A Universalist Conception of the ‘Human’?

What is the human? At first glance, this seems to be a fairly easy question. Already when we were children, we probably all had a rather clear idea about what a human being is and what is not. As adults, people normally still consider their conception of the human self-evident, no matter whether it is a biomedical or a more spiritual one. Therefore, it is usually not questioned or compared to other views. However, the line between ‘human’ and ‘not human’ gets blurry when you take a closer look at different cultures, religions or philosophical theories. An interesting example is the etymology of the word ‘orang-utan’ which means ‘person of the forest’ in Malay/Indonesian. In 2014, a court in Argentina even granted an orang-utan human-like rights.

Blurring the line between ‘human’ and ‘not human’ also works the other way around: Throughout history and until today, black people are compared to monkeys in order to demean them in a racist way – and people who have committed (or are suspected of) a serious crime are often regarded as beasts or monsters. This dehumanization establishes a kind of ‘subhuman’ category which can be used to justify measures that are discriminatory, violent and/or contrary to human rights. Thus, deeming someone ‘human’ or ‘not human’ is not only a description, but also a value judgement that entails many implications. This mechanism seems to be quite timeless, although the particular conceptions of the ‘human’ change over time. Thinking of a future shared with humanoid robots or extraterrestrial life forms, our current conception is certainly not the last word on the subject.


On Crary’s 24/7

While revisiting the Crary fragment (pp18-19) last night, I was briefly struck by the impression that despite the pessimism in the author’s judgment of the probable incurability of insomnia in the global capitalist conjuncture, his suggestion of the body’s resilient awareness of its complicity in the ongoing globalist processes of expropriation bears a certain optimism. That what is foreclosed to the self-serving psyche of the consumer-citizen could nonetheless be registered by the body through its refusal of the balm of sleep – a refusal so strong that it survives the opiates and subsists in the day’s lethargy – supposes a community-bound ontology that operates to limit violence. Further implied in this diagnosis is the true antidote to the affliction: the conscious recognition of this corporeal guilt and the likewise conscious withdrawal of one’s consent to the global capitalist machinery through action.

There might linger, nonetheless, a doubt as to whether the body is indeed as attached to community as the critique suggests. If the narcissism of the consumer-citizen allows him/her to avert his/her gaze from the contemporaneous sufferings of the impoverished other and to saturate himself/herself with the pleasures afforded by more immediate communities (family; friends), would the body be so agonised by the pain of the distant other as to alter its habitual patterns? Or is Crary interested not so much in furnishing a biological explanation grounded in what the natural sciences consider to be facts as in crafting another narrative that appropriates the figure of the body as a means of reclaiming our responsibility for the other? Does the critique then occur in a space of ‘pure’ fiction that only mobilises ‘fact’ as a rhetorical device for its appeal to its intended addressees? What is its ‘truth’?

LLM Modules, LW927

Restrictions – a good servant or a bad master?

While visiting my home country, the Czech Republic, for a few weeks, I have noticed a very interesting issue because of what I have been forced to attend a very sharp debate for a several times.

There is a new law being passed in these days, the act which prohibits smoking in all restaurants, bars and clubs. The bill was already approved by the Chamber of Deputies, now it is waiting for its consideration it the Senate and then for the President’s sign. Many discussions have been raised and strong arguments being given from both sides. The smokers and the catering services owners feel to be discriminated, the non-smokers are usually pleased by the fact that their health is finally taken seriously.

But I do not want to consider the appropriateness of this particular bill. The fact that really surprised me is how many people, smokers or non-smokers, generally perceive it negatively as they feel it as a too strong restriction of their freedom.

As a law student, I definitely believe in the benefit influence of the law to our lives. The idea of society without any rules where human beings naturally act honestly to each other, is nice but at least very naïve. I am also convinced that every law has its negative and positive side. Someone is restricted in behalf of the other one and we have to consider well whose interest prevails.

Why even in the case of the law whose essential purpose is positive inherently – the people’s health – is it still so difficult to achieve the affirmative perception by the people?

Is the main problem the lack of confidence in the governments as we do not believe that the average people’s welfare is really the major interest? I necessarily have to take into account the historical aspects as well: people of the Czech Republic had been restricted for the dozens of years by The Communist regime. Is it rooted in our thoughts that every law regulating our life is evil? Or is it just our human nature that makes us uncomfortable with any rules which tries to bound us?