I read this quote in A Cyborg Manifesto. Could someone explain it in layperson terms?

Ambivalence towards the disrupted unities mediated by high-tech culture requires not sorting consciousness into categories of ‘clear-sighted critique grounding a solid political epistemology’ versus ‘manipulated false consciousness’, but subtle understanding of emerging pleasures, experiences, and powers with serious potential for changing the rules of the game.

  • Maybe useful Wiki's entry on A Cyborg Manifesto May 30, 2023 at 10:01
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    See Cyborg: "The cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world; it has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labour, or other seductions to organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all the powers of the parts into a higher unity. In a sense, the cyborg has no origin story in the Western sense - a 'final' irony since the cyborg is also the awful apocalyptic telos of the West's' escalating dominations of abstract individuation..." May 30, 2023 at 12:08
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    cyborg is hybrid: man-machine, post-gender, etc and thus it exemplifies the rejection of traditional western dichotomies and categories: "sorting consciousness into categories". "manipulated false consciousness" is based on Marxian terms describing the ways in which ideology and institutions implant misleading concepts into the mass that conceal correct perception of social relaity. May 30, 2023 at 12:12
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    The language is Foucaultian May 30, 2023 at 12:19
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3 Answers 3


"A Cyborg Manifesto" is a work by Donna Haraway that explores the idea of the "cyborg" as a metaphor the modern human, its extended mind, and its relationship to technology. Haraway's work is post-humanist, as it explores new points of view which either reject the human as the central category of social theories, or, which at least reject core assumptions about what the human is like, including for example, traditional notions of gender, species, ecology, and self. The cyborg, in her view, is a creature in a post-gender world that has the potential to transcend traditional boundaries and binaries such as human/animal, organism/machine, and physical/non-physical.

Here are some of the key points Haraway makes in her manifesto:

  1. Breaking Down Dualities: Haraway argues against rigid boundaries and dualistic ways of thinking that have defined Western thought. These include distinctions such as natural/artificial, mind/body, male/female, etc. She believes these dualities are limiting and perpetuate domination and exclusion.

  2. Cyborg as a Metaphor: The cyborg serves as a powerful metaphor for Haraway, symbolizing a being that exists beyond these dualities. As entities that blend human and machine elements, cyborgs don't fit neatly into traditional categories, thereby challenging their validity.

  3. Feminism and Identity: Haraway's work is rooted in feminist theory. She critiques traditional notions of femininity and argues for a more fluid understanding of gender and identity. The cyborg metaphor supports this by suggesting a world where identity isn't strictly defined by biological sex or gender norms.

  4. Politics of Technology: Haraway also explores how technology influences society and vice versa. She suggests that our relationships with technology can't be understood in simple terms of good or bad, but rather require nuanced understanding of power, pleasure, and experience as discussed in your provided quote.

The quote you provided is indeed complex, so let's break it down:

"Ambivalence towards the disrupted unities mediated by high-tech culture" means that there are mixed feelings about the ways in which technology has broken down traditional categories or distinctions in society. "High-tech culture" refers to current society, which is heavily influenced by advanced technology.

"Requires not sorting consciousness into categories of ‘clear-sighted critique grounding a solid political epistemology’ versus ‘manipulated false consciousness’" suggests that understanding these changes should not be as simple as dividing perspectives into those who see clearly and critically (with a strong understanding of the nature of knowledge in a political context) versus those who are manipulated and deceived. In other words, it's not as straightforward as saying there are those who understand what's going on and those who are being fooled.

"But subtle understanding of emerging pleasures, experiences, and powers with serious potential for changing the rules of the game." This part suggests that we need to pay attention to the nuanced ways in which technology is creating new forms of enjoyment, experience, and power that could significantly alter societal norms and structures ("changing the rules of the game").

So, in simpler terms, this quote is saying that understanding the impact of technology on society isn't just about deciding who's informed and who's being manipulated. Instead, we need to consider the nuanced ways in which technology is creating new experiences and forms of power that could potentially reshape society in significant ways.

The takeaway from "A Cyborg Manifesto" is that we should strive for a more fluid understanding of identity, gender, and humanity in the face of technological advancement. Haraway encourages readers to embrace ambiguity and the disruption of traditional boundaries as opportunities for more inclusive, equitable ways of thinking and being. The "cyborg" serves as a symbol for this potential future, where rigid categories are replaced by hybridity and fluidity.


I like a challenge to render jargon into ordinarily intelligible language, so here is my attempt:

Indifference to the offers made of things that will fix your life from technological progress (inevitably a carrot-on-a-stick that never sees us arrive at the offered happiness), involves not the sorting of minds of people we interact with into who percieves accurately or falsely, but a subtler understanding of new sources of how we are motivated in practice, which might change how we understand the purposes of what we are doing in life.


Basically it means the cyborg needs to process things wholistically, connectedly (with "subtle understanding") rather than fragmentedly, in separated categories.

This is the kind of connected reasoning that Geoffrey Hinton is getting at here: Reasons why AI will kill us all.

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