Future of Human Nature
By: Mool Raj
OURS is an age that is fundamentally fraught with ground-breaking technological advances, various forms of necropolitics, orchestrated and instrumental massacres, newer possibilities of living, and multiple ways of dying. In such an age, it has finally turned out to be difficult for all of us to say with certainty that we have always been ‘human’ or we are no more or less than that. The notion of ‘human’ has gone through a significant paradigm shift. It has exploded from within under the double pressure of endless technological advances and new global economic changes. All that was solid has melted into the air. With so many variations, it might seem confusing but also very interesting as they, when combined,redefine the notion of the human in the 21st century.
In this bio-genetic age named as ‘Anthropocene,’ there is a paradigm shift in how we conceptualize the ‘human’ and envision its possible engagements with its various environs. The traditional high humanistic creed is now debunked from its pedestal of utmost certainty. Thus man is no longer deemed the measure of all things; instead, it is being suspected that all humanism to date has been essentially imperial in spirit as they tend to speak of the human always in the accents and interests of a class, a sex, a race or a genome. On the other hand, anti-humanism which emerged precisely as an antidote to some of the contradictions inherent in humanism has itself lost its firm discursive ground for various reasons. Hence, post-humanism, as a third way out, has acquired widespread currency nowadays in this technologically mediated society.
But the new global proximity attained by our immensely ‘smart’ technological advances does not always breed tolerance and peaceful co-existence; on the contrary, forms of wholesale xenophobic rejections of various ‘others’ and increasing violence of many sorts are key features of our time. Consequently, the traditional understanding of humanism is also in a state of flux and gradually turning into an ‘interpretative matrix’. We now need to re-think the basic unit of reference for the human in the bio-genetic age known as ‘Anthropocene’ — the historical moment when the human has become a genealogical force capable of affecting all life on this planet and in turn is affected by them.Here we may cite a very interesting notion that the Greek word for human was anthropos.
This notion of anthropos was particularly created as in separation from three domains: in order to be human, you have to be separated from the divine domain (god/goddess), also you have to be separated from the nonhuman animal domain and finally and most strikingly in order to be a human you have to be separated from the ‘barbarians’. Hence the very tradition of the construction of the human was exclusivist in its nature which was premised upon multiple layers of negations. In other words, it was formulated upon the ground of binary oppositions.
It reasserts the fact that historically how many humans were considered ‘less’ than other humans based on their gender, complexion, ethnicity, economy etc. For instance, in this dualistic frame, we had the notion of gender where men were always superior and women as their counterparts always inferior. More importantly, in the dualism of nature-culture, nature was always considered less than the so-called ‘culture’. These binaries defined who we are only in terms of our separation from ‘others’. We were humans only because we were not gods/goddesses or animals or barbarians.At the start of it all, there was HE: the classical ideal of ‘man”, formulated as an idea firstly by Protagoras as the ‘measure of all things’. This ‘man’ stands conceptually for normality, normalcy as well as normativity. It was later renewed as a universal model during the Italian Renaissance.
With a belligerent vigour, the Italian renaissance reasserted their unshakable trust in the almost boundless capacity of humans to pursue their individual as well as collective perfectibility. A deep trust in the unique, self-regulating, and intrinsically moral powers of human reason forms the very pedestal upon which the discursive statue of the high humanistic creed was carefully constructed. More important to note here is that such a model set standards not only for individuals but also for the collectivity of individuals, namely their cultures.
Resting on these humanistic norms, Europe announced itself as the site of critical reason and self-reflexibility. Such an outlook entertains the thought that Europe, being equal only to itself, as universal consciousness transcends its specificity. Furthermore, it seems to posit the power of transcendence as its very distinctive property and humanistic universalism as its unique particularity. In the process, otherness has always been defined as a negative counterpart of subjectivity/self. In so far as the difference, by default, spells inferiority, it acquires both essentialist and lethal connotations for people/things which get branded as ‘others’.These are the naturalised, sexualised, and racialised others who are reduced to less than human status — ‘we are all humans, but some of us are just more mortal than others. Because their history in Europe and elsewhere has been one of lethal exclusions and fatal disqualifications.’ Anti-humanism flourished precisely as an antidote to some of these contradictions inherent in humanism. Thus, the question Bertrand Russell formulated in 1963 sounds more relevant than ever: ‘has man a future indeed?’
Anti-humanism emerged as the rallying cry of this generation of radical thinkers who stepped out of dialectical oppositional thinking and developed a third way to deal with the changing understanding of human subjectivity. Such critiques are expanded to the destructive side of human individualism that entails selfishness and a misplaced sense of superiority. Anti-humanists advocated the need to open it up to the ‘others within’ in such a way as to re-locate diversity and multiple belongings to a central position as a structural component of European subjectivity. So, anti-humanism is consequently an important source for post-human thought.Post-humanism is the philosophy of our time with the urgency for an integral redefinition of the notion of the human. It is a radical response to the history of human primacy. Post-humanism destabilises the limits in symbolic border posts by strict dichotomies. It does so without subscribing to the process of oppositional schemata. We really need to deconstruct dualism as a habit.
So, we may assume that the human is a historical construct that became a social convention about human nature and ‘post-humanism as a move beyond these lethal binaries’. Biology too shows us humans share many similar genes with other non-human animals. Furthermore, the great diversity of non-human animals cannot be classified and simplified under one broad category called non-human. Hence, from a purely biological perspective, it is really problematic to separate humans from all other species and consequently consider all other non-human animals as ‘one’. As Heffernan observes, ‘… the more the essence of human is sought, the more the line between the human and non-human blur.’
Now we seem to have entered the post-human predicament. It is such a state when human needs essentially some ‘technology’. The notions like of ‘cyborg’ or ‘humachines’ is getting popular for this reason in our current world scenario. The post-human social climate is dominated by a political economy of nostalgia and paranoia, on the one hand, and euphoria or exaltation, on the other. There are two prominent tendencies regarding it in recent academic culture — either it is alternatively celebrated as the next frontier in critical and cultural theory or shunned as the latest in a series of annoying ‘post’ fads. According to Habermas, ‘the post-human provokes elation but also anxiety about the possibility of a serious decentring of man — the former measure of all things.’
One of the key notions of post-human discourses is the concept of ‘human enhancement’ by the use of science and technology. The crucial point to be mentioned here is that if we really want to eradicate discrimination of numerous kinds from human society, we must ensure that these enhancements are available to everyone irrespective of their region, race, gender, colour and most importantly irrespectively of their economic class. Then only these enhancements will be of real contributory agent for the overall human condition.
Any separatist/essentialist understanding, post-humanism claims, must be acknowledged and problematised now because as long as we keep ‘dualism’ in the basic fabric of our social constructions, consciously or unconsciously we will leave room for various subtle forms of discrimination. For instance, in the case of the anxiety over the ‘AI takeover’, we see another dualistic frame where we are the humans in separation from ‘technology’. The idea of eco-technology should be addressed properly. Technology, then, may not be thought of in separation from the environment but as part of the environment because their constituting elements come from the very environment and they finally go back to the environment.In these ways, post-humanism urges us, to make us understand that we are not one but we are many. We are in relation to other species. We are in relation to all the microorganisms that live in our bodies. In short, we are in relation to the planet as a whole. So post-humanism can be seen as the pluralistic symphony of the human voices that had been silenced in the historical development of notional humanity.
The solution lies in the fact that we accept a radical change in our understanding of subjectivity: not just as human, but as an open frame that includes the human, the non-human, and the planet as a whole.We should think of technology in ecological terms and justice not just for humans but for multispecies justice. It is the post-human wave that is moving us beyond human society towards the next phase of relationality. It is high time we addressed the basic problem of dualism directly because a shift can only result by fully acknowledging the actual state of things. To build a better tomorrow, instead of a dualistic frame, today we must learn to think in terms of relationality, co-existence, interconnectedness, affinity, empathy and even other subtler but profound notions like agape. It requires sustainable practices in their intentions and in their materialisation. Post-humanism invites us to proceed in relational and multi-layered ways in a post-dualistic, post-hierarchical praxis which sets a suitable way of departure to approach existence beyond the rigid boundaries of humanism and anthropocentrism. It is us here today who are to make these changes happen:
The post-human cannot and will not mean one thing. Post-humans are likely to be as complex and diverse, as historically and culturally specific as humans have been. Whatever the future, we can be sure that it will not be simple.’