How Human?

Executive Brief: The question is not “Human or not?” The question is, “What does ‘human’ mean?”



You have likely heard about the need to teach students to become critical consumers of information, where they also learn to express, and otherwise act upon, their conclusions. Such skills are particularly useful in a consumerist culture in which information is traded as a commodity — a product to be sold for consumption at a profit. The integrity of the product is sacrificed in favor of increasing sales.

I used to teach just such classes for the Muir Writing Program at UC San Diego, where the focus was on argumentation and rhetorical analysis.  The material selected for study represented a diversity of voices that tended to be unfamiliar to most of our students, at least not in any substantial fashion. Eventually, I got to teach discipline specific courses of my own design, and I chose works that supported that philosophy.

One class was entitled, “The Rhetoric of Insanity,” which addressed the ways in which narratives portray the realm of in/sanity  within which characters are identified as residing, that is to say, what constituted in/sanity in the world of the story, and what tended to label a character as in/sane. Then there was “The Rhetoric of Fantasy,” which dealt with ways in which a story might convey the impresion of being not just fiction, but set outside of our shared reality.  Finally, I taught a class enttled, “The Rhetoric of Humanity.” It examined the factors affecting the interpretation that an element is human. 

Thing 1

I’m not going to rehash everything that has been aimed at this question already. A lot of that comes down to definition.

Thing 2


Thing 3



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