2 of 5
2
A critical look at secular humanism
Posted: 05 February 2007 01:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15435
Joined  2006-02-14
[quote author=“Mark_W”]I have responded to your questions and criticisms ...

Well, no, actually you haven’t. If you go back and read through my responses, I had a number of questions, issues and problems with the way you’d put the issue in your first post. None of those have been cleared up; at least not to my satisfaction.

But perhaps others have some opinions on the matter.

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 05 February 2007 04:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4108
Joined  2006-11-28

Mark,

I’m not sure where your criticism of secular humanism leaves us in terms of real actions. Just as Barry would have us throw out all the ideas and goals of humanism for bettering the “welfare of all,” as you put it, because we have not put his idea of socialist anarchism at the center of our efforts, so you would have us do nothing if we are unable to center our efforts on the inner transformation you see as critical. It sounds, from the discussion above, like you feel you have been very specific, but Doug feels, and I do as well, that you have condemned secular humanism to irrelevance with only a vague allusion to some inner change yhou say we should strive towards instead. Maybe getting into more specifics would be helpful. Some of my questions for you would be:

1. What exactly do you see this transformation, which you seem to say you have not yet achieved entirely yourself, as being? Is it the Buddhist notion of recognizing suffering, seeing the causes of suffering seeing the means of transcending suffering, the recognition of the illusion of self, etc? What, exactly, should we try/expect to transform into?

2. What methods should we use to achieve this transformation? Mindfulness meditation, meditation on certain concepts (impermenance, compassion, etc)? Or do specific actions and ways of living in the world lead us to the transformation we should seek, since you say withdrawal from the world and exclusive focus on contemplation is a “copout?”

3. Would following the methods you suggest lead us all to the same transformation? What if we come to several different visions, or even a unique sense of truth for each individual? How does this then lead us to reform our lives in a way that benefits all?

4. What of those who are too constrained by poverty, illness, or other factors to seek an inner transformation because the price of the effort would be starvation, or is simply beyond their capacities? How do they live meaningful, helpful lives?

5. Is there a multiplicity of truthful and right ways to think and to live, or is their only one “right” transformation we should strive towards?

6. If our efforts are wasted in the absence of an inner change, what can or should we do while working towards this change? Political activism, environmental work, aid work, jobs, school, etc ?

 Signature 

The SkeptVet Blog
You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place. 
Johnathan Swift

Profile
 
 
Posted: 05 February 2007 07:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
Jr. Member
Rank
Total Posts:  20
Joined  2007-02-03

mckenzie, ok, you have asked some good questions.

1. I see this “transformation” as a fundamental change in our outlook on life. Realizing that living for ourselves, our friends and family, or other extensions of ourselves is irrational and will only ultimately do more harm in the world. We have to focus on the ideal, and stop sacrificing the long term to the short term, this will only put us further in the hole. And so we “renounce” this mind-set and this way of life, and harmonize our own will with the “will” of our conscience.

2. What methods should we use to do this. Simple rational thinking, although this can be difficult with all the biases, social pressures, and general complications of life. I say the first practical step in order to be able to see past the net of biases we are caught up in is to simplify our lives. Of course this is a paradox, since if we first must have some idea that this simplification of our lives will be of some benefit, while most people fill up their lives with entertainments and amusements and think this is where their happiness lies. But practically speaking, a gradual simplification of lifestyle can only help with clearing up our mind, and takes us to an extent away from the biases that we are caught up in. A “live simply so that others may simply live” attitude is certainly not promoting a withdrawal from the world.

3. We would all have fundamentally the same transformation in terms of recognizing that following our conscience is the most important thing in life. However we would also be very much different, not only in terms of temperament and mannerisms, but we are all at different degrees of realizing this ideal. The main change would be that people would consciously acknowledge the ideals and verbalize them rather than try to justify their actions and distort fundamental truths, they would admit them and admit that they fall short of the ideal.

4. Those who are too constrained by poverty should be helped out of poverty by the ones who have the luxury of thinking. But right now those who have the advantages of leisure occupy themselves with distractions and amusements, rather than on truly helping others out of poverty. (This is often an unconscious self-preservation instinct, since the exploitation of these poverty stricken workers, provides this leisure for us, to a large degree).

5. This question is similar to question 3. There will be different interpretations of truth, just like there are different branches from a tree, but the trunk and the roots will be the same. People are different, but we will agree more on the basics of justice and morality than we do now.

6. We should stop and think. We should focus on this inner change first. It is never at the exclusion of everything else though. As much as we have strength we should focus on disentangling ourselves from our overly complex and ultimately morally stifling and irrational lives. It is not easy to get out of the rat race, but steps can be made if you really want to. Its never an all or nothing thing.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 05 February 2007 02:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  402
Joined  2003-09-24

Answering Mark W on Humanism

Mark_W wrote:

(Buddhism) ...when we try to live for the happiness of ourselves and of those close to us, we find (if we don’t ignore the fact) that the worldly advantages we get can only be obtained by taking away from others. Also we realize that the more worldly advantages we acquire, the less they satisfy us and the more we desire for new ones. And the longer someone lives the more inevitable becomes the approach of death, destroying all possibility of worldly advantages. So this is an irrational way to live. The only way to true happiness and a rational life is through a process of self-renunciation, where you do not live for worldly advantages but for the good of everyone and devote your life to this cause. This is living solely to serve your conscience, as you know through experience and reason that living any other way will ruin true happiness, since you must live conscientiously for your heart to be at rest.

Secular humanism does not focus on the need for us to change our fundamental outlook on life. It does not emphasize the importance of self-renunciation which is necessary (as it is the foundation and the roots) for a true and sincere morality, and as my 19th century friend Lev Nikolayevich says, “It is like what children do when, wishing to transplant a flower that pleases them—they pluck it from the roots that do not please, and seem to them superfluous, and stick it rootless into the ground.”  This is just what secular humanism amounts to. The ethics and the morality that secular humanism seeks through reason will never be achieved without first acknowledging the need to have a firm rational foundation to stand on, and this involves a fundamental shift in our perspective on life, something that is too dramatic and radical for the secular humanistic, modern-“scientist”, attitude which is nearly as complacent and impotent as the church-“christian” attitude. And so secular humanism is weak and ineffective, and pretty much means nothing. 


Hi Mark!

I wanted to read just this original post of yours before I read anyone’s responses or your reactions to those responses ... so as to have a clear response myself.  So forgive me if I say things others have already said.

I do not know enough of Buddhism to know if what you described is accurate, but I think there is some truth to your critique of SH (if it is your critique).  Buddhism may be a “religion” but I do not see any obvious supernaturalism involved in the first part of your post.  We are all indeed interconnected and so what each of us takes from this world (takes and keeps) is one more thing another can not take for him/herself. However, I do not see this as a bad thing UNLESS there are significant gaps between the haves and have nots.  I do not expect (or want) to set up a society where we count marbles and make sure each of us has exactly 252, if you know what I mean.  That is not equality.  What IS equality is that in the end, the range of each person’s marble collection ought to be a small-gapped range (say, 225-275) or so. 

In American society (because of capitalism and radical individualism - both supported by Christianity), the range is more like 5-500 ... where the top 1% has 100 times the amount of marbles of the bottom 10% (and those marbles translate to both economic and political power). 

So while I do not think we need to rid ourselves of all worldly goods (though “possessions” might be a term we reevaluate) to live a conscientious and humanistic life, I do agree that we should have a society which considers the ‘good of everyone.’  There is no real humanistic “good life” unless we ALL have access to it (and its not just a mental state, either).

Now, I partly agree that traditional concepts of secular humanism has flaws.  Not, I think, because of the “reason” or science aspects, because I think both can help us toward the sort of society you speak of.  Science is a great tool for us to understand the universe and ourselves, and ‘reason’ - as long at we do not forget that we are also emotional creatures who do yearn for a certain spirituality (the Buddhist sort, not the Christian sort) - is an ability we humans have which has allowed us to do science in the first place. 

BUT, 19th century humanism (and earlier), and even much of 20th century humanism - all based on the Enlightenment attitude(s) - carry along to today baggage from those times as well as the hopeful, more egalitarian attitudes we see in the various Manifestos.  But even those manifestos (and even Paul Kurtz’s recent ‘Humanist Manifesto 2000’), co-mingle a more mature sense of humanism with the sort which came before… the sort which spoke perhaps too highly of atheism in the sense that all aspects of religious thought - not just Christian supernaturalism, which of course was of the religion of oppressors the early modern humanists were reacting to - and missed the Eastern sense of religion found in Buddhism ....  Also, such humanism tends to separate reason from emotion unnaturally and assumes all that’s needed is a good intellectual argument for all of humanity to snap out of their wrong-headed ways (whatever they may be) and come to their senses. 

But perhaps the worst baggage humanism is still straddled with (though things seemed to get better just before ‘Humanist Manifesto I’ was drafted but waned again after W.W.II ended), is the ‘rugged individualism’ (as opposed to the interconnected society) motif, and free market capitalism which was born from the ‘classical liberalism’ of the Enlightenment. 

Now, classical liberalism minus capitalism and minus the conservatism added to the mix in the 20th century, leads naturally (as Noam Chomsky points out) to Libertarian-Socialism (a much better politic than either right-libertarianism or conservatism), which indeed - in its notion of abolishing Free-Market Capitalism and the hierarchal nation-state - would allow a better sociopolitical and economic “set up” for humanity ... which would lead to the sort of egalitarianism humanity was closer to during our nomadic hunter-gatherer years (99% of human history), and more importantly, toward the kind of ideas you say is part of the Buddhist philosophy above. 

So yes, secular humanism needs to mature as a philosophy beyond science/reason/atheism to become a sociopolitical philosophy where the most egalitarian and fair attitudes of traditional humanism meet a truly healthy outlook for how we all should live our lives (not our lives as individuals - there ought always be freedom of “self”, but our lives as a human society.) 

The socialists got it right .. if only they replaced statism/hierarchy and markets (and not ‘just’ capitalism), with participatory democracy…. 

I think Humanism IS, CAN be and SHOULD be such a philosophy for the 21st century ... its up to us humanists to move it forward.

 Signature 

Barry F. Seidman
Exec. Producer of Equal Time for Freethought

Profile
 
 
Posted: 05 February 2007 03:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  402
Joined  2003-09-24

One more thing, Mark

Now that I read the rest of the posts, I want to add one thing…

Secular means something, yes…. seperation of church and state while humanity still has those two destructive institutions…

Atheism is the absence of a belief in God or supernaturalism (for the latter, you might want to substitute naturalism for atheism)...

Humanism has come to mean lots of things over the centuries, but all told ... and fine tuning it for the 21st century - humanism (to me) DOES stand for something beyond atheism, naturalism or reason.

Its “reasons” for most of its ethical codes (if not all of them) come from both the hard and soft sciences and from living experience… and they are indeed informed by naturalism specifically… but you are correct that an understanding of ourselves something along the lines of what you said in your original post is that which lends some human foundation to the more abstract notions of traditional humanism…. and again, I think what you ARE talking about has to do with our interconnectedness on a spiritual (not supernatural) level.. tell me if I am wrong on this.

Anyway, I think we have to work hard, we humanists, to define WHY we stand for what we stand for and not just offer as answers the words “reason” or “science” or atheism.  All those things are parts of the puzzle, but if we stop there, ANYone can claim themselves a humanist (so as long as they are atheists, non-supernaturalists, and have some code of ethics ... ethics which seem unconnected to each other by any unifing idea… When someone like Christopher Hitchens can call himself (or be called) a humanist, your point that humanism does not stand for anything becomes loud and clear!

Any who how, here is my ‘working’ definition of humanism…. it keeps evolving as I better understand how I want to articulate it:     

Humanism is a sociopolitical philosophy, informed by scientific naturalism, which holds that human societies are healthiest if founded on non-hierarchal democratic principles.  Accordingly, a humanistic society would promote individual freedom, mutual cooperation, the peaceful and fair allocation of natural and human-made resources, and hold to the commitment that every person should have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential.

Perhaps it might be better if it read this:

“Humanism is a sociopolitical philosophy, informed by scientific naturalism, which holds that human societies are healthiest if founded on non-heirarchal democratic principles.  Accordingly, a humanistic society would promote human interconnectedness and cooperation in all areas of life, the peaceful and fair allocation of natural and human-made resources, and a commitment that individuals be encouraged and aided in achieving their fullest potential while in turn nurturing the larger society.”

 Signature 

Barry F. Seidman
Exec. Producer of Equal Time for Freethought

Profile
 
 
Posted: 06 February 2007 05:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4108
Joined  2006-11-28

Barry,

I like your definition (though I suspect we may differ in some of the details that put that definition into pratcice), but I had one question. Mark seems to be getting at the idea that humanism, to be truly meaningful and effective in changing the world, needs to be more than a “sociopolitical philosophy,” it needs to be a comprehensive world view or way of living. As you point out above, there is an intrinsic and important spiritual dimension to the human experience, and in the absence of supernaturalism we need to find ways to nurture that. For me, I find the satisfaction of this aspect in both the awe and admiration invoked by the natural world, and in close relationships with other people. And it is these parts of my experiences that drive me to the kind of desire to care for the natural world and other people that you and Mark and I seem to share, even when we disagree about methods. So, does humanism as a philosophy, or as an organized community, have a role to play in the spiritual dimension of living, or is it only relevant to sociopolitical aspects of human life? Mark seems to feel only inner spiritual transformation is meaningful, and all else follows from that. You seem to feel only social justice and political reorganization is important for humanism. I think both can be accomodated within humanism without making it so borad as to be meaningles, though individuals may have to choose which dimensions to focus on according to their talents and interests. Any thoughts?

 Signature 

The SkeptVet Blog
You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place. 
Johnathan Swift

Profile
 
 
Posted: 06 February 2007 06:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15435
Joined  2006-02-14

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]Mark seems to feel only inner spiritual transformation is meaningful, and all else follows from that. You seem to feel only social justice and political reorganization is important for humanism. I think both can be accomodated within humanism without making it so borad as to be meaningles, though individuals may have to choose which dimensions to focus on according to their talents and interests. Any thoughts?

This sounds entirely correct to me, FWIW.

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 06 February 2007 07:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  402
Joined  2003-09-24

!!!

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]Barry,

I like your definition (though I suspect we may differ in some of the details that put that definition into pratcice), but I had one question. Mark seems to be getting at the idea that humanism, to be truly meaningful and effective in changing the world, needs to be more than a “sociopolitical philosophy,” it needs to be a comprehensive world view or way of living. As you point out above, there is an intrinsic and important spiritual dimension to the human experience, and in the absence of supernaturalism we need to find ways to nurture that. For me, I find the satisfaction of this aspect in both the awe and admiration invoked by the natural world, and in close relationships with other people. And it is these parts of my experiences that drive me to the kind of desire to care for the natural world and other people that you and Mark and I seem to share, even when we disagree about methods. So, does humanism as a philosophy, or as an organized community, have a role to play in the spiritual dimension of living, or is it only relevant to sociopolitical aspects of human life? Mark seems to feel only inner spiritual transformation is meaningful, and all else follows from that. You seem to feel only social justice and political reorganization is important for humanism. I think both can be accomodated within humanism without making it so borad as to be meaningles, though individuals may have to choose which dimensions to focus on according to their talents and interests. Any thoughts?


Very well said!

The means to the ends indeed need to be discussed at length, but it’s important to have a sense of where we want to go first ... many humanist’s definition of humanism lack even this.

Mark and I have similar ideas I think. 

First, I admit my earlier definitions of humanism left out the ‘spiritual’ dimension - although I have talked about that aspect many times when I’ve mentioned that religion is more than just supernaturalism.

Supernaturalists do seem to “get” their spiritual needs met via supernaturalism, but that is a false lead.  Supernaturalism is not only unnecessary, but - as we all understand on this forum, at least - potentially very dangerous. 

But what spiritual needs does supernaturalism fill which humanists can fill?  If I am correct, Mark is talking about a different understanding of the self as it pertains to the whole of humanity.  It may be “inner” because is has to do with introspection, but it is also worldly because his means leads to an ends where we are a more caring, cooperative, sharing community.  At least I think this is why Mark is suggesting a more spiritual means than he sees in traditional humanism… toward some ends Mark and we share. 

As for me, this is why I added the interconnectedness line to my definition; I do not know if I want to go as far as use the term spirituality in my definition - although I have a good secular humanist friend who would - because of the supernatural baggage that comes from that term… still.  But, I think introspection and interconnectedness are the key features of spirituality (Mark can correct me if I am mistaken). 

So yes, what Mark talks about should be a part of humanism and I do not think he thinks we should stop there, even if he is suggesting that a humanistic society would develop from such a world view.  And Humanism IS a world view.  But I think that since we live in a very political (socially, economically, governmentally, etc) society at the present time, it is useful to understand those aspects of humanism as well.  Perhaps when we nurture the “inner” Mark talks about while actively seeking the “outer?” I am talking about (mainly, but not exclusively), we will reach our goals? 

Indeed I think you are saying this in the end.  And indeed, I think the sort of society which will develop from my sociopolitical and economic ideas WOULD be one very much in tune with Mark’s ideas for a future humanity.  They would very much suit one another.

Ok, another small change to my definition:
“Humanism is a sociopolitical world view, informed by scientific naturalism, which holds that human societies are healthiest if founded on non-hierarchal democratic principles.  Accordingly, a humanistic society - in recognizing universal interconnectedness - promotes cooperation in all areas of life, the peaceful and fair allocation of natural and human-made resources, and a commitment that individuals be encouraged and aided in achieving their fullest potential while in turn nurturing the larger society.”

 Signature 

Barry F. Seidman
Exec. Producer of Equal Time for Freethought

Profile
 
 
Posted: 06 February 2007 03:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
Jr. Member
Rank
Total Posts:  20
Joined  2007-02-03

Here’s what Mark thinks: :wink:

Thanks for all the responses. Barry, thanks for jumping in with your informed remarks. I think my main concern is regarding the degree of motivation. Yes, we all say that living a virtuous life and trying to help everyone is a noble end. However, the strength to do this and to live in this way is obviously more than a matter of socialization or biological gifts. We each can individually change our fundamental outlook on life in a radical way, so as to embrace lofty moral ideals, and draw inspiration from this outlook. When I say the lofty moral ideals, I mean “the love your enemies” variety that Gandhi especially, was a proponent of. Not thinking primarily about benefiting everyone, at the expense of ourselves, but rather for the benefit of ourselves as well. Following our conscience for the sake of conscience (believing that only good can come from this pursuit, both for you and everyone). In other words, a belief that the means are the end, and that the “sacrifice” must be thought of as no sacrifice at all or else we will only half-heartedly be able to “sacrifice”. In a way it can be viewed as selfish, but it springs from the firm belief that our happiness is found in serving others. And these others can never be a “convenient” group, but those who need help the most. In other words, the serving others I’m talking about can never be about playing the piano at a cocktail party and entertaining the crowd. Nobody with a genuine love for service and humanity could delude themselves with this notion of pseudo-philanthropy. Nor could most “charity” work be genuine philanthropy, as a true love for humanity will get at the causes of social problems rather than treating the symptoms.
I’m straying from the topic a little bit, sorry, here’s an analogy illustrating my main point regarding the mind-set, or changed outlook that I’m talking about.

Although we know in practice that we will fall short of the ideal, we should, in theory, have the absolute ideal and strive toward it.

For example, If I would like to draw a straight line, I cannot say that a particular segment of the line should be crooked. If I say this then the line will be, in practice, less straight than if I had stuck to the goal of drawing a perfectly straight line.

So is it also with ethics and morality. The ideal must be perfect virtue in order to inspire the closest approximation in practice.

Secular humanism does not seem to put the emphasis on these lofty moral ideals (the “love your enemies” variety, absolute nonviolence) that would constitute perfect virtue. More fundamentally, it does not emphasize the change of outlook on life that would serve to motivate the type of genuine morality and ethics that it seeks, and primarily because, this is just too radical for the mainstream. So I think that secular humanism sells out to a degree to gain mass appeal, but then again it never did seem to have any soul to sell in the first place. It seemed to come into being as a result of people wanting to found ethics and morality on something other than what a true and genuine morality can only be founded upon.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 06 February 2007 05:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  402
Joined  2003-09-24

Mark said (among other things):

Nor could most “charity” work be genuine philanthropy, as a true love for humanity will get at the causes of social problems rather than treating the symptoms.

If I would like to draw a straight line, I cannot say that a particular segment of the line should be crooked. If I say this then the line will be, in practice, less straight than if I had stuck to the goal of drawing a perfectly straight line.

So is it also with ethics and morality. The ideal must be perfect virtue in order to inspire the closest approximation in practice.

Secular humanism does not seem to put the emphasis on these lofty moral ideals (the “love your enemies” variety, absolute nonviolence) that would constitute perfect virtue. More fundamentally, it does not emphasize the change of outlook on life that would serve to motivate the type of genuine morality and ethics that it seeks, and primarily because, this is just too radical for the mainstream. So I think that secular humanism sells out to a degree to gain mass appeal, but then again it never did seem to have any soul to sell in the first place. It seemed to come into being as a result of people wanting to found ethics and morality on something other than what a true and genuine morality can only be founded upon.

Mark:

First, re charity, I agree.  Charity misses the entire point.  Why do we need charity in the first place?  And why is it acceptable to put the Band-Aid of charity on a bleeding wound with the assumption that such wounds are just a part of human existence?  Charity is a cop-out.  It is far better to clean and repair the wound - and change things so as to avoid such wounds in the future - than to pile “charity” upon an open wound .. and often, way after the damage is done.

As for your ‘straight line’ example, I am not sure I understand.  I assume you mean that our ideas toward an ethical existence must be well founded and understood and visualized and talked about (etc) before we shoot for means/ends.  In this sense, I can understand how you might see the humanist “list of virtues” as unconnected with the foundation - any foundation - where all these virtues are supposed to come from.  But I think if you look closely, you may find the connections throughout humanist literature - at least over the last few centuries.  And also, naturalism (real naturalism, not CFI/CSH’s watered down naturalism) can point you to these as well.

Perhaps traditional humanism (or humanists) seem “all over the place” or too accepting of a certain wide variety of ideas or “stances” that you may think we stand for so much as to not stand for anything at all!  This is true of humanists who have not followed closely the trajectory of humanistic thought from A-Z, and wish to accommodate far too many ideas which really have no place in humanism.

And so yes, many humanists, and certainly organized humanism (especially CFI/CSH) fail to emphasize an outlook such as that which you describe (or something like it), because - I have been told - doing so would make humanism too political (nonviolence is considered political to many) or too dogmatic (not open somehow, to further inquiry.) 

Of course, this is all nonsense.  Humanism takes its epistemological cues from scientific naturalism, so as our knowledge of the universe and humanity evolves, so does humanism.  And humanism IS political (as ANYTHING involving human societies is political) and to stay out of such talk is to neuter humanism and render it useless as a world view. 

Even more to your point however, I think that the big tent style of CFI-CSH (at least) fosters a systemic watering down of humanism so that any idea which may be secular or atheistic becomes humanistic - or worse, humanism becomes redefined, as CSH’s Exec. Dir. (David Koepsel) has done, to being merely a method of inquiry! 

So yes, your ideas are radical for individual humanists (because many humanists in America are fairly liberal and not Leftists or radicals).  PS: And it’s really useless to seriously consider conservatives or Right-Libertarians as being humanists. 

But worse yet, imagine how “mainstream” CSH is!  To attract a large group (of followers? donors?), CSH has to ‘big-tent’ humanism.  But when you mainstream a radical sociopolitical world view like humanism, you get the sort or life-stance which you find flawed. 

What we need to do is to re-redefine humanism in the correct way, and to introduce to America a New Humanism!

 Signature 

Barry F. Seidman
Exec. Producer of Equal Time for Freethought

Profile
 
 
Posted: 07 February 2007 05:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4108
Joined  2006-11-28

We each can individually change our fundamental outlook on life in a radical way, so as to embrace lofty moral ideals…Although we know in practice that we will fall short of the ideal, we should, in theory, have the absolute ideal and strive toward it…The ideal must be perfect virtue in order to inspire the closest approximation in practice…More fundamentally, it does not emphasize the change of outlook on life that would serve to motivate the type of genuine morality and ethics that it seeks, and primarily because, this is just too radical for the mainstream. So I think that secular humanism sells out to a degree to gain mass appeal, but then again it never did seem to have any soul to sell in the first place. It seemed to come into being as a result of people wanting to found ethics and morality on something other than what a true and genuine morality can only be founded upon.

Mark,

What worries, I might even say frightens me about your statement (Manifesto?) is the prophetic zeal and certainty. If you didn’t specifically deride religion in your first post, there is nothing about these ideals or this language that would be incompatible with fundamentalist religion. It’s not that there is anything wrong with perfect selfless compassion and non-violence, it’s just that you seem to have a vision of the TRUTH which excludes any competing visions, and that’s a form of arrogance, albeit couched in humble terms. What if you’re wrong? What if the others who call themselves humanists aren’t just intellectual or moral cowards or selling out to get a mainstream following but sincere, intelligent folks working for the good of humanity just as you are? Can hyou simply condemn all they do as futile because it doesn’t fit your vision?

Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but I feel the arrogance and absolute certainty of our own wisdom is the biggest reason people are cruel to each other, after perhaps simple material greed and selfishness, and I don’t think this degree of certainty has proven justified for any past ideologies, so I don’t expect it tro be any different for yours, Barry’s, or mine. If any difference from your perspective is delusion, or incomplete realization, or cowardice, or deliberate refusal to see the truth, then you’ve set yourself up as a prophet, and prophets are dangerous, and frankly usually mostly wrong.

Barry,

As you know, I have the same problem with many of your posts here. I agree with a suibstantial portion of your ideas (except, likely, the specific sociopolitical structure you advocate), but you routinely condemn any difference of opinion as ignroance or deliberate refusal to see the truth. A demagogue or prophet is likely to be right about some things, maybe even most things, but just as likley to be wrong about some things as anyone else. But such a visionary is a lot less likely to be amenable to proof of their own fallibility. Sure, zeal motivates action, and I can’t quarrel with your commitment or the fact that you try to put your ideals vigorously into practice, but I think without a touch of humility and self-doubt would do you a world of good in preventing you from becoming fixated on the whole vision and unable to use reason and criticism to help you weed out the mistakes. Deciding who gets to be a humanist and who doesn’t based on strict adherence to your dogma is a very “religious” behavior, despite the nominal secularism of the dogma.

And finally, I’m sure you’ll call me a cynic and dismiss me accordingly, but you both seem very proud of the radical/outsider character to your certainties and very confident that absolute visions and unifying ideals can and should be realized. Calling all humanitarian work (i.e. “charity”) a meaningless band-aid in the absence of fundamental elimination of the underlying causes of suffering, which you say should be our only aim, is the worst sort of utopianism. Sure it’s noble, but why should I believe you and your ideas are the path to achieving this when no one else’s in history has achieved it?

Ok, so maybe you touched a nerve and I’m being a bit strident myself! :wink: Clarence Darrow once said, a bit glibly, “The only thing I am intolerant of is intolerance,” and I share the sentiment. You guys have really strong visions, and I would say there is much truth in them. But as glorious as being a lone voice in the wilderness may be, it doesn’t really accomplish anything. If you don’t see any way to share the visions that admits of compromise and difference of opinion, you will waste your talents preaching to a small choir and a large, indifferent multitude, and nothing will come of them (barring one of history’s rare revolutions or waves of religious conversion). That would be a shame.

Brennen

 Signature 

The SkeptVet Blog
You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place. 
Johnathan Swift

Profile
 
 
Posted: 07 February 2007 09:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
Jr. Member
Rank
Total Posts:  20
Joined  2007-02-03

Brennen, first off, let me say that I don’t claim to be a prophet, such language only distances people, and puts up a wall of separation that I think should be torn down.  I am just a regular guy who has been lucky enough to have the free time to concern myself with the important questions in life, and all the answers I’ve gathered have been simple and rational, nothing abstract or impracticable.
Regarding tolerance a distinction must be made. We should be tolerant of all people, but not all ideas. Some ideas (like the idea of intolerance), as you point out, are dangerous. We should be tolerant with the people who wish to go to war with us, but we should not be tolerant of war itself (the idea of war).
And regarding prophets, the non-violent ones are not dangerous. Would you consider Gandhi a dangerous prophet? Dangerous to a corrupt government, yes. But this type of thinking makes me wonder where you draw the line on how “good” we should be? How much virtue is too much, and thus taking you into the “dangerous” realm of being a “prophet”? Keep in mind if you’re taking about dogma and false prophets, I agree with you. If you are talking about idols that people put up on a pedestal, and accept everything they say as truth (as many people did with Gandhi), this is obviously bad, but it is not the fault of the “prophets” but rather of a superstitious and un-thinking public, that would have followed something else or someone else just as blindly (think government, or Hitler).
So, I used to think the same way as you regarding the fact that we should be very wary about asserting “truths”, and we should be. But I also believe as Henry George says, that “its just as harmful for a man to think that he knows nothing, as it is for a man to think he knows everything”. And once we clearly realize the truth of something, and have thought deeply about it, and can verbalize it, and explain rationally exactly why and how it is the truth, just as 2+2=4, then we should not be timid, indeed it is our duty as human beings not to be. And if there are holes in my reasoning, I want to know. We can’t legitimately talk about the truth as a matter of intellectual pride or arrogance, as anyone who wants to get at the truth will gladly sacrifice pride to see their mistake.

Something that struck me from your last post was this statement, “...but why should I believe you and your ideas are the path to achieving this when no one else’s in history has achieved it?”
This perhaps was not directed at me, but I will respond to it. I am not asking you to believe me or “my ideas”, I want you to be skeptical but open-minded. Think for yourself regarding these matters, independent of what has been done in history, as history does not dictate the way to the future or what is possible to be achieved. I’m not saying we can’t learn from history, but if we are going to progress as a society we should constantly be moving toward uncharted territory and towards a higher morality.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 07 February 2007 10:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4108
Joined  2006-11-28

We should be tolerant of all people, but not all ideas.

It is certainly appropriate to argue against, and take action against, ideas that your conscience tells you are harmful (with, I think we agree, non-violent action). All I’m arguing for is great care in deciding which ideas are so harmful as to merit dismissal or condemnation. Rational, open-minded consideration needs to be given to any idea before dismissing it. Language such as “true and genuine morality,” and “perfect virtue” suggests a certainty about the “truths” you’ve realized that sets off warning bells for me, that’s all. It is similar to language used by religious believers who are not, as you state you are, open to rational re-evaluation or criticism of their beliefs.

And regarding prophets, the non-violent ones are not dangerous. Would you consider Gandhi a dangerous prophet? Dangerous to a corrupt government, yes. But this type of thinking makes me wonder where you draw the line on how “good” we should be? How much virtue is too much, and thus taking you into the “dangerous” realm of being a “prophet”? Keep in mind if you’re taking about dogma and false prophets, I agree with you. If you are talking about idols that people put up on a pedestal, and accept everything they say as truth (as many people did with Gandhi), this is obviously bad, but it is not the fault of the “prophets” but rather of a superstitious and un-thinking public, that would have followed something else or someone else just as blindly (think government, or Hitler).

Hmm, well Gandhi is an interesting example. He was personally motivated by both a powerful sense of moral obligation to fight injustive and by a deep humility. His actions did contribute to evil as well as good (such as acts of violence by his followers), but he took a personal responsibility for this. And when his followers acted in ways that betrayed his ideals, he did not rail at them or chastise them, he fasted privately. I think his is a good, but very hard example to follow. The same zeal and charisma, employed by less moral individuals, does instigate great evil, and that is why I am suspicious of the value of such “prophetic” characteristics. They require exceptional moral character to avoid doing more harm than good.

And I wonder what those of us who do not feel capable of achieving such a level of personal moral courage can do for the good of the world and humanity. I would argue that there is much we can do by, as you suggest, aiming for such an ideal even without any absolute confidence of reaching it. It sounded to me, and I may be wrong, that you espouse something of an all or nothing attitude towards the pursuit of the virtues and actions you believe we should pursue, and it is this absolutism, rather than the pursuit of the greatest virtue we can personally achieve, that I was expressing concern about.

history does not dictate the way to the future or what is possible to be achieved

I’m not sure I can agree. I am open to the idea that fundamental transformations in how humans behave (I might say “human nature,” but Barry would roast me instantly for using the phrase :wink: ), however I do see history as strong evidence for certain tendencies that are very difficult to overcome for the great mass of us, and I am skeptical about such transformations. Perhaps to be a true force for change, you have to be an absoltue optimist, but I am not as good at that as maybe you are. I defended what you seemed to dismiss as “charity” because I believe the simple acts of kindness among individuals to have great value despite, or maybe even because, large scale perfection in human ideas and relations is difficult, or even impossible to achieve.


As I often find myself saying to Barry, I don’t think we are all that far apart in terms of general outlook. A deep realization of interconnectedness that diminishes the tendency to serve the self and the tribe over humankind (and life in general) as well as a commitment to the principle of nonviolence (though I believe Gandhi himself argued his methods would not have been appropriate against Hitler) would be the cornerstone of a true revolution in human behavior, and if achievable would flow naturally towards a much healthier, more moral society. I hope this can be achieved, and I certainly strive daily for it in myself, with only very modest success I fear. But I think humility and tolerance and an open mind are vital components of such a transformation, and though there is a distinction between open-minded and without conviction, I lean more towards one end of the spectrum, perhaps, than you do. I still feel that the dangers of absolute certainty and righteousness are great and despite their value in driving action we must be very suspicious of them. As I hope I made clear, I can’t really say that you have the “prophetic” mindset I was warning about, only that the tone and language of your postings hinted at it somewhat. Thanks for the thoughtful response!

 Signature 

The SkeptVet Blog
You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place. 
Johnathan Swift

Profile
 
 
Posted: 07 February 2007 11:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4108
Joined  2006-11-28

Siince we’re quoting, one of my favorites is from W.B. Yeats:
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

The problem is that passionate intensity can so easily make the best into the worst.

 Signature 

The SkeptVet Blog
You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place. 
Johnathan Swift

Profile
 
 
Posted: 07 February 2007 02:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
Jr. Member
Rank
Total Posts:  20
Joined  2007-02-03

Brennen, when you say “The same zeal and charisma, employed by less moral individuals, does instigate great evil, and that is why I am suspicious of the value of such “prophetic” characteristics.” This is similar to a common criticism of MLK Jr. during his day. I will ask, are we not better off, as a result of good (“prophetic”) people doing good things, or are we worse off? It seems that you are saying it’s a crap-shoot at best. Good can lead to evil. A righteous means can lead to an evil end. MLK Jr. responded to this accusation by saying “Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock?”

It seems that you are fearful of extreme “goodness”. I have a couple of questions:
How “good” should we be?
If you think that the good you do, doesn’t end up causing more harm, why?

Profile
 
 
   
2 of 5
2