The Re-humanisation of Humanity
The power of the humanities today, lies in the degree to which it can facilitate our collective re-humanisation.
This moment in our shared human story is perhaps most defined by our bearing witness to the consequences of the long foment of a power that has depended upon (and further generates) dehumanisation. Power, by its very nature, is concerned with the creation of exceptionalism. But through the means available to us today, amplified by the compounding effects of human capability and time, this exceptionalism has followed its own logical conclusion to the point of irrationality, morphing into a denial and escapism of our humanity of ruinous proportion.
This erosion of our humanity with which power has become synonymous, is perpetuated in increasingly pervasive, and interrelated, ways – through the disproportionate creation and subsequent vilification of human vulnerability; through the disconnection of ourselves from one another and from the natural universe of which we are a part; and through technological advances which continue to centralise the wealth and power while exponentially normalising trends towards exclusion.
Perhaps amongst the most defining symbols of human vulnerability of our times, is the masses of displaced people being generated globally. The UN has reported upon the unprecedented flow of people being displaced from their homes, many of them forcibly, with figures today standing at over 70 million people. This vulnerability is systematically exploited through politics and nationally sanctioned narratives of racism and fear, which cast displaced people as irreconcilable and dangerous outsiders ready to violate order. This dehumanisation and accompanying sequencing into our collective psyche of vulnerability as a gross liability, serves to reinforce the boundaries between us.
It is upon the fortification of boundaries such as these, that the vision of power regulating our world thrives. Such severances of our capacity to empathise with others, naturalised into the narratives and systems which shape our norms, are a symptom of an initial isolation of ourselves from our own human depths. This, in turn, stems from a rejection of our place as a beat in the overall rhythm of the natural world – our mortality depicted (and struggled against) as a final barrier to claiming precedence over all that exists, and our inextricable oneness with the atoms and composition of the universe all but erased from our consciousness. What manifests is a dangerous schism between our vision of ourselves and the elementary laws and dependencies of being human.
The outcomes of this ill-fated split today threaten to eclipse us: devastated climate cycles, unacknowledged human biases and futile attempts at escaping our nature encoded into algorithms, and collapsing models of capital based on a gulf between social classes now stretched beyond functionality.
It is, I believe, no accident that our realities have become increasingly dystopic and hostile to our survival in proportion with the degree to which we pursue our dissociation from ourselves. So too, is it a profound, painful, but ultimately, timely, paradox of the human story, that in our attempts to evade ourselves, we are instead reminded of the fullest extent of the fragility of our nature – each challenge we face entreating us to examine our interdependencies further.
During times such as ours, then, the call upon the humanities is momentous.
It is being asked to measure its power as a measure of its redefinition of power. It is being asked to chart our way forward in a way that breaks free of the encumbrances of a brittle and doomed vision of power that has led us to collectively organise ourselves in ways based on dogmatic segregation and denial of the vulnerabilities that underpin our nature.
This means understanding the role of humankind, not as exceptional or as unaccountably privileged, but as dispersive and tied to planetary ecosystems and to the timeless laws of the natural universe. It means no longer contextualising ourselves based on histories that normalise hierarchies of worth by privileging only certain voices, but upon narratives that integrate the full hue of experiences that constitute the human story. It means moving forward in a way that, by no means rejects the power unlocked by technology and human capability, but which asks only for a deep interrogation of the philosophy driving these advances to limit futile promises of infallibility, and to instead bring us closer to ourselves.
Our times are beckoning us towards a metamorphosis of our collective consciousness that is asking us to integrate the full breadth and depth of the human condition – revelling in its sublime beauty and not rejecting our innate propensity towards suffering. This rests upon a reorientation of ourselves that embraces, rather than denies, the necessity of our human vulnerability, and which harnesses, rather than weaponises, the interconnections that make us echoes of one another.
Herein lies our path to re-humanisation, and perhaps, to our very survival.
This article was first published in Rhodes Scholar Magazine 2020 - themed "Power of the Humanities"