Hump Day!!!! Today’s post is by Ruy Diaz. Thanks Ruy!!
We live in the Age of Humanism. Most countries follow humanist thought, in rhetoric at the very least—rulers everywhere justify their actions on humanist grounds. Global elites think in humanist terms, and to a large extent so do the unwashed masses. National judicial systems and global institutions run on humanist lines—witness the comically inept United Nations, a humanist fantasy. Which brings us to a crucial question: what exactly is Humanism?
Humanism, Merriam-Webster correctly points out, is the doctrine or attitude that proclaims the dignity and worth of the individual human being. In practice, Humanism places the health, happiness, and flourishing of the individual are the greatest goals to be pursued, or the supreme moral values to be cherished. In some versions of Humanism Reason is the vehicle by which those goals are to be achieved, though other versions of Humanism emphasize the importance of the passions, human will, or the iron laws of History.
Humanism as Apostate Christianity
Humanism owes an unacknowledged debt to Christianity. In the Christian hierarchy of beings, God stands above all creatures, with Man below God and the angels below man. Humanism dispatches the messengers—goodbye angels—and ignores God, leaving human beings standing above all other living creatures. Human beings, in humanistic philosophies, become like gods.
Mainstream Humanism permeates our moral and political reasoning to such an extent, we find it difficult to argue in any other manner. Political arguments may lead to angry yelling, but often all sides argue from a humanist value system. This situation often leads to contradiction.
So, humanist thought simultaneously proclaims that all men are created equal, while we are all special in our own way. From Humanism comes the maxim that we ought to pursue the greatest happiness for the greatest number, but also the command to maximize our potential, even at the cost of our happiness. Such is the success of Humanism that it can accommodate diametrically opposed visions of humanity.
Much like every other successful religion or ideology, Mainstream Humanism faces competition in the form of heresies. The first of two such heresies I’ll call Egalitarian Humanism, because it assumes large degrees of similarity and capability among human beings.
Socialist movements rely on egalitarian humanistic thinking to justify their goals and methods. Since all material inequality results from injustice, their thinking goes, pursuing material equality restores justice. As absurd as that reasoning sounds to a conservative audience, it has inspired countless people to great sacrifices and great crimes. We shouldn’t ignore its power.
Egalitarian Humanism inspires other movements besides Socialism. Whenever an ideology assumes or pursues equality of outcomes between groups of people, Egalitarian Humanism inspires their thinking. Feminism relies in this kind of thinking, as do affirmative action programs around the World. When egalitarian humanists observe different levels of skill between two human groups, they assume injustice, and demand some form of redress. No proof of innocence from the more capable group is ever accepted, since the presumed injustice is assumed. Empirical validation never enters into the equation.
A second heretical humanism I’ll call PseudoDarwinian Humanism. Based on a misreading of Darwin’s theory of evolution and mixed with older ideas such as noble blood, purity, and the will to power, PseudoDarwinian Humanism inspires ideas such as eugenics and racial superiority. PseudoDarwinian Humanism’s main premise is that a superior human type exists now or may exist in the future. Preserving the superior human type—or bringing it into existence—becomes the greatest value. As a corollary, the lives and well-being matter little or nothing at all. Quarantining or suppressing inferior beings becomes morally acceptable.
We associate PseudoDarwinian Humanism with Aryan racial supremacy, but it survives in many modern forms. Selective abortions to eliminate undesirable fetus, as well as euthanasia, rely in this kind of thinking. Unworthy humans do not deserve existence. Such humans are life unworthy of life.
Humanisms in Conflict
A large number of political disagreements result from disagreements between different groups of humanists. The debate over the death penalty, for example, pits two groups of mainstream humanists against each other. Left-leaning humanists believe that every human being possesses innate dignity and worth, and thus killing human beings is not morally permissible. Right-leaning humanists, in contrast, believe that protecting innocent human life is paramount, and thus executing vicious criminals is morally permissible.
Arguments about economic and social outcomes usually involve egalitarian humanists against, well, everybody else. When egalitarian humanists observe different outcomes between groups of people, the assumption of injustice moves them to demand restitution. Their thinking reeks of arbitrariness, but it has a great strength—it engenders a sense of victimhood and grievance among a considerable number of people, which helps make converts to the cause.
Technological change has helped revive old debates that seemed lost by pseudoDarwinian humanists. For example, should governments allow people to determine the eye color, skin tone, and hair type of their children? That technology will soon be available. Are enhanced humans morally permissible? What if wealthy people could become, at great expense, a-mortal; that is what if great wealth would allow a minority of human beings to live lives without foreseeable death? We may, within decades or centuries, have to answer those questions and not just in a theoretical way.
The Future of Humanism
As I write these words, Humanism stands triumphant. Most of the World’s institutions run on Humanist premises. Even anti-humanists use humanist language. I find it tempting to assume a Humanist future. But I find cause for doubt. Humanism plagiarizes Christianity to an alarming extent—what is so special about humans anyway, if there is no God and no soul? Political upheavals and technological change threaten humanistic assumptions. Humanism reigns today, but no one knows the future. The only thing we can safely predict is change.