What makes a human a human? What makes you, you? What inherent value do you or I have? Blade Runner brings all those big questions up as it explores the nature of synthetically produced “humans”. But what makes a human a human? It is our capacity to reason? Is it our capacity to ask the question “Who am I?” Is a human as Descartes said: “I think therefore I am?”
Blade Runner presents two sentient beings as being at odds with one another. Both can reason, but one apparently is more superior. It is tackling the question of “I think therefore I am”. Is this popular definition of a human adequate? What if we were disabled, and unable to think very well? Or if as children we were treated as lesser beings because we hadn’t developed the full set of reasoning skills. This is where Descartes definition of a human falls short.
Or what about this definition: “I feel therefore I am” Is it our capacity to feel emotion that defines us as humans? Is it our feelings which make us human? Are our emotions the sole reason why we are human and not animal? But, what about the person who is deadpan, doesn’t feel much about much in this life? What about the depressed person?
What about the person who deals with immense anxiety? Are they lesser humans because they don’t feel emotion the same way others do? It would be mean to treat them as lesser humans, wouldn’t it? It would be unethical?
The main character of the film is a replicant, named KD. In essence, he’s a constructed human, but he has flaws. He’s personable. That’s why we understand and empathise with him. So, is a human a being with flaws? Humans have the capacity to make errors. Make mistakes. But that doesn’t define us, does it?
What about the capacity to relate?
Does that define us as humans?
We’re unlike any other species on this earth – we communicate, we speak, and we relate in a way that other animals can’t. Our relationships are more complex than other animals. But what about the mute, the deaf person, or someone who has autism, or someone who has downs syndrome? If our ability to communicate defines us as human, we will inevitably treat people who cannot communicate with disdain and as inferior.
Replicants according to the movie aren’t born. Being born is the final idea of being human as presented by Blade Runner.
You may noticed the interaction between Kodi and KD6 at the beginning of the movie.
KD6 : “I’ve never erased something that was born before”
Kodi: “What’s the difference?”
KD6: “To be born is to have a soul, I guess”
Kodi: “You’ve been getting along quite fine without one!”
This is the premise of the whole movie: That to be born is to have a soul, and to be valued as “Human”.
But this is challenged by KD – his soullessness so to speak, creates a tension within us – because we like him. We relate to him. But in the eyes of everyone else, he’s less than human.
Is it right that the “humans” treat the “replicants” the way they do?
On a philosophical level probably.
But on an ethical level, definitely not.
Let me explain.
Philosophically, I think the argument goes like this:
If we create something, we are able to define how to use it. Take for example scissors. They guy invented them would have to be constantly explaining how to use them. He could determine how they were used, because he created them. He defines their use.
So, it goes with Replicants. Humans have created them for a specific use – labour and slavery.
So philosophically, they are the creations of humans, and thus able to be used for their intended purpose – as slave labour. But when they go outside their intended use – the humans sought to “erase” them. (But they didn’t have the guts to do the dirty work themselves, they did the dirty by creating “Bladerunners” to kill for them.)
So, there is no problem philosophically with treating replicants differently to humans. If they are the creation of humans than they can do with them as they see fit. But have they gotten the categories right?
And this is the big “However”.
There is an issue treating them the way they do, ethically, isn’t there?
Because, at their very essence, we can clearly see that even though they aren’t born per se, they have a mind, self-determination, the capacity to choose, and the capacity to relate, and the capacity to rule their own domains.
And I think that the Bible would agree that replicants are human.
The Bible presents humanity in these ways:
1) A being created from dust: Specific building blocks of God
2) A special being that bears the image of God
3) A being who is union between body and soul and has life given by God.
4) The capacity to relate
5) The capacity to reason
6) The capacity to have dominion over creation
7) The capacity to reproduce.
Now, does KD, and replicants in general match these categories? The only thing that is missing is their capacity to procreate. But as Kodi says “If this gets out [that replicants have had a child] this is world shattering”.
Well, I think he does – even though he was “created” by man, there is something about him that makes him human. What we see is a “reproduction” of a human being without the “procreation” part of the relationship as God intended it.
And that’s why I think we empathise with KD.
He’s like us, he’s human.
And despite the lies that “humans” say about “replicants”, he has a soul, and he’s human.
There is something that has gone on which cannot be explained by science. Although replicants have been “created” by humans, they have still had “life” breathed into them by God.
And that’s the essence of it.
Although we might try, humanity itself cannot create life. Only God can do that.
The creators of replicants have placed the replicants in the wrong category. They have determined, for their own purposes, that replicants are less than human. They have fought a war over it and have won. So, they think they are right. But replicants are human, and their rebellion is just.
That’s why if we place any human in the wrong category, we could end up like this society! Can you think of any ways that we’ve reduced someone to being less that human for our own purposes? Or a group of people that we’ve taken advantage of?
We will always be “human” because humans are the life bearing beings of God.
Of course, this is all hypothetical, and probably we’ll never see artificially “created” humans in our lifetime. But it’s good to have the right categories in our heads.
- Does it look human?
- Does it relate like a human?
- Does it bear the image of God?
Then, they are human. Treat them with value and respect. Love them, cherish them, and don’t use them for purposes against their will. Don’t brainwash them, or give them false memories.
So, in essence, Blade Runner raises an ethical issue which Christians should be concerned with. We should know how to treat people in love, but sometimes, there will be people in this world that we cannot understand, or who are different to us, or who seem inferior to us. They might not have “parents” as we understand them, they could have two parents of the same sex, but that doesn’t mean we treat them any differently.
They are people who God has made in his image. They are people who Jesus was sent to die for. And Jesus is still their king, even if they don’t have Parents. Even if they weren’t “born”. Life is a Gift from God, and it will continue that way into eternity. It’s something that humans will never be able to give. We cannot create life, only participate in its procreation. It is only God who can give life. Our job is to listen to him and love the diversity of people whom he gives life to.