We like to think we are “real,” or “authentic,” people, that we know what a good life is, and how it should be lead. Effectively, we know what a human being should be, but does that automatically mean we know what one is? I would worry if we could not answer that question.
What we need is a human “holotype,” the term for a single physical example of an organism, usually the one used when that organism was described for the first time. Of course, there are many flies, butterflies and bacteria for which we have the holotype – for dinosaurs, it will be a particular fossil. The Natural History Museum is full of these, but they don’t have one for the species looking at them.
Two “nominees” for the human holotype have previously appeared. The 18th century Swedish botanist, zoologist and physicist Carl Linnaeus, but because he devised the system of “binomial nomenclature,” using Latin to delineate the genus and species of all living things, giving the title to the creator of the name “Homo sapiens” was too obvious. Meanwhile, the 19th century American anthropologist Edward Drinker Cope nominated himself, but upon his death in 1897, his bones were found to be riddled with syphilis, disqualifying himself altogether.
People like Racquel Welch, Bob Hope and Arnold Schwarzenegger have also been thought of as a possible human holotype but, even if there has never been an official position to fill, there could be said to be a “situation vacant.”
For scientific purposes, we have intricate systems of classification, with two further sets, genotypes and phenotypes, describing the particular genetic makeup of a given organism, then the attributes and properties that organism displays. It is extremely easy to apply these classifications to other animals and plants because, even if it displays consciousness, it won’t answer back, or become indignant, or violent, if you put it into a group it doesn’t like.
This is the major indicator you have a human being on your hands – they are conscious, they are self-aware, and they will let you know when you are taking the piss out of them. We are the most social of animals, subject to the rules and manners we personally live by, those we agree among ourselves, and those we disagree with.
To choose one part of what makes a human, whether that be sex, gender, hair colour, skin colour, body shape, intellect or experience, and use it to evaluate whether one person is better than another, only leads to accusations of misogyny, sexism, racism, and/or fascism, because not only do we - from just between ourselves, to all of us - agree that’s what it is, we will tell someone if they are one of those, or all of them, when they do it. When even that doesn’t stop some people, it shows they are human too, no matter how bad that is, but the ability to change, and the ability to hope for that worthwhile change, is just as human too.