2007-04-17

Dehumanization

In America, today, humanity is slowly and quietly being annihilated. This is an insidious destruction of self-hood in which most of us are gleefully contributing too. This assault on being is being committed on several fronts, including pharmaceutical companies, the psychiatric trade, and the sciences, combined with the changing standards of how we work and find recreation. All together this represents a serious change in our operational episteme, or world view. The result of this shift is that the very idea of humanity, and how we see ourselves, is being radically redefined. This means that our being itself is changing, since how we define ourselves limits our potential modes of being.



Science and the pharmaceutical trade are slowly diminishing humanity into a series of blind and meaningless chemical reactions, at the expense of the reality of us being the masters of our own fate, and ultimately responsible for our actions and internal state. Psychiatry is slowly changing us into a series of chemical imbalances that we have no ultimate control over outside of various prescription regimes. The emphasis has shifted away from us struggling to control our nature, and thus ultimately to blame for it. We are no longer responsible for ourselves. This can be seen in medicine with its various "quick fixes" to aesthetic and health problems, such as obesity and distorted body image, replacing a willfully healthful lifestyle as a cure. In mental health we deal with problems with drugs, and a de-emphasis on any form of psychoanalysis or cognitive therapy, nor introspection into possible environmental causes of psychological ailments. We are seen as decreasingly culpable for our actions and predicaments, instead physiology and chemistry carry the weight of responsibility. The self is becoming a base physical construct as opposed to an individual.



The current crop of "evolutionary" scientists, and physical reductionists are adding to the destruction of self-hood by removing the aspect of choice from our very being and existence. Agency and self-hood are being replaced by invisible law, and a theory of illusionary being, where we have the illusion of choice and being, but actually this is instilled in us by Darwinism and blind adaptability. I have covered this ad nauseam in my various critiques of determinism. We have become mindless tools of natural law, and not agents free to act within their constraints. There is no longer any room for self-hood with in the constraints of naturalism and scientism. The self becomes a mere illusionary consequence of chemistry (and thus physics), and a long natural history. The consequence of this view is that our nature is immutable, and inevitable, and thus is meaningless to view us as being free to change ourselves. It takes the humanity out of human nature.



Between these shifting scientific perspectives we witness the "nature vs. nurture" debate shifting so far into the realm of "nature,” that "nurture" becomes a mere subordinate synonym of nature. Our mental being has become pure chemistry and physiology, which in turn is almost purely genetic, which is only the consequence of natural history. The self is now completely subordinate to science, and scientists. Gone are the brief glory days of nature being tied to nurture (and visa versa), where changes in your consciousness and willful behavior could influence your chemistry and gene expression, which in turn would influence your consciousness and behavior, in a complex feedback loop. This view is dying a rapid death at the hands of cognitive science, neuroscience, and evolutionary biologists (with the help of pharmaceutical reps). This first aspect of the on going episteme change is definitely worthy of closer philosophical scrutiny, but we will have so save that for a later date.



The second flank in this process is the change in the structure of our society, and our interactions with it. Where the first change is almost wholly philosophical, the second is environmental, and can be traced almost purely to the current conception of capitalism.



In our interactions with society, we are more and more dehumanized; we are seen more as data or as a part of a process to be completed towards the ends of some "greater" productive goal. This infects our day-to-day work experience, and our other myriad interactions with mass society. At our jobs we are more and more subjected to Marxist alienation, we do meaningless tasks tat are so compartmentalized that we often lose sight of the meaningful whole that we are participating in (if it indeed even exists). We have no stake in our work except money (itself an arbitrary symbol), and thus we fundamentally don't care. We get called associates, or partners, which is a thin mask to the fact that we are utterly expendable, we are mere means of production, and becoming more and more replaceable with cheaper systems (out-sourcing, or automation). We are paid the minimum to keep people working, as balanced with pure profit (the ultimate goal). Our well-being is irrelevant. Conversely our lives are slowly being redefined as pure consumption, our very worth is being defined by what we buy, and what products we prefer. Again, this is for pure profit, and no actual intrinsic benefit toward us as people, and as such we are charged the absolute maximum that will keep us consuming, regardless of various cost saving devices (usually resulting in us losing jobs or money).



This cycle has rendered us as pure consumers. Increasingly we are assaulted by invasive ads, when we seek recreation, when we attempt to commute, when we do anything. This is because we are, again, merely a means to profit, and nothing more. Increasingly we are carved into demographics (which we increasingly wear as a badge). This invasion becomes more and more subtle, no longer is it oblique and obvious, but has become subtle like various forms of artificial "word of mouth" campaigns, to elaborate games such as the marketing of the new Nine Inch Nails CD. This leads us to be suspicious of all forms of cultural conversation, since it could be a subtle trick to manipulate us. Advertisement has become part of our culture, even though it exists only to manipulate us for capital. Both our work, and cultural utility treats us as a means towards ends, and thus ultimately objectifies us, striping us of the respect and regard that comes with humanity. We are units of value, instead of the arbiters of value. We are raised from birth, now, to be perfect consumers, our subjective meaning is slowly being defined only in terms of consumption.



We add to this the apparent view that our governments have taken of us, where we only are tools to sustain various ideological systems. Our importance and protections become subordinate to corporate interests thanks to the ideology of supreme capitalism. The very systems that envelop us have taken to pure manipulation of their constituents (us) towards their own well being, at the expense of ours. We can see this in more and more forms of legislation, where our rights are legislated away in favor of ideological platforms, and corporate interests. Again, the individual has changed into a mere token to be manipulated, and not a being in-itself.



Worse, thanks to the pervasiveness of this new environmental paradigm we have begun to internalize this world, since we feel as if we must fit. We are losing sight that these systems and structures are in place to benefit us, and not visa versa. We are the ends in which they should be turning, since we permit their existence. But we while away more and more of our lives being "productive" towards some externally motivated ends. Constantly we use emergent technology to get more and more work done, even if this work does not benefit us in any personal sense. We feel that our efforts are wasted if spent on internal, or merely self-important activities, and not thing that our environment judges important. This can be seen in the popularity, and increasing amount of cult of productivity sites such as 43 Folders and Lifehacker. The reason why productivity as an ends in itself is an ultimate goal escapes me, shouldn't the value of that which is produced matter too, or the self-meaning we get from production?



This emphasis of environment over individual probably leads to the over-treatment of psychological conditions stated in the first section, we now struggle to fit in an environment hostile to our natures, instead of trying to change the environment to fit our needs. We view ourselves as powerless, and we view our lack of fit this alien atmosphere as a self-problem, even while denying our ultimate culpability for this problem. We are stuck between two dehumanizing paradigms. This results in what the sociologists call anomie, or the general feel of detachment from society and the world.



These two forces combine into a single phenomena whose main result is changing our definition of ourselves in a way that is alien to how we actually experience ourselves. Definitions are things of power, since they operationally define entities, and limit their possibilities. If we cannot see our capability of defining our own meaning, we risk losing this as an essence of our being, and then our world will collapse into meaninglessness. These forces represent a violent attack on the self.



The general result of this change is the removal of the idea of humans as autonomous agents, and also the destruction of the values that result from this previous view. In the past humans were the creators of meaning, living in an self-constructed sea of meaning in which we were the center. The primary values dominating this view were self-autonomy and freedom, which lead us to view the world and situations as ultimately changeable. The consequence of this was a feeling of personal responsibility, which could flow into angst or empowerment. We were the arbiters of value in the world, the creators of meaning, and with this view we were free to attempt to shape the world, and ourselves to better match our ideals.



If we removed the encroaching fog of dehumanization we might be forced to contemplate the meaning of this change. Generally definitions of human nature serve some ulterior purpose. Redefinition is a very utilitarian thing, it is benefiting some modern structure of power, and this should be questioned. Look towards eugenics*, slavery, and Medieval Christianity for further examples of historic redefinitions of man. The modern changes, like the past benefit some existent power structure. For all changes in episteme, the first question we should ask is "cui bono?"



A partial solution to this problem is to embrace our individual autonomy, and to carve out space for individually meaningful tasks. Also we must recognize that we are the ultimate ends of the social, economic, and political structures that hope to ultimately subvert us towards their ends, and force them to reconcile this fact. More so, we must realize that we have the ability to create meaning, even if many of these expression are now deemed worthless to society being that they are not for the ultimate ends of capital. The scientific front is more difficult to combat, and I will save that for a forthcoming article, but we still must approach psychopharmacology carefully since there are indeed real physiological problems that should be dealt with treatment. But a vast majority of prescriptions and diagnosis are ultimately hinged on the presumption that we have no control, and this is a myth that we must not take for granted. Most common modern psychological "epidemics" are directly related to us, as humans, no longer fitting to what our environments want from us, and our environment not supplying what we need as humans. We must change our environments, not ourselves, this will lead to empowerment, the ultimate enemy of feeling of futility.



The mental illness problem is deeper, though, since it has become a way to be special, as we can see in the increasing number of adults proudly announcing the fact that they have some trendy "illness" such as Asperger's or "Adult ADD", both of which are absolutely absurd, and probably purely mythological. This is a way for individuals to claim some uniqueness, to standout in the more and more faceless, and impersonal world. ADD (adult and child) and depression probably are mostly the result of the aforementioned lack of fit into the changing external world, which is pointed to by the rapid increase of diagnosis with the increasing application and pervasiveness of the above episteme, they are more signs of anomie than chemistry.



To close, I'll include the catch-phrase for my cure to our lack of self-meaning: "Don't consume, PRODUCE!" Don't be productive, don't take Prozac, go find a canvas or notebook, some paint or a pen, and grab control of at least a small portion of your reality. That blank slate is wholly yours, and no paradigm can take that away. Creation is the key to existence, we create ourselves, and hopefully through smaller acts we may discover this.





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2 comments:

Dubious George said...

Fantastic article man...

Loved it.

Anittah N. Patrick said...

My sense is that the moment we humans translated our happiness into an external (e.g., cash money) we began our descent.