Thoughts about Wall-e
Transhumanism is the idea that humans can use technology to transform the human condition and grow beyond our limits in both body and thought. Often, some philosophical ideal related to posthumanism is being pursued when people contemplate the merits of relying on technology to change our selves. While a reality in which humans have VR ports in their necks is far away, people are currently biohacking themselves with ocular implants or amputating limbs without medical advice or supervision in an attempt to push humanity towards a transhumanist, posthumanist ideal.
An entire branch of sci fi explores the meaning of humanity if we are no longer (mostly) human. Ethical debates about humanity and morality exist across all the Trek tv series, and discussing the merits of privilege and affordance can be seen in video games. Look at Mass Effect 2 for in-game discussions of the strengths, weaknesses, and prejudices toward those who become biotically enhanced. However, critiques of transhumanism rarely go beyond catastrophizing and the destruction of humanity. Therefore, it was a relief to see Disney depict a satirical yet realistic depiction of transhumanism in Wall-e.
Posthumanism in Wall-e has been evaluated from a literary theory perspective, the humanness of robots, and many explorations of futurism and nature, including this article. If you are interested in futurism and nature, you might be interested in exploring work in the growing area defining and examining the anthropocene, which acknowledges that nothing in the natural world is actually untouched by humans. In essence, we make everything in our image, even in attempts to restore it to what it might have been like before we came around to disturb or exploit it. Technology is also something we have exploited in our image.
Technology has been created, invented, developed, or improved upon to push human limits. Whether it is a sense of exploration and desire to go farther than we could go before (like, to space), or to make our lives easier (check out the Internet of Things for smart tech analysis) by giving us the ability to multitask or give us information and safety, the implementation of new technology comes with benefits and drawbacks. Skeptics have always associated technology with tropes about the demise of society as a result. Wall-e explores the fate of a technology-dependent human race (that is not diverse enough to be representative of saving the entire planet, but that’s a topic for another day) that is nothing more than a lazy, phatic culture.
The human race aboard the ship is in an existential crisis that is similar to Waiting for Godot or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, but less comical. This waiting has spanned generations and removed all agency from individuals, save for a few, that are caricatures of their long-dead ancestors from earth. At some point, wouldn’t some people taken fate into their own hands and done something about anything? The story we are being told is no.
The majority of the human race carried a vacation-like, entitled mentality into space with them. The few carrying the fate of the many, with the many unknowing or uncaring, is another trope Wall-e subtly shows its audience. Is this a reality that has weight and merit? Are these moral messages? What conclusions should be drawn from the depictions of people in a movie about robots that are tasked with cleaning and replanting the planet?
The nature of the existential crisis and the entitlement as well as the other questions presented in Wall-e are worth exploring through classroom discussion. Certainly, as a result of America’s reaction to COVID-19, this mentality seems as likely a space-doomed future as the pollution and destruction that caused humans to need to go into space in the first place.
By Tianmu peter, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49290252