In the end: confronting the dissolution of humanity with relational thinking

Post-humans and trans-humans are dreams populated by phantoms, and very peculiar phantoms that appear to be real, or better seem to be real because they produce some realities. As Gunther Anders (2016: Section 24) claimed many years ago, “Phantoms are not only matrices of the experience of the world, but the world itself. The real as reproduction of its reproductions.” The kind of evolution that they feed is far from human, call it dis-human, inhuman, or a-human. To avoid all the deceits that they bring with them, we need to overcome the dissolution of humanity with relational thinking.

Is that neo-humanism? I do not know. What I am suggesting is that we are forced to abandon the old humanism of the West taking into account the deep changes of our times that are trying to transform the human in something else through technological progresses. This fact obliges us to overcome the “personalistic views” of the past that have put what is human inside the individual as such rather than in its intrinsic relational constitution.

Traditional personalism distinguished humans from other living beings for their ability to exercise an inner reflexivity and make individual choices in the assumption that the goodness of these features would bring spontaneously the common good. A relational humanism must acknowledge that this old concept of person is no longer sufficient to identify the human person. In the new scenario, a person is human, and becomes more human (i.e. transcends itself), if and to the extent that she generates social relationships that support the flourishing of relational goods from which she feeds herself in order to be more humane.

When we do not know what to do with others and with the situations of life, or what relation to have with the contingent world around us, then we feel confused, weak, fragile, sad, and in crisis. Every existential situation in which we find ourselves, each encounter with something or someone that puts us in trouble, is a relation that challenges us. Usually, we do not think of these situations in terms of relations, because we only see individuals and things. We must confront something (a situation) or someone (people around) and ask ourselves what to do. The fastest way to go is to find a technological device that can solve this problem. In reality, however, behind the challenge of situations, there is a challenge that we do not see, and it is the most important challenge. It is the challenge of the relation in play, which asks us to transcend ourselves.

We need to see the Vital Relation that, by linking the unity of body and mind to the context of existence, makes it possible for us to transcend ourselves. We must learn to deal with this Vital Relation. The enigma to be solved lies in this relation, not in technological devices. Human life is in the enigma of the relation. The enigma of the relation contains the meaning of human life.

My answer to the question whether or not we can be humanist, and practise a humanist sociology, is therefore the following. The crisis of human relations brought about by the modernising and globalising processes is what fuels the search for a posthumanism that can remedy this crisis. The concomitant crisis of a collective faith in something that transcends ourselves, so to become demotivated to pursue a common endeavour, and of interpersonal relations at the micro level finds an explanation in the fact that in both of these relations, the texture of relationality is made evanescent. The loss of the inherent sense of the relation is the “intervening factor” which explains the crisis of social solidarity in its manifold forms. If the sense of the human relation diminishes, then so does the transcendental relation, and vice versa. The same holds true for the relation between the human and non-human realms. For a deeper understanding of this point, it is necessary to recall that the source of the meaning of the relation lies in its transcendental cultural matrix, although the social relation is generated (or is not generated) due to autonomous causes.

In summary, to grasp the why, where, and how the human can transcend itself, it is necessary to “see” the peculiarities of interpersonal relations and their enigmas. One could observe that even the relations with robots are enigmatic, but these enigmas are games, not the stakes of serious life

(the Durkheimian “vie serieuse"). Thinking that the human person is distinguished from animals, plants, and machines because it is able to think in first person (i.e. to think of oneself as oneself) is not enough. Nobody can exclude the possibility that, in the future, very smart robots or cyborgs could become able to behave in such a way.

To my mind, what distinguishes the human person is her “structural relational constitution,” in inner as well as exterior life. This dynamic constitution is the relational substance that enables the human person to transcend herself in the relationship with others and with the world, acting reflex- ively, not only in herself (personal reflexivity), but on the social relations as such (relational reflexivity), which she assesses as good or evil, taking into account the behaviour of significant others and the reference to the situational context.

The technologies that lead humanity towards the post-/trans-human must be analysed and evaluated based on the criteria of what human relations they assume, and of those they produce.

Early modernity modified natural relationships by creating an acquisitive capitalist society in which relationships are thought of as the fruit of individual choices. Homo faber is held to be master of his destiny. Modernity thus created a historical process in which relationships became a game, an expression of one’s emotions and concerns, a play of fictitious distinctions to be used at will. The latest modernity has taken on the task of completely opening Pandora’s box of relations, and consequently has met its own failure signalled by increasingly fierce system crises that leave society completely disoriented and uncertain, prey to the most unthinkable risks.

At this point, modernity can continue to play with Pandora’s box of virtual relationships that do not respond to human needs, creating processes of neo- and hyper-modernisation, or it can take another path. The latter is the way of a society which, without rejecting the best acquisitions of the past, redefines its own cultural and social structures grounding on a relational social ontology and a relational anthropology. The latter presuppose a way of thinking that knows how to properly see and manage social and human relationships, which means revising the assumptions that the individual is a self-determining being and that social institutions must serve his/her self-determination.

Here is the point where relational society encounters a decisive fracture, in some ways unbridgeable, with all modernity. The fracture lies in the fact of having to take note that, pushing on the self-determination of the individual, we lose the human subject. Who is no longer master of herself, nor of the relational games she can play. The human subject cannot live without meaningful relationships, although their meaning is all to be discovered. Just the loss of significant relationships reveals that the human being is realised not in self-determination or in the technology of doing, but in the encounter with the Other, when the encounter produces a relational good. The being of the person, like that of society, is in the relationship. This is the social ontology needed by a new society. This is why, we cannot think of a society that completely expels the human from the social. The human person can be happy only when she knows how to emerge from relationships to the Other and at the same time knows how to “surrender” to these relationships.

However, we are all aware that this transition from modernity to an aftermodernity is not at all obvious. It is open to a sea of alternative possibilities, as I have tried to clarify by talking about the dilferent morphogenetic scenarios.

Wondering whether aftermodern society will be better or worse than modern society makes no sense, because comparison is not possible. The society I speak of tries to transcend the modern one with a relational thinking that remains open to many and different possibilities. The relational society that lies in our horizon is not necessarily good or bad in itself. It can be both. In this, it reveals that it is still “human.”

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