Military Utopias of Mind and Machine

Emily Cohen Ibañez


The central locus of my study is southern California, at the nexus of the Hollywood entertainment industry, the rapidly growing game design world, and military training medical R&D. My research focuses on the rise of military utopic visions of mind that involve the creation of virtual worlds and hyper-real simulations in military psychiatry. In this paper, I employ ethnography to examine a broader turn to the senses within military psychology and psychiatry that involve changes in the ways some are coming to understand war trauma, PTSD, and what is now being called "psychological resilience." In the article, I critique assumptions that are made when what is being called "a sense of presence" and "immersion" are given privileged attention in military therapeutic contexts, diminishing the subjectivity of soldiers and reducing meaning to biometric readings on the surface of the body. I argue that the military's recent preoccupation with that which can be described as "immersive" and possessing a sense of presence signals a concentrated effort aimed at what might be described as a colonization of the senses – a digital Manifest Destiny that envisions the mind as capital, a condition I am calling military utopias of mind and machine. Military utopias of mind and machine aspire to have all the warfare without the trauma by instrumentalizing the senses within a closed system. In the paper, I argue that such utopias of control and containment are fragile and volatile fantasies that suffer from the potential repudiation of their very aims. I turn to storytelling, listening, and conversations as avenues towards healing, allowing people to ascribe meaning to difficult life experiences, affirm social relationships, and escape containment within a closed language system.



ethnography, virtual reality, PTSD, war, gender

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Copyright (c) 2018 Emily Cohen Ibañez


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