What is Humanity?

What is Humanity? This question comes up repeatedly when I talk to my students about the holocaust. I currently teach Sunday school at a Jewish temple for 5th-6th graders. We have reached the lesson on concentration camps. Many survivors and historians focus on the idea of humanity, that it was what was taken from the Jews and those who were in the camps. Last Sunday and this Sunday I decided to discuss the meaning of humanity as I knew they didn’t know what it meant. So I asked, “What is humanity?” All I got were blank stares and then one kid shouted “it’s being human” and they all thought that was funny. However, I agreed with him and asked them what it meant to be human and what makes us different. Again blank stares. I tried again by asking what was the difference between animals and humans or robots and humans. Then they began to answer, but not in the way I expected. Their answers comprised of physical characteristics of humans. They said we could walk, we wore clothes, and we had skin and blood. That humans are humans because we could talk. I couldn’t believe that out of all of them not one person said anything about emotions, feelings, personality or consciousness. I thought for a second that maybe I was the one who didn’t understand. I googled the definition of humanity and it read “the human race, humanness.”  The synonyms were human kind, compassion, benevolence, tolerance etc. I got the sense that humanity was all the good aspects of our personality, what makes us unique.  But in my students minds, humanity, the core at what makes us human, is only skin deep.

Because my students are young and this conversation surpasses the curriculum of my class, I had to continue on, but these answers never left me. I began thinking of Haraway’s cyborg manifesto. In this manifesto, Haraway talks about how the cyborg transcends binaries and can be seen as this third party group that cannot be classified or labeled. She talks about how the boundaries between animals and humans are now blurred along with machines and medicine. This entanglement can be seen with my students. They have a hard time distinguishing animals and technology from humans. If the characteristics that we hold dear of our humanity, is not discernible to children then are these distinctions dying out? With each new generation I feel that more and more binaries are being blurred. With the growth of technology, it is now inseparable from the new generations. Haraway believes we are all cyborgs, that it is in our ontology, and that technology is more and more lifelike. Haraway wrote the cyborg manifesto in 1985, I can’t imagine what she would think of the technology of today. In my class later on, I asked about the definition of perpetrator and my student took out his phone and asked Siri. My students all have smartphones which are basically attached to their bodies. With this technology, binaries have been broken down as can be seen with their lack of understanding of characteristics that are deemed purely human. The internet shows them every day how animals are not an “other” but a part of us. The animal rights activists have gained a lot of ground by the use of social media. Technology has allowed people to change their whole bodies to change sexes. It has allowed a wider communication from so many different people and has led to organized protests against institutions reinforcing binaries. Without their knowledge my students are already the embodiment of cyborgs. They transcend binaries and fail to recognize the distinctions between others and themselves. Furthermore, it can be seen more often in society now, those who turn against their parents and the past generations to carry out what they wish to do. They create themselves in their own eyes and ignore their past and their origin story. Like a cyborg, their creators are inconsequential. Even though they do possess an origin story, they ignore it and are able to move on. More and more technology has allowed people to become more than human. As cyborgs they are able to surpass their predecessors and shape the new era. In concerning the quote by Elie Wiesel shown in the picture above, I feel that now we should expand humanity, to encompass all others and things. That we should preserve cyborgity, and in doing so recognize that the boundaries that separate us from others are merely an illusion.

Haraway, Donna (1991). “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,”

So this video is of a holocaust survivor and is a part of the campaign called HUMAN by the good planet foundation. This foundation put together a series of videos where individuals tell their stories and show what makes them human. I believe these ideals on what makes us human, shouldn’t be taken away when binaries are broken down, but extended to all others and objects. In my opinion, it’s not just us who have the capacity for humanity.

 

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