I’ve been watching the excellent UK Series Humans recently – yes, we’re a little late to get these things at the arse end of the world – and, like good books and great films, it’s really made me think.
What makes us human?
In the series, a race of synthetic humans with Artificial Intelligence are helping out, doing all the work that humans don’t want to do. They’re the mugs who do the cleaning and cooking, and wiping and nappy changing. They’re the cogs in the manufacturing machine, doing the grunt work that real humans have become too evolved to even contemplate.
This new race of Synths, are a breed of sub-humans, available to fulfil the whims, vices and sexual proclivities of the ruling human classes, but as they increasingly take over the work load, problems arise.
Can human beings really trust them?
How intelligent are they?
Are they ‘theys’ at all or merely ‘its’?
As the series progresses various relationships form between Synths and their human masters. At times it appears that the Synths are indeed more ‘human’ than the humans, as they battle to care for each other and to protect their ungrateful owners.
I’ve been watching the series with increasing dread as the true nature of humans – flawed and damaged – is revealed. Themes of slavery are appearing all over the place as humans refuse to accept responsibility for their (sometimes despicable) actions. There’s echoes of Gulliver’s Travels to the Land of the Houyhnhnms and the superior, reasonable more-human-like horses.
Mild-mannered Joe screams at this wife ‘She’s just a sex toy’ in defence of his activation of the adult mode setting on his household Synth Anita. His teenage kids attend a party where the resident Synth is over-powered so that the middle class kids can have a free pass at getting their jollies.
As it becomes obvious that there are indeed Synths who can feel, both love and anger the story takes a darker twist.
Vicious mobs of humans form to rail against the Synths taking their jobs, their women and eventually taking over.
“They’re coming between us,” they cry.
“Why get to know someone if you can pay a dolly for sex?”
“Why take time with your children if a dolly can take better care of your children than you can?”
The major emphasis, as it has been in racism over centuries, is the effective dehumanisation of one group so that they can be eliminated or rendered subservient by the dominant group in power. Witness the Nuremburg rallies, or slavery, or even the atrocities in Bosnia, Rwanda, Syria and Kurdish Iraq.
The easiest way to enforce control is to dehumanise a population – focus on the differences between us and them, and create a polarising distance that enables prejudice.
If they are not of our kind then we need not empathise. As Shylock said ‘Do we not bleed?’
*I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.
De-humanisation enables us to get away with hatred. It ensures we can fight or even kill for our own without remorse.
And that’s ok, we tell ourselves. Because they’re not human, like us. In Humans, they’re not, of course, they’re Synths. Yet, if the beings can feel anger, pain, empathy, love and bleed like humans, (albeit blue blood) what makes them not human?
Is it the absence of spirit, or soul?
That essence of life that you can’t see but you can certainly detect is missing, when it’s gone. Is spirit what makes us human? Is that the difference between us and the rest of creation?
And, if so, where does that come from?
*Merchant of Venice – Act 3, Scene 1