Mainstream Weekly

Home > 2024 > Post-Humanism: An Open-Ended Question To ‘Nature And Nurture’ | Sunita (...)

Mainstream, VOL 62 No 22, June 1, 2024

Post-Humanism: An Open-Ended Question To ‘Nature And Nurture’ | Sunita Samal

Saturday 1 June 2024, by Sunita Samal


Abstract: Post-humanists tend to be futurists rather than focusing on the past as historians do. The most troublesome aspect for both is the existence of ‘stand-alone’ individuals of Enlightenment. For post-modernism, the revolution in science and technology will reach a stage when there is no distinction between technology and magic. Today, artificial intelligence is being dominated by every field of science without exception. Feminists’ critical interrogation gives importance to both ‘nature and nurture’ which post-humanists found difficult to accommodate.

Introduction: Post-humanists argue that in our technologically mediated future understanding the world as a moral hierarchy and placing humans at the top of it which is no longer making sense. Post-humanists claim that in the coming century, human beings will be radically altered by implants, bio-hacking, and other bio-medical technologies. It evolves human beings into a species that is completely unrecognizable to what we are now. Emerging during the Renaissance, humanism is a reaction against the superstitions and religious authoritarianism of medieval Europe. It controls the human destiny from the whims of a transcendent divinity and places it in the hands of rational individuals. This has positioned humans at the center of the moral world [1]1.

Man is the Measure of All Things: For Feminist Donna Haraway, post-humanism is an ethical position that extends moral concern to things that are different from us and in particular to other species and objects with which we cohabit the world. Our post-human future, Haraway claims, will be a time ‘when species meet’ and when humans finally make room for non-human things within the scope of our moral concerns. A post-human ethics, therefore, encourages us to think outside of the interests of our own species, be less narcissistic in our conception of the world, and take the interests and rights of things that are different from us seriously2 [2].

Artificial Intelligence is being implemented in every sector and domain of society from warfare, medicine, and health to entertainment. Generally, human centrism posits that humans should have command over non-human entities. Theoretically, post-humanism offers a substantial basis for challenging this claim. Post-humanism is the critical interrogation of the conceptual and experiential boundaries that claim to distinguish the human realm from the non-human or other than human3 [3].

Strongly anthropocentric, humanism posits a basis for making various normative moral, cultural, and legal claims that are used as a basis for making various normative, moral, cultural and legal claims that elevate humans to the status of moral and political agents while relegating non-humans to a lesser more instrumental status. Humanism grounds its ethical claims in the human capacities for reason, autonomy, and impartiality which are then used as justifications for mastery and management of non-humans who are considered to lack these capabilities. In the intellectual histories of Western thought, the view that humans possess unique capabilities that make them exceptional and/or superior to others is often found.

For instance, ancient Greek virtues and modern humanism that privilege the achievement of human ends by way of human rationality at the expense of non-human lives. In human-centric narratives, such as the Renaissance notion of ‘man as the measure of all things’ or modern debates about ‘nature versus nurture’ or having self-authorized command and control over all others. In contemporary debates about ‘humans versus robots’ humans are framed as philosophically and politically, the conceptual network of binaries—mind/body, reason/emotion, human/animal, male/ female, freedom/ slavery—reflects the dynamics of mastery and hierarchy or of superior over inferior, essential over instrumental.

Historically, humanism has portrayed the human as the creator of culture and technology and as a bearer of rights and responsibilities that make use of other life forms both human and non-human forms. The instrumentalization of techniques and technological manipulation become the main vehicle by which humanism perpetuates dominance. Thus, many argue that such human-centrism follows the logic of colonization [4].

Cynthia Willett’s (2014) concept of interspecies ethics highlights the limitations of the liberal model of human agency and offers a post-humanist lens that goes beyond ‘modern and post-modern’ binaries5 [5]. Rosi Braidotti (2013) has argued that life is not the right of the human species alone rather, it is the very force that connects various species and also cuts across them. This opens up unexpected possibilities for the very idea of humanity and ethical forms of belonging6 [6].

One conceptual challenge may be that critical posthumanism does not lose its importance altogether. The anthropocentrism of this approach, however weak, remains here. It is especially difficult to overturn completely when the intellectual resources available are so embedded in human-centric histories. Both humanism and critical post-humanism retain normative assumptions about why humans should expect to maintain a special status among non-humans.

Since few ontological and epistemological resources are somehow connected to human-centrism, the conceptual tasks would require speculative rather than normative thinking. The task of conceptualizing non-anthropocentrism would thus fall to a distinct/third kind of post-humanism in which human control would be de-prioritized. The conceptual task would require speculative rather than normative thinking. In speculative post-humanism, anthropocentrism is devalued, deposed, and eventually jettisoned. Post-humanism would begin with the assumption that our current technical practice could precipitate a non-human world that we cannot understand in which our values have no place7 [7].

The critical and speculative post-humanistic conceptions may decenter strong anthropocentrism which upholds relationality, solidarity, and care as primary aspects of human/ non-human associations rather than atomism, hierarchy, and mastery8 [8]. The post-human starts by exploring the extent to which a post-humanist move displaces the traditional humanistic unity of the subject. Rather than perceiving this situation as a loss of cognitive and moral self-mastery, Braidotti argues that the post-human helps us make sense of our flexible and multiple identities. She then analyzes the escalating effects of post-anthropocentric thought which encompasses not only other species but also the sustainability of our planet as a whole.

Commodification and Post-Modern Utopia: Because 21st century’s liberalism and market economy profit from the control and commodification of all that lives, that results in hybridization between humans and other species. These dislocations induced by globalized cultures and economies enable a critique of anthropocentrism, but how reliable are they as indications of a sustainable future?

The posthuman concludes by considering the implications of these shifts for the institutional practice of the humanities. Braidotti outlines new forms of cosmopolitan neo-humanism that emerge from the spectrum of post-colonial feminism and environmentalism. The challenge of the post-human condition consists in seizing the opportunities for new social bonding and community building while pursuing sustainability and empowerment.

Digital ‘second life’ genetically modified food, advanced pro-aesthetics, robotics, and reproductive technologies are familiar facets of our globally linked and technologically mediated societies. This has blurred the traditional distinction between humans and others, exposing the non-naturalistic structure of humans.

It is difficult if not impossible to fully comprehend the effect of information and communication technologies without first having an accurate understanding of human subject. While we have made great advances in developing technologies, it is surprising how challenging it remains to answer this question has been one of the primary concerns of philosophers in humankind.

While understanding the human subject has been changed throughout history, it is further complicated by a wide range of cultures with radically different ways of interpreting the human. Haraway’s (1988) main focus remains on the contemporary Westernized world and commodification. This is not to discount other cultures that have beneficial contributions and perspectives but simply to limit the scope and stay embedded within her own situated knowledge to avoid appropriating the vision of the less powerful while claiming to see from their positions.

Rather than focusing on the humanist past, post-humanists tend to be futurists in nature. However, the most troublesome aspect of much of trans-humanism is the foundational idea of the stand-alone individual that is rooted in Enlightenment. Post-humanists are utopians striving to become perfect. The immediate goal of post-humanism is not necessarily a complete convergence with technology rather it is to improve the lives of humans primarily through the use of technology.

Another aspect that works against post-humanism is the tendency to present technology in a glossy, high-tech, marketing manner rather than grounded and situated, demonstrating both benefits and constraints highlighting the complexity involved with manipulating living systems. Additionally, there is a tendency to be too focused on the individual which might be the most difficult to overcome. This focus on the exceptional individual has led some to indicate that post-humanism is ultra-humanist9. Post-humanism can leave humanism to the bio-conservatives and embrace more contemporary disciplines that are better positioned to help fulfill post-humanist goals.
Linking post-humanist with techno-fantasy equates techno-fantasy to magic in the sense that new human-enhancing technologies are often portrayed without ambiguous or unintended contingent consequences. The time has come to decisively turn our backs on the idealization of a perfect human specimen and make the move for inclusivity, diversity, and plurality10 [9].

Conclusion: In the book Hayles, ‘How We Become Post-human10’ specifically takes on transhumanism’s desire for mind uploading and traces the movement back through to its cybernetic roots. He explains how this disembodiment of information has led trans-humanists to believe that a separation of the mind and body is possible when science will be no different from magic shortly. The term techno-fantasy refers to the idea of whether we want the benefits of technology. Whether our identity and culture be achieved smoothly, is an open-ended question.

(Author: Sunita Samal, Political Commentator, PhD From J.N.U., New Delhi; Bachelor Degree In Law From University Law College, Bhubaneswar)


1 The Ethic Centre, 22 Feb. 2018
2 Haraway, Donna (1985) ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’, IN the Socialist Review.
3 Bellacasa, M. P. (2017) ‘Matters of Care’ Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
4 Plumwood, Val (1993) ‘Feminism and the Mastery of Nature’, London: Routledge.
5 Willell, Cynthia (2014) ‘Interspecies Ethics’ New York: Columbia University Press.
6 Braidotti, Rosi (2013) ‘The Post-human’, Cambridge: Polity.
7 Roden, David (20150 ‘Post-human Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human’, London: Routledge.
8 Europe Now ‘Re-thinking ‘Human-Centric’ AI: An Introduction to Post-humanist Critique’. Nov. 9, 2021.
9 Ihde, Don (1990) “Technology and Lifeworld’, Indiana University Press.
10 Hayles, Katherine (1999) ‘How We Became Post-human’ University of Chicago Press.

[910 Hayles, Katherine (1999) ‘How We Became Post-human’ University of Chicago Press.

ISSN (Mainstream Online) : 2582-7316 | Privacy Policy|
Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.