Throughout their career, Daft Punk has played up their own robotic tendencies, disguising themselves under layers of irony as well as costumes that emphasize their remoteness from humanity. Perhaps ironically enough, that tendency has rarely been more in evidence than on their album “Human After All.” Why would a band that dresses like robots and makes some of the best-regarded techno music of our generation, music which gives honor to the past even while attempting to forge its own path, do anything other than be at their most robotic when claiming that they are human after all. Even so, they are human after all, no matter how many times they may appear as robots on the wall of the Weeknd’s doomed mansion in “Starboy” or how many soundtracks they will make like that to Tron: Legacy. The fact that is human after all does not mean that one has to embrace everything that is associated with being human. Sometimes our humanity is deeply complicated, and that requires us to come face to face with what it means to be human. Some of us, myself included, have to face this often for one reason or another .
Dealing with our humanity forces us to address many complicated issues, and there are a great many debates concerning what it means to be human. According to humanists, man is the measure of all things. From the point of view of ethical monotheism, human beings stand before the bar in judgment to the Creator and Lord of the universe. By the lights of materialists, humanity is merely an accident of the cosmos. According to those who believe in various forms of postmodernist thought, there is no firm basis of reality except that which exists inside of ourselves, and by that standard there is no dignity on which we can stand as humanity, not even as humanity that denies there is any truth to that which we call humanity. We may blame on our human nature all of the parts of our behavior and thought process which we do not approve of or admire, or we may idolize the human form and capabilities that we appreciate. Some may say our humanity is determined by how we are viewed by others, and some by how we treat others. To be a human is to wrestle with much that is paradoxical, indeed.
For some people, being recognized as human has required a great deal of struggle. At the core of humanity there exist matters of freedom and of will. To recognize some as a human being is to recognize there being some dignity about them, some will that is independent of others and ourselves, and some sort of freedom that they have even if they do not possess the wisdom to use it well. We may not like them, or agree with them, but there is at the basis some sort of respect. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we tend to be the most cruel towards those whom we see as the worst. Our view of others colors our behavior towards them, and whether we think badly of others to justify our wickedness towards them or act wickedly towards others as a result of thinking badly of them, it hardly matters. Our treatment of other people and our perspective of them are deeply related and tend to reinforce each other in either an upward or downward spiral.
What is it about some people that makes it hard for others to think of them as human? Daft Punk pretends to be robots, and plays up that robotic image through costuming and through their performance of techno music, music which is moderated through synthesizers and other artificial means. Yet if I happened to meet the two Frenchmen behind the band in some sort of Paris cafe, I do not think I would view them as robotic in the least. Likely we would be able to converse–it would almost certainly not be in French because I do not speak that language well, but it is likely that we would have some language in common, like English. Yet there are other people who seem robotic simply because they struggle to understand the nonverbal language of others and to make what is inside of them understandable to others. It would be good if that did not have to be a problem for us, but I know at least that it is a problem for me to be understood and to be understood, which makes it harder to defend one’s humanity in the face of widespread ignorance and disdain.
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