Man is something that shall be overcome.
Since ancient times, recovered through artifacts, even before writing was invented, people have believed that they project outside of them something stronger, better or more important than each of them separately and all of them together.
If we look at the entire history of humanity (with very few exceptions), that “something” was, until recently, a series of gods, a single god or a succession of these two. Often shaped in the image of man, the God was a perfect man. The God had, and for many still has, an almost human form or messengers – exceptional beings, demigods, prophets or heroes. Mythological heroes who are sometimes said to have once been human beings in their own right, who performed glorious deeds for their species. This is where history, religion and mythology are, in fact, one and the same thing viewed from different angles.
Nevertheless, these heroes have an exceptional character and arise from an (almost) human being, one that gives rise to a transformation so profound that it changes the way of life, the perception and the beliefs of almost all their fellows throughout a smaller or larger territory.
It is hard to say whether relating to the ideal man became a conscious act with modernity or long before it. We know, for instance, that the Renaissance placed man at the center of the universe. There is also the problem, as the historian Paul Veyne says, that the Greeks might have also been aware of the very close relationship between the humanized and the allegorical character of their deities. Plato himself was aware of the moral limits of myths and therefore viewed this relationship as pertaining to a moral and human ideal.
The Enlightenment was already seeking to free man from the remaining obsolete ideas and superstitions, and Nietzsche is still considered a strong reference, one who demanded the overcoming of the human condition, without any apparent purpose and point of reference. God is dead, long live the Beyond-Man (Übermensch), this Beyond Himself who throws himself into nothingness in order to surpass only himself (as a person, but especially as condition). What is remarkable, however, is not this phrasing that is easy to remember from Nietzsche, but the ordinary and easily noticeable fact that every man is a superman for his previous generation. Not through personal efforts, as is the case of many, but by following an evolutionary path that others, as Sartre said, open for all humanity.
Humanity, what a brutal word
It is hard to deny that now, as before, a series of horrors are happening – wars, crimes and rapes, as the press wants us to believe, occur all the time. The planet is degrading, we are drawing on already scarce resources in an inefficient way, we lost our references when we lost our landmark.
It is just as hard to deny that the poorest man now lives better than the poorest man of the early twentieth century; that technology has advanced at an incredible rate; that slavery has been almost abolished from the entire planet; that a number of diseases that once killed a great deal of the planet’s population have been eradicated completely; and that we are (still) the only species organised in such a way that our crops and game are delivered, through a series of stages that many of us are not aware of, to some bright caves where they are sorted by categories, prepared and packaged, so that all we have to do is drag them to our nest, take off their artificial skin and eat them. All this in exchange for our (or our forerunners’) work, which is converted into rattling, shiny pebbles or atypically strong and symmetrical leaves.
Where do we come from and where are we going?
It is, therefore, no wonder that the world is changing radically, as some people say, and faster than ever before. What these people forget to mention is that we, all of us together, make this world, at least the one that is changing too rapidly, and that we are the cause of all the quick changes we see around us. Wherever we are, whatever we do, know or see, robots are about to replace us, the oceans are about to flood our island forever, we are about to move to Mars or live as fully operational creatures until we are 120. So what shall we do then?
Will we, – like the ship of Theseus, which by the time it reaches its destination has had all its initial components replaced – still be human? If we have robotic arms, organs grown in laboratories, an artificially created living environment, if our children (?) are created and born in laboratories, as is our food and maybe even our mind (?), if a new conscience arises there instead, will we still be us, will those new beings still be human? Will we be post-human? Will those replacing us, be they a little like us or totally different from us, be post-human? Is a post-human being the next step on humanity’s evolutionary path?
And if this is what will happen, will it be the right thing? Will the good mean anything to the third generation of robots that will build each other? Should it still have to mean anything? Something else than high-quality oil and an indefinitely running engine?
Coming from a world that is only ours
These are some of the questions that researchers or promoters of post-humanism try to answer. Most of them are optimistic, resigning themselves either to our species’ ability to adapt and integrate technological change into new ways of life or – with stoicism or even enthusiasm – to our total extinction. We will not ask ourselves here what justifies such ideas, but what has caused them. Is the human outdated? Has the human – understood as the highest stage of this species, which is considered the most evolved on this planet – reached its limits?
Some say that humanism is phallocentric, Eurocentric, that it opposes man to other animals and the environment (of which we are part, after all). But is man’s extinction or transformation into a bionic, technological or mutated being a solution to these problems?