Week 6 English 516 & Week 3 EDC MOOC: Part I

Film 1: Toyota GT86: the ‘real deal’ advert:  Being human…hmmm…not sure that is precisely expressed in this video.  As in, this video is a classic demonstration of an increasingly dystopic vision of the present and future of the relationship between humans and technology.  Could someone argue the opposite?  Sure, of course.  The most “anti-human” aspect of this video is hard to pinpoint.  I would say it is the moment when the CGI protagonist skims his hand over the CGI plant (around 0:25). That plant is the only bit of the natural world represented in the video, outside the people.  “No gimmicks, just me, the car, the road, and feeling alive for the first time–but that’s not allowed around here”, the man says…in a digital environment of a digital commercial disseminated by digital means to consumers of both digital products and other technologies.   The whole idea that all that man needs is MORE technology, the newest technology, and then he will truly experience what it is to “be alive” and break out of the gray monotony of….a technological world is….so superficial and conflicting.  As though it is all the other technologies that are bringing the man down, and all he needs to be free is a new car.  A new car that is simply another form of the same poison he attempts to assert his rejection of.

Film 2: BT: heart to heart advert: I have yet to read the Kolowich article, but briefly, I see in this commercial the ongoing discussion of what it means to communicate.  BT is advertising for the notion of oral/aural communication being superior to writing (or online conversation), at least in the case of personal discussions.  The brothers are having difficulty talking about their mum, with one notably using an emoticon instead of the word weird.  The light-haired brother is also dissatisfied with beginning a conversation with what appears to be his girlfriend in what appears to be a chat program.  Technology can determine the nature of interactions, this seems to say.  This commercial deftly illustrates our control over which tools we use when the man decides to have a telephone conversation with the woman.  The mum seems to be left hanging, as the brother doesn’t effectively communicate his concerns.  It’s as if his brother doesn’t take him seriously–I find myself to be somewhat skeptical of the true gravity of what’s being conveyed when someone uses an emoticon. All of this says to me that more than ever we need to be careful of the nature of our interactions in relation to what technologies we choose to employ for negotiating our social interactions.

Introduction: Approaching Posthumanism” by Neil Badmington

In one way, it is difficult to imagine how there can be a ‘post-‘ of an ever-evolving concept.  Humanism is not concrete like structuralism, in that it is based on what it means to us to be human and practice humanity.  When that changes, then humanism changes.  We will never be past the concept, and trying to call posthumanism what is more properly a reworking of the definition (this is going to continue indefinitely) is giving me some serious cognitive dissonance.  Badmington states that “humanism cannot escape its ‘post-‘.  I argue it doesn’t have one.  You could say that another philosophical trend is dominating the conversation, but that doesn’t mean that humanism is defunct.  Humanism doesn’t refer specifically to a time period.  It’s conceptual, for crying out loud.  Just because we have widespread use of technology, doesn’t mean there are no Luddites; what once referred to specific artisans bent on destroying the machines that were stealing their jobs, now encompasses those that are against automation, technology, and industrialization.

I get putting labels on things for the purpose of linear reference, but I don’t know if you can characterize the semi-fluid nature of a philosophy as Badmington does when he says: “Humanism never manages to constitute itself; it forever rewrites itself as posthumanism.” Humanism is a fairly flexible and fluid concept, depending on the discipline using it…it is based on ever-adapting humans after all.  In this case, ‘post-‘ seems problematic for the discourse. It’s akin to saying, well, that had its day and now it’s gone, so we don’t have to worry about it anymore going forward.  Head in the sand much?   If you equate posthumanism with antihumanism, what are you then left with?  What are we subscribing to ethically, then, in this world where we’re constantly changing our inescapable -isms?

theoretical antihumanism: in which there is an awareness that radically different material conditions of existence produce incompatible subjectivities.  Incompatible subjectivities, sure, but all humans experience those.  Humanism is simply a matter of basing ethics in empiricism.  Badmington gives a Marxist definition for subjectivity: “[it] is not the cause but the effect of an individual’s material conditions of existence”.

A few more thoughts:

About halfway down the second paragraph on page 7, Badmington discusses Freud and Lacan. After reading it, I was left wondering if the anti-humanist philosophy places the center of the human being at a physical space separate from the human. Is it partly the ability to shift agency to someone/thing else? We do it when we say (as Lacan does in the article) “the ego…is not even master in its own house”, by shifting the agency/responsibility to something presumably outside our control.

I couldn’t agree more that a selfish, egocentric view of our role as members of an ecosystem is both unhealthy and unsustainable. We have come to realize this (well, some of us have), and have taken steps (albeit tiny ones) towards a posthumanist revolution. Perhaps when collectivist notions are valued above individualism (rampant in the West), we can do some real work.

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One thought on “Week 6 English 516 & Week 3 EDC MOOC: Part I

  1. Steve Krause says:

    I think the reference to Freud and Lacan is mostly about the idea that we as humans have a level of control that makes us different from animals, that gives us more reason, etc. If it turns out that we are less in control of our psyches than we might have previously acknowledged, maybe that makes us a little more like other animals, which would be a blow to the idea of humanism putting us above the rest.

    It’s a subtle thing here and I think it’s hard for a lot of us to parse out because for most of us, “humanism” is wrapped up in notions of “equality,” and I don’t think that’s necessarily the same thing.

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