Is it really too crazy to ask whether the coming community will be a human community at all?
At risk of unveiling myself publicly as thel dork that I probably am, I’d like to bring to the discussion contemporary science fiction, which seems to be consistently placing the coming community (be it utopic or distopic) as no longer in human hands (no longer humans in an alternate universe, a different time, or different undiscovered space – lost island, new planet, etc.) but in other beings, framed as evolved (updated) humans, be them robots or clones (or both!).
I know it may seem absolutely ethereal or irrelevant. After all, if the academic research area of post-humanism as a whole seems absurd with its “what do computers feel?” and “what if we talk to animals?” propositions, surely “listening” to science fiction with its nonregulated, often campy and even more “out there” ideas borders on the absurd. But then again, life has funny ways of formulating knowledge. The three laws of robotics, currently in use in engineering programs and at work in developing robots, come from a science fiction novel written by Isaac Asimov and were recently made popular knowledge through Hollywood’s I, Robot movie.
Last semester I was reading Michel Houellebecq’s “The Possibility of an Island” and although in general I hated it (mostly because I couldn’t read more than five pages without feeling like vomiting and committing hara kiri––it was that depressing) it posits some interesting questions. On one side , the nature of humanity (something that has certainly been around in science fiction for a while, but that now seems to be resurfacing: as in the novel The Stone Gods, the comic book Y the last Man, the remaking of 70s TV series Battlestar Galactica, and the movie A.I., among others) and on the other, and more pertinent to this blog, the nature of community.
On the nature of humanity
The future community of The Possibility of an Island is populated by neohumans: cloned versions of rich humans who are already on their 24-25th generation of whatever rich human they were cloned originally from. Thus these new humans have dispensed with sex as a means for reproduction, exchanging it for cloning of existing models (talk about strict population control methods) and along with it, as Houellebecq particularly charming view of the world seems to imply, by upgrading to a beyond sex state they also left behind one of the only (if not the only) rational reasons for engaging with other humans beings (in his mind brothels are probably the perfect community center).
Furthermore, for the neohumans humanness is defined by two things: laughter (associated with cruelty) and tears (associated with compassion). However, these clones of clones can’t really understand either of these things/affects, much less do them – as they say of their own account. In Battlestar Galactica, where evolved robots also play the domineering hand in the future commmunity, the clone/evolved robot that is perceived by the other robots as the weakest (with the most deffective programming) is the one that cries the most (usually because of “love issues”); that is, the most “human” one. And then we would have to wonder what is the role of affect in community and building/susteining relations. After all, emoticons are all the rage in Internet communication. Either explicitly iconic (yellow bouncing faces) or derivatively typographical,these little faces seem (feel as?) necessary. Words are not enough. Somehow they are too rational. To computational. Programmed. Robotic.
On the nature of community
In The Possibility of an Island a sign of the weakness of humans (what is left of them after subsequent natural catastrophes due to global climate – also another interesting topic: the limits of community according to natural laws and conditions) is their need to live in “herds”.
The neo humans live separately. The most direct contact they have with any other “beings” is cloned dogs. Apart from that, they receive a sort of furturistic telepathic text message from other clones but without any real attatchment. Once the clone dies, another fills his/hers spot both in space (whatever house the previous clone inhabited) and sociality (whatever social network through telepathic text messaging the previous cloned had) but there’s no mourning on the part of the text messaging “contacts” of the previous clone, even if it is recognized by all that this new version of the previous clone is not exactly the same. There is some consciousness from the neohumans part of their ambiguous mortality/inmortality that they inhabit, but it poses no preocupation, and certainly no affect.
In a way, the future community is a non-community á la non-place, a community for lack of a better word (maybe grouping would be better and less charged with community’s “We are the World, We are the Children” feel good vibe) defined by unrootedness, by the constant passing of the community/groupings members without any kind of mourning, loss, etc-also without laughter or happy memories… poor Hallmark, wouldn’t survive a minute in that economy. There’s a feeling of being eternal in that they dont perish and the genes (and even memories) are not exctint but it feels like an empty continuity––a constant filling in of a void. To which one could ask: A community without affect is a community without meaning? A community without affect is indeed not a communitry but something else?