Crazy ideas sometimes pop into my head – and this is one of them. It may be priceless or it might be worthless. But here it is, for what it is worth.
As we have concentrated our attention more and more on our machines – we have naturally concentrated less and less attention on ourselves. And somehow we have unconsciously assumed that machines are better somehow than we are. After all, they are getting all the attention – not us. There must be something wrong with us – by comparison.
This line of reasoning, and others like it, requires that we assume the existence of the unconscious – and especially the collective unconscious. Unless we take this seriously, it seems to me, we have no hope of understanding ourselves. Because the unconscious is a very important component of what it means to be human. If we deny this (as many do) we deny ourselves – and insist that we are machines.
Understanding what is going on in the unconscious takes some moxie (something novelists are good at) – a combination of intuition and logic. Other people are often better able to understand ourselves than we are – this has been known for a long time and is the basis of therapy – again, something many avoid like the plague.
My insight this morning is mostly an intuition – but is also based on observing how people tend to think highly of their machines – and less highly about themselves. I think highly of machines (especially computers) myself – but I also carefully balance that with an interest in people – and their many imperfections.
We are animals – something my mother denied emphatically. We are a special kind of animals, true enough – but still very much like every other animal. This is convenient, because we can study some of our relatives (such as mice) or even fruit-flies to deduce how we work.
We cannot do this with machines – because they work entirely differently. Usually, being an expert in them is no help in understanding ourselves – since we are basically animals – something entirely different.
I have to also take religion into account here. Many religions consider people impure – and strive for greater purity – and tended to regard our bodily functions – especially the sexual ones – as undesirable.
One of the results of this was Industrialization – which was derived from Protestantism. This produced a world with a heavy emphasis on technology – all of which are machines of various kinds. Manufacturing – and its products – became our central preoccupation. As well as our occupations.
Right here is where the subtle – but all-important – shift occurred. From thinking of ourselves to thinking of our machines. And – at the unconscious level – considering them as superior to ourselves. Or to put it the other way – to thinking of ourselves as somehow inferior to them.
We reasoned (unconsciously) that there must be something about us that made us less desirable. The answer was clear enough – we were animals – and this was disgusting!
Immediately, I will get lots of objections – people saying (most emphatically) that they have done no such thing. And reached no such conclusion. All I can do (or anyone else) is calmly observe their actions to see if they are consistent with this theory. Or something like it.
Whatever the conclusion, awareness and social sensitivity are required. Two human (and animal) qualities that many lack.