“Be Human:” Hug an Artist Today!

February 28, 2014
Steve Knight


“Be Human:” Hug an Artist Today!

‘Be Human!’ What a wacky imperative.

I love it because shouting – or whispering ‘Be Human’ raises every important question about fostering our highest potential into reality and every fear as we reflect on the human horrors of our history and present. ‘Be Human’ is an exhortation that is at once banal, accusatory, subversive and inspirational. ‘Be Human’ calls us to account as we collectively embrace the technological revolution that daily accelerates the convergence of wetware and software. ‘Be Human’ challenges us as we rush into a post-human future that includes human bio- engineering, microsurgery for human ‘optimization’, advanced psycho-pharmacology and all the developments hinted at by Google Glass.

In his bestselling book The Singularity is Near author Ray Kurzweil proclaims the revolutionary convergence of computing power with the human brain. Would his ‘Singularity’ be human? I doubt it, but I never underestimate the power of us humans to tinker – or to completely restructure ourselves and our environment in ways that may seem to some as post-human, anti-human, or even inhuman. Kurzweil is a techno- futurist with a highly optimistic bent that I am not sure I share. How are we to be human as this future unfolds?

Author Andrei Codrescu has a characteristically strong answer in The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess,

If you have any doubts as to whether you are posthuman or merely human, take a look at the following parts of your (extended) body: the city, the house, the car, the iPhone, the laptop, the iPod, the pillbox, the non flesh surround. If sixty percent of your body is now electronic or bioelectronic, living in space designed for efficiency, you will need Dada as a corrective to what will certainly be the loss of the modicum of liberty you still possess.

Perhaps Codrescu, crazy poet that he is, is being a bit harsh. After all, aren’t ‘human centered design’ principles in architecture and products saving us from the worst by putting the human at the center of the work? Maybe, but Codrescu’s call to live a Dada life reminds us that to be human is to have the freedom to celebrate – and love-  the unique imperfections, irrationality, inefficiency and absurdity in the world, ourselves and those around us.

I agree with Codrescu that we deeply need the freedom of art and artists (not limited to Dada) to express and explore what it means to ‘Be Human.’ Our ability to see the world and ourselves with fresh eyes through participation in the arts is at the essence of being human. Maybe a Kurzweilian post-human convergence of flesh and technology are inevitable and will propel the best of our human possibilities to new heights, but don’t sign me up just yet.