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The Cyborg Manifesto: the Future of Mankind

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After reading Haraway’s text, A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century and listening to the podcast Small Medicine by Genevieve Valentine, while robots are non-human, their aesthetic judgments and moral compass demonstrate personhood. In the podcast, Sofia who is the little girl scrutinizes between humans and her grandmother who is programmed to be a robot. Sofia was taken by her parents to visit Grandmother so she could tell her stories. The grandmother is a replica of Sofia’s biological grandmother and is capable of functioning as a human to carry out a series of human movements. Though, the grandmother is sometimes reprogrammed because she becomes self-aware of her surroundings and wouldn’t act like Sofia’s biological grandmother which confuses Sofia sometimes. She threatens to kill moris (grandmother) because she interprets it as a human instead of robots which can be turned off. While cyborgs are machine with human hybrid and biological and mechanical parts, grandmother is “squishy, like flesh, but always the same temperature—a little cool in summer and a little warm in winter—and if you pressed your hand hard enough to her side there was a curved metal panel where ribs should be” (Valentine). Our binary system sets us up to think humans are the superior and appreciate the beauty and have some sort of self-conscious relationship. According to the author, cyborgs are the offsprings of masculinist culture and they have no limit to what they can do. Their abilities can put an end to human domination because they have no restrictions on their freedom.

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Haraway describes the boundary breakdown between humans and machines that in the past “machines were not self-moving, self-designing, autonomous and they could not achieve man’s dream, only mock it”(152). However, today “machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed, and many other distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines” (152). Technology has improved the functions of robots and cyborgs which are lively and humans are “frighteningly inert”, writes Haraway (152). Cyborgs are a human hybrid that is capable to initiate actions because of the combination of applying mechanical force to perform a task that a living creature can perform on its own. Their characteristics challenge human beings’ capabilities because they prevent us from analyzing situations which causes them to be a stumbling block for us. Haraway defines cyborg in four different ways as “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction”. To expand it, a cyborg could be classified as alive because of its elements and the free will they have. They are the future of mankind because they are united and have the moral compass to destroy our negative concepts about our social system.

The concept of personhood is controversial because of its definition. According to an online dictionary, personhood is defined as “the state or fact of being a person” (dictionary.com). The body of a human being is like a shell because it houses the soul and the psychological essence. The muscles and bones that make up the human body do not contribute to the personhood of the individual. The psychological essence of a person is a cluster of psychological traits that make up the individual’s personality. These can be things like shyness, sense of humor, desire, and ability to perform mental tasks. One may argue that a person is a human being or not and another may argue a person is an individual distinguished from an animal or a thing. I believe you don’t need to be a human to be a person because of moral concepts. For example, if aliens were to live on another planet and behave as much as we do, have a moral responsibility and are highly intelligent, we might say they are persons, though they are not humans. They are not of the species of homo sapiens but they have what it takes to be considered a person or they demonstrate personhood.

On the other hand of who is considered to be a person, another individual might need other ventilators and other artificial machines to be kept alive due to a brain malfunction. This individual loses their ability to have thoughts and moral concepts. So, this individual would be considered as a human being but no longer a person. These examples demonstrate the definition of human being and person because they mean two separate things. The same questions arise from the development of human beings from infancy to adulthood. Do we question ourselves at what point does an individual become a person or be a moral agent? Some would say as an embryo and others would say after birth. It is still difficult to point out the moment where an individual becomes a person because there is no room for the concept of partial personhood. Personhood consists of logical reasoning ability, self-consciousness (self-awareness), use of language, and the ability to initiate action. So, it makes sense to state that cyborgs and robots are persons even though they are not human beings. Human beings are distinguished from animals because we are of the species of homo sapiens.

While grandmother is a robot, her capabilities of being aware of things external and aware of her states signify she is considered to be a person. If we grant that we have such inner experiences or awareness, they do not, by themselves, supply everything that we intend to capture by the term, self-awareness. When I say that I am aware of my mental activity I do not mean merely that I have some inner clues to the content of that mental activity, I mean that the character of that awareness gives me certain abilities to critically reflect upon my mental states and use my morals to make judgments about those states. Grandmother noticed Sofia’s neck was swollen and she was the first to mention something was wrong. After Sofia was given nano meds by the doctors, it affected her psychological states and she even worried that she could never die or be healed from any wounds without her realizing it. After grandmother found out, she said, “I don’t think I would let them do it” (Valentine). Her internal feeling shows she was remorseful mentioning about Sofia’s neck. Being able to have this thought does not only show her internal feeling but also her self awareness. Our personal development is influenced by our self-awareness and consciousness. It requires self-examination with our inner life, emotions, beliefs, and thoughts. If one is unaware of their inner feelings, it triggers emotions. Though, being aware does not always mean you are honest or non-judgemental because we normally tend to think we know everything but that might not be the case. Good traits and bad traits are all mixtures of morals every person has.

Also, another example of the grandmother being self-aware and communicating with Sofia was when she told her “I’m Theodosia. Your grandmother” (Valentine). She tried to let Sofia think she was her biological grandmother but Sofia responded, “you’re not my grandmother” (Valentine). Though Sofia would get confused sometimes about moris (grandmother) and she wonders if it is real and whether she could turn it off. Grandmother was programmed to function and perform more than what Sofia’s grandmother did. As Sofia got older, the more she became aware of her moris because she searched if “you turn off a Mori, or is that a crime”? And said to herself “Something’s different from grandmother, she says, sounding as solemn and grown-up as they liked when she was a child. I want to help” (Valentine). As Sofia was developing into a teenager, she became conscious and developed a moral compass too. During infancy, you are considered to be a human being but not fully a person because you have not fully developed your psychological states.

Sofia and her family went on vacation to a resort on top of the mountain along with grandmother. Her parents left for skiing and her grandfather was spending time at the conservatory talking to another woman. Sofia was then left with grandmother at their hotel room and she realizes grandmother likes to be busy so “they end up at one of the overlooks, where there are a few chairs and tables left for guests to sit near the railing and enjoy the steep drop of the valley, the little pockmarks of all the houses” (Valentine). Sofia knows grandmother very well so she always tries to hang with grandmother to keep her active to function as she was program to communicate with Sofia. Beauty is important because it is a representative of our inner values and to be able to appreciate beauty, you have to know right and wrong. Our values define our actions and thoughts through life. Grandmother shows appreciation for nature and beauty by being aesthetic. They had the view of the city in the river valley. The fact that the grandmother had an artistic personality expressed her personhood by admiring nature. Aesthetics help discovers new ways and opens up areas of learning that would impact everyday experiences.

Belsey, the author of Critical Practice defined ideology as “Ideology is inscribed in signifying practices—in discourses, myths, presentations and re-presentations of the way ‘things’ ‘are’ —and to this extent it is inscribed in the language” (36). The term relies on assumptions that may or may not be true. Haraway critiques Belsey because she says the term ideology creates binary opposition of concepts that limit our ability to understand “them”. Because the grandmother was turned off, it prevents her from getting into a relationship with the world. She is a morris and does not have the same right as humans so some may think she does not deserve to be a person. Ideology can not be defined as a whole truth because our social-cultural myths create partial truth. It sets omission and creates gaps between our society.

Rather than classifying only human beings as a person, it is important to include other objects that demonstrate personhood. Personhood is more than just biological and physical components but with the involvement of consciousness, self-awareness, moral compass, and aesthetic judgments. The idea of right and wrong serves as a purpose to know social values and acceptance. Moral principles that govern a person’s actions and thoughts to connect to the world and also respond to their inner feelings. Our ethical decisions provide personal security and also makes us considerate of the feelings of others. Moris (grandmother) appreciation for nature and beauty shows its aesthetic personality to connect to the surroundings and the world.

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