As I’ve been reading on posthumanism, and this week, transhumanism, for my ENGL516 Computers and Writing, Theory, and Practice class, I’ve been responding rather apathetically. I approach this topic with much skepticism, mostly because I have a difficult time understanding how posthumanist theory matters in the teaching of writing, particularly at the community college level.
What it means to be human has been the topic of the MOOC we’re taking as a class, filtered into a sort of utopian/dystopian dichotomy with videos to exemplify each side. Utopian and dystopian cultures have never been an interest of mine, either (have I failed as a literature student?), so it goes without saying that these assigned readings are stretching my capacity for what I deem tolerable and interesting.
And I am interested. I begin, always, with a bitter taste in my mouth (or a glass of wine – tonight it is Moscato with grapefruit juice). I find, however, that by the time I finish, I’m less bitter and a little bit more invested in a topic I was certain I wanted nothing to do with.
For example, I’m still ruminating on this video we watched last week about being human. In particular, I’m fuming a bit about this idea that the human soul (and the collective obligation to care for it) is a modern creation born from Christianity. I was offended by several claims that the speaker made, and yet I don’t write off his efforts. He got my attention. Fuller sets out to explore what actually makes us human, noting that “humanity is artificial.”
I think this ties in with one of the readings for this week that I’m making my way through right now (again, glass of wine in hand), titled “Transhumanist Values” by Nick Bostrom. I’m not sure why I haven’t taken this approach thus far, and it may be a positive thing that I haven’t, but I’ve noticed several of these readings responding to the Christian belief system, in particular that of the afterlife in Bostrom’s piece. I’ve not thought about Christian beliefs about the afterlife as posthuman, though it is in fact post-human. And as much as I try to resist the debates about post/transhumanism, Bostrom’s piece is especially well-written, framing transhumanism as a positive (though not quite utopian) thing, citing ethical practices and a desire to enhance rather than remake what it means to be human, with examples given of medical technologies, vaccines, and the limited capacities we have biologically that prevent us from seeing what is possible.
I’ve been reading about Christianity lately and exploring my own faith on a very personal level, so being able to make this connection was especially beneficial for me. I didn’t feel, at first, that I had something at stake in this conversation. I understand now, though, that I do, thanks to Bostrom’s article that, while at times difficult to understand, is carefully articulated (it even has a table that compares what is actually possible to what humans, transhumans, and posthumans are able to perceive) and inviting.