Goatman began as a project to take a holiday from being human; to escape the stress and worry of being a person in human society with all its moral and practical complexities. There is a lot to worry about personally and globally, and with worry comes guilt and regret for failing to do ‘the right thing’. So: wouldn’t it be nice to just trot away from it all and become a goat, free to roam, free from worry, free from guilt? To have a holiday not only from your day-to-day life, but from your self as well?
But underlying the project is a question about ‘progress’: the notion that our species and our civilisation is progressing toward something better: our spinning of stories out of our pasts and our futures, our regrets and our hopes. I found trying to become a lowly, humble goat spiritually (as well as physically) uncomfortable: was I trying to go ‘backwards’, to de-volve? This discomfort led me to realise, that although I don’t consider myself religious, I’d been swept up/indoctrinated in a secular grand narrative; that there is a hierarchy of species, and that despite a few setbacks along the way, a rationalist liberal high technology culture will ultimately emerge as the end of our history. The techno-optimist idea that we as a species are progressing and evolving away from our base, savage uncultured ancestors, and toward an enlightened post-human future, possibly even colonising other planets.
Ernest Becker in the Denial of Death (1973), stated that currently ‘we are gods with anuses’: we’re high-tech cyborgs able to transcend so much of our biology, but yet we still must succumb to our biology, eating and defecting, and ultimately will die and rot away. Becker argued it is cognitive dissonance arising from this dual view of ourselves, that drives our need to be part of grand narratives, be they religious, nationalistic, aristocratic, or techno-scientific. We can’t quite face our knowledge of our own mortality, so we need to latch on to the idea we’re part of something greater.
The post-human answer to resolving this dissonance is to continue developing technology which will ultimately allow us to sever our link with our mortal fleshy biology, curing old age and death, and thus become fully god-like (and in the case of ‘mind-uploading’ to literally relieve ourselves from the necessity of having an anus).
As I pursued my dream of becoming a goat I realised I’d soaked in this optimistic vision of the future growing up, and at least subconsciously believed I was contributing in some small way to progressing human civilisation toward some kind of Star Trek future. And so Goatman became about enacting an alternative route out of our dissonance; to remove the godlike part in us. I wanted to personally come to terms with the idea that there is no ‘human destiny’ that we are all a part of, to stop thinking about ‘the future’ as a kind of destination, to stop striving, to remove humanity from the top of some imaginary hierarchy of nature, to expunge Descartes, and to present an alternative humble future of the post-human to aim for: the life of a goat on a hillside.
Should we dream of a future amongst the stars, or should we dream of a future akin to the life of a goat on a mountainside?