Our core text on E-learning and Digital Cultures this week is Neil Badminton’s introduction to a collection of essays on the subject of post-humanism .
Reading this chapter was like climbing a sand dune. I’m off to a shaky start with the ‘wonderfully vague’ concept of humanism. If ‘humanism’ can be taken to mean ‘just what I choose it to mean’, then what hope do I have of divining post-humanism as a concept?
Luckily, Badminton’s discourse has points of light, like stars in the night sky, by which I can navigate. Many of the theorists he references have been featuring in my own chain of thought these past few weeks. A consequence of clever course design, perhaps.
The first thing that strikes me about the text is how perspectives have shifted over time. Historical notions of humanity such as Descarte’s assertion that it is only rational thought that separates us from the beasts and makes us human stands in stark contrast to today’s tendency to think of computers as rational and people as charmingly irrational. Popular science fiction, for example, reveres the faultless logic of Star Trek’s Data, but revels in the charismatic and instinctive leadership of Kirk. Intuition, not rationality, saves the day every time.
This isn’t only true of science-fiction, either. Thanks to the study of a scenario called the ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’, we now know that a rational response is not necessarily the best one in real life, either.
It seems that the ability to set aside rational thought is necessary for the ‘greater good’, but it does not come easily. Rationality, then, is part and parcel of the ‘naive self-love’ and ‘human megalomania’ mentioned in Badminton’s introduction.
Reading between the lines of Badminton’s text, I find that post-humanism is the rejection of supremist views of humanity as ‘centre of the universe’ and ideology that draws upon the definitions of the privileged few, to the detriment of all who do not fit the mould.
Metaphorically speaking, post-humanism is a shift towards the best case scenario in the Prisoner’s Dilemma (which we know to be risky, but highly beneficial). I think I may be getting a handle on this whole post-humanist thing after all. I am even beginning to redefine myself as a post-humanist.
Then I go and spoil it all by reading ‘Humanism & Posthumanism’ on the Digital People Blog . This tells me that “common critiques of technology are basically humanist ones. For example, concerns about alienation are humanist ones: posthumanism doesn’t find alienation problematic…” Really?
Sticking with my Prisoner’s Dilemma metaphor, Digital People’s definition of post-humanism sounds more like a shift to the ‘you win, I lose’ scenario; putting ourselves behind metaphorical bars. I don’t much like the sound of that…
So here I am, back in the sand dune. Two steps forward, one step back. Time for some more star gazing, I think.