Instructions

The passage below is accompanied by a set of questions. Choose the best answer to each question.

For the Maya of the Classic period, who lived in Southern Mexico and Central America between 250 and 900 CE, the category of ‘persons’ was not coincident with human beings, as it is for us. That is, human beings were persons - but other, nonhuman entities could be persons, too. . . . In order to explore the slippage of categories between ‘humans’ and ‘persons’, I examined a very specific category of ancient Maya images, found painted in scenes on ceramic vessels. I sought out instances in which faces (some combination of eyes, nose, and mouth) are shown on inanimate objects. . . . Consider my iPhone, which needs to be fed with electricity every night, swaddled in a protective bumper, and enjoys communicating with other fellow-phone-beings. Does it have personhood (if at all) because it is connected to me, drawing this resource from me as an owner or source? For the Maya (who did have plenty of other communicating objects, if not smartphones), the answer was no. Nonhuman persons were not tethered to specific humans, and they did not derive their personhood from a connection with a human. . . . It’s a profoundly democratising way of understanding the world. Humans are not more important persons - we are just one of many kinds of persons who inhabit this world. . . .

The Maya saw personhood as ‘activated’ by experiencing certain bodily needs and through participation in certain social activities. For example, among the faced objects that I examined, persons are marked by personal requirements (such as hunger, tiredness, physical closeness), and by community obligations (communication, interaction, ritual observance). In the images I examined, we see, for instance, faced objects being cradled in humans’ arms; we also see them speaking to humans. These core elements of personhood are both turned inward, what the body or self of a person requires, and outward, what a community expects of the persons who are a part of it, underlining the reciprocal nature of community membership. .

Personhood was a nonbinary proposition for the Maya. Entities were able to be persons while also being something else. The faced objects I looked at indicate that they continue to be functional, doing what objects do (a stone implement continues to chop, an incense burner continues to do its smoky work). Furthermore, the Maya visually depicted many objects in ways that indicated the material category to which they belonged - drawings of the stone implement show that a person-tool is still made of stone. One additional complexity: the incense burner (which would have been made of clay, and decorated with spiky appliques representing the sacred ceiba tree found in this region) is categorised as a person - but also as a tree. With these Maya examples, we are challenged to discard the person/nonperson binary that constitutes our basic ontological outlook. . . . The porousness of boundaries that we have seen in the Maya world points towards the possibility of living with a certain uncategorisability of the world.

Question 8

Which one of the following, if true, would not undermine the democratising potential of the Classic Maya worldview?

Solution

The idea concerning the democratising potential can be retraced to the first paragraph wherein the author states: "Nonhuman persons were not tethered to specific humans, and they did not derive their personhood from a connection with a human. . . . It’s a profoundly democratising way of understanding the world. Humans are not more important persons - we are just one of many kinds of persons who inhabit this world"

Option A: Considering proximity as an idea would undermine the portrayal of the Classic Mayan worldview. The author presents the example of the I-phone to convey how the personhood of an object is not a function of its utility or attachment to humans. If true, the statement in A would counter the premise of this example. Hence, we can eliminate this choice. 

Option B: the assessment here is quite similar to Option A; if we create distinctions within the realm of inanimate objects, this will weaken the Mayan worldview. It would diminish the democratising potential of such a viewpoint by introducing specific barriers or criteria for the classification of personhood.

Option C: The claim here runs against the Mayan idea of personhood being nonbinary. Thus, we can eliminate it since it undermines the democratising potential of the Classic Mayan worldview. 

Hence, Option D is the correct choice.

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