In recent times it’s worth considering whether our bodies are worth anything. It seems like culture is obsessed with technological advancement and the cyborg future. However with recent events surrounding Cambridge Analytica and Facebook we are starting to reconsider if technology is a good thing. On the other hand we can’t seem to value our bodies enough. Gory films and TV shows and horror motifs seem to show the human body as little more than meat. However there is something more to us as humans.
It can be tempting to view the rise of technology as a slow downturn into a numb unreality created by machines. Philosophers and writers have been speaking about the way that technology and science has ruined the human experience for hundreds of years. And now it seems we are reaching the climax. The vision of humans living in glass pods is not far off and the robot drones are already circling our houses. The ideas of numbing yourself to the pain of the world via the screen has gotten to the point where we are obsessed with virtual worlds. City life is difficult, you live in a concrete wasteland, why not put on the VR goggles and go to Skyrim? Of course we all had a vague hunch they were stealing our data but we didn’t do anything. The blue lit screen is a new prison, adverts and Facebook are a new poison. Doom-mongers may say we are sleep walking into oblivion.
So, how do we get away from this brand of the end of the world?
What we need is the redemption of our physical selves. The realisation that our bodies are intrinsically good. To realise you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are valuable in and of yourself. You are a fantastic and amazing result of evolution.
But wait, I promise I’m not being cheesy. This isn’t a new thing is it? The idea of personal uniqueness is thoroughly cliched in western society. Every Hollywood film’s vital plot point is that the power/motivation/knowledge was in you all along (go and watch Kung Fu Panda again)! Adverts also shove this down your throat: You deserve this computer/hamburger/guitar, be good to yourself! Buy this hand cream and be the best you that you can be. Haven’t we all fallen for the treat yourself culture?
We need to go deeper. A new understanding of our bodies and our minds being connected is required. Science has revealed the wonders of the world and has emancipated the human soul from suffering. But with too much focus on the idea of humans as matter alone comes the commodification of flesh.
In the present, the word “flesh” conjures up images of butchers, and battlefields. Bones suggests death, animate skeletal monsters, and metal bands. We love watching the latest TV show where gore is a spectacle. Watch torture, rape, and human suffering on Game of Thrones. Revel in the gory spectacle of zombies having their heads chopped off on The Walking Dead. Spill your fake blood all over the place on Halloween.
Increasingly, the human body is reduced into meat to be cleaved and bones to be snapped. It’s just a big ball of offal that the protagonist gets to spread all over the wall; another video game enemy to be defeated. Blood is to be spilled, drunk by vampires and is a sign of death and pain.
And so contemporary culture has decided that human flesh is expendable and that burying yourself in a computer is the way to transcend this. Modern culture is increasingly obsessed with how we can transfer our consciousness into machines. The Netflix show “Altered Carbon” showcases human beings transferring their minds into new bodies via computers. A body is just a house for your mind, nothing more, the two are separate. The human body, unlike the mind, is replaceable. The futuristic “West World” revolves around people who escape life into a video game of their ideal fantasy world. The idea is that all we are is meat and bones, but what really matters is our minds and our memories. Our bodies die and decay, so what’s the solution? Plug ourselves into a machine. A machine: the answer to all human suffering.
Surely this is a counsel of despair?
The older, higher terms for the goodness and integrity of the human body should be reiterated. Let’s look at the phrases: “gut feeling” or “I hate your guts”. Both have implications about your inner being, your innermost thoughts, what defines you. You have a gut feeling because it comes from deep within you; it’s linked to your body and your instincts but not your rational mind. Here we use the image of our bodies to refer to our strongest sense of self, our essence. In the same way, to hate someone’s guts means to hate someone for all that they are. Now, I imagine I would hate the sight of someone’s intestines if they were in front of me but that’s beside the point. We should pay attention to our gut and its importance to us.
The importance of our bodies crops up again and again in our more ancient traditions and idioms. Let’s have a look at blood. I’m sure if you were out clubbing on Halloween, people had the fake stuff all over their faces. Nowadays it’s a pantomime prop of horror stereotypes, also found in Quentin Tarantino films. There is always at least one action scene where gallons of fake blood are thrown everywhere in almost comedic show of the macabre. Now don’t get me wrong, I do like a bit of black humour but blood has a noble history.
Blood is your life force, it’s your family line. In language it’s a defining feature of your physical body that says something important about your whole identity. “Blue blood” means to be of royal stock, “red blooded” means to be virile and active, “bloodless” means to be cowardly. The blood of Jesus; A potent sacrificial symbol in western culture. Blood and the body have always been a deep expression of our self-conception.
I encourage you to reflect on the physical self this week. Last week may have just been another excuse to get drunk and dress up as carrots or whatever, however the imagery of bones, flesh, zombies, witches, death, was played around with a lot. Are you meat? Or are you something more? Turn away from society’s obsession with zombies and robots, and take a moment to appreciate the sanctity of your physical self.