Greetings, my friends!
Today I just wanted to flail a little bit about a few messed up humans who have serious doubts about the human part of that equation. So that’s what this week’s blog post turned into.
It’s a very angsty trope. And you know how much I gravitate towards the angst.
A digression: You’ll notice that I refer to them all as humans. That is because it is my firm belief that they are all in fact 100% human, despite what their own views may be in the subject. (Fun fact: I don’t think a person can really be less than 100% human, actually? Either you are human or you are not human—non-humans can have human attributes, sure, but that doesn’t mean they are part human, you know? But that is just my opinion.)
I have four particular characters in mind (plus one very special bonus character), though I am sure that I have encountered others that are currently not in my mind… (I’ll remember them after I post this; that is what happens.) Their angst about their own humanity manifests itself in different ways, but they all have it. So much of it.
Also trauma. They all have trauma in varying levels.
But I’m not really sure what I’m saying, so let’s just get to the flailing part.
Bean (from Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card)
Bean is a baby child but he’s far more brilliant than basically anyone of any age. I don’t remember his origins precisely (it’s been ages since I read this book, so the memory is a fuzzy thing), but I know there was definitely genetic modification involved, and probably an illegal organ farm… Whatever the case, Bean sees himself as something not quite human, and most of the people around him share this view. Anyone who DOES treat him like a human is wasting their time, in Bean’s opinion. He doesn’t think he has any emotional needs. Ha.
One bit of the book that has stuck with me is the part when Bean is still on Earth, and there is a very nice woman (whose name escapes me) taking care of him. She treats him like a child, and he doesn’t feel like a child, so he thinks this is all very silly and unnecessary. He sees the whole thing as a game of pretend. Essentially, “Let’s pretend Bean has feelings”.
Because Bean doesn’t think he needs feelings. He doesn’t need a family. He doesn’t need people who care about him. Humans need those things. Not Bean.
(But, my friends, he does need these things. He does.)
Bean’s freakish intelligence isolates him from others and makes relating to people next to impossible. So, Bean has decided not to try. And he’s convinced himself that that’s okay.
(But it’s not. It’s really not.)
Chuuya Nakahara (from Bungo Stray Dogs: Storm Bringer)
Chuuya doesn’t have any memories from before he was seven, but his first memory as a seven-year-old is…not exactly one to give him confidence in his own humanity, let’s say. (It may have involved him single-handedly creating a massive crater in less than a second, so…)
He wants to know who (or what) he is. He’s actually obsessed with figuring out if he’s really human or not, but he likes to pretend he doesn’t care. He wants people to think he’s INDIFFERENT. He’s not usually the best at lying, but he does it anyway.
He tries to convince other people (and himself) that he doesn’t care if he’s human or not. Because despite the fact that he desperately wants to find proof that he’s human, he doesn’t really think he is. And therefore he doesn’t deserve the things that humans should have, you know, like compassion from people. Or a heart.
Monsters don’t have hearts, right?
Kathy (from Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro)
Kathy isn’t explicitly told as a child that she is not human. But grown-ups who come to visit Havisham look at her like she isn’t, and she notices that. Slowly, she figures out that the children at Havisham are not quite normal. There is something not quite right about them.
Her teachers are trying to prove that Kathy and her classmates are human. It’s not a given. They believe these children have souls, but the vast majority of the world does not believe this.
Kathy and her friends feel human. But they’re maybe not certain about it. They do what they can to prove it, and hope that that will be enough. What else can they be expected to do? Maybe there is something innately inferior about them after all.
(It’s really hard to talk about this one without spoiling anything, guys.)
Murderbot (from the Murderbot Diaries series)
Murderbot is the poster-child for human angst tropes. Because Murderbot flat out denies Muderbot’s humanity. That possibility is not even on the table. Murderbot would never allow it. No, sir.
Murderbot is a sec-unit, with both organic and inorganic parts. Murderbot protects humans. It’s what Murderbot was designed to do. Murderbot despises humans.
Murderbot is most definitely not human. It’s not like cloned human material can have a soul or anything.
And Murderbot doesn’t want to be human. Obviously not. What a nightmare.
I don’t know exactly what Martha Wells intended when she created Murderbot? But my theory is that Murderbot is human. He’s just an enslaved human clone who’s been mutilated horrifically and is way too emotionally scarred to face any of it.
It’s terribly disturbing, but it also makes so much sense.
Bonus human: Malachi, my precious new nephew (from Elizabeth Hyde’s most recent Quirk)
So my sister’s latest Quirk kind of inspired this post. Because she invented this precious child named Malachi who is a cyborg and only made up of 12% organic matter. Like the percentage of your organic matter actually pertains to how human you are. Stupid 25% rule.
(If you haven’t read this Quirk, then you must go forth and read it at once. Be blessed by this child.)
I love him so much.
So, it’s not like I personally have any doubt about my own humanity. I wasn’t born and raised in a lab or smashed up and put back together as a machine. I know that I’m a genuine, all-natural human being. Right?
Well. Well, yes.
But at the same time, I am very dramatic about things and I relate to these characters. Quite a lot.
Sometimes I feel like I have to prove that I’m human. I feel like I have to prove that I have a soul. Because I feel like I’m somehow lacking. I feel like I’m permanently broken somehow, like I’ve lost a crucial piece of what it means to be human so I can’t connect to other humans. And sometimes I try to convince myself that I don’t need to connect to other humans. Convince myself that I don’t care. (Even though I really, really do care.)
The irony is that this is basically the human condition.
Humans are broken. This is a fact. We cannot measure up to the perfect standard of what humans were intended to be, and we can feel that. It can be rather terrifying.
Maybe (hopefully) we know that we are precious and loved anyway. There is someone who knows every flaw and failure we try to hide and still loves us. We are not alone.
But not everyone knows that. And even those of us who do know it need to be reminded often.
The lie that we are alone is deadly. Even more deadly perhaps is the lie that we should be alone.
When it comes to the characters I talked about in the post, there is a level at which all of them convince themselves that they should be alone, because they are defective in some way. They know that humans need love, but they detach themselves from that to the point of dehumanizing themselves.
The abuse, though. There is a profound connection between abuse and dehumanization. Someday I will maybe organize my thoughts on this instead of just flailing about in this manner. But I’ve mentioned it before in my child sacrifice post. It’s a thing.
It’s like we all generally know the “rules” about humans—how you should morally treat them, their basic physical and emotional necessities, but we need to make an exception. Either because we need to hurt someone, or because we’ve been hurt. So we choose not to see someone else as human. Or we stop being able to see ourselves as human.
There is so much trauma. Trauma is a common thread through all of these characters’ lives. Whether it’s caused by extreme brutality like in Murderbot (cloning and slavery and mutilation and so much bad, bad stuff) or more subtle abuse like in Never Like Me Go (actually surprisingly similar…just manifesting in completely different ways), these children are HURT SO BAD. THEY NEED THE HELP.
The fact that many of them are mentally and/or emotionally damaged to the point of voluntarily dehumanizing themselves is frankly heartbreaking. I mean, all of them have some kind of outside source telling them “You’re not human,” but it’s the fact that they actually believe it that gets me.
And most of them cope with that by pretending that they don’t care. That just…hurts.
(Do you kind of want to cry now, because I do.)
But yeah. I love characters that struggle with this. Because actually we all do, on some level.
Have you met any of these precious children? Do you ever feel like you might not be quite a whole human? What are your thoughts on the connection between dehumanization and abuse? I would love to discuss any of your thoughts on these things in the comments!