Being human #voightkampff - nondisabled vs. disabled people [scenarios]

Cite this article:
Wolf Schweitzer: Technical Below Elbow Amputee Issues - Being human #voightkampff - nondisabled vs. disabled people [scenarios]; published March 2, 2016, 18:11; URL: https://www.swisswuff.ch/tech/?p=5743.

BibTeX: @MISC{schweitzer_wolf_1571445274, author = {Wolf Schweitzer}, title = {{Technical Below Elbow Amputee Issues - Being human #voightkampff - nondisabled vs. disabled people [scenarios]}}, month = {March},year = {2016}, url = {https://www.swisswuff.ch/tech/?p=5743}}

The mutual viewing of who of us when regarding each other is more, or less, human has a potentially big impact on societal cohesion.

Prosthetic arms today - at least inasmuch as the "bionic" arms hype is concerned - are by far a more societal than practical aspect, so these aspects play a massive role. Once even technical researchers give up honest technical work in their attempt to reach for the fame and society grapes, they start to attach themselves to a dynamic that is neither obvious nor cool. I already strongly advised arm amputees to abandon that social dynamic actively as not doing that will result in actual problems (link). But it starts smooth and nicely before escalating into what one might actually call "the Voight-Kampff chambers of hell of symbolic attribution in attempting mutual acceptance as human".

The Voight-Kampff chambers of hell of symbolic attribution in attempting mutual acceptance as human

A - initial assumption

As depicted in the diagram, initially we are all equally worth and we are all worthy humans. Our self assumed location as well the location of (non) disabled others on a virtual "being human" axis is well centered and the world seems to be one. Were we to ascribe human attributes, we might fool ourselves into stating equalness.

B - a look at each other and a look in the mirror

One I look in the mirror or at myself, I see that I am both disabled and disfigured.

While that may not immediately make me a lot less human at first, seeing the demeanour and attitudes of non-disabled people, we must surely agree that at that exact very moment and without further reflection, they appear to be slightly more human and me. They are at least visually more human because they look more like humans, they exhibit a higher degree of anthropomorphism. And in any world of appearances, beauty remains (only) skin deep. Empathy is not necessary, as the decisive factors can be perceived and judged within split seconds, visually.

Conversely, non-disabled people generally have a tendency to regard and treat right below elbow amputees as less human. That is that and it explains many everyday experiences. With a few important exceptions, one would not conclude the average human as particularly empathic. One may understand how others believe that some people could easily be replaced by service robots.

C - amputee, bow before me!

The non-disabled person may then give the amputee a path to salvation, a way out of his subhuman ghetto, a possibility to improve their subhuman status - all things being relative.

Conversely, in order to successfully attain the pose of a "person to help amputees to become at least A BIT LESS SUBHUMAN" one necessarily has to start off by regarding them as somewhat or totally subhuman beforehand. This intrinsically required haughty and arrogant attitude is quite relevant to pick up, and it pays off to work this out, in simple small conversational examples, before taking things further.

One cannot possibly assume that an arm amputee needs "a prosthetic device" of some sorts in order to "become less subhuman" if one regards them as "already equally human".

Because if one were to regard amputees as equally human in any respect, with the small problem of being manually restricted, one can then set out to solely improve on manual restrictions with a full focus on physical aspects - which is what prosthetic arms really are about when considering everyday life. Which is why center of gravity, control paradigm, robust and sustainable activity, cost, comfort and so on then are so important.

But society today implies that arm amputees are subhuman, from which they are saved only by following the non-disabled people's call to wear anthropomorphic arms. So such a non-disabled society requires me (or, more generally, a person with a handicap such as me) to "experience the world as I think someone else does" [1], in other words, requires me to experience myself the way others may, as "subhuman", and then accept their "solutions" to "make" me "less subhuman".

As basically this formally makes me appear as conforming to the literal definition of empathy, at that stage, within the micro-madness of this cycle of confusion, the non-disabled society demands me, the "declaredly subhuman being", to exert my possibly superbly human capacity of empathy, to "recognize" their feelings, with regard to my visible aspects of disability, obviously as a necessary conscious or unconscious, explicit or implicit step, before further steps can be installed, carried out, performed or expected to go through smoothly.

There is absolutely no other explanations for the fact that practically useless prosthetic hands are massively advertised, hyped up and toted around like they provided some type of wonder healing.

So the amputee can restore some (but never all) of the lost human aspect of their body when following strict orders, which are:

  • admire "bionic" stuff;
  • admire "3D printing";
  • admire fools with tools and every small time tinkerer there is as they make me a bit more human - not human, but "more" human, more precisely worded, "less subhuman";
  • admire neural implants and targeted reinnervation;
  • admire anything "electronic";
  • admite anything that looks or sounds like "future" in a strict fairy tale sense (knowing rather well that a realistic future of wearing useless prosthetic arms too often will be one of tendon and joint overuse,  one of pain and chronic back problems)

D - the awakening

Once the non-disabled person has come with the "wonder arm" (spelled out as iLimb, Michelangelo hand, BeBionic, or any of these research or 3D print gadgets), the "awakening" begins.

Then, at once, things derail in all directions:

  • by adopting the forcedly and obviously painful, overly costly, non functional and uncomfortable "solution" of the non-disabled person, the amputee realizes that expecting a fellow human to wear such appendages can only be expected by a person void of human feelings; that means that I, as the non-disabled person. by that act alone fail the Voight-Kampff test of prosthetics, and become clearly and undisputedly sub-human while my own comformance to clearly empathic normative rules ("experience the world as I think someone else does" [1]) remains unacknowledged;
  • by exhibiting the pain, hemorrhage, blisters, asymmetry, contracture and suffering of the creature that even willingly and acceptingly underwent this type of abuse by an obviously subhuman other creature, a subhuman aspect of the amputee also becomes apparent; and with that,
  • both non-disabled person and amputee drop on their mutually assumed positions on the "be human" scale.

There are real life precedents.

New surgical techniques that highlight the surgeon as rabidly interested in totally insane private surgery costs. Research projects that solely focus on stupid non functional hardware and that totally ignore what actually would have worked. And so on.

E - dealing with it as people thrown into existence

Dealing with these clearly negative experiences is a social problem for both non-disabled and amputee that are involved in this mutual exchange of silliness.

No one really can save face! Not at this stage of reached insight, not any more.

Denying each other's existence and acknowledging the fact that each party lives on a totally different planet - one filled with what can easily be explained and declared as subhumans, possibly - seals the deal and cements attitudes. It precludes having to ever save face as avoiding each other is safer, easier and a lot cheaper, also socially.

F - dealing with it as a boss

Totally  trumpeting each other's newly proclaimed virtual "hero" status absolutely saves the day.

Not tomorrow, hell no - but today, socially speaking. This is clearly the case as outsiders - and these "bionic arm games" are usually heavily publicized - have no idea about the inner workings of this. All the while society makes us their victims of processes we never pull into the light - out of fear?

Heralding both researcher as heroic - because they "overcame" so many "obstacles" and "dedicated" so much "life time" in order to "make amputees less subhuman" -  and heralding the amputee as heroic - they offered their stump to be sliced up, banged up, lacerated, bruised, pained, their time to be wasted on tests and trials, their effort and mental strength - is the virtual path to mutual heroism. Of course it is a blatant lie as that research usually does not go anywhere and the amputee never wins in the eyes of anyone else, as: what was there to win to begin with; but - who knows! Who can see behind the curtains! The hope dies last.

Instead, realities clearly show that non-disabled people will go out of their way, and out of their comfort zone, to place amputees into a conditional subhuman rating where they can only get a chance of escaping by wearing inhumanly painful, inhumanly useless and totally expensive anthropomorphic stuff, which would bifurcate their location on the "be human" scale into one that crawls towards more acceptance and one that totally dies.

Conversely, amputees have accepted this as tension field, and already that makes them less than human. On the other hand, expecting someone to proactively deny human life qualities for a symbolic betterment of anthropomorphic qualities in what appears to be a visual human - subhuman distinction does have aspects of reality distortion if not outright mental deficiency of a sort that also reduces the affected nondisabled actor's perceptible humanity. In other words: howevermuch a non-disabled person may harbor secret feelings of empathy themselves, their empathy dwindles to a theoretical minimum at the moment they make amputees wear that type of stuff.

So realistically, the situation can not be saved and from that point on, mutual respect is not really possible any more.

Instead, staring that dragon directly into its ugly face and SAYING OUT LOUD that that problem persists actual constitutes the then-required human quality. Because it is a holding on to the last thing that ties humans together - hope. And that is probably what you came here for.

Resignation: living life as the human puppet

Ultimately, all force and push and intention of the nondisabled people's agenda to force us amputees into wearing highly anthropomorphic and shape-appearance-controlled, albeit painful and manually useless contraptions requires analysis and invites commentary.

Because at our expense, that effectively would make us into puppets (a fact that was recognized and discussed previously, link) and that falls precisely within the cultural context of art of Hans Bellmer. It thus transforms amputees - that as such hold the potential to living full and active lives - into objectified  representatives of shape projection whereas society (not amputees) define the characteristics of that projection. One cannot move further from self determination. Together with a further, still untapped and undiscussed aspect of human projection - Catholic priests were (and in a less harshly enforced way still are) required to be anatomically complete, to be and appear non-disabled - this tells us that since a very long time but still in today's lost world, making an appearance as an anatomically complete puppet symbolically may top and trump, win over and dominate over appearing as a dynamically functional (but not necessarily anatomically complete) individual in the warped view of today's society and their representatives.

This shows that

  • societal classism today provides for a class that does nothing of relevance, manually (except maybe hold a beer can of course), which we may term "class A"; belonging to that class is made a priority for arm amputees with the predominant idea that arm amputee pay for all the class membership fees themselves; they still end up not being totally invited but they can be part of "body hacking" conventions, Cybathlon and what formerly was known as "freak show" - where non disabled normality is used to set off a stark contrast to what then is paraded as the "look, see, stare" attraction; so to put that sharply, they can be part of a "class A-side act status";
  • societal classism provies also for classes that can, do and will do bimanual and hard work, which we may call "class W"; but these are not provided to contain arm amputees; society furthermore also contains and recognizes active and dynamical individuals, but there, arm amputees are far more an exception than the rule and not openly addressed, not seen, and not labelled, leave alone respected;
  • society distinguishes these classes quite strictly;
  • empathy is
  • with osseointegration, a new medical device is offered that deprives arm amputees of massive financial resources, puts the vitality and health of their stump and whole body at risk if not  most serious lifestyle restrictions with severe hygenical measures are followed - just to obtain some type of temporary and very fragile anthropomorphical completeness without any guarantees for any further betterment of health, status and outcome; at best, a "class A side-act status" can be attempted;
  • media, academic research, robotics research and whatnot most outspokenly charge into the direction of supporting a functionally low but anthropomorphically well endowed class of arm amputees that wears prosthetic arms solely for symbolism, mostly as symbol of conformance, but definitely not to scrub floors or paint walls on an industrial basis, to make one example, or to become physically active workers in any other field; currently, they try to adopt at least a symbolic version of manual activism in order to glorify their assumed symbolic status, so they "can vacuum the floor" with a "bionic" arm (but doing so for 10 minutes and the arm would fall off due to sweat) and they "can ride a bike" but actually taking the bike to the muddy wet forest would totally void the arm's warranty with repairs costing thousands of dollars;
  • any actual and specific act of actually working towards dynamic, hard loaded, well functioning, robust and durable prostheses is frowned upon and looked down upon, and applying "class W" derived measures and standards of physical strain to prosthetic "not work" class A side-act products invites some flogging; with that, disrespect rather than a culture of provision and mutual respect is shown;
  • representatives of the "bionics" societal class definitely look down on and negatively comment the more active group of people; when I provided very reasonable objections to a laughably fragile prosthetic glove disintegrating all (and this time it was ALL) by itself, the manufacturers could have agreed with me in that this damage actually is a problem, or they could have apologized for my hassles (after all that product had cost some real money which is easily, easily forgotten), or better, they could have said "we also object to stuff just falling apart when it happens to us ourselves" - but no, in dystopian 2016, Touchbionics let a third party tell me behind everyone's back that my complaint was totally not appreciated.

Just because that is what is going on does not necessarily mean everyone is participating.

I guess we are now in search for a scale, and a dimension, of what we do and do not appreciate, assuming we are at least somewhat normal in our heads.

Now is a good time to watch Bladerunner. Again.



[1] P. Bloom, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, Random House, 2017.
  title={Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion},
  author={Bloom, P.},
  publisher={Random House}
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