Friday, 1 August 2008

So You Think You're Human? by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

Well known sign of really clever people is that they make the understanding of complex issue easy without resorting to simplification.

This book unpicks and exposes the arguments of trying to say we are not animals( and why we suddenly started to want that this distinction held). For example, if humans are tool-makers, builders, have a learned culture so are animals!

Then it moves on to expose the theories of why humans try to define humanity by excluding other humans on physical criteria. Being, black, big headed but no basis in reality.

He them moves to look at the various attempts at defining humanity by excluding humans according to social criteria. For, example, if they didn't have big ships, guns etc then not civilised so sub-human. (The Japanese beating the S**t out of the Russians in 1905 started to put the boot in that argument!)

Equally trying to argue that as Homo Sapiens we must be the top dog fails in terms of hominids and other animals in general but does throw up the issue that if you include apes etc with the fold humanness then you logically may then start excluding children with severe handicaps or adults in a coma

In the final chapter he explores what is humanness if genetically altered or machine built. The danger of a re-born eugenics is discussed.

His final conclusion is that we need look at humanness as a range of dynamically shifting factors that are historically contingent rather then fixed and he makes a plea for us to live up to our myths of being creative, self-aware, rational. moral etc

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