A new enemy in our control society

On: November 7, 2014
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About Wouter Klaase



From an army of sabotage to a slippery enemy

Ouroboros, the famous snake virus, crawled into the digital systems of Ukraine in 2013 and until today it has attacked large parts of the country’s infrastructure. There are many allegations that Russia is responsible for the virus, or more precise, Russian hacker groups that might have connections with the Kremlin. This invisible snake seems more sophisticated than viruses that we know from the past, not only because it is designed specifically to target ‘high security installations’ (Marshall Honorof, 1) and because it is faster than its fellow viruses, but also because it leaves behind scars in the system that can be used as sentinel from which a constant surveillance over the enemy can be practiced.

The term ‘Ourboros’ originates from the Greek mythology, and the symbol that was used by the ancient Greeks looked like this:

Source: http://www.tomsguide.com/us/russian-uroburos-malware-american,news-18400.html


Ouroboros refers to a snake that eats its own tail. Or to be very specific about the term:

The first word is “oura” which means “the tail” while the second word being “boros” which means “eating”. Combined, these two words give the meaning “he /it that eats his/its tail” or “tail eater”.’  (quoted from  http://mythologian.net/?s=ouroboros&submit.x=0&submit.y=0 ).

In the Greek mythology, this self-eating animal stood for a couple of ideas, namely as something that keeps coming back, that is recreating itself all the time, the idea of continuation, never endingness. In a broader sense it represents life and death depending on each other. By eating its own tail the snake dies because it makes itself disappear, but at the same time eating is at the basis of life and the reproduction of new life forms.  It has the ‘extreme flexibility’ (Sam Jones, No p.nr. ) that also characterizes the animal of the snake.

Is this not exactly what Deleuze tells us with his metaphor of the serpent in his ‘Postscript on Society of control’? Here the serpent is presented as a metaphorical animal that stands for the new forms that characterize our current society of control, opposed to the mole that is a symbol for the former societies, like the discipline society and the society of the sovereign. Based on the work of Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuzes  describes the changes that can be analyzed in society when we look at the mechanisms of power and control that are at work in our culture and technology. All characteristics of the specific societies come together in his concrete example of the mole and the serpent (Deleuze 3). Things are becoming faster, more continuous, more flexible, just like the serpent is a faster and more flexible animal than the mole.

Apart from the physical military interventions in Ukraine there is also the warfield of the digital space. Cyberactivists – who are agreed by all hackers to be Russian although Russia denies it – create viruses because of political intentions (= overrun the state of Ukraine). Why did these cyberactivists chose form of Ouroboros, the ancient greek methodological snake? Probably because it has this connotation of something that is constantly returning once it is in the system, it is a never ending cycle.

Deleuze pointed to the shift from disciplinary society to control society, and isn’t this shown by the conflict in Ukraine more than ever? The discipline society has not dissappeared, on the contrary, it still coexists with the new one. Think of physical punishment and discipline through torture and propaganda by the Pro-Russian Rebels, the Ukrainians and the Russians. But at the same time, Deleuzes serpent is symbol for the end of static armies, the end of short attacks separated from each other by cease-fire and interrupted communications through phone lines. The metaphor of the snake opens up a new way of thinking about the enemy. It produces fear not only when it’s near the border but always, because of the possibility it is somewhere inside the system watching over us. Like the Deleuzes metaphors, it is something that always goes on, there are no pauzes, no retreatment of physical soldiers, no boundaries like in the Foucauldian institutions, because it is in the whole infrastructure.

Source: http://www.techtimes.com/articles/4250/20140312/

Deleuze’s mole stands for ‘enclosed spaces’ (Deleuze, 3), since moles produce small corridors under the ground that most of the time you cannot see from the outside, just like Foucaults institutions are closed off from each other. The mole can only sabotage by letting the surface collapse. But the serpent is not bounded to a specific space; it crosses the boundaries. This is where Deleuze focuses on technology. Since the disciplinary society was characterized by machines and the physical products they produced, ‘sabotage’ was the danger here (3). On the contrary, the society of control is characterized by computers and their digital coding, and the enemy is the virus.

The rise of Ouroboros makes the metaphor of the serpent in the control society come alive. The modern virus is literally depicted as a snake. But did Deleuze mean that the serpent was going to be our enemy? That would not be a complete description of what Deleuze is trying to say, because in the Postscript it is more about the characteristics of the control society instead of an enemy, although the example of viruses is also mentioned by him.

Anxiety is one of the reasons why the Ouroboros virus has  a prominent role in the current news about the Ukrainian conflict. It is not necessarily the actual damage that the virus causes, but more the idea that the enemy can always be somewhere in the infrastructure. The enemy is not only tangible anymore, but comes in a coded form. To think about Deleuzes metaphor of the snake as our new enemy, could change our perception of military conflicts drastically. The old ideas of states as just static entities that protect themselves with boundaries, physical  soldiers and weapons shifts to the idea that it is not only about boundaries anymore; digital technology opens up the possibility for a war through coded means (the virus). This might prove useful when realising that Ukraine and Russia are not just fighting about physical borders. There is an ‘under the surface battle’ going on via viruses. There is a continuous attack and counterattack going on, a continuation that goes way faster and more complex than physical attacks by human armies. This change of perspective on the enemy might proove itself useful in future conflicts, for example in thinking about military strategy.



Deleuze, Gilles. “Postscript on the societies of control.” October (1992): 3-7. 6-11-2014 <http://www.kareneliot.de/

downloads/Deleuze_Postscript%20on%20the%20Societies%20of%20Control.pdf> .


Honorof, Marshall. Tom’s Guide. “Russian Uroburos Malware Devours American File”. 6-11-2014



Jones, Sam. The Financial Times, “Cyber Snake plagues Ukraine networks”. 6-11-2014 <http://www.ft.com/

intl/cms/s/0/615c29ba-a614-11e3-8a2a-00144feab7de.html#axzz3I8YMqLnE –> surveillance purposes> .

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