The world for many of us has become increasingly complicated with user names, pin numbers and passwords to allow us access to our digitized world. Bank accounts, credit card transactions, Internet sites and a host of other “conveniences” require that we provide identification and authorization to get to where we want to go. There’s nothing dramatically new about this, although the proliferation of such requirements seems to be growing all the time. What may be more important than remembering all the secret codes is recalling where you have written down all such information, because it’s unlikely that we will ever recall all of the individual identifications that we have assigned to our various stores of secrecy.
I encountered one new proof requirement just this week that caught my attention in a different way. In order for me to access the site which allows publication of these weekly essays, I have long been required to “log in” with proof of me. But now the site asks for one more verification. It asks me to add together two numbers and enter the sum into an answer box, to “prove your humanity,” the instruction reads.
I approach such proof-giving by setting aside my concern that I might enter an incorrect answer and be shut out of the publication site. Hopefully, one’s inability with math is not a screen for humanity. It may be a reliable test of numeric skills, but I doubt that it comes even close to measuring the depth of one’s feelings for humankind.
I also wonder about the underlying assumption that an accurate addition of two numbers somehow demonstrates a humanity. We have calculators and computers capable of formulaic computations far beyond the abilities of most people. The addition of two digits hardly qualifies the respondent as a living, breathing creature for whom other human life has meaning.
Proving our humanity, or the quality of being humane, is a great deal more difficult than simply adding numbers. There is a depth and breadth to the claim of being human that transcends an ability to crunch numbers. It’s more than simply being born to human parents.
Humanity implies an emotional connection with the rest of the species, a caring, an empathy for “the other,” acts of mercy, a kindness and a kinship with other humans. In light of such criteria, perhaps we should be very grateful that we are not required to prove our humanity for anything more vital than access to a website. It might be the case that very few of us would have the identification needed.
Proof of one’s humanity is an interesting assignment. It’s more than a Homo Sapiens classification; in fact, we know many names in the human register who demonstrated their inhumanity toward others. It’s more than unconditional love; our dogs give us that. It’s even more complex than choosing to be a voice for the oppressed; politicians do that to deflect more real and substantive actions all the time. Rather, our humanity is measured in the degree to which we are willing to give ourselves away, to assume the mantle of servant and steward on behalf of the other. It’s welcoming when welcoming is awkward. It’s giving when we’re down to our own last assets. Proof of humanity is as demanding as it is compelling. We long for it, and yet sometimes it is so elusive.
Maybe that’s why the simple addition of two numbers is all that’s required in a website. Any more certain proof of our humanity might be hard to come by….