How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Ontological Ambiguity
I didn’t create the word alterhuman.
I won’t be so vain as to say I perfected it either, even though I really really want to. But like any diehard fan of anything, I saw that this thing I loved had flaws and I sought to rectify them. To honor the anniversary of the word’s coining, I’ve done the semantic equivalent of writing fanfic about it. This is what alterhumanity means to me.
It means a conscious rejection of definitions. Let’s face it: a lot of identity-based communities get so caught up in the precise labelling of their experiences that the experiences themselves become secondary. This is a big problem in any context but I think it’s an even bigger one in ours. Most identities, most people, even, exhibit some degree of fluidity, or vacillation, or growth. But it’s in the very nature of the monstrous, the alien, the inhuman, to defy categorization.
The original post defining alterhumanity certainly did an admirable job! It detailed exactly what it meant by the ‘typical human experience’. It laid the groundwork for a logic statement which sussed out which groups were and were not alterhuman. But me, I’m alterhuman when no human mouth or mind could ever produce the right words or concepts to pin me down. Think of what might happen as the community grows, flips and flows into new ideas about alterhumanity. We could tack on another hundred exceptions with every new experience... But maybe what we need is a definition as ambiguous as the thing it defines.
Therefore, alterhumanity means embracing the unknown. We believe ourselves to be other than, or alternately human. That’s pretty weird! And I think accepting the absurdity of it is pretty integral to building an identity off of it. I think accepting that we don’t objectively know how or why we’re like this is key too. See, I’m using ‘absurd’ in the philosophical sense. Absurdism says nothing has inherent meaning, but we should do our darndest to explore and search for it anyway. Really, I’m just a person with an obscure identity, but I’m alterhuman when I’m trying to make something of it.
There’s another kind of unknown I’d like us to embrace. It’s other people. More specifically, it’s the fact that we don’t know what’s going on with other people. I want to cultivate a sense of trust. Trust that they’re experiencing what they say they are. Trust that the decision to label themselves as alterhuman is a good one. Yeah, ‘good’ is ambiguous. But I refrain from saying ‘accurate’ or ‘well informed’ because I don’t think that alterhumanity must be either of those things.
To that end I’d really like for the definition of alterhuman to be as open-ended and simplistic as possible. Just enough to define a group of relevant people and things, and no more. I have a suggestion, actually, very contrastive to the 600+ word might of the original definition. Here it is:
That’s may in the sense of ‘might’, not ‘are permitted to’! Asides from that, everything else is up for interpretation. Yes, that means we’re casting a very wide net - that’s kinda the point! There are so many ways to be alterhuman, so many experiences that aren't a typical human experience. No amount of writing could ever fully capture the whole concept. That's why this definition isn't so ambitious. It allows the individual to find their concept of alterhumanity, and decide for themselves whether it fits.
Because while the role of choice in identity is ambiguous, our choice in the words we use to describe ourselves is a bit more clear-cut. A person choosing to put themselves under a specific label is doing so because they feel they have something to gain from it. Maybe that something is purely superficial, or shallow, or something they'll grow out of. Who cares? Is that somehow a problem? Even if it was, I'd find it a small price to pay for a community whose interest and passion is what we have in common, rather than a reductive and involuntary classification.
So alterhumanity means choice, most of all. There’s the principal choice of do I find it beneficial to identify as alterhuman? But there are others too, and they bear thinking about. Do I reject absolute definition? Do I embrace my lack of certainty? Do I seek out meaning in spite of this? Do I respect others who are doing the same? I'm just a person who doesn't identify as human, but I'm alterhuman when I am all of these. That’s what it means to me.