Why should we have the right to be imperfect?
Updated on 12 August 2023
Our imperfections define us as much as our perfections. Our right to be imperfect protects our core humanity. It is our refuge in the tech optimisation race, which we cannot win against machines.
How to move from right to be forgotten to right to be imperfect?
The right to be imperfect follows in the footsteps of the right to be forgotten. In 2012, Spanish businessman Mario Costeja Gonzalez asked to be forgotten from the perfect digital memory of the internet. Namely, whenever you searched for his name on Google, the top link was information about his business bankruptcy, which happened long ago. His chances for a new business start were reduced due to info his potential partners could find on the Internet.
He could not make another start and get another chance for a fresh start, as we humans deserve. Thus, he started a legal battle with the court in Valencia, resulting in a 2014 decision of the Court of Justice of the EU: Google Spain v. Agencia Española de Protección de Datos & Mario Costeja González. The right to be forgotten is now enshrined in the European and other data regulations. In essence, it was his (and ours) right to be human and imperfect in the era of perfect digital memory, which does not forget anything.
Today, we are on the eve of another similar battle. I am deeply convinced that after the right to be forgotten, the next step in our struggle for core humanity is our right to be imperfect. It is less specific than a call to delete our name from Google searches. But, it is even more important for our future.
Why is it important to let us be imperfect?
Firstly, we cannot win the competition with AI and machines on optimisation and perfection. Machines will always be ahead of us.
Secondly, optimisation has often been used as a pretext for dictatorship or the realisation of grand nationalistic and ideological schemes. Drive for optimisation has played an important role in fascism, communism, and various forms of ‘human-averse market dictatorships’. Human has been just a tool for realising grand ideas and narratives.
Thirdly, humanity has always flourished in imperfection. On the streets of Athens, Socrates made major breakthroughs in human thinking. In the gardens of ancient cities, Aristotle sharpened his philosophical thinking by walking with his students and peers in a peripatetic school. If society wants to flourish, it should create space for imperfection and, if not, laziness.
What is the philosophical underpinning of human imperfection?
The right to be imperfect could be traced back to the Enlightenment era, which is based on two pillars: rationality and human agency. The most visible aspects of rationality are science and technology. Human rights is about human autonomy, free will, and overall freedom.
These two pillars, or legs, have been walking in sync for a long time. It started changing with the acceleration of digitalisation, with ‘rationality’ getting the upper hand over the human agency. The right to be imperfect should help us protect the human agency, the second pillar of enlightenment.
The claim for ‘imprefection’ is very human, as we are imperfect beings by nature. Imperfection is an inherent part of the human condition, as people make mistakes, learn, and grow throughout their lives. In addition, the history of human development is a history of human imperfection. Thinking and scientific challenges happened to people who were not ‘typical’ or optimised by their era. They challenged the main narrative and forced the community to step out of its comfort zone. From ancient civilisations until today, many examples of human imperfection set the stage for human development, philosophical breakthroughs, and scientific developments.
How to justify the right to be imperfect?
The right to be humanly imperfect can be justified on numerous grounds:
Empathy and compassion: Recognizing and accepting imperfections in ourselves and others can foster empathy and compassion, leading to stronger connections and relationships. This understanding can help create a more inclusive and supportive society.
Personal growth: Without the freedom to be imperfect, people might not take risks or step out of their comfort zones, hindering their personal development.
Creativity: Embracing imperfection can encourage people to think outside the box and experiment with new ideas.
Resilience: Allowing for imperfection can build resilience as individuals learn to adapt and bounce back from setbacks and challenges.
How to realize our right to be imperfect?
Our battle for the right to be imperfect won’t be easy, as ideas of optimisation and perfection are deeply entrenched in our way of life. The search for perfection is often linked to the aim of meritocracy, which is increasingly challenged as the dominant way of judging our society. In his book ‘Tyrany of Merits’, Michael Sandel challenged all systems of meritocracy, from academia to research and the economy.
It is also tricky to challenge the principle of rationality. It goes against common sense. But the core problem is not in our core rationality. The main problem is in having rationality on steroids when continuous optimisation undermines all other values that define us as humans, including our imperfections.
The human right to be humanly imperfect can be operationalised by various ranges of policies, starting with preserving certain jobs for humans. In management and organisational theory, we should tone down our obsession with outcomes and outputs as the main way of measuring our successes.
What are related human rights that should support the right to be imperfect?
There are a set of human rights that could help the development of the right to be imperfect.
Right to remain natural – i.e. biological
Right to disconnect from networks and digital systems
Right to be anonymous
Right to employ people instead of machine
Right to be inefficient if and where it defines our basic humanness
Right to self-determination
Right to work
The ’right to be imperfect’ is the right to be human even when it is not economically optimal and efficient. Human beings should remain a point of reference for AI development, with both their striving for perfection and all their weaknesses.
As a result, let us protect this “garden of human imperfection” by establishing the human right to be humanly imperfect.