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WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HUMAN TODAY: Passive Beings of Virtual Communities

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If the first element in our redefinition is that we are technological beings, then the next characteristic is that we have become virtual. We live not where we are physically, but on the internet.

The other day I received a question from Facebook, “Do you know Eshani Mongia?”  “Well, yes!” I wanted to retort, “I should. My daughter lives in the same home as me!”

I gave it some good thought and decided I should not publish my ignominy. Facebook’s faceless technology was telling me that I would no longer have friends and family if I was not on it.  Our community and the games we play are now on the web and not our unknown, unnamable neighbors. Our communities too are virtual.

We do not need to think, the web thinks for us.  It has all the answers, all that could possibly be thought of is already on the internet. The music we could have composed, the songs we could have sung, the paintings, the poetry all is done by someone or the other. Before you think of it, it is on Youtube. Gone are the days of lonely geniuses polishing their skills and occasionally dying undiscovered. Today, they are discovered before they become geniuses and most likely it is a 12-year old.  For here is another key quality of contemporary human beings:

Since 99% of us have become such passive receivers of anything and everything from the internet, we are reactors, not creators.  Except the 1% prodigies so driven that they have to create by the time they are 12, burning out by 17 and getting totally lost by 21.

The individual’s culture is of reception, not of creation; not of time-tested inheritance; but of imitation. Our cultural concerns of the day are now doodled on Google.  It is easy to notice Google’s topics: historical figures who are relevant today, scientists, rebels, thinkers—not saints, religious holidays or such traditional stuff.

All indications say that Culture has lost its root in religion, and by implication in the past. If Christmas is doodled, it is for having shifted to the supra-religious sphere where it merges with the global party that celebrates the coming of the new year.

In this new global culture we are developing, we are loosing not only a lot of deadwood—which is always a good thing—but also the rich nuances of localized culture.

The paradox of our virtual lives is that we are never more lonely nor more connected.

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WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN TODAY

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There has to be something different and unique about human beings in the 21st century.  I am answering the question I asked some time ago: Is redefinition possible?

It is not only possible, it is necessary.

I believe we have become technological beings in a unique way. A hundred plus years ago, the growth of technology led futurists to imagine a synergy of technology with the physical body—it has come true in unpredictable ways. Mechanical hearts, and organs and children grown in petri-dishes and there is no limit to what can be imagined and executed. Another way of thinking led to how technology intervenes in our consciousness—the Matrix series of movies is just one example. Mostly it was about esoteric adepts who have played the Glass Bead Game. Today, it impacts the thinking of each one of us ordinary being.

So when does evolution cross a threshold—when change occurs in a few special individuals or large-scale in a whole race? For there is no doubt, we human beings are changing in a fundamental way. And it is not about our bodies. It is about our minds.

And that means that our culture, relationships, beliefs and attitudes—everything is changing.

Since we were always more dramatically creatures of the mind—this means that we are at the cusp of a massive change.

Is Shaw’s Superman finally coming to birth….Maybe, maybe not….!

Google is the new God of the TechnoBots

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The other day, a church tried to lure in believers by putting up on its notice board the statement, “Google does not have all the answers.” It got me thinking, God or Google, who answers questions better?

Ask Google something, and the search field never comes up empty. The answer might be as intelligent or ridiculous as the question is, but that is beside the point. If Google says the Answer to the Ultimate Question is not 42(as we found in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe) but 24, or 0, who is to argue with any finality? Is it not enough that there is always an answer in Google?

Ask God a question and all we have silence.  And since we are in desperate need for answers, and loosing patience we “look” back into our “souls”, look at intermediaries, signs and symbols, pundits and popes, and hit upon an answer. More likely they merely fulfill our emotional needs.

Considering that both Google and God give us the answers in our own images—as the question so the answer—do we need to quibble?

Can we just go ahead and declare, that today, as throughout human history, we are inventing a new god and are busily building a new religion around it? Google is the new god of the humanals and internet our new religion.

The best thing about this new god and religion is that we no longer to fight wars to prove that this one is better than any other religion.  After all, the whole world is an ardent believer of Google.

Celebrating Non-Difference and the Birth of the Technological Being

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When I look at how much we share, I am amazed that we have waged so many wars and undergone so much conflict to prove that we are different.

But whether we are metropolitans, slum-dwellers of Dharavi, shepherds in the Andes — birth, mothers, memories, consciousness, sorrows, joys, disease and death are not the only things we share. Both the rich and the poor got buried in the ashes of Pompeii and are swept away by tsunamis.

It is not just the physical conditions of our life and death which is our shared human heritage. We share the workings of our minds and consciousness. We are tool-makers and structure-imposers on reality, whereby we look at the world and receive, meditate and regurgitate technologies. And that is why, irrespective of our educational and economic status, we in the 21st century are the technological beings.

Whether we are sherpas listening to a radio in the foothills of the Everest, or a banker in New York, technology has become so deeply ingrained in our lives that we notice it no more than we see the atmosphere. No doubt, there is a wild variance in the application of technology in individual lives,  but  still it travels throughout the world, much like the toxins of a manufacturing town.

And as technological beings, we have adopted a new God!

Human Beings: Is redefinition even possible?

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Let us play a game here. Let us be presumptuous enough to redefine, on the claim that one never reinvents the wheel but always, invents new ways of using the wheel.

Philosophers, scientists, religions and cultures have spent all of human history answering this question. Culture, that umbrella term for our languages,  thought processes, social and religious practices,  is somehow the core of the definition, that one thing that makes us supra-beings: the top of the heap haminals, or humanals….Whatever!..few more words to show that human beget languages as much as languages beget us.

If a definition is finding the absolute commonalities, then let us begin with a minimalist definition: it is a physical being we are talking about. The human being, or  the hanimal. And of course, since we are creating the grammar, let us creat a new pronoun randomly—hb—just for the fun making ludicrous the he-she-s/he debate.  Can it get any stupider, more illogical than this?

Whats’ logic got to do with being a human being or with our cultural practices?  Logic is merely our effort to make sense of the world, to impose a structure, just like grammar is an imposition on language.

So the first element in our re-definition: living beings who happen to be humans, have a strangely illogical and crass need to impose logic, structure and grammar upon the it-is-what-it-is world.

More in my next post!

Sometimes It Pays To Go Back To Basics

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Individualism, the other name of Humanism and, the foundation of Universalism, is built up on a paradox: that all individuals are unique and equal.  Now, dont the two terms ‘unique’ and ‘equal’ cancel each other out? So we have to then add a condition to the definition. “All individuals are equal despite their uniqueness”. Does the definition work “universally”? Not really, as we know by the best kind of proof: around 200 years of solid historical evidence, even if we take Western history. Power—whatever its source money,  beauty, land, resources—disbalances the equation in favour of some individuals.

And those that do not have individual power, “unite” to form fresh power centres—whether of religion, culture or politics. And then the power equations are replayed between groups, thus leading to the ideology of multiculturalism.

One of Multiculturalism’s great achievement—and  there are a few—is to replace a flawed idea with a more flawed idea. If individuals by themselves cannot be equal, can they be, as members of groups, be? For, power, plays out its game at every level of relationship.

Is this why idea of Humanism was so wrong? And did Multiculturalism manage to totally trash it?

Maybe Humanism is yet another term in need of a new definition, something that has to be done before we reinstate it?

Multiculturalism, Universalism And Humanism

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Multiculturalism represents a new kind of universalism, writes Gurpreet Mahajan “one where integration of individuals into the state is not predicated on a total disengagement from particularistic community ties. Rather, people are included into the nation state as members of diverse but equal ethnic groups.”
In other words, this universalism means that the state values cultural diversity and is determined to establish equal value for each group. This also means that the rights of individuals are to be accounted for only so far as they are members of communities.
This universalism does not equate the individual to the individual, but the group to the group.

Does this not go against the very foundation of equality?
Are there values that are universal to human beings that, we, in our enthusiasm for multiculturalism have been neglecting?
What is our primary definition and how should we relate to each other: as human beings or cultured beings?
Is it not now time ripe to reinstate the idea of Humanism, so mauled by Postcolonialism?