#edcmooc E-learning and Digital Cultures Week 3 - Defining Humanity

Week 3 hinges around a talk by Steve Fuller, a sociologist from Warwick University, who talks about the project of 'humanity' through the ages and shows how 'humanity' has been rejected by a number of contemporary critiques.

Steve starts by saying it is difficult to define what it is to be human - where does the dividing line between apes and humans begin and end, for instance. Suggests that the project of 'Humanity' is not good for all humans - so post 18th century we have ideas of raising the overall level of humanity.

Contemporary arguments against the project of humanity:
  • Foucault, Death of Man (1966) - 'humanity', as something we might choose to do, is a symptom of us exotic apes suffering a kind of God Delusion
  • post-modern critique, anti-humanists say that the beneficiaries of 'humanity' are hegmonic white, male, anglo-saxon...
  • neo-liberal and neo-conservative - humanity costs too much and delivers too little - what benefit has it given in the long run?
  • ecological critique - harming the planet
  • animal rights critique - our privileging of ourselves as a species are from theology that Darwin overturned completely and that vivisection and other animal experiments show that we are doing nothing in the world except for ourselves
  • post-humanist critique, we prefer animals, pets, second self in cyberspace
So, what of this rejection of humanism, of humanity as a concept? Steve Fuller suggests that the project is so difficult, for instance eradicating poverty, but that we cannot admit failure. Also, simply, there is a level of misanthropy towards people who have engineered big 'humanist' projects and caused only disaster and suffering, so self-loathing. He also says that ‘the old humanistic project should not be dropped’ and he's absolutly right - we need a better way of being in the world and of being with each other, more freedom to be, not less. I might humbly suggest that a person-centred approach can help bring people together, increasing understanding of 'the other', I suppose this is my own humanist project.

The course team ask the question: might we see MOOCs as an example of an ‘old humanistic project’, particularly in the promise they appear to offer for democratisation, equality of access and so on? I think hell yes! My only worry about them is that to learn from a Mooc, you do need a computer, internet access and basic IT skills - and many in the world don't have this - yet... this is a humanist project that is well worth pursuing, get the Moocs out to the people!