This article consists of notes I made in January 2014 after reading versions of the humanist Manifesto and other materials (including those by neo-humanists). I got interested in the modern meaning of humanism, following a speech with a debate, in which I participated in US and disagreed with some of the notions.
Later, during several discussions with other humanists, whom I met while participating in Humanist Fellowship, and my friends (one conversation was a few hours long and followed my notes below step by step), I was explained the cultural and historical context of this document, deeper linguistic meaning and importance of it in US, and therefore I want to state here clearly: I am a humanist, in a general sense. I took an online test on a main humanist site, and the result suggests that I am 100% humanist. If only this document were worded differently.
I republish publish the notes here in case someone wants to discuss it. I met quite a few vegan misanthropes, and I think some form of humanism is important for practicing veganism. Since 2014, I often feel an urge to remind vegans that people are animals too :)
Am I a Humanist?
Notes on Humanist Manifesto III
There are things that are bothering me in this document, nothing major, but I'd like to type it for myself to understand my disagreement with it better, because for now I am not willing to call myself a humanist, and I need to know, why I rejecting this title for now. My view is of an atheist vegetarian - a vegan fruitarian - for the most part.
The full text of the Manifesto is quoted below with brakes for my comments - mostly questions.
1. Ethical Lives
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
- What is exactly an ethical life "of personal fulfillment"? Isn't everybody's life led ethically to this person's satisfaction in her/himself? Why do humanists think they need to set themselves apart by common values?
- Why is it assumed that we are able to fulfill ourselves?
- Who is going to define "the greater good"?
- Why not let everybody determine their purpose in life, and except the right to just do things they like if it does not harm anybody? Must we all do stuff only for some practically unknown, hardly calculable "greater good", which is probably would be very difficult to agree upon for all of us at once?
- Is it about peace and cooperation? Then why not to say so, and what to do if large groups of population would disagree?
- Why humanity only? Is it because for us a members of one species is easy to agree on the fact that we humans are the measure of everything? There is nothing new in that. Most religions are anthropocentric to some extend.
2. Inspired by Compassion
The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.
Life stance is our relation with what we accept as being of ultimate importance, right, so what is it for humanists?
And what does this sentence mean: what exactly is encouraging? I take it as an introduction to something that follows.
The second sentence is good and links with "progressive philosophy" in the beginning.
This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe.
The terms are not very clear right from the beginning though. Why should they be positive anyway? Because our brains deal better with affirmative information and we might react strangely to negative formulations? I'd prefer clarity over excessive positivity.
I'd like to know who were the people who had agreed on it, and how many of them did, need to research it.
It is in this sense that we affirm the following:
Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis.
Why not to point to scientific method in this place?
If to go in such a detail, why measurement is missing? Or modification of hypotheses?
There is also personal experience, BTW, and it is not necessarily consists of controlled experiments :)
But I must assume of cause, that they meant scientific knowledge. Then it should be recommended or hinted what to do if data is unavailable yet, or practically unattainable.
Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.
Science is not the method to create objects that improve our lives, it just provides the knowledge for the design, invention and production. Technology is using scientific knowledge. And in other spheres like engineering, architecture, politics, etc. people try to solve problems, using scientific data, but not only.
What does that mean, "we ... recognize the value" - regarding new ideas, and why is it mentioned here? Acceptance of any thought that are new? They will appear regardless what any group of us recognize or not, and not all of them will be agreeable.
6. Humans Are
Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change.
What about exogenic heredity? Is this an invitation to debate about what exactly made us humans in modern sense? Or humans here are considered only as a biological species?
Yes, even our brains might still be evolving, but it is not (anymore?) what changes us really, social interactions, body of knowledge and quality of education, applicability of ethical standards in current socioeconomic and ecological environment, - stuff like that. So, we are the result of all that as well.
Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.
Does "self-existing" means here "free from external controls"? So, yet again, they empathize the atheistic worldview, as in the previous paragraph - this is the main point?
"All and enough" I interpret as "we have one life only and we do not want any more." Well, I agree with the fact that life is our only opportunity to exist in our present form and there is no other, because our biological bodies provide us with short period of self-awareness that enables us to create a self-image, for all we know. But it might not feel enough for someone, by far. I wish I could live longer than determined by my species, many people do. Is that a problem for humanists? Why is this worth mentioning here as an essential statement?
Maybe rather "aspiring to distinguish" instead of "distinguishing"? Who knows exactly how things are, our human senses, including mental interpretation of their messages, provide us mostly with information useful for survival, procreation, etc. Actually, we need some ability to abstract from reality, not only to help ourselves psychologically, but also to create, to enjoy fully, to fantasize for pure pleasure - why not?
Nature is brutal, and I sometimes think of us as modifications of former survival hacks into existence (life forms). We need to accept a sense of life, or generate an individual one, in order to participate in this existence with more joy and less suffering.
Seeing reality as it is all the time - even if it were possible - could significantly limit our dares.
Why are challenges of the future are welcomed in general? What if we are unable to protect life on this planet in some cases? Does it mean that we should feel courageous just because we assume we can resolve all the problems? There are plenty challenges for us in the world right now, and I would not call many of them welcomed: poverty, deforestation, over-fished oceans, depletion of soils, diseases, and so on! Should I be pleased to have more as a humanist? :)
8. Ethical Values
Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.
Ethical values are derived not only from human need and interest. There is also such a things like empathy, for instance. I doubt it was included here as another human need to understand needs of other forms of life.
"As tested by experience" – it is very unclear to me what it means. If having specific values seems to be good for us, then we should keep them? Or good for whom? What are the criteria of good and who can be trusted to tell us - which individual, what group of people?
Every human has dignity and worth - even most despicable individuals. What about everyone or everything else? Do mustangs have dignity? Do trees have worth? Maybe these passages are about social equality and human rights?
The problem is, that most people would generally agree with justice for all, but would have very different opinions on how to implement it.
Freedom, responsibility - first, these are empty words without direct explanation how exactly these two coexist; and second, there are laws that societies develop to regulate it, and why we need to be reminded of these obvious for most people things?
9. Humane Ideals
Life's fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals.
If this sentence describes how true humanists should feel, it means almost nothing, because it is unknown, what these ideals are.
If this a psychological generalization, where is the data from the correspondent research to support the notion that fulfilment depends on serving humane ideals?
The fulfillment could be achieved in a variety of ways, and if humanists want to separate themselves from, for example, dedicated scientists or obsessed artists, this will be another reason for me to question my humanism.
Should the ideals be predefined by an individual? What about fallibilists, or those who simply do not wish to serve and prefer to make spontaneous ethical decisions in any given complex and unique situation?
10. Wonder and Awe
We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.
Wonder and awe in human tragedies?
Only human existence?
11. Mutual Concern
Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.
I agree, in general.
12. Good Life
Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature's resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.
"Maximizes individual happiness" - am I the only one who finds something questionable in this formulation? ("maximizes, really? - increasing would not be enough?) These broad pseudo-axioms are kind of annoying.
With the rest I agree, just hope that in "just distribution" there will be place for other beings, not only humans, because they - and maybe we either - won't be here if we take everything, even to share it justly, which in itself is a confrontational matter. The world population is growing, the resources of the Earth are limited, and we need to leave some for natural ecosystems.
What is "a good life"? Please, let us reduce suffering of other sensual beans too, at least the kind we are obviously unnecessary causing!
13. Planetary Duty
Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature's integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.
"Differing yet humane views" - what does that mean? What kind of diversity (only among people, I suppose), to what extend this respect goes - again, what are the humane views?
The "planetary duty" sounds interesting, I wish humanist would discuss this more.
Maybe, instead of these linguistic puzzles and mysterious definitions, it would be better to tell directly, whether humanist, for instance, support death sentences, and what liberties do they have in mind, and how those conflict with security issues? Or maybe, to address a few fundamental strategies of how to protect "nature's integrity", especially when they conflict with human needs, wishes or greed.
Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.
People, what if our current "highest ideals" are not well enough thought over, and have unpredictable outcomes? "Conviction" (a firm belief) - really? Towards all highest ideals that all humanity as a whole should have? What are those? Prosperity and full freedom and satisfaction for all... on a planet with limited resources? Utopia.
No, we are not responsible for all aspects of the world we live in, and for our individual lives neither - we are not that powerful. This strange idea Reminds me of folks who believe that they can change every aspect of their lives by "attracting" the right stuff with positive thinking and talking to "Universe" :) Scientology is based on similar notions...
This document might be an example of mild forms of:
- dogmatic assertiveness,
- feel-good self motivation and ennoblement,
- hazy wishful thinking.
That's why I feel weird about it, and probably won't join most of my contacts on some social networks who call themselves secular humanists - I wish I could. I thought I was one. I do want to belong somewhere, but Goethe's words that in the end we are all alone come to my mind more and more often last years.
Here is something from Neo-Humanists by Paul Kurtz (1925-2012):
We have an obligation to future generations yet unborn, and a moral responsibility to ecohumanism; namely, a loving care and concern for our planet and life on it.
They seem to be more concrete in their statements on other topics as well.
Hope I was not too harsh and did not miss a major point between the lines.
What do you think?