Innerview: Chris Hables Gray

The Vision Machine had a valuable chance to visit Chris Hables Gray at his residence in Santa Cruz, California.  Gray is author of Postmodern War (1997), Cyborg Citizen (2002), and Peace, War, and Computers (2004).  Here, he puts the Arab Spring into context of new media going back to the Zapatistas, discusses the meaning of “war” in the digital age, and reframes the debate about the ethics of autonomous and remotely operated weapons.  To find out more about Gray\’s work, visit his page or contact him here at The Vision Machine.

Innerview by Seb Kaempf and Roger Stahl, edited by Roger Stahl.

2 thoughts on “Innerview: Chris Hables Gray

  1. TheVisionMachine Critical Review
    The Vision Machine hosted Chris Gables for an interview discussing the place of technology and media in evolving conflict and anti-diplomacy on the 16th of May, 2013. Seb Kaempf was the interviewer and covered three main topics: Facebook Revolutions, Information Wars, and Drones and Automated Machines. Of these three sections, Gables somewhat follows the evolution of media and technology in the international sphere since the Zapatistas. This review will summarize the important ideas discussed by Gables within these three categories, while critiquing and consolidating his ideas in reference to other significant works on similar topics.
    The Zapatistas used the internet to create a global ‘civil society’, which came to their aid unlike anything truly seen before. The Zapatista idea of ‘civil society’ is a community and society separate from any form of governance. Therefore, ‘global civil society’ is, essentially, a ‘global village’. And so, when the Mexican government tried to repress the Zapatistas, the Zapatistas contacted members of their global civil society. These civil society members were sympathetic to the cause of the Zapatistas and proceeded to host rallies and protests against the mistreatment of the Zapatistas throughout the world, as well as building various support networks for the Zapatistas, putting the idea of a global community into practice (Earle & Simonelli, 2004). Olesen also made the point that the strength of the global civil society was increased by the use of the originally anonymous Zapatista spokesperson, whose light humor placed him as a public figure, and not as a politician (2007). This caused not only the Mexican government, but many governments around the world to realize that the increasing accessibility of the internet – which is an independent entity that is free from hierarchy or any kind of consistent, overarching control – means that they are unable to commit many atrocities and immoral acts which governments had previously been able to commit with minimal repercussion. Complete occupation, and the genocide which often comes with it, are now being exposed via videos being published on social media websites, such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as news outlets and websites, all of which are being used by grassroots organizations and other humanitarian organizations. The Egyptian revolution is the example of this which Gables often drew upon. This act of holding higher authorities accountable by publicizing police beatings, displays of corruption or even airstrikes is called sousveillance: standing on the ground, looking up and around. Bradshaw uses an example of the sousveillance of the G20 summit in Pittsburgh in 2009, which corroborates with Gables idea of sousveillance being used by everyday people and activists, increasing citizen journalism (Bradshaw, 2013).
    It is commonly accepted that sousveillance is the next evolution of warfare, however Gables argues this. He states that as it does not involve guns and is not cyberterrorism, it is in a league of its own. He prefers the term anti-diplomacy. I wish he had discussed the idea of anti-diplomacy in more depth, as it is a concept not often discussed. The literature occasionally uses the term, but generally only in regards to surveillance (Der Derian, 1993). This may be because it is an unpopular position to take. Warfare, according to a popular dictionary website, is “armed conflict between two mass enemies, armies, or the like”, which supports Gables notion that sousveillance is different to warfare ( However, the differentiation between sousveillance and war is in exact juxtaposition to the commonly held idea that sousveillance is how wars are now won or lost.
    Gables makes a point to reiterate the fact that tradition war – armed conflict – still exists and, much like anti-diplomacy, still evolving. ‘Cyborgs’ and robots are increasingly being used in warfare. Gables defined cyborgs as mechanical devices which are controlled by humans, such as drones. They are becoming increasingly common in modern warfare, and may eventually cause war to return to US soil. It is important to note that ‘cyborgs’ is not a term commonly used for such weaponry in literature. Unlike cyborgs, robots have a level of autonomy and are significantly more dangerous. Landmines are incredibly stupid robots according to Gables, and although automated weapons are less stupid, they are equally as dangerous. This is because these robots do not have the ability to analyze something as complex as conflict. They are unable to differentiate between a civilian, an enemy soldier, or a child.
    Simpson and Müller discuss the immorality of the use of automated weapons, and how, at best, they are considered to be only appropriate for specific, controlled uses in wartime situations (Simpson & Müller, 2015). Gables did not go too far into the topic of the appropriateness of automated weapons, other than to address their dangers and that ‘cyborg’ weaponry is preferable. It may have been advantageous to his argument to discuss the various implications of using automated weapons in the future. After all, with the increased intelligence of automated weapons, ‘cyborgs’ are able to be subject to technological advancement and therefore become more useful. Gables also did note that the reason the ethics surrounding drone and automated weapon mishaps were not publicized in mass media was often because of embedded journalists having to risk losing their position, and the sensitivity of the subject not being appropriate for popular, mainstream media.
    In regards to the videography, there were many positives and negatives. The use of props around the room, such as books and posters, as focus points was artistically appealing. Also, the casual nature of the conversation made it easy to engage with. However, the pauses when displaying the themes in white writing on the black screen, and then continuing with the conversation at a different point in time from where the footage left off was somewhat jarring. The camera could be unsteady at times and a lot of the time the speaker’s heads were cut off. This made it less visually engaging, and caused it to seem less professional (although I recognize that it is a professional piece with highly qualified speakers).
    I found his arguments engaging and his points were relevant to modern issues, such as the nature of war, inter-state interaction, and the effects of globalization in conflict and rebellion. His two main ideas which were not consistent with mainstream literature were his idea that sousveillance is not war, and his use of the term ‘cyborg’ when referring to human-controlled technology and weapons.
    Overall, the knowledge Gables was original, well informed and engaging. He spoke succinctly, and in language which was easily relatable without being unprofessional. His connection between the Zapatistas and modern use of social media in the ‘civil society’ was very enlightening, as was his differentiation between war and anti-diplomacy.

    Bradshaw, E. (2013). This is What a Police State Looks Like: Sousveillance, Direct Action and the Anti-corporate Globalization Movement. Crit Crim, 21(4), 447-461.
    Der Derian, J. (1993). Anti‐diplomacy, intelligence theory and surveillance practice. Intelligence And National Security, 8(3), 29-51.,. (2015). the definition of warfare. Retrieved 26 October 2015, from
    Earle, D., & Simonelli, J. (2004). The Zapatistas and Global Civil Society: Renegotiating the Relationship. ERLACS, 0(76), 119.
    Olesen, T. (2007). The Funny Side of Globalization: Humour and Humanity in Zapatista Framing. International Review Of Social History, 52(S15).
    Simpson, T., & Müller, V. (2015). JUST WAR AND ROBOTS’ KILLINGS. Phil. Quart., pqv075.

  2. The innerview with Chris Hables Gray approaches a plethora of concepts pertaining to the link between media and war, as well as, the classification of war and the moral quandary of utilising autonomous and remote-controlled drones and robots within warfare. The innerview is divided into four sections: Facebook revolutions, information war, drones and autonomous robots and changes in the visual field. These sections fundamentally examine the changing nature of warfare, one could only describe as “war 2.0” as Rid and Hecker (2009) describe it. The core argument underlining Gray’s innerview is that media and war has changed to create a horizontal mediascape and new capabilities and capacities for non-state actors to influence outcomes of conflict.

    The first section on ‘Facebook revolutions’ explores the discourse as to whether or not, new technology creates revolutions whilst also examining how the Zapatistas and Egyptian revolution depict how. Gray responds to the first focus question by positing that although new technology might facilitate greater degrees of success in revolutions, the compelling narrative is that revolutions would occur, despite any new technology. Technology is painted as an instrument, a means through which revolution can be furthered, but without having the ability to cause revolution itself where revolution had not or would not have existed. In response to this I recapitulate one of his latter arguments which criticises the facile labelling of media outlets of complex issues. Without having observed the accomplishments of social media in revolution, some peoples may arguably not have revolted. In addition to this variable, it must be noted how media technologies and revolution are not mutually exclusive in the context of revolution by any means. They both require human interactivity and are enmeshed in a complex nexus wherein the causality must be approached on a case basis.
    The ‘horizontalness’ which Gray goes on to discuss pertains to the non-hierarchical shift of the mediascape, which Kaempf (2013) also observes. Both Kaempf and Gray focus on the decentralisation of the mediascape from multipolar systems of power to heteropolarity. These arguments contribute well to the core argument and introduce it in the context of the Egyptian revolution and the Zapatistas successfully.
    The first section positions the listener to appreciate how the mediascape has changed and leads to the second section which explores information war.
    In the innerview, Gray dispels cyber war and information war as a farcical misrepresentation of what is said to constitute “anti-diplomacy”. The lack of casualty mass prevents cyber and information warfare from being classified as ‘war’, according to Gray. This is in contrast to the ‘war of images’ that Virilio (1989) posits, wherein soldiers fight on two battlefields with an ‘armed eye’ (Virilio, 1989: 26) equipped with a camera.
    A more adequate middleground to these assertions is Mantello’s (2013: 2) discreet warfare, which encompasses cyber warfare, black ops missions, assassinations and other clandestine deeds which can also accumulate casualties and endanger certain lives to the same extent as war. These deeds must be categorised aptly as not war in themselves, but relevant tactics within a war setting much the same as the classification of guerrilla warfare. Despite challenging Gray’s stance on defining war, when reading Postmodern War it becomes clear how Gray’s point is to prevent detracting from the catastrophe of true war by the saturated application of the word to diverse literature (Gray, 1997: 9-10). This denial of appreciation for the true meaning of war must be taken into consideration.
    The manner in which war has changed and the implications that drones have to insulate human beings from the realities of warfare is yet another development which feeds our apathetite, the desire to engage with concepts of virtuous warfare which in turn make us apathetic and emotionally resilient to its reality. Gray discusses drones and the duplicitousness of their usage in warfare. His example, drawn from his own literature is the impact which drone strikes have on civilians in Pakistan. The fear which they feel is in contrast to the drone operator sitting in a US military facility on American soil, playing what is simply a computer game. Stahl’s (2009: 92-93) literature on the military industrial entertainment complex illustrates this evolution of warfare. Drones remove the reality of war to the operator and is presented more as a game, than serious action. Our apathetite and the new forms of ‘seemingly’ santitised war legitimise its usage. In the innerview, Gray furthers this argument by linking the use of drones and autonomous weapons systems by the US government to circumvent accountability and avoid responsibility. The convenience of the American ‘war on terror’ and ‘war on drugs’ etc. place the US in a perpetual state of warfare which Gray claims is used to legitimise military actions. Mantello (2013: 3) supports this premise and articulates it by describing a closing in the legitimacy gap.
    Gray distinguishes between drones and robots (contrary to his literature), clarifying that drones are remote-operated and robots are autonomous systems. He references the Aegis system and its inability to operate safely, using this case study to foreshadow how war is and will be too complicated for autonomous systems to engage in.
    Furthermore, he predicts that the atrocities of drone warfare conducted by the US military sow the seeds of horror for the future when drone attacks will conversely be conducted against America on its own soil. This is a compelling statement and certainly private drone operators in the US are already utilising drones for surveillance purposes. The increasing availability of drones in tandem with increased media platform access and mobile phone access, presents a progressive irony where the US government must proverbially taste its own medicine. Weapons of oppression become tools of freedom in this mechanism which also appears to be an underlying argument of Gray’s thinking.
    The final section of the innerview recapitulates the core argument as to how the mediascape has changed and its implications. The changes in the visual field touches on ‘sousveillance’ (surveillance from bellow), countervailing techniques of resistance which are used against states by non-state actors. Anderson and Mirrlees (2014: 6-7) use the example of protests over police brutality in the US which are sparked by videos of beatings and shootings by officers. Gray uses an Egyptian example to illustrate sousveillance and its usefulness as an element of revolution through media. Gray discusses the state sanitisation of media images for public manipulation, but Anderson and Mirrlees present an example where an image of a fire-bombing protester was forcibly taken from publication by a newspaper in place for one which represented a better image of the activists. There would appear to be a media war going on around us with ideas and perceptions battling eachother for domination, with intangible casualties.

    This innerview with Chris Hables Gray is inciteful and in many ways addresses its core premise to convince the listener that media and war have both evolved. Most of Gray’s arguments and postulations aligned with the relevant literature and added case study analysis to support them. Despite such, I would be loath not to admit disagreements with some of Gray’s arguments and cautiously posit that the true aim of Gray’s arguments constitute a deeper focus. He wishes to alert us to our apathetites and recognise the catastrophic realities of warfare in its true form. To self-reflect and develop an awareness as to what evolutions are shaping the world around us without bias, to lift the media veil and approach media and warfare critically.

    Reference List

    Andersen, Robin and Mirrlees, Tanner “Introduction: Media, Technology, ands the Culture of Militarism: Watching, Playing and Resisting the War Society.” Communique 2014, 26, no. 2, 1-21.

    Kaempf, Sebastian. “The Mediatisation of War in a Transforming Global Media Landscape.” Australian Journal of International Affairs 2013, 67, no. 5, 586-604.

    Mantello, Peter. “Legitimacy and the Virtual Battlefield: Putting the First-person Shooter on the Witness Stand.” Australian Journal of International Affairs, 2013, 638-58.

    Rid, Thomas, and Marc Hecker. “Introduction.” In War 2.0: Irregular Warfare in the Information Age. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Security International, 2009.

    Stahl, Roger. “War Games.” In Militainment, Inc.: War, Media, and Popular Culture. New York: Routledge, 2010.

    Virilio, Paul. “I See, I Fly.” In War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception. London: Verso, 1989.

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