"There is in the temporality of words an almost poetic play of death and rebirth: successive metaphorizations mean that an idea becomes more — and something other — than itself: a 'form of thought'. For language thinks, thinks us and thinks for us at least as much as we think through it. And in it an exchange also takes place: an exchange, which may be symbolic, between words and ideas." — Jean Baudrillard, Passwords
Baudrillard's words assumed added significance for me this past week as the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced the introduction of a "biological passport" system in cycling as a weapon in the war against doping in cycling. As ESPN writes:
The "biological passport," first announced by UCI last week, would monitor a series of blood parameters of a rider and create a medical profile that could be used for comparison after doping tests.
UCI president Pat McQuaid cautioned that the initiative, to take effect in January, will not erase the doping problem but serve as a new element in the anti-doping "arsenal" along with blood and urine tests.
"For each rider, you'll have an individual set of parameters that are his norm … his blood parameters. There is a norm — and above and below, it can only go a certain distance," he said.
Historically, a passport existed as a document from the king or queen designed to grant safe passage from one territory to another. As the Wikipedia entry points out, however, it is not the passport that guarantees these rights; rather, it is one's nationality that does. In facilitating safe passage the passport serves to demonstrate a right to nationhood, or in other words, to establish an identity.
The idea of a passport is moving beyond nationhood into other spaces, both real and virtual. An example of the latter is the Microsoft Passport universal authentication system, which allows for the safe passage of an internet surfer through a connected series of web sites. Though our physical bodies weren't moving anywhere, the idea of a system that established and safeguarded a unitary virtual identity as it navigated through the various spaces of the network intuitively made sense. (The system, which perhaps smacked of Orwellian overtones to those in the Microsoft marketing department — "Papers, please." — has recently been rebranded as Windows Live).
The question of individual identity remains central with the biological passport. VeloNews, a leading cycling website, adds:
"What is means is that the rider becomes his own reference point," UCI anti-doping coordinator Anne Gripper told Eurosport. "We look for variations in a rider's individual profile to determine whether there may be some indication of using a prohibitive method or a prohibited substance."
A normal passport contains information that identifies the individual, as well as other special features not easily duplicated (holograms, special papers and inks, etc.) that serve to establish the identity of a particular nation-state. An equivalence is drawn between individual and nation-state in the form of citizenship. As we see with Gripper's comments, there is no corresponding equivalence drawn between individual and nation-state for passports in the smooth space of sporting Empire; the equivalence is always drawn back upon itself: one person, two points in time.
The disciplinary societies have two poles: the signature that designates the individual, and the number or administrative numeration that indicates his or her position within a mass. This is because the disciplines never saw any incompatibility between these two, and because at the same time power individualizes and masses together, that is, constitutes those over whom it exercises power into a body and molds the individuality of each member of that body. (Foucault saw the origin of this double charge in the pastoral power of the priest–the flock and each of its animals–but civil power moves in turn and by other means to make itself lay "priest.") In the societies of control, on the other hand, what is important is no longer either a signature or a number, but a code: the code is a password, while on the other hand disciplinary societies are regulated by watchwords (as much from the point of view of integration as from that of resistance). The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it. We no longer find ourselves dealing with the mass/individual pair. Individuals have become "dividuals," and masses, samples, data, markets, or "banks" (Deleuze, 1991).
Instead of the passport photo (individual) and unique identification number used in a nation of citizens (mass), the new biological passport uses an athlete's organic markers such as blood and urine (dividual), though they only make sense in comparison to a larger set of modeled data points (bank). With the photo on a traditional passport, there is a range of error between the original photographic signifier and the appearance of the individual when passing through the checkpoint (change of hair style or colour, weight gain or loss, the addition of glasses or facial hair, etc.). In this case it is contingent upon the authority securing passage through the checkpoint to interpret if the second data point falls acceptably within this range of error. As McQuaid notes above, with the biological passport system there is also a range of error between the blood or urine samples at the time of competition and the original signifier in the passport. However, this acceptable range of error is determined through statistical methods; that is, by combining samples from hundreds of athletes in a database to derive acceptable distributions into which a future data point must fall to be considered allowable. Normalization becomes adherence to a statistically-correlated cluster of data points.
In the temporality of words an almost poetic play of death and rebirth … Baudrillard's words resonate anew in our present discussion. For in metaphorizing this particular anti-doping mechanism as a "passport", we must wonder whatever happened to the original meaning of the passport as a document that ensures safe passage through some boundary or barrier into an enclosure. What is the role of passage in the UCI's biological passport system? We are not discussing passage into the enclosed space of the sportscape; the testing takes place either out of competition or after competition is completed. So from and to where do we pass?
It appears that there is no passage anymore; with the biological passport of sporting production we have moved strictly into the realm of identification, its basis in biometrics, and a unitary identification of "normal" body performance. The occasional passage into or through some enclosed, disciplinary space provides the alibi for control to continue making its presence felt in an unnoticed fashion.
If there is still a passage to be found, it is a passage through time, referring back always to some fixed marker. UCI and WADA are basically requiring that the athlete claim passage post-competition into an "authentic" and essential identity. Today, blood and urine samples on file in the sporting battle against steroids and other pharmaceutical enhancers; tomorrow, DNA samples on file in the sporting battle against gene doping. This continual reference back to an original biological marker as identity document leads us inexorably closer to the Gattaca Scenario — and passage becomes a permanent state of immanence.