ENGC44H3 Lecture Notes - Bill Mckibben, Cyborg

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Published on 16 Apr 2013
School
UTSC
Department
English
Course
ENGC44H3
Professor
Page:
of 5
Jeongho (John) Joo
HUMA01 Tutorial 003
2013.01.17
What Lies Beneath: Technology and the Human Question
Introduction
There is a powerful irony in the fact that the novelty of modern technology, of both Internet
and genetic engineering varieties, has given rise to concerns exponentially matching the
omnipresence of them. More exactly, there appears to be a “runaway train” mentality gripping
mankind, and not for the first time. The question asked with increasing frequency is what
precisely are we doing to ourselves, and the question is voiced as we feverishly continue doing it.
There can be no real answer, of course, simply because the nature of being human is a thing too
fluid to be properly identified in a way satisfactory to those seeking answers. On one hand, great
concern is expressed over the potential for true human contact to vanish, due to a reliance on the
virtual and a subsequent redefinition; on the other, genetic manipulation takes such worries into
darker territory, as it is feared that the meaning of human existence must be sacrificed on even
deeper levels, when we elect to alter human mechanisms of physical being and thinking. What is
most extraordinary in this sea of anguish, however, is its ignoring of fundamental qualities of
humanness no machine may eviscerate: baseness and self-aggrandizement. The sadder reality is
that humanity cannot be diminished by technology because its inherent worth, in the past and
today, is of itself a debatable attribute. More precisely: if humanity loses its essence through
technology, the technology is then only emphasizing a more regrettable essence.
Discussion
As noted, concern regarding humanity's embracing of technology that may undermine
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humanity itself is rampant. It also takes a wide range of both forms and degrees of gravity. For
example, Susan Greenfield – perhaps optimistically – reflects the widespread feeling that concern
over technology as dehumanizing is misplaced, simply because the human adapts in ways that
protects what is essential the integrity of being human: “If the environment is changing in an
unprecedented way, then the changes too will be unprecedented” (Schmemann). People will, she
believes, maintain their core humanity because they will evolve to shape the technology of the
Internet to do so. That there are “bumps” in the road is inevitable, for we are today obligated to
reexamine traditional ideas of what knowledge is and how it is pertinent to us. More intrinsically
worrying is the human ability to engineer traits. Bill McKibben is unequivocal in his distress
over, not how communication technologies are eroding individual identities, but in how genetic
engineering will invariably encourage “safe” programming which eliminates vital uncertainties in
human development. The parent who orders genetic construction in their unborn child, he
affirms, robs the child of any possibility of comprehending their own life (McKibben). In the
meantime, also as noted, Facebook gathers millions of new users daily, and those same users scan
Internet headlines for breakthroughs in identifying specific genetic codes subject to alteration.
If these concerns are understandable, they are also highly suspect, in that they uniformly
ignore essential components of what “being human” means, insofar as human history has
provided some consistency of definition. More to the point, the articles bemoaning the potential
horrors of technology seem to reflect an inflexible perception of something irrefutably “noble” as
being threatened, when humanity's history more clearly indicates a presence or thing by no
means worthy of preservation at all cost. This viewpoint is by no means merely a cynical
response to the concerns, but one committed to determining the true value of the source of the
unease. It is, in fact, extraordinary that the experts writing on the subject invariably assume that
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something of inestimable value – the quality of humanness – may be the most sacred of all
elements known to humanity. This occurs even as these same experts struggle to identify the
quality, typically relying on an agreed-upon sense that it is a spirit of individuality that is, through
no avenues anyone may properly trace, essentially good or fine.
This is suspect because it refuses to admit to its more valid agenda, which is the protection of
the self. That is to say, the human self is theoretically elevated in order to justify the need to
protect, when there is as much potential for bad or wrong within it as there is for good. We
celebrate human individuality, not because it is of itself an instrument for good, but because it is
ours. Consequently, it is difficult to trust concerns over threats to it when the entity itself is
obfuscated to add ethical weight to the argument. This is not to imply that, as humanity's history
is a relatively bleak affair of violence and unconscionable wrong, there is little point to worrying
over risks to it. Rather, what is sought here is an honesty that must serve humanity itself. It is
fine for a critic, for example, to assert that Facebook is dehumanizing real human relations, but
that same critic is then obligated to confront how human relations are conducted regardless.
Obfuscating the many flaws of humanity in no way works to encourage a protection of it, and
this is further reinforced by considering both Internet and genetic manipulations. In other words,
the thing worried about, as stated earlier, is making these choices. If, then, a long-cherished idea
of human relations is lost, then that is what the humans in question seem to require. If, then, the
child is genetically engineered, the parents are not violating a basic human imperative; they are
reinforcing it. If, in fact, we meet the cyborg and he is us, then he always was, and we were
doing nothing for many centuries bu defining ourselves only as far as the technology placed
limits around us.
Conclusion
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Document Summary

What lies beneath: technology and the human question. There is a powerful irony in the fact that the novelty of modern technology, of both internet and genetic engineering varieties, has given rise to concerns exponentially matching the omnipresence of them. More exactly, there appears to be a runaway train mentality gripping mankind, and not for the first time. The question asked with increasing frequency is what precisely are we doing to ourselves, and the question is voiced as we feverishly continue doing it. There can be no real answer, of course, simply because the nature of being human is a thing too fluid to be properly identified in a way satisfactory to those seeking answers. What is most extraordinary in this sea of anguish, however, is its ignoring of fundamental qualities of humanness no machine may eviscerate: baseness and self-aggrandizement.