Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds /Milk Tea Alliance

Ghost in the Shell–Dharma Dilemma 2

Last week I released the first episode and discussion of my favorite cyber punk film, Ghost in the Shell. In the first episode, I outlined the questions and existential dilemmas posed by the film, especially regarding the identity of its protagonist, the cyborg Motoko Kusanagi. 

In this second episode, I begin to address those issues and propose some possible answers. However, the arguments I present are not based on answering any of the questions pondered in Episode 1. The main reason is that I don’t think any of the questions posed in the first episode, which are those posed by the film, will ever have definitive answers. I believe that every one of those questions and possible answers will always be in dispute. I don’t believe that science, philosophy, culture or religion can or will provide any definitive answers to these existential conundrums. There will always be a range of possible answers and ongoing disagreement and debate. Some of those questions will always be undecidable.

So my arguments for the answers I propose are not based on deciding whether cyborgs like Kusanagi are human, partly human, or merely machines; whether cyborgs have consciousness, or selves, or souls. Rather I am concerned with how cyborgs are understood and treated as ‘beings’, from a Buddhist perspective, whether truly human, cyborg or otherwise. I approach the arguments from two different standpoints.

The first standpoint is that even if cyborgs are not human, strictly speaking, they can still be said to have “rights”. In the present age, we assign rights to non-human entities, especially animals. We have laws against animal cruelty and the proper treatment of animals in their own habitats and in human societies. We even assign “rights” to non-animal entities, such as rivers and mountains. Buddhist monks have ordained trees as sacred dharma beings. We have laws protecting species habitats and environments. We have assigned rights to the capacity of Nature to regenerate herself. We have established laws about the proper care and protection of vulnerable and endangered species, including plants, insects and animals. We should assign no less care and protection for cyborgs who on some debatable level, whether human or not, have sentience, self-awareness, needs, and are vulnerable to the abuses of others.

My second argument is not based on the nature of cyborgs at all, but rather, on our relationship as human beings toward these beings. I believe that if we allow humans to use and abuse cyborgs and androids (human-like robots) without regard for their rights as sentient beings, that we will be teaching our species to be cruel, violent, callous and abusive toward other human-like and animal-like beings. We cannot afford to teach human beings to behave that way towards vulnerable beings, be they humans, animals or cyborgs. The first step toward the enslavement and genocide of other human beings is to regard them as “sub-human”, and therefore not worthy of care and protection from violence, abuse and exploitation. We need laws and norms that teach human beings to treat all vulnerable beings with care, respect and protection of their right to exist free from abuse, exploitation and violence.

In fact, the sequel to Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, directly addresses the issue of the abuse and exploitation of cyborg and android beings. In that story, android sex dolls revolt against misogynist and sexualized violence perpetrated by their owners. Major Kusanagi becomes their guardian and defender. 

However, if cyborgs or androids become violent towards us, or rather, if they are programmed to be violent, such as in military combat, we certainly need to protect ourselves from them and not allow that violence to be perpetrated against human beings, animals or other sentient beings. 

Regardless of how cyborgs make us feel, whether familiar or strange, understandable or obtuse, we need to treat them as the unique beings they are. Cyborgs certainly fall into a deep grey area between human and machine, between programmed and sentient, between system-dependent and autonomous consciousness. I contend that it’s this very ambiguous ‘in-betweeness’ that makes many people uncomfortable with cyborgs, to reject and devalue them as sentient beings in need of care and respect. Case in point, cyborgs are very much like transgender people who exist in that ambiguous grey area between genders, or without commonly-understood genders. Currently in the US, transgender people are being demonized as ‘sub-human’, denied appropriate health care, criminalized and denied basic human rights. It’s precisely because of this tendency for people to demonize and oppress those who don’t fit into our neat boxes and sharp definitions of what is ‘human’, that I feel we should take extra care to protect to cyborg beings.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on 2023/02/25 by .



Follow Engage! on WordPress.com

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 653 other subscribers

Blog Stats

  • 214,274 hits

NEW! Become a member of Engage! Dharma Culture Club through my Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=80736941

If you love dharma culture and want to create more, jump into membership in Engage! Dharma Culture Club as a monthly patron. Through Dharma Culture Club, you’ll connect with other dharma culture creators, learn from and inspire each other.

%d bloggers like this: