What does it mean to be human, to be something more than a machine for production or consumption? What does it mean to have structure, bones, arteries, organs, nerves, skin? What does it mean to have synapses that fire, desires that animate you?
I do not have the definitive answer to these questions, but these days, I have a great desire to explore our shared humanity. There’s a need to understand us apart from machines, from media, from the programming of consumption and production. I want to know that I know that I know (to use an old Evangelical expression) what it means to be human as opposed to mechanical.
I ask again: what does it mean to be human?
1. The Whizz-Bang Woo.
Consider the elements of a human experience: shelter; nourishment; sex; tribalism; love; beauty. These primal motivators set us apart from most of the animal kingdom (these motivators, the opposable thumb, and the presence of a soul, I might argue). We search for them, turn over every rock, barter, bribe, and beg to avoid the scarcity of them. And if that rock-turning, bartering, bribing, and begging is actualized in naked purity, these motivators can produce some mighty fine results.
Consider sex. (You know you want to.)
Perhaps you’ve felt the beauty of sexual brain chemistry, the whizz-bang woo that washes over you in moments of ecstasy with your partner. Feel the rise in your stomach, the way the helium balloon shoots toward the ceiling before popping. Know the warmth in your cheeks, the rosey fire that’s a mixture of complete inebriation and utter sobriety. Consider the exhausted embrace, the feeling of fullness, completion, and joy. Conjure the goodness of the moment, the euphoria. (This, of course, takes for granted that you’ve worked through potential shame mechanisms associated with sex, a discussion for another day.)
When sex is pure, when it’s shared in mutual submission, it’s followed by a post-indulgence perma-smile and a certain soul-pliability. After a pretty good roll in the hay, can’t a lover can ask almost anything of the other? Won’t the other hop to it? The act of gratification and pleasure turns its participants into willing servants, forms tribal bonds and meets security needs. This (I might argue) is the good and proper outflow of a fully present, fully human sexuality. (Which, of course, takes for granted that your lover is not a narcissistic ninny, a discussion for another day.)
If all this talk of sex is a bit too much, consider other appetites. Smell a salted and seared steak, or taste the bitter nibble of well-crafted chocolate. There’s the whizz-bang woo, again. There’s the chemical rush of nourishment, the reminder that to be human is, most definitely, a good thing. And what wouldn’t you do for the chef who gives you this gift of goodness? You’d part with a days wages; wouldn’t you?
The trees, the flowers, the smell of spring–whizz-bang woo.
The embrace of a child, the glassy-eyed “I love you,” of the bedtime ritual–whizz-bang woo.
Moments of human ecstasy are all around us. But what of fear, the feeling that you’re being followed in an empty parking lot at midnight, that your neighbor is a peeping Tom? What of the feeling that you do not have enough, that scarcity is your lot, that you’ll soon slip into bankruptcy or a modern retelling of the Grapes of Wrath? These primal motivators of fear and scarcity are certainly human, too. For today, though, let’s stick with the more alluring things of humanity; let’s look at how these more positive motivators are often used against us, how they are co-opted to mechanize our actions making us something less than fully human.
What an amazing gift God has given us, the ability to pursue love, beauty, and life to the full and to have those things bring us joy. And yet, aren’t these the very things that are so often manipulated, re-coded, co-opted, or hijacked for the selfish ends of others? Don’t we feel this manipulation time and time again in this digital age?
The digital media of our day uses the whizz-bang woo against us, hijacks our humanity for its own ends. Consider sex, and for a moment, let’s refrain from falling down the proverbial rabbit-hole of pornography or prostitution. There are sexual hijackings that are much more subtle.
Exhibit A: Fox News (that bastion of conservative, Christian political commentary).
Consider how, day after day (except on Sundays, I’ve noticed), Fox News’s website includes a Features & Faces section in which sex, sexuality, and body images are prominent themes. Consider how, on more than one occasion, I’ve felt compelled to click on an article because of the whiz-bang woo of seeing a string bikini or a pair of sexy thighs. Consider how I become an automaton at the computer, led by the leash from sexy article to sexy article, to the next piece of click bait, to the next airbrushed body image. And though this might seem like an awkward confession, consider how you’re led by the leash, too. (Raise your hand. Admit it. Men and women alike. You’re in safe company.) Click, click, click, and the advertisement dollars flow from your pocket to theirs. It’s the ultimate capitalization of your whizz-bang woo. And we are suckers for it.
To be sure, there are other examples I might have used. Social media capitalizes on our need for ego-satisfaction and tribalism. Fast food capitalizes on our need for calorie-packed nourishment. Perhaps I’m capitalizing on your need to be understood. We all capitalize on the whizz-bang woo from time to time. Perhaps that’s part of our humanity, too. But here’s the ultimate point: we were created to operate as humans along the human plane. We were meant to express the fullness of our humanity one to another (as opposed to human-t0-machine, human-to-corporation, or avatar-to-avatar). Our humanity–a beautiful thing–was not meant to be hijacked by profiteers, by a world that would turn us into clicky, spendy, manipulated machines. It was meant to be enjoyed, for our souls to nurture.
3. Be Aware
Over the last week, I’ve practiced awareness of my own humanity. I’ve paid attention to the chemical floods of love, beauty, sex, fear, and anger. I’ve noticed how those chemical floods are manipulated by the media, the politicians, and social media (the place, ironically, where we hope to mechanize others–like, like, like this post–for the sake of our own egos). I’ve allowed myself to feel the ways in which this world turns us into human computers of consumption and production.
It’s brought a frightening realization.
Perhaps you’d join me in this awareness. Consider your humanity, the sensations of it. Consider your own whizz-bang woo moments, and notice how the world hopes to manipulate them, shape them, co-opt them. Juxtapose the goodness of the human-t0-human experience as opposed to the human-to-machine experience. And then, with a resolve that is more human and less digital, look the manipulators in the digital eye and tell it straight–I’m a human. Shove off.
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