This week we discussed the term biopolitics in relation to Giorgio Agamben. Agamben uses the terms “bios” and “zoe”, bios meaning qualified life and citizenship and zoe meaning “bare life”. He argues that as society progresses we are all moving towards zoe. Zoe gives the government more control and power over its constituents because by removing their citizenship, they remove any rights those individuals once had and can now do as they please. Agamben uses the Nazi Germany concentration camps as an example. He asserts that in order to be placed into a camp each person was stripped of citizenship and therefore moved from bios to zoe. By reducing these people to bare life the Nazis were able to view them as not human and undeserving of rights. This is what allowed them to use the camp inhabitants as test subjects and have the final say in whether a life was “worth living” or not.
Sadly, we can see the move continuing into society today. Birth control regulations, the death penalty, abortion laws, the census and life support legislation are just a few examples of governmental control over our bodies today. For me, the death penalty is most closely connected to Nazi Germany internment camps. The idea that the government can decide when a person is no longer deserving to live because of their actions is eerily similar to the Nazi’s ability to strip individuals of their citizenship and deem them not worthy of life. Granted, some of the men and women on death row have committed heinous crimes but there are innocent individuals as well and who are we to decide when a life is no longer worth living.
– Kathleen Hennessy