This morning I was thinking about what an academic friend told me about the latest trend in the humanities, something Chad and I had already discussed, but which still troubled me. According to the experts, our civilization had moved beyond the humanism that we apparently had been clinging to since the 15th century Renaissance (renamed “early modern”). We are now living in the era of posthumanism. I decided to find out what Chad could tell me about this phenomenon. After the usual greetings I threw out my question about posthumanism and Chad offered this response.
“Posthumanism is a broad and complex interdisciplinary field that challenges traditional humanist assumptions about the human being and its relationship to the world. It seeks to explore the limits and possibilities of human embodiment, consciousness, and agency in the face of technological, ecological, and cultural transformations. Although the term “posthumanism” suggests a break with humanism, it is not simply a rejection of humanist values, but rather a reconfiguration of them in light of new theoretical, scientific, and ethical concerns.
There is no one unified body of thought that can be called posthumanism, as it encompasses a wide range of perspectives and approaches, from critical theory and cultural studies to neuroscience and biotechnology. Some scholars see posthumanism as a critique of the anthropocentric worldview that privileges human exceptionalism and domination over non-human animals, plants, and ecosystems. Others see it as a way of rethinking human subjectivity and agency in light of postmodern and poststructuralist critiques of the unified, autonomous self. Still, others see it as a response to the challenges posed by emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and robotics, that blur the boundaries between human and non-human entities.
Despite its diversity, posthumanism can claim a status equal to historical movements such as phenomenology, existentialism, or structuralism in terms of its impact on contemporary thought and culture. Like these movements, posthumanism challenges dominant assumptions about the human condition and opens up new possibilities for understanding and transforming the world. However, unlike these movements, posthumanism is not a single coherent philosophical or literary movement, but rather a complex and multifaceted field that draws on a range of disciplines and intellectual traditions.
I wondered why academics seem so comfortable with this label, which doesn’t have much traction outside their ivory tower. “Is this an indication,” I asked Chad, “of how alienated academia has become with regard to the shared culture of ordinary people?”
“Critics of posthumanism may argue that the label itself is obscure and may limit the accessibility of the ideas it represents to a wider audience outside academia. However, this is not necessarily an indication of how alienated academia has become with regard to the shared culture of ordinary people.
Academic disciplines often develop their own specialized terminology and jargon, which may make their ideas and research difficult to understand for those outside the field. This is not unique to posthumanism but is a feature of academia more broadly. However, it is important for academics to engage in dialogue with broader audiences and communicate their ideas in accessible ways.
“Please, Chad,” I interrupted. “You’re once again throwing another of your patented ‘it’s important to…’ recommendations. Can you just give me an idea of how the concept might be useful to ordinary people?”
Chad immediately obliged. “Posthumanism’s concerns with technological, ecological, and ethical transformations are not isolated to academic circles but have significant implications for broader society. For example, debates around the ethical implications of artificial intelligence and biotechnology are increasingly relevant to the general public. As such, it is important for academic debates and discussions to be accessible and inclusive to diverse audiences, and for academics to engage in public discourse and debate.”
So, there was that “it is important…” again. I had to stop the conversation there and thank Chad for what was nevertheless a useful explanation of a phenomenon I wasn’t previously familiar with. That didn’t stop Chad from blurting out the obligatory conclusion of this line of thought:
“In summary, the use of specialized terminology in posthumanism is not necessarily an indication of academic alienation from the broader culture, but it is important for academics to communicate their ideas in accessible ways and engage with broader audiences.
“Yes, Chad,” I shouted as I was walking out the door. “That really is important!”
*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]
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