Electric Art: A Macro, Socio-Cultural Post-Humanism
New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a piece titled “The Deepest Self” on March 13 in which he details the limitations of living with an evolutionary biological view of human nature. That evolutionary perspective includes two systems, the first and most ancient system being the instinctual one. That’s the system which contains our natural urges and needs and is primarily concerned with our survival. It has many influences over our active cognitive functioning in order to keep us alive. This base layer system is what makes us animals.
The second system, concerning rationality and conscious thought, is laid on top of our basic survival and impulsive behavior. Evolutionary biology asserts that this second system developed as a result of evolution which means the second system is much more recent. We were at first animals, considering only our survival. Then, we started talking about the best ways to survive, and we built communities. After that, we started talking about the community we’ve constructed.
Brooks goes further to explain how we consider someone to be “deep”, and concludes by paraphrasing ideas from the theologian Paul Tillich, who “has a great essay in ‘Shaking the Foundations’ in which he observes that during moments of suffering, people discover they are not what they appeared to be. The suffering scours away a floor inside themselves, exposing a deeper level, and then that floor gets scoured away and another deeper level is revealed. Finally, people get down to the core wounds and the core loves.”
We often describe people as “deep”, and we qualify that with some acknowledgment that they have seen a good bit of suffering in their time on earth, and Tillich’s observations reinforce that idea. However, when a person knows that strife, they are aware - culturally and socially - that they have now been deemed “deeper” because through moments of suffering, they have dug further into the layered onion we all are.
Studying art last semester, I was exposed to an increasingly complex pattern evident in almost any form of artistic expression. As I studied the beginnings of modernity in painting, sculpture, and especially southern literature, all the way to the postmodernity of “Seinfeld,” I felt like my eyes were really opened for the first time. Through studying human artistic expression, the socio-cultural construction of the world became much more clear to me and I believe that evolutionary viewpoint is vital and it’s applications are in need of a wider scope.
Art is the human expression of suffering, and often times, especially in developed nations, our suffering is the result of internal struggles between those two systems. We’ve invented the profession of “criticism,” in which a person’s entire life’s work revolves around examining and weighing the artistic expression of others, the self expression of others. That’s a huge step in a process which is unveloping in front of us for the first time. Take expression out of the context of art, and we have social media, which is essentially a collection of tools we use to build relationships with one another. We’re all curating something, we’re all deciding what to post constantly, and with each submission to our profiles, we’re creating the expressions which are so telling about ourselves while reinforcing our long distance connections.
We have the ability to disseminate information instantly to everyone in the world with access to the internet, and by that same avenue we can immediately find out anything about anything with the same ease. What this boils down to is awareness, and most importantly, self-awareness on a species-wide scale. We’re the most aware civilization in history, naturally, but also artificially. We choose different causes to individually become passionate about because at an instant we can choose to join that cause’s respective community. We’ve created a world in the image of ourselves… in the image of our evolutionary human nature.
Globalized, connected society is hierarchically and without choice, following the same structure that individual humans have been adhering to since the dawn of human cognizance. This increased awareness is happening at the forefront within the millennial generation. We experienced early adolescence at the boom of personal computing, we’ve matured into young adults at the solidification of our seemingly ubiquitous need for immediate gratification, and now we’re moving into the workforce and leadership capacities as a people expecting to be constantly connected to those just like us.
The media writ large is obsessed with talking about how individualized we are as millennials, but their coverage is blithely ignorant of the truth that while we choose to not connect with those around us, we now have the choice to connect with people much more similar, much more identifiable around the world and given that choice, we’ve so far chosen the latter. The immediate social ramifications of this behavioral choice are obvious, but I see those ramifications as irrelevant. If evolutionary biology has taught us anything about ourselves, it has even more to teach us when we consider it as the modus operandi of humanity’s collective experience.
Indeed I find Tillich’s words to ring truth to our connected society. As international, digital communities are built upon any number of self-defining characteristics, we’re inevitably brought to the same conclusion: We’re all suffering, and that suffering tells us something about us all as human beings, and now we’re able to be cognizant of every type of suffering experienced by everyone around us currently and those who came before us in history.
I believe that one day in the near future, say in the next 50 years, there will be a time of almost ubiquitous awareness of every flavor of suffering. Just look at the recent success of websites like Upworthy.com, which posts (annoying) headlines highlighting social injustice.
I want to bridge the thinking of evolutionary biology in which a dichotomous system explains our human nature with ubiquitous awareness of the human condition sparked by the internet. I argue that the art which follows this spark of ubiquitous awareness should be called ‘macro socio-cultural post-humanist art’ which could better be summarized by Marshall McLuhan’s idea about electric speed. I think this movement enticing the global village-level awareness should be deemed “Circuitry Art”, because any movement after the advent of the circuit - the first truly new medium in centuries - comes from the combinations of those two systems, and is consistently shaped by this new medium and our dichotomous response to it.
We might seem more individualized than ever, but I believe that spike of individualism is merely a momentary retreat from the ever-evolving yet currently undeveloped global consciousness. We’ve stumbled out into the frightening and tumultuous frontier of global identification, and we were immediately overwhelmed. Imagine the overwhelming feeling of being blind for your entire life and then one day you wake up with eyesight. Imagine the cavemen who discovered fire, and were immediately afraid of its magical, destructive power which at that point you couldn’t help but misunderstand. Once we as millennial ‘cavemen’ stop fearing that coming socio-cultural revolution in which the world around us mirrors the world within us, we’ll exit the cave and try our hands at that community fire once again, this time all the wiser.