Every piece of research needs to have goals, and mine has two. The problem with these goals is that they’re kind of difficult to understand unless you explain one term: posthumanism. This term is tricky to approach as well, because it actually has two meanings. One of the meanings has to do with altering humanity through technology, with the idea that we’ll someday become something ‘more’ than human. This is a cool idea, but not quite the kind of posthumanism I’m interested in.
The second meaning of the term posthumanism refers to the idea that there is no one definition of the word ‘human’. Starting in the Renaissance we see lots of humanism in the Western world, which like our first meaning of posthumanism focuses on improving humanity through humanity’s products. Unlike posthumanism, though, humanism’s tools for improvement were the humanities: grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry and moral philosophy. This also sounds like a good thing, and it was. Partly as a result of the humanist movement new groups in society (including women) regularly learnt to read and write, and had access to the texts that come along with that new knowledge.
The problem with humanism, at least the way posthumanists see it, is that when you try to make everyone better by your ideals, you also end up sneakily defining what ‘better’ is by those ideals. In Western culture, ‘better’ has traditionally been a wealthy, white, heterosexual man. There are lots of those in our history and culture. There’s absolutely nothing inherently wrong with being a wealthy, white, heterosexual man (some of my best friends are at least well-off, white, heterosexual men). When you assume that the views of wealthy, white, heterosexual men are best, though, you tend to step on other people’s identities in the process of ‘improving’ them.
So posthumanism, despite the ‘post’ in front, is actually about re-defining what it means to be a (better) human. That takes a lot of the straightforwardness out of the whole self-improvement system, but it does hopefully give new groups of people—the poor, women, non-whites, LGBTQs, children— the chance to be heard and accepted on equal footing with wealthy, white, heterosexual men.
But what does all this have to do with monsters? That’s a good question, which is probably best answered in a later post.
You can also read my first post to figure out how we got to this point.