Monday, September 15, 2014

The human, the technical

The naive story goes something like this: God creates man, then woman, then they create things once out of paradise through labour. Man will create tools, woman will create children.

Even though few people would subscribe to that version of the story nowadays, the overall understanding of what humanity is follows pretty much the same lines. We evolved into humans and then history started. An imagined Adan creates society, tools, rites and mythes. (Cf. Freud's myth of the killing of the Father.)

The truth, however, is more complex. 

A few animals start using tools. They keep on doing it for a few million years. They use the tools together, as a group. The group evolves, the body of it members evolves, the tools they use evolve as well. Everything evolves hand in hand, like in a dance (macabre?). 

Then after a few millions years you got the human, and the tools, and the institutions and all the rest. There is no one without the other. 

The first ones to realise about this were the Greeks. 

Greek mythology can be seen (between other things) as one way to explain how technics modifies the human, how it created the human, and last but not least, how the human can stand in itself beyond technique.  This is the critical passage were Zeus tries to fix the mess left by Prometheus, who gave the techniques to mankind, but which were not enough to ensure the peaceful living amongst them:

"Zeus therefore, fearing the total destruction of our race, sent Hermes to impart to men the qualities of respect for others and a sense of justice, so as to bring order into our cities and create a bond of friendship and union. Hermes asked Zeus in what manner he was to bestow these gifts on men. "Shall I distribute these tekhnai as the arts were distributed—that is, on the principle that one trained doctor suffices for many laymen, and so with the other experts {demiourgai}? Shall I distribute justice and respect for their fellows in this way, or to all alike? To all said Zeus, "let all have their share"" (Plato, Protagoras)

What are we looking at here. I think the best way to understand the truth of this passage is via fantasy, and for that nothing better than a bit of conspiracy theory. Say Plato in reality was a committee of people trying to educate and save humanity from its continuous killing each other. They knew that technique is what makes the human human in first place, but also that a blind application of it conducts nowhere else than to total destruction — Auschwitz. So they devised a myth where the future of humanity was at play, and the only way to avoid it is by democracy, that is the justice and respect for your fellows.  And let all have their share, was a performative sentence that made the greeks believe, with justified reason, that the ability to live in society is something inherently human. And the greeks understood this because for them it made sense, since they knew in their eyes and their fingers that techne was what have made them humans, and also what could destroy them. 

Now, the human rights activist forgets the first part, and declares that everyone is human and that they deserve this and that, forgetting that without technique there is no humanity. (I mean, or the human is a biological given, in which case you act as a good old christian with all the stupidity and phalo-logo-whatever you want, or the human is a socio-phylogenetic construction inseparable from social institutions and technical developments, and to quote a sexi girl: one is not born, but rather becomes — by learning a technique – a man.) 

Ok, this is just a hunch, but seems reasonable to me: in the same way the development of the embryo repeats the biological story of life on earth in order to produce an independent living being from a single cell, the educational process repeats the intercourse with the world through technics in order to produce a human for a single biological entity. Without development, the cell never becomes a living being, and without fighting against the flint till dominate it, one never becomes a man; one never develops the sensory motor loops and the degree of interaction with the world that define the human as a human. 

Why? Because techniques implies a level of involvement with the world so never seen before, that it changes the metaphysical relation of being with itself — that's why Zeus needs to be called to put order in the chicken coop. But that should be dealt with another day. 

NB: On this light, Heidegger's claim that only a God can saves us is not as retarded as one thinks on first sight, it only means that we need to recover politics — a wise advise in the times of Ebola and Brussels.  


  1. There is a joke that God created Man 1st (before woman) because he didn't want to be told how to do it (apologies for that).

    If one reads part one of "The Soil and Health" by Sir Albert Howard, which discusses the course of agriculture and soil erosion up to 1947, evolution may seem an inappropriate word to apply to man.

    Will awakening ever be Profitable? or even just Evolving?

  2. jajajaajaj, good one.

    Evolution is an inappropriate term to apply to anything. It's teleological and assumes environment as a fixed constrain, which is not factually the case. I'm more into a dance of interalations between beings. Varela et al. so to say.

    I don't know if it's profitable, but's there and you can have access to it, that seems worth it. Or to put it more mysteriously, every kid wants an infinite playground.