The human being in focus

If we don’t know what being a human being means, we can’t understand our future. If we don’t understand who we are as human beings, how can we know when we are dehumanized?

We need to always be searching for what humanizes and what dehumanizes us. We must learn to recognize and understand the difference. We must continue to struggle to answer the questions, “What does being a human being mean?, and, What does it mean to be human?” 

The modern Technojungle is a world such as never seen or imagined before in the history of humans. Our safaris, both metaphoric in this book, and in real life, are going to take us through this Technojungle of endless tools, machines, data, information and our own knowledge and feelings. 

The above questions seem simple enough to ask, but not so easy to answer. The answers are always going to be moving targets due to changing technology, social trends, and a myriad of other factors.

How would you answer the questions, “What does being a human being mean?, and, What does it mean to be human?” 

Some scientists say it comes down to our DNA. Other experts point out that it is the way that we can walk upright and use our fingers and hands. Others believe our humanity and humanness comes from the fact that we have been able to adapt so well to most conditions. Or it is the way we can think about what we are thinking—that we are self-aware. Some people wonder if our humanity and humanness are contained in our way of socializing. I heard another expert claim that being able to ask questions makes us human. We’ll ask a lot of questions in this book and learn how to ask more.

Anyone who has seen the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey will remember the scene where the ape, after touching the monolith, picks up a bone and uses it as a club This club becomes the first tool. Some experts have concluded that it is our science and technology that make us human. Certainly it is our use of science and technology that allows us to change our world.

We are conscious, communicate in complex ways, think creatively and abstractly, however, is it possible to verify that we are the only species with these characteristics? What about whales and dolphins? There are certainly other species that seem to exhibit some complex thought and communication abilities. I listened to someone being interviewed about his life with what seemed to be a very smart parrot. 

Humanity and humanness can partially be defined by our abilities to adapt to and change our surroundings, communicate in sophisticated ways, and to do other complicated tasks so well together. Whales and dolphins are among many complex species that seem to be well suited to their environment, whereas humans can alter our environment in negative ways. A large technological city may seem like an advanced hub of activity. That is if you don’t take into consideration that cities produce pollution, traffic jams and other harmful and dehumanizing byproducts; not to mention that nature was destroyed to make the city—a city that becomes a human-made jungle. 

From The Oxford Dictionary of the English Language

Humanity— 1. All human beings collectively; the human race; humankind. 2. the quality or condition of being human; human nature. 3. the quality of being humane; kindness; benevolence.

Humanness— Of, relating to, or characteristic of humans: the course of human events; the human race. 2. Having or showing those positive aspects of nature and character regarded as distinguishing humans from other animals: an act of human kindness. 3. Subject to or indicative of the weaknesses, imperfections, and fragility associated with humans: a mistake that shows he’s only human; human frailty. 4. Having the form of a human. 5. Made up of humans: formed a human bridge across the ice.

 Throughout this book I refer to humanity and humanness often because they relate to what it means to be human in relation to technology which is the true focus of this book. 

Many scholars, scientists and sociologists have thought deeply about what it means to be human. Since this book is about learning to observe, what follows are some of my ideas based on my own observations. You may wish to consult with other people and sources for opinions to help form your own opinion.

We are aware of our eventual death. Throughout our life we struggle to stay alive, prolong our life, and heal ourselves. At the same time, don’t we do things that decrease our lifespan? Smoking, eating unhealthy foods and living stress-filled lifestyles are a few examples. This is a paradox. Does this make any sense—it is irrational and illogical? 

We know smoking cigarettes kills, yet many people can’t stop and others will even start smoking despite severe warnings and knowing the dangers. Many smokers will defend their smoking habit. Can you think of other high risk behaviours where there are definite dangers, and people choose to continue with the activity and even defend their choice? 

I sometimes hear guys after they exercise agree they deserve a beer. We are often drawn to the overuse of sugar or salt, or other foods that are deemed to be unhealthy. We could consider numerous other activities that are diametrically opposed to one another. People will exercise because they are obese due to poor dietary habits and still not alter their diet. Is doing something healthy to counter something unhealthy unique to humans living in a Technojungle?

Chemical factory with smoke stack

This sort of irrational and illogical human behaviour is not done merely on an individual basis. We as a technological society have many activities that could be changed. The big one, of course, is our dependence on petroleum, oil—fossil fuels. Burning these fossil fuels creates pollution. These days the contention is that this, along with other activities, contribute to global warming (the increasing of the global temperature) and climate change (the resulting changes in climates due to global warming). We don’t actually know if global warming and climate change are primarily caused by the activities of humans, or are part of the natural cycle of planet Earth. Likely, it is a combination of both.

At the time of writing this book, Western Canada is in a bit of turmoil over an oil pipeline expansion project that will allow for the transport of more raw bitumen oil from Alberta to the coast of British Columbia. The bitumen is shipped by tankers to foreign markets, so the number of tankers will increase and so will the dangers of oil spills and disruption to sea life, including whales. This is a project that that will cost multi billions of dollars and have a lifespan of several decades. At a time when the world is concerned about moving to cleaner forms of fuel, many people feel that this hardly makes sense, particularly when the oil and bitumen is coming from tar sands and the extraction process is ‘dirty’ and not very environmentally friendly. 

Part of political moves to look more environmentally friendly seems to be to create more bicycle lanes in the city. Adding a bike lane often means eliminating a lane for cars. This increases traffic and causes vehicles to sit in traffic jams wasting fuel. The wasted time adds to costs in businesses. Contractors and people who make a living driving a vehicle stuck in traffic charge more for their work. Since work is not being accomplished by those stuck in traffic, more workers are needed, so traffic increases and so do the costs to the jobs and products. Even if all cars were electric, the cost of lost time for those in cars would still be expensive.

The oil and gas industry is huge and has considerable weight politically and economically. There have been strides to develop alternatives to the internal combustion engine which uses oil products. Electric cars could have entered the market long before they did. Don’t humans sometimes use political and economic issues to steer society away from healthier activities? 

For decades the media has been depicting, and sending, unhealthy dehumanizing messages that erode and decay natural healthy human morals. Can you think of something you have seen in the media, movies, TV, etc. that could be more humanizing and moral? This seems uniquely human. Are morals a human only trait? How about ethics?

Because human beings walk upright, they are able to use their hands, with the unique opposable thumbs and index fingers, to do things that other species are not able to do. Humans can do fine manipulation of things with their fingers. Evolutionists say that humans came from an animal that crawled around on all four limbs, like other animals, and somehow evolved into walking upright, thus freeing the hands for special uses. Do we know of any actual proof of this in the fossil record? Can we see any living examples of animals that might be at the in between stage? Can apes have the dexterity that a human has? Is it our unique physical structure and abilities that allow us to create and use technology? Are there reasons why apes live in the natural jungle while we humans create and live in our own jungle—the Technojungle?

 We are increasingly having to share our crowed world with robots—sophisticated machines that can perform human-like functions. Another less used word for, and perhaps the original word for, a robotic device was automaton. Modern robots are not necessarily human-like in appearance or behaviour, however, they can have limited functions and move things around in a similar manner to a human. This is called robotics. 

Will robots one day become indistinguishable from humans? Will humans someday become robots by migrating their mind and essence into a nearly indestructible technological body?

Does wearing clothing make us human? We don’t walk around naked, at least, not anymore. We may have originally. Clothing hides our nakedness, allowing us to live in colder climates and to adjust our temperature as required. Humans use clothing and jewelry as fashion. Fashion helps to show other people part of our identity. Is clothing and fashion uniquely human?

Clothing is a technology that we use to protect ourselves and allow us to be comfortable in otherwise uncomfortable environments. In what ways do we use clothing to enhance our lives and to make a statement about ourselves as to who we are as individuals? Some fashions, a uniform for example, identify a group we belong to, such as military or police. Clothing is technology that helps to make us human.

Can clothing dehumanize us? Don’t humans also have a number of emotional and psychological differences from other beings? One reason we have clothing is because we have sexual urges that might otherwise get in the way of living a moral productive life. Although someone might argue that it is clothing that makes us less comfortable with the human body and unable to control sexual urges. Clothing is also used to make certain people more sexually appealing. Once again, we have a paradox. We can see advertising aimed at convincing teens and pre-teens to dress in an overly sexual manner. This is a way of using the technology of clothing to dehumanize.

Humans actually experience what we call love. What is human love? What does it mean to you? What are some of the many ways various forms of love can be expressed? The Greeks refer to four kinds of love. The Bible New Testament is based on the Greek language and mentions four kinds of love. C.S. Lewis wrote about The Four Loves. 

Love from the Greek language: 

Storge—empathy bond

Philia—friend bond

Eros—erotic bond

Agape—unconditional God love

Love tends to drive societies in many directions. Listen to popular music and you will notice that most lyrics focus on love. Is love arguably the strongest emotion that humans experience? Do you believe other animals experience love? How might animal love compare with, or differ from, human love?

If a person is deemed to have thoughts, emotions or behaviours that are not normal, or are inappropriate, even destructive, they may undergo treatments. These treatments may include counselling and medication, to alter and improve them so that they meet with social norms. Some emotional and psychological changes are temporary, perhaps the result of a trauma, such as a death in the family. 

Soldiers return home from their military jungles and often have short-term or long-term, perhaps permanent, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In their head, they may relive traumatic experiences. The personal trauma of military experiences and other traumatic experiences in our lives, particularly when untreated, can dehumanize people and their families. 

A few humans may actually fight, make war and even kill other humans for reasons other than survival or self-defence. Entire societies will go to war. War gives somebody the power to order another human to kill somebody they know nothing about and with whom they have no quarrel. Is war unique to humans?

Both love and war, along with other characteristics and traits, are foundational to human societies. These characteristics and traits seem to have followed us into the Technojungle where they are assisted by technology. In what ways have you noticed love and war being assisted by technologies?

Humans have some sort of faith or belief that there is a spiritual side to them and the world—that there are gods or there is a God.s Does this understanding exist in all societies? It might be cultural or part of what it means to be human, or both. It seems clear that what makes us human is something that is within us—within our bodies. 

Could it be that the belief technology will solve all humankind’s problems be the fastest growing faith? People seem to be discarding any sort of religion and may be clasping to the notion that technology will one day resolve all human problems and difficulties, but could this actually happen? Is this a faith—salvation by technology? Could this be the new path to being human, or to being unhuman? 

The Thinker

Actually, the two words humanity and humanness could be said to define the word human and what a human is. Can you go even deeper than a simple definition and look for the more complex meanings to what really makes yourself and all of us human, and what it means for you and all of us to be human? This is what this book is really about—being human beings. Even more, what roles does technology play in making you more or less human? How and why? We have had technology from our earliest days, however, now that we are in the future, it seems to be not quite what we might have expected. We find ourselves in a jungle of technology—a Technojungle.

Part of the goal of this book is to help you learn to recognize and fend off dehumanizing influences and develop more humanizing approaches to your life. As you go on safari, pay attention to what you understand makes you human and see if it changes as you read this book. Think carefully about the questions asked along the way. I want our journey through this book and your own safaris to be more about understanding what being human means than simply looking at technology. We can be more human by understanding how technology impacts our lives. As human beings, we want to learn about being human beings and living in a world of technology—the Technojungle.

Now that we, hopefully, have a somewhat better understanding of what it means to be human, we need to look at that which constitutes the Technojungle—technology.


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