Last week my Romantic Movement class and I were discussing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and I posed the question, which the novel obviously asks, “What is a human?”
The most dismaying aspect of the conversation, to my mind, was the trend to eliminate some people from the definition rather than being more inclusive.
So, for instance, it was suggested that only those born from egg and sperm can be considered human, but Charles Manson might be outside the human because he is a sociopath.
What makes Charles Manson less human than a fetus, I asked?
I’ve become a fan of Teju Cole for his thoughtful and lyrical blogs on The New York Times. Here is Cole in A Time for Refusal on Ionescoan “rhinoceritis”: turning totalitarian and the banality of evil in the United States, when beating sleeping homeless men becomes an everyday occurrence, something to be celebrated.
“Evil settles into everyday life when people are unable or unwilling to recognize it. It makes its home among us when we are keen to minimize it or describe it as something else. This is not a process that began a week or month or year ago. It did not begin with drone assassinations, or with the war on Iraq. Evil has always been here. But now it has taken on a totalitarian tone.
“At the end of “Rhinoceros,” Daisy finds the call of the herd irresistible. Her skin goes green, she develops a horn, she’s gone. Berenger, imperfect, all alone, is racked by doubts. He is determined to keep his humanity, but looking in the mirror, he suddenly finds himself quite strange. He feels like a monster for being so out of step with the consensus. He is afraid of what this independence will cost him. But he keeps his resolve, and refuses to accept the horrible new normalcy. He’ll put up a fight, he says. “I’m not capitulating!””
I took these photos of a homeless person sleeping in front of the courthouse in Shreveport, Louisiana, on Oct. 25, 2016, after seeing the Bob Dylan concert.