The myth of human exceptionalism

Technologists will not find solutions to our animal condition

Throughout recorded history, humans have tried to make sense of why we seem so different to other animals. But we’ve rarely been able to follow that enquiry without pursuing a dangerous kind of self-aggrandisement, argues Melanie Challenger


“All is vanity,” is one of those quotes that most of us know without necessarily recognising its provenance. Is it Shakespeare? The title of a novel? Actually, it comes from the Bible, specifically from Ecclesiastes verses 3:19. In contrast to the lazy idea of the Bible as an extended riff on human exceptionalism, these lines offer a starker vision of the human condition.

“For that which befalleth the sons of men,” runs the King James translation, “befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.”

In other words, humans are animals that will one day me

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Minnie 26 May 2021

I am surprised that there is not more of a Neo-Luddite movement in the West at the moment. Past a certain point, technology is a curse. Animals live dangerous lives that are often painful but they are (compared to humans) very noble, lived according to ancient rules or instinct. I wonder if we will soon start to want to be more animal rather than less.