Thursday, February 14, 2013

On Steve Fuller - Defining Humanity

What is ‘Homo Sapiens’. What was he in the days of the Greeks? What is he today? According to Steve Fuller, Homo Sapiens is an artificial creation. What makes him different from the Apes? (The ability to reason, says Descartes, is what distinguishes man from the apes) Fuller suggests man has been 'artificially' created by education where he has been ‘changed’ to portray certain traits and behaviours. (Is that not what all training is about – changing behaviour? I am reminded of 'Virus of the Mind' yet again). What makes a human ‘more human’? In the days of the Greeks and the Romans homo sapiens had his place as either an elite or a serf. Along came Christianity that told us we were ‘human’. Then we changed, we became concerned (or guilty perhaps?) about the distribution of wealth, of education. In the 18th century Africa was ‘colonised’ to bring Christianity (and education) to those humans that had neither. This was a response to the guilt. So what of the future? We have reached a stage where humanity ‘believes’ (has been educated to believe) that humankind is destroying the planet, that he has no place here. That he will make himself extinct. Humans are more concerned about animals than their own. And some people prefer to live in their other selves in cyberspace. Where is this taking homo sapiens? A Question posed by the Faculty: “He (Fuller) suggests that we are questioning the very existence of the ‘human’ because we have failed in the humanist project (for example, we are far from achieving racial, gender or class equality): do you believe this?” No I don’t believe this although my change in belief is recent. Last November I attended a conference in Johannesburg titled “Live and Unplugged”. One of the speakers, a South African woman, made a presentation titled ‘The SHEconomy’. She presented her ideas on the current and future of women in business. It was a staggering presentation of the rise of women in business suggesting that soon women will be the dominating influence. Her thesis was postulated largely on the emancipation of women due to the freedom they gained after the introduction of ‘The Pill’ – women no longer have to have children and when they do, today, they very often prefer to have them outside marriage. Then followed the Social Media revolution and women, being more socially adaptable then men, are, she suggests now better able to make better business decisions than men. She presented a lot of evidence to support her thesis. Women are even making rapid strides in politics and business in Africa where women have been far more stringently suppressed in recent times than in, say, Europe. In Asian countries we have also seen a definite attempt at improving the place of women within the Asian (and Muslim) versions of humanity. Turning to racial equality, I have lived through a revolution in the equalization of racial equality in Zimbabwe. Although there are still elements of inequality to be overcome largely because the black elite in Africa are seemingly more intent on suppressing the (black) masses than the previous colonisers. So ‘class equality’ in Africa has still a very long way to go. But that it will come is inevitable. The only question about it is when. As a last point in this blog, earlier this week I read about the ability of dogs to ‘reason’ following a research project in the United Kingdom. So being human is not confined to their ability to reason. Descartes got it wrong!


  1. I would suggest that we are questioning the very existence of the ‘human’ because we recognise that the Human of Humanism is incomplete. We are not satisfied to accept a static human definition because we cannot yet see all that we are. As the John puts it, "we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared" (1 John 3:2 ESV)

    In "Reflections on the Psalms" (Chap XII), C.S.Lewis reflects as follows:
    For we are so little reconciled to time that we are even astonished at it. “How he’s grown!”, we exclaim “How time flies!” as though the universal form of our experience were again and again a novelty. It is a strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the wetness of water. And that would be strange indeed; unless of course the fish were destined one day to become, one day, a land animal.

    Maybe the humanist project has not failed. Maybe rather it has not gone far enough towards recognising all that humanity is created for.

  2. I am struck by the statement from the Declaration of Human Rights . The first Article, for instance, asserts that: “all human beings are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood’.

    Badmington goes on to assert: “Despite the differences of religion, class, nationality, ethnicity, sexuality and language alluded to in the subsequent Article, fundamentally ‘we’ are all the same”.

    Yet we are perhaps not – there is a dichotomy between those that ‘lead for good’ (John Adair’s assumption) and those that do not. (Does anyone, anywhere, in any circumstance ‘lead for good’? One hopes so) but the world is filled with leaders who destroy. They destroy their opponents – or at least attempt to. It is either pride, greed or the sheer need for power that apparently motivates them to do so. In so destroying their opponents, they frequently quite happily destroy their own people.

    In the 1960’s and 70’s the ‘Nationalists’ in Rhodesia demanded ‘freedom’ from the oppression of their colonial ‘masters’. An apparently righteous demand. But in pursuing this demand they killed thousands of their own people. And then, after assuming the right to govern themselves, continued, relentlessly to threaten to kill, and kill, many more of their own people.

    Is this what it means to be ‘human’?

    And the rest of the world is little different with conflicts in Syria and many other parts of the middle east, conflict in Myanmar, conflict between China and Japan, between Muslims and ‘infidels’ – wherever we go there is conflict between peoples who represent ‘the human race’.

    And it has never been different. The human race has been cursed with conflict since time immemorial and much of it fanned by religious differences