Joseph Nicolai: Humanity and the Industries of Division

School of Communication

To talk of the human is to implicitly refer to a much larger conception of humanity. However, in our contemporary world who addresses us in this encompassing way? As the way in which we are addressed can come to play a role in the ways in which we perceive ourselves, I will argue that the concept of a shared humanity is continuously fragmented by both “low culture” and “high culture”. In other words, instead of being addressed as an audience of humanity we are addressed as fragmentary individuals: in terms of demographics (a consumer) and in terms of petty nationalism (a vote). In our magical consumer “low-culture”, our societies most powerful storytellers in the advertising world, our Homers, are rewarded when they can conjure individual consumers out of the lot of humanity. In the realm of “high culture”, perceived current cultural divisions are read in a-historical fashion: reducing human history to the history of distinct civilizations that in turn inform our current cultural categories. Within such a narrative, simplistic readings into the “clash of civilizations” are given precedence over the very complex tale of human history and shared experience.

Following the precedents set by UNESCO, multiculturalism can be understood as being a fundamental part of what it means to be human and is therefore fundamentally a much older concept than the rather recent idea of the nation state, and, following what can be called common sense, despite what the storytellers may say there is something more to our shared human experience than “buy, die”. My paper will explore these issues and what I will call the “industries of division” which endanger what I think is a socially positive vision of what it means to be a human in the fellowship of humanity