Human dignity as a tool for survival

Inspired by Damasio, I would argue that the UDHR can also be read as a tool for achieving the well-being and survival of humankind. When the UDHR was written and ratified by the United Nations General Assembly, humankind had just survived World War II, in which the industrial destruction of people by means of large administration systems and the atom bomb was a new development. The second phrase of the preamble of the UDHR states, "disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind" (United Nations 1948). Apparently, humankind is capable of destruction beyond its own imagination and this includes the scientists and inventors who are often unaware and/or incapable of dealing with the possible results of their work. The solution to the problem that is offered by the UDHR is to respect the human dignity of all human beings under all circumstances at all times. Because I am analyzing and studying the effect of new technologies on the social interaction between people, and because the effect of these technologies on social structures is still being designed - and perhaps the Internet, for example, may prove to be a 'social atom bomb', or the ultimate 'planetary learning tool' in the decades to come - my decision to use the UDHR as a normative reference point can also be understood from the perspective of Damasio as a tool for the survival and well-being of humankind, and as such it offers a deeper explanation of why I have chosen it as a reference point for analysing the effect of the information and communication technologies and the multiple presences that people have to face as a consequence of them. A reality of multiple presences also needs to generate well-being and survival, and the respect for human dignity is crucial for all human beings at all times here as well.

Good actions are those that, while producing good for the individual via the natural appetites and emotions, do not harm other individuals (É). An action that would be personally beneficial but would harm others is not good because harming others always haunts and eventually harms the individual that causes the harm (..). Neither the essence of the conatus, nor the notion that harm to the other is harm to the self are Spinoza's inventions. But perhaps the Spinozian novelty resides with the powerful blend of the two. (Damasio 2004, 172).

Inspired by Damasio and Spinoza, I conclude that in natural presence emotions and feelings are strong indicators of people's well-being and survival, and that in these emotions and feelings the roots of ethical behaviour, triggered by witnessed presence, are to be found. When I transpose this insight to the realm of mediated presence many questions appear concerning the well-being and survival of the self and of other selves. How do feelings and emotions operate on the level of establishing a connection, on the level of the interface, of the content and the context that mediated presence can offer? And how does one actually meet 'the other' and does this create social emotions as a result? The main issue I suspect, is that in mediated presence the ethical experience is limited because mediation involves a limited sensorial experience, context can hardly be mediated and the action radius of the actor is defined by the formats that the technology and the editorial orchestration offers. Mediated presence increases the distance between our own self and the selves of others. Mediated presence increases the moral distance between an actor and his actions and between other people's selves and their actions.

Which feedback mechanisms diminish moral distance? How can we design mediated presence in such a way that it will support the conatus and the ethical behaviour that is part of it? These are major questions that cannot solely be the responsibility of designers and engineers to solve. It will require a great deal of research from a variety of perspectives, which will have to be unified via interdisciplinary teams. In the final chapter I will propose an initial idea for a conceptual framework that may be of value in such a quest.