Lester: Are we losing our humanity? - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Lester: Are we losing our humanity?

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Neal A. Lester, PhD, is a Foundation Professor of English, Associated Vice President of Arts and Humanities and Director of Project Humanities at Arizona State University.

Posted: Saturday, September 1, 2012 9:16 am | Updated: 11:02 pm, Tue Nov 27, 2012.

Do decency, integrity, ethics, forgiveness, respect, thoughtfulness, self-reflection, forgiveness, kindness, empathy, civility, morality, generosity, hope, and honesty mean anything to anyone today? Are these traits of weakness that separate the sheep from the wolves, the leaders from the followers, the innovators from the implementers?

How do we determine what really matters in the world and in our lives, and what tools do we use to know? Newspaper, radio, sidebar and continually crawling headlines reveal an unparalleled urgency to get ahead and to be ahead in this moment of instant gratification, unprecedented global competition, intense global economic uncertainties, and technological innovations that follow the way of fashion—“One day you’re in; the next day you’re out.”

As everyone races to be some place to meet someone or to do something—whether to post the latest photo to Facebook or to tweet the latest political gaffe—do all signs indicate that we are losing our humanity? What does it mean to know one’s humanity and what does it mean to lose one’s humanity?

And if we are losing our humanity, how do we reclaim it? Is our ability to connect with worlds near and far eroding our sense of “real” connectivity when we no longer hear, see, or participate in dinner or bus stop conversations because we engrossed in our smart phones, pads, and pods? With these advances, has the quality of our connections and our connectivity been compromised or enhanced? And how do science and technology enable us to know our basic humanity? When someone asks “Can you hear me now?” are we really listening and do we really care?

These are but some of the questions and ideas to be addressed in the fall 2012 kickoff of Project Humanities at Arizona State University in a variety of formats and audiences both local and national. Indeed, life stories about child molestation, movie theater shootings, cheating at Olympic sporting events and medical school exams, and rabid political campaigns built on vicious personal attacks with the purpose to divide and confuse keep many wondering how do we get along when there are so many competing interests and in the face of those who benefit from creating and perpetuating fear of the unknown whether that unknown is a new neighbor, a new idea, or a new way of doing something.

Project Humanities is a university initiative at Arizona State University that explores how we make meaning of our shared experiences. Through research and public programs, Project Humanities connects students, faculty, communities, and institutions toward clarifying, understanding, creating, innovating, and demystifying human ties that bind.

This year’s kickoff is preceded by a host of activities in the “Are we losing our humanity?” theme—three-film summer series of screenings and discussions around the valley and an upcoming September 7 multidisciplinary discussion at the National Press Club in DC among legislators, academics, and funding agencies. The kickoff week of September 10-15 offers a diverse range of activities on the various ASU campuses and around the valley to appeal to different audiences within and beyond Arizona State University—a forum on athletics and sports culture featuring basketball legend, Mercury General Manager and Phoenix Suns Vice President Ann Meyers Drysdale, a community poetry slam with Phonetic Spit, and conversations on video games and transhumanism, and another on science fiction and television with writer Alan Dean Foster. In addition to film discussions and lectures featuring educator Jonathan Kozol and pediatrician Eve Shapiro, of particular note is the Arizona premiere of Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story, at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept.13, at The Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe. Booker’s Place is a 90-minute documentary based on the research of Yvette Johnson, an ASU student who worked on a family history project on her grandfather Booker Wright, a black restaurant owner who also served double-duty as a waiter in a “whites only” restaurant in Greenwood, Miss., in the 1960s. He became an unlikely activist for the civil rights movement when he appeared in 1966 on an NBC documentary by Frank De Felitta, reporting on racism in the South. The movie was recently shown at the Tribeca Film Festival and was the subject of a full NBC Dateline episode. The film will be followed by a Q & A session with ASU professors Aaron Baker, Neal Lester, and Keith Miller (and moderator Sherry Rankins-Robertson); along with the director, Raymond De Felitta and Yvette Johnson, who co-produced the picture.

“Are we losing our humanity?” ultimately seeks to make humanities more relevant and immediate, providing new and multiple ways for folks to “talk, listen, and connect.” All Project Humanities events are FREE and open to the public. For more details about this event, please visit humanities.asu.edu and our Facebook page.

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