What makes a human? – Saturday 22 July 2017

Milo welcomed a baby brother into the world this week (more on that soon) and it got me pondering; what is it that makes a human? Is it our ability to dream, empathise and love? Is it music? Our unique gift to compose and experience this most wondrous form of self-expression. Is it self-awareness; the very human instinct to conceive, understand and shape the world around us?

No, the answer of course is identification; and ideally 100 points of it.

Identification begets identification. If you want anything of value in today’s world you need to identify yourself; bank loan, passport, fishing licence, Petbarn loyalty card, ‘juice-to-u’ detox smoothie home delivery membership. Our system requires all humans to identify themselves in a variety of ways, all the time. This system works terrifically well; not only do our mini-golf frequent putters cards give others confidence we are who we say we are, but they also provide the ancillary benefit of affording us yet more identification.

But have you ever thought for a moment about how you got your first unit of identification? What is the foundation of this flimsy, bureaucratic house of cards upon which we climb ever higher? I can tell you.

In Australia when your new baby finally arrives the tending midwife, after a 76 hour shift, scribbles his or her signature on two mostly-blank printed forms, adds an altogether unconvincing rubber stamp bearing the name of the hospital on each and hands them to you in a not-very-official looking white A4 envelope on the front of which can be found a giraffe, a duck, an elephant and a fourth animal the nature of which I cannot currently remember because I was somewhat bleary-eyed and distracted at the time. That’s it. It is these two forms upon which everything else is based. It is these two forms that make you a human.

The first form you take to Centrelink/ Medicare to register your new human for social security and healthcare. When you arrive the Centrelink officer, whose dense carapace of disdain has been grown and thickened over many years of managing half-truths, cajoling and excuses, does not greet you with the benefit of the doubt. However, once this officer realises you are not there to use the free public phone, and in fact have just experienced a momentus life-event they are easy to win over. You pass them the scrap of paper, toward which they take a cursory glance, and you can then literally name your human whatever you like, even foreign swear words if your rapport is good enough. The officer types those names into the system and voila, the human’s official record begins.

The second form you take to Births, Deaths and Marriages. I presume there exists some mechanism to check the name you provide at your second stop roughly matches that which you provided at your first, but I didn’t test this. You pay $45 plus postage, unless you want a novelty birth certificate which costs extra, and they send you your new human’s certificate in the mail.

What happens if you lose these forms you ask? So did I. There does not appear to be a compelling answer. I asked it of a number of medical professionals at the hospital and their answers were all derivations of “don’t lose them”. So I presume that for those poor souls who lose the forms, of which I am sure there are many – one does not receive them at one’s most lucid – they become the parents of invisible humans, forever doomed to live outside the system; a home-delivery-juice-free, putt-putt golf-less existence. I imagine the early photographs of those poor infants slowly fade over time like Michael J Fox in Back to the Future, or perhaps they drop dead spontaneously like avatars unplugged from the Matrix when the 60 day registration period comes to an end.

Whatever the process I am sure there is a voiceless, subjugated underclass of people out there who cannot rent a DVD. And we should spare a thought for them.

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A new registered human

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