasks of this kind...
But this task was of a different nature. The principle was simple. A free video game. An appealing interface, user-friendly and intuitive. You took the controls of a drone and accomplished a mission, and then another. The success was immediate. Millions of men and women took to playing. In America, Europe, Asia and even in the Middle East. How could she have known that, among these countless players, some had been chosen. And that she was among them. Because she was calm, precise, and disciplined. Because, even though it was a game, she was intent on not causing “collateral damage.” You lost points for killing civilians. But to her this was not only a matter of losing points. She pictured herself a pilot and said to herself: “Maybe we can resolve the war without causing too much damage. Put an end to this fanaticized enemy.”
Some rare real missions were slipped into the mass of fictional missions. The act of killing was diluted in the multitude. A bit like an execution by firing squad. You never knew who shot the mortal shot. Without their knowledge, citizens from around the world were participating in the war effort, to eradicate once and for all these demons of deserts and mountains.
Or at least to try...
And she was one's of the Pentagon's best recruits.
There wasn't a cloud in the sky.
Weather conditions were ideal. Her aircraft maintained its course.
She didn't know she'd been chosen.