Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What is Human?

Looking at the material this class has covered in the last few weeks, the messiah, and what we seem to be exploring for the rest of the class, the question of what it means to be human appears to be a central theme. While we already have examined the idea of the messiah through Dune, The Fifth Element, and Akira, I think it is important to make the connection between whether these messiahs are in fact human because they seem to face some of the problems faced by the non-humans, Yod and Joseph, in He, She and It. The reason I bring this question up is it seems that there are similar circumstances facing a messiah as facing the guardians.

While we know the guardians, Yod and Joseph, are not capable of acting outside of orders, it seems to me that the messiah is also limited in the choice of their actions. As we discussed in class, a messiah may not have the option to not be the messiah. This gets to my question, Is ultimate agency a condition on which to base personhood? Beyond the questions of consciousness that we already have addressed to some extent with the discussion of Mike in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, there seem to be other questions about personhood and humanness that revolve around the question of agency.

Agency as I am discussing it is the capacity of an agent to act in a world or to make choices and to impose those choices on the world. This seems to be an important tenet of personhood and seems to open up an important distinction between Yod and Joseph that I think will expand a discussion of what a person is. Yod when compared to Joseph seems to posses more agency. As we saw when Joseph leaves Prague’s Jewish ghetto without orders to he is drained of his strength and vitality. In this way Josephs agency is shown to be limited. Joseph based on this criteria cannot be considered a person, as he lacks a necessary level of agency. Yod is a more complicated matter however.

As we know, Yod has a much higher level of agency than Joseph. However, to discuss if Yod is a person we need to be able to quantify “his” agency as compared to that of a human person. This discussion of human person agency is particularly illuminated when discussed with a messiah, which to some extent Yod is supposed to be for Tikva. Of the three messiah figures we looked at in class, the one who I think most parallels Yod is Leeloo from The Fifth Element. Both are protectors who possess abilities above and beyond those of humans. Further, both are limited in their knowledge of humanity which they are protecting and must be socialized into better understanding. To return to the discussion of agency Yod’s agencies limits is shown in his and Shira’s discussion of his inability to ever hurt Shira, Malkah, or Ari. While this clearly represents a limit on his agency it does not necessarily seem a negative limit, as human’s possess the ability to make rash decisions which hurt those we love and care about. This being said it is important to keep this limit in mind. I cannot think of a similar limit for Leeloo in terms of a limit on her action, however Leeloo’s agency does seem to be limited by her role as the messiah as she is confronted with the possibility of humanity being as evil and capable of horrific violence as the Mangalores or even possibly the total darkness. However this apprehension is overcome with the experience of human love and she is able to fulfill her goal and release her power.

While I do not think this as the be-all-end-all of this conversation and still do not have my mind made up, my conclusion right now based on agency is Yod and Leeloo are persons, whereas Joseph is not.

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