Beauty and the Cyborg

Accept The Body In Christ Is Already A Temple

How can we begin to treat the body like an etch-a-sketch? One professor from NYU has surgically attached a camera to his skull. When people can integrate computers more fully into the brain what will happen? Will the transhuman cyborg discover a deeper humanity, walking in increasingly human values – discovering more compassion for instance? American culture seems to float on a sea of entertainment; a ship that tosses overboard the cargo of the conscience. But God says, “blessed is he who is not condemned by what he approves.” I don’t argue that devices needed to correct health problems are always wrong. A prosthetic limb or artificial joint seems as innocent as a cane. There is always the question though of the medicine as a Trojan horse.

For example scientists in England have discovered how to remove the chance of a certain disease in an infant by including DNA from a third person, making the potential baby the product of three parents at the same time. If that is permissible then where does one draw the line? What if the child could be designed with 1000 parents? Would our attachment to our children be reduced if they were commodified this way? One Harvard philosopher, argues exactly that. He says that the bond between parent and child is one of unconditional love and must not be based on the type of conditions we face when we purchase something.

More fundamentally, is there something wrong with interfering with the natural process by which a person is formed? If we take control over that person before birth, shaping them the way we desire, then we show our instinct is to deny the integrity of that person as a being with the right of self-determination; we take the precedent to fight against the pure relation of a man before God as a being He has made.

If your DNA is chosen by others, and some are designed by one company one way, and others are designed another way, with a third set of people with little or no (corporate) design, this is perhaps the ultimate class inequality and undermines the operation of the American ideals of hard work, self-determination, and freedom. What person would not struggle significantly with fatalism in such a society where people find themselves hanging their hopes on science and they are reduced to almost a fashion?

When natural personhood is denied at birth, how can people ever hope to answer the question “who am I?”  Orphans do not have a context to think about their inborn nature and so have a hard enough time with that personal understanding.  But when people are born with never before seen advantages and genetic hardships no one could foresee, not to mention the ongoing efforts to become transhuman, how will people even consider the idea of coming to understand a stable or real self?  Because people will be shaky at their core, will not be rooted in their human nature and in deep human values, then the native faith one person needs to resist the will of the society at large may be grievously compromised.  Society will blow this way and that, and where is the person who will be true?  When our strong commitment as Americans to the values of individuality and basic freedoms is lost, to that extent we risk losing democracy.

The people of the next few generations may face attempts at compromise beyond genetic engineering. There may be software and other electronic equipment incorporated into the body, and so an elective surgery like a camera attached to the skull, is indeed a kind of Trojan horse. Should we respond to this as though it doesn’t matter? One man is free to do it. But by that one man’s free choice he helps shape the entire course of what will be imposed on future generations. Other examples are the merely cosmetic decisions to permanently alter one’s appearance. A man made the news recently because he had tattooed his face and eyeballs and chopped of the end of his nose to resemble a character from a comic book. Another tattooed himself from head to toe to look like a devil and had horns attached to his head.

Why are so many people getting sex change operations? Being tattooed? Having plastic surgery? And doing steroids or going to extreme lengths in their workouts? This video reports on the practice of surgically removing the pinkie toe so that a woman can more easily walk around in stiletto shoes. The prevalence of all these things speak to the sickness of our time.

Is it not an astonishing lack of acceptance? It is as though people do not know the giving hand of God and so are trying to create their own happiness through their own world. A big part of this of course is sex. Here are some recent statistics that highlight that American obsession.

10 billion on plastic surgery in 2011
2-13 billion annually spent on pornography (compares to 5-10 million in 1975)
170 billion spent annually on makeup
35 billion annually on weight loss products (CBS News, 2009)
14 billion spent annually in prostitution

These are U.S. figures, together totaling about 235 billion per year. Compare that to an estimated $206 billion on autos in 2011, which was 1.3% of GDP. (USA TODAY 1/17/12) So by estimate, makeup alone was more than 1% of our gross domestic product last year. 170 billion is spent on makeup per year and U.S. foreign aid in 2006 for example was about 23 billion dollars, and much of that was strategic and not necessarily humanitarian aid.

Even if we say as a society that harmful things like prostitution and cutting off pinky toes should be legal, there is no compulsion to say that abusing the body is beautiful or wise. I think just about everybody has some dysmorphia, which is the irrational dissatisfaction with a part of the body.

What beautiful things are born by accepting our bodies as they are and loving them as the human and biological means connecting us to each other and to Earth. While people may fear they can never really be free from anxiety over the things of the flesh, God will accept our worries for us if we surrender them to Him. Prayer is a mighty thing! If you are overweight like I am, let me assure you, God can truly see the grace of a person who still posses style in those loosened clothes, who ambles slower, but gentler too. And remember, physical flaws with no compensatory benefit don’t need a compensatory benefit; they are part of our body. Are we working for our body or is our body working for us? Are we models? Do we have to look airbrushed?

I love what I heard Tom Ford say with Terry Gross on her show, Fresh Air.

“in the 1970s when fashion was more touchable. Today, you know, fashion is not – our beauty standard today is harder. It’s beautiful but it’s off-putting. It’s like, don’t touch me, I’m hard. It’s so interesting how female form, less male form, mirrors where we are culturally, aesthetically, as well as – for example, right now everything is pumped up. Cars look like someone took an air pump and pumped them up. They look engorged. Lips pumped up, breasts pumped up, everything is pumped up. And it’s also kind of off-putting. It’s sexual but in such a hard way that it’s, for me, not sexual at all, whereas the 1970s, breasts were smaller. People were not wearing bras. Farrah Fawcett’s sexuality and sensuality was a very touchable sexuality. She was kissable. She was friendly. And that was what I brought back in the ’90s with some of my early collections for Gucci that we hadn’t seen in a while. And I think that right now we’re in a very hard moment and off-putting. I mean, look at shoes today, women’s shoes. They couldn’t possibly get any higher and meaner and sharper. But then again, you go and watch most films today, they’re violent, and we’re living in a world that is, at the moment, quite hard.

GROSS: I love when you say breasts were smaller in the ’70s. I mean…

(Soundbite of laughter)…

Mr. FORD: I don’t understand all these breasts right now, and they don’t look like breasts. They look like someone’s taken a grapefruit half and inserted it under your skin. I mean it’s – it doesn’t even bear any resemblance to what a natural breast looks like. But we’re starting to think that this is what women should like. And young girls are looking at these breasts and thinking, oh, I need to go have my breasts done because they’ve lost touch with what a real breast actually looks like. I find it fascinating. I find it disturbing. I mean, you could consider it more fascinating because we’re becoming post-human.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORD: We are actually – we are. We are actually starting to manipulate our bodies, because we can, into a shape. We are becoming our own art. But what happens for me is that it desexualizes everything. You know, you start to look more and more polished, more and more lacquered and you look like a beautiful car. Does anyone want to sleep with you? Does anyone want to touch you? Does anyone want to kiss you? Maybe not because you’re too scary. But you’re beautiful, you’re glossy, you’re shiny, but you’re not human. Very interesting. And I say that in a very detached way, I’m not making a judgment about it. I’m just saying it’s fascinating culturally.”

That’s an excerpt from the interview that aired July 9th 2010. I think many people now act as though the body they happen to have is an obstacle to true beauty. But in making war on our body, or trying to cut and paste and delete and insert, highlight and color and bleach, and starve and force to heavy labor for the look of power, we are also making war on the temple of God, or at least what should be the temple of God. What has God said?

1 Peter 3:3,4
Your beauty should not consist in externals such as fancy hairstyles, gold jewelry or what you wear; rather, let it be the inner character of your heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit. In God’s sight this is of great value.

Was God desperate to make a good impression in the flesh? He was marred beyond recognition as a human. God will make us beautiful if we recognize His Spirit within us, and in others. So the body is not an obstacle to beauty – except perhaps to moral beauty.

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