One of the central tenets of modernity is that advances in science, technology and political organization will enable humanity to transcend traditional limits on human welfare and enhance human freedom. Rejecting the fatalism of the pre-modern worldview, in which humanity was ruled by forces we could neither understand nor control, modernity promised to extend human mastery over the forces shaping human fate. Scientific rationality, for example, would enable humanity to master the natural world and bring an end to disease, scarcity and possibly even mortality. Technology would augment human physical and cognitive capacities, enabling us to explore and master new domains of space and existence. Modern bureaucratic government would allow complex societies to govern themselves more effectively and efficiently through the application of expert knowledge to policy problems. By transcending traditional limits, in short, modernity promised to improve the human condition.
Recent advances in science and technology, however, suggest that modernity is confronting limits that it may be impossible to transcend without fundamentally altering our notions of humanity and society. Developments in biotechnology and artificial intelligence are breaking down the traditional boundaries between the human, the animal and the machine. Widespread environmental degradation and climate change are generating new limits to economic growth and are likely to result in a decline rather than an improvement in the future of human welfare.
Works of science fiction, particularly recent work in climate science fiction (so-called “cli fi”) and more established works exploring post-humanism and artificial intelligence, represent some of the earliest efforts to address the implications of these developments for modernity, humanity and society. What might these works tell us about the relationship between modernity, finitude and humanism? How might they help us imagine a future for modernity in which humanity acknowledges rather than seeks to transcend finitude?
Your paper should be organized as follows. In the first section (after your introduction), discuss the futures that the films Bladerunner, Bladerunner 2049, and Children of Men present. How do they engage the ways in which modernity rests upon the effort to transcend traditional human boundaries? How, for example, do the Bladerunner films speak to the boundaries of our humanity and how advances in artificial intelligence and biotechnology are undermining and reconstituting those boundaries? How does Children of Men speak to the role that faith in continual progress and change (a faith that is deeply called into question by human infertility in the film) plays in sustaining the project of modernity?
In the second section of your paper, discuss the ways in which Bladerunner, Bladerunner 2049, and Children of Men inform or reveal a politics that no longer takes for granted progress or emancipation. What does politics mean once our future horizon is no longer open? To answer these questions, reflect on how the societies depicted in the films respond to the limits that they encounter. What kind of politics do those societies embrace and what are its consequences?
In the third section of your paper, discuss how we might re-imagine modernity in a way that avoids the inhuman tendencies associated with the pursuit of mastery and maintains a place for humanity in the face of ecological disruption and accelerating technological change. How, in other words, might we avoid the violence and extremities of the politics depicted in the Bladerunner films and Children of Men in our own politics as we approach those same limits? What we are looking for in this section are your thoughts on how we should re-imagine the promise of modernity to ensure a more humane politics in the future.
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