By Howra Salaheddin
I know some of you reading this are convinced that humans have failed, but I (or better said by Matt Haig) is here to state that humans did, in fact, do some good.
For those of you who don’t know humans, they made colonialization, any sort of prejudice and inequality based on things they can’t control. And how can we forget, humans also are the only species who not only made but watched the movie Cats. For those who were already familiar with all the ways that we have failed as a group, let us do as Emily Dickenson said and ‘Dwell in possibility’. The possibility that all not is lost. It’s true that some mistakes can never be justified, but in between all of the mess, there are some things we did right. Or at least didn’t do entirely wrong.
The very first thing on the “we didn’t do wrong” list is stories, whether told by pictures on the wall of a cave, the format of a Netflix original, or even in the digital form of fanfictions, stories continue to be the very best things humans created. It was made to convey emotions, to seek mutual understanding, to explain people and why people do those things, and ultimately, to survive. Stories were with us through wars and famines and deaths. Stories shook the systems, they made people think, and most importantly, they taught us how to feel things we didn’t feel or couldn’t place. To feel sympathy for people that weren’t us, reminding us of things we often forget. The Humans by Matt Haig is one of those stories that makes you think, feel and laugh too.
It was published July 2nd, 2013 and got pretty good reviews. It was even nominated for Best Novel by the Edgar Awards. Haig writes both adult and children’s novels, but even in his more serious books, he utilizes a quite playful tone that makes the existential exploration of the delicacy of being a human much more fun to read. He also tweets pretty cool things.
The Humans qualifies as science fiction, comedy and, as I like to think, philosophy. It starts in the afternoon with a naked alien right in the middle of a road. Weird, but it only gets weirder from there, trust me.
The alien is sent to live in the body of a Math professor who found the answer to the biggest mathematical question in the world and live as him until he can destroy the evidence of his breakthrough. Seems easy enough for an alien, but our alien who has only heard about humans and their messy little lives, has to learn how to correctly be one (spoiler alert! There’s no correct way). He has to answer to the question that philosophers have been philosophizing over for centuries: what truly makes someone human?
The alien is brutally honest in his findings as he sends them to his employers and friends back home. He thinks humans are ugly, shallow, and not to be rude or anything, very stupid. At some point, he makes a list of things humans do to feel better only to feel worse. He’s not wrong at all.
“Let's not forget The Things They Do To Make Themselves Happy That Actually Make Them Miserable. This is an infinite list. It includes - shopping, watching TV, taking a better job, getting the bigger house, writing a semi-autobiographical novel, educating their young, making their skin look mildly less old and harboring a vague desire to believe there might be a meaning to it all.”
– The Humans by Matt Haig
But he changes. Slowly, and with a little help from the wife and the son of the professor he is now living as, the alien understands and actually falls in love with being human. Reading the book as one of these what they call “humans” only intensifies these feelings. You see how stupid your mundane things are and you kind of love them because of it. Especially in the current state of the world, we’re tired, we’re sad, and we’re out of hope, but this book and everything it stands for makes everything a little lighter. We’re programmed to make mistakes, and that’s truly okay.
The alien, besides his fascination with things people, is confused by the extent humans are willing to go to for things that don’t actually matter. He says :
“A paradox: The things you don’t need to live—books, art, cinema, wine, and so on—are the things you need to live.”
– The Humans by Matt Haig
I know you’re thinking: these aren’t new things. We were all taught that TV is bad and books are good. That cheating only messes things up, dogs are great, music is lovely, and art is a universal peace offering. Haig choosing to explore these concepts through alien eyes (literally) reminds us to cherish the mundane.
Matt Haig says:
“To be a human is to state the obvious. Repeatedly over and over, until the end of time.”
And he’s right. We sometimes hear the same story again and again and again until we at least partly, believe it. We need to believe in the light inside of us and ways the light shines through.
Now if I’m being honest, you can only let yourself enjoy this book if you don’t go in expecting anything big like I did when I was fourteen and got delightfully surprised. But even if you can’t get behind abductions and alien romance, you can read this book as what it essentially is; a funny collection of essays on humanity and our boring normal lives that make you rethink your disappointment in humanity in all ways possible. You know, maybe we do deserve some rights after all.