Friday, 21 February 2020

The -ism Series (36): Transhumanism

"Things don’t get better simply because we have the latest and greatest technology. While I would certainly argue that there is such a thing as genuine progress, such as universal literacy or peaceful and free societies, these are not guaranteed either by the trajectories of history or the development of technology. Technologies can be used to support both freedom and tyranny. Technology is not inherently either the problem or the solution, but is instead a tool through which ethical progress might be implemented or hindered."
DeBaets (2011)



There are different sub-movements within transhumanism "ranging from environmentalists and feminists of the left to religious and cultural conservatives on the right" (DeBaets, 2011), from a moderate approach that focuses on enhancing human characteristics to a strong one that is about overcoming the so-called limits of human nature (Friberg Felsted & Wright, 2014), including death. And ageing, of course, as this is regarded as its main cause. These transhumanists believe that we should merge with machines to remake ourselves "in the image of our own higher ideals" with enhanced physical and mental capabilities (via). Technology's possibilities can surely make us enthusiastic but there is a downside to it: the feeling of superiority and the message that you shall not age and shall have an abled body.
History is littered with the evil consequences of one group of humans believing they are superior to another group of humans. Unfortunately in the case of enhanced humans they will be genuinely superior. We need to think about the implications before it is too late.
Blay Whitby
The human body as a site of inquiry is not a contemporary concept, and notions of what classifies as a human body has largely influenced biopolitical regimes and sovereign power. Biopolitical discourses that culminated in the Nazi eugenics regime during World War II held the belief that specific types of bodies were inferior to others, and ultimately classified as inhuman, which resulted in the liquidation of countless individuals under the rubric of racial hygiene. Nazi eugenics is an extreme example of both the sovereign power over life and death, and a quest for corporeal perfection; more subtle examples can be seen in contemporary Western society, such as the treatment of disabled individuals.
David-Jack Fletcher (2014)


Ageing is regarded as a process of increasing deficiency, as something that needs to be overcome and is feared (via). Similarly, disability is eradicated by altering, improving, enhancing or erasing the "undesirable deficits or disabilities" (Fletcher, 2014). By doing so, transhumanist technologies enhance so-called normal human bodies and "provide therapy to those deemed Other" which again may perpetuate "notions of acceptable bodies and biopolitical hierarchies" (via). In extreme cases the assumption is made that society would be better off if there were no persons with disabilities born (DeBaets, 2011).
While most would agree that disability denies individuals the same quality of life as those deemed " abled, " this eradication ultimately relies upon secular humanist notions of the perfect human. Transhuman technologies hold obvious implications for the human body, however they also hold implications for what it means to be an acceptable body; ultimately these technologies aim to create the perfect human by eradicating the disabled Other.
David-Jack Fletcher (2014)
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- DeBaets, A. M. (2011). Enhancement for All? A Feminist Ethical Analysis of the Discourses and Practices of Democratic Transhumanism. Conference Proceedings, LINK
- Fletcher, D.-J. (2014). Transhuman Perfection: The Eradication of Disability Through Transhuman Technologies. Humana.Mente, 24, LINK
- Friberg Felsted, K. & Wright, S. C. (2014). Toward Post Ageing. Technology in an Ageing Society. Heidelberg et al.: Springer.
- Manzocco, R. (2019). Transhumanism. Engineering the Human Condition. History, Philosophy and Current Status. Cham: Springer.
- images via and via

Monday, 17 February 2020

Elderspeak

Elderspeak is a register of speech similar to "babytalk" with the difference that it is used with older adults. Typical characteristcs are: slow speech rate, exaggerated intonation, elevated pitch and volume, simple vocabulary, reduced grammatical complexity, diminutives, repetition, and collective pronoun substitution (Corwin, 2017).


There are at least four possibilities: an inclusive we, an exclusive we, a "royal we" and a "patronizing we." (...) In a "patronizing" form, we might function more like you and not include the speaker (as in an interaction where a doctor asks a patient "how are we feeling today?") (...)
Wortham & Reyes (2015:48)
Not only is elderspeak linked to communication problems and decreasing communicative competency triggering negative self-assessments of compunicative competence. It is also associated with increased dependence, increased restiveness to care, social isolation, cognitive decline, negative behaviours, and negative social and psychological health outcomes. Older adults consider it to be disrespectful and patronising (Corwin, 2017).

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- Corwin, A. I. (2017). Overcoming Elderspeak. The Gerontologist, 58(4), 724-729.
- Wortham, S. & Reyes, A. (2015). Discourse Analysis beyond the Speech Event. London & New York: Routledge.
- photograph by Vivian Maier via

Sunday, 16 February 2020

At a really passionate moment, call her "Mommy"

Say that your mother, the interior decorator, must live with you.
Insist that she walk three paces behind you.
Ask her if she minds your spending one evening a week with your first wife.
Make a pass at her mother. Her father?



image via

Saturday, 15 February 2020

The New Normal: Racism after Brexit.

Several studies show a clear link between xenophobia and support for Brexit - regardless of voter age, gender, and even education (via). Hutchings and Sullivan (2019) argue that the vote to leave the EU was no surprise given the "increasing negativity regarding immigration" over the past ten years and have no doubt that prejudice was a factor in the Brexit vote.



In other words, racism led to Brexit. However, Brexit is also encouraging people to blatantly display prejudice. According to a survey, ethnic minorities are facing more overt racism since the Brexit referendum (2016: 58%, 2019: 71%). Authors see a causal correlation explaining the trend with the divisive rhetoric used in public by e.g. certain candidates making racist feel more confident in showing abuse and discrimination which again seems to have become the new normal. (via).
What people see is acceptable, they do.
Golec de Zavala
People have those sorts of beliefs in a more or less stable way. That would mean that they had them before Brexit. Those attitudes were made salient by the Leave campaign, and were more likely to mobilise these people.
Golec de Zavala

In recent years the public discourses on Polish migration in the UK have rapidly turned hostile, especially in the context of economic crisis in 2008, and subsequently after the EU referendum in 2016. While initially Poles have been perceived as a ‘desirable’ migrant group and labelled as ‘invisible’ due to their whiteness, this perception shifted to the representation of these migrants as taking jobs from British workers, putting a strain on public services and welfare. While racist and xenophobic violence has been particularly noted following the Brexit vote, Polish migrants experienced various forms of racist abuse before that.
Alina Rzepnikowska


- Hutchings, P. B. & Sullivan, K. E. (2019). Prejudice and the Brexit vote: a tangled web. Palgrave Communications, 5, link
- photograph of The Who by Art Kane via and via and by Colin Jones via

Friday, 14 February 2020

Cultures Do Not Develop in a Vacuum

This is so beautiful. So beautiful. Unlike some reactions.



"SAS is a Scandinavian airline that brings travelers to, from an within Scandinavia. We stand by the core message in the commercial, that travel enriches us.
When we travel, we influence our surroundings and we are influenced by others. The experiences we bring back from our travels inspire us as individuals, but also our society.
When analyzing the pattern and volume of reactions we have reason to suspect an online attack and that the campaign has been hijacked. We do not want to risk being a platform for views that we do not share. We have therefore temporarily removed the film from our channels and we are currently evaluating the next step."
SAS

Monday, 10 February 2020

"... to use our voice for the voiceless." Joaquin Phoenix

I’m full of so much gratitude now. I do not feel elevated above any of my fellow nominees or anyone in this room, because we share the same love – that’s the love of film. And this form of expression has given me the most extraordinary life. I don’t know where I’d be without it.



But I think the greatest gift that it’s given me, and many people in [this industry] is the opportunity to use our voice for the voiceless. I’ve been thinking about some of the distressing issues that we’ve been facing collectively.
I think at times we feel or are made to feel that we champion different causes. But for me, I see commonality. I think, whether we’re talking about gender inequality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice.
We’re talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender, one species, has the right to dominate, use and control another with impunity.
I think we’ve become very disconnected from the natural world. Many of us are guilty of an egocentric world view, and we believe that we’re the centre of the universe. (...)
We fear the idea of personal change, because we think we need to sacrifice something; to give something up. But human beings at our best are so creative and inventive, and we can create, develop and implement systems of change that are beneficial to all sentient beings and the environment.
I have been a scoundrel all my life, I’ve been selfish. I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I’m grateful that so many of you in this room have given me a second chance. I think that’s when we’re at our best: when we support each other. Not when we cancel each other out for our past mistakes, but when we help each other to grow. When we educate each other; when we guide each other to redemption.

Joaquin Phoenix's Oscars speech, 2020

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photograph by Craig McDean via

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Every name's a story

"The new "What’s your name" spot from ad agency Iris centers on James, who is challenged when people continue to call him by his birth name, "Jemma," during his transition. He finds acceptance when he goes to Starbucks and orders a coffee, shares his name James and hears the barista calling it out."



"In highlighting the coffee chain as a safe haven for transgender people, Starbucks is establishing where it stands on inclusivity. By including the voices of transgender people who have organically shared their stories of trialing new names at Starbucks, the brand is showing that it is not only open to a diverse customer base, but that it is listening to all parts of that base when marketing around what makes its brand special." (via)