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What is Humanism
Posted: 13 March 2006 12:51 PM   [ Ignore ]
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A long debate between some of us had begun a few months ago about what is humanism.  Some folks have listed some ideas on the Politics forum, but that is only a part of humanism, so I thought I’d pick up the thread here.

The debate began over Ibn Warraq’s & Chris Hitchens’ essays about the Muslim reaction to the Danish Cartoons.  Many of us found the blatant atheistic bravado stance, not to mention Warraq’s apologetics for British Imperialism in India (which matches Warraq’s pro-Bush, pro-invasion of Iraq stance) as severely anti-humanistic.  I offered essays from James Carroll and Taraq Ali as better representations of humanism with regard to this situation.  Here are the four essays:

Warraq: http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,398853,00.html

Hitchens: http://www.slate.com/id/2135499/fr/rss

Ali: http://www.guardian.co.uk/cartoonprotests/story/0,,1708319,00.html#article_continue

Carroll: http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/02/17/opinion/edcarroll.php

—————————————

Also, someone asked me some time ago to refer them to what Tibor Machan op-ed in Free Inquiry I was pointing to as anti-humanistic.  It was the one titled: "For Liberals, No One’s Evil."  I wrote a letter to the editor about this op-ed, but it was not published (though many others blasting Machan were). 
   
Here was mine: 

      Free Inquiry, according to its masthead, celebrates reason and humanity.  This would imply that though the essays and op-eds chosen for Free Inquiry do not have to narrowly promote humanism, they should have something to do with reason & humanity…

    Contrary case in point: Tibor Machan’s op-ed, "For Liberals, No One’s Evil."  Machan wants to make a point about what he thinks is the liberal mindset, but he not only misunderstands modern liberalism, he fortifies his arguments on antiscientific, therefore anti-reason, premises. 

    First, who’s definition of liberal is Machan arguing against?  Not all liberals believe what Machan would have us believe they do.  Indeed, one reason liberals are having such problems advancing their worldview in America is because unlike conservatives, their ideas tend to be very nuanced and specialized ... each according to each person’s, or group’s, primary focus.  Environmentalists, feminists, anti-death penalty advocates and antiwar liberals don’t always share each other’s ideas on environmental protection, women’s issues, punishment or war. 
 
    Still, what is most unreasonable about Machan’s argument can be found in its very premise.  Machan claims the problem with liberals is that they are determinists.  Let me ask you this, how many liberals do you know whom don’t believe in free will?  I produce a program at a very liberal radio station - WBAI-NY - and almost everyone there is at odds with me about the issue of free will.  That is, almost all of them believe humans possess this magical power. 

    It is true that liberals understand that alcoholics, sex addicts, those with disabilities and criminals can indeed contribute at least part of their problem to the structure of society, but this is not a "left-wing" idea.  Indeed, the entire nature/nurture debate focuses on the scientific relationship of one to the other. 

    Furthermore, calling people names such as drunks or lechers - or calling underachieving students stupid or lazy - is not just rude, it is quite worthless.  Just how does Machan think such people got "that way?"  By magic? 

    Oh yeah, I forgot he does!  He believes in Free Will!

    Free will is a myth, yet both conservatives and liberals still believe in free will, despite that science otherwise.  Those who study consciousness understand this, as do neuroscientists and many philosophers.. from Ted Honderich and Sue Blackmore to Gerald Edelman.  In fact, if more liberals actually understood and accepted this fact, perhaps they would actually create a real alternative to conservative and neo-conservative ideology.
    Indeed, liberals need to produce a coherent philosophical/political worldview upon which they can defeat those who accept free will mythology and/or religion as essential to their regressive world view. 

    And by the way, a real understanding of human nature does not mean we ought to capitulate to Bush supporters who haven’t a clue; instead, we ought to be calling for, and working toward, a progressive, scientifically sound, humanistic political philosophy ... and sweep Machan’s conservative, misanthropic atheism into the dustbin of history.

Well, that’s a start….  LOL

Barry F. Seidman

Field Organizer, Center for Inquiry
http://www.centerforinquiry.net

Coordinator, CFI Community of New Jersey
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Posted: 13 March 2006 12:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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What is Humanism

A long debate between some of us had begun a few months ago about what is humanism.  Some folks have listed some ideas on the Politics forum, but that is only a part of humanism, so I thought I’d pick up the thread here.

The debate began over Ibn Warraq’s & Chris Hitchens’ essays about the Muslim reaction to the Danish Cartoons.  Many of us found the blatant atheistic bravado stance, not to mention Warraq’s apologetics for British Imperialism in India (which matches Warraq’s pro-Bush, pro-invasion of Iraq stance) as severely anti-humanistic.  I offered essays from James Carroll and Taraq Ali as better representations of humanism with regard to this situation.  Here are the four essays:

Warraq: http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,398853,00.html

Hitchens: http://www.slate.com/id/2135499/fr/rss

Ali: http://www.guardian.co.uk/cartoonprotests/story/0,,1708319,00.html#article_continue

Carroll: http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/02/17/opinion/edcarroll.php

—————————————

Also, someone asked me some time ago to refer them to what Tibor Machan op-ed in Free Inquiry I was pointing to as anti-humanistic.  It was the one titled: “For Liberals, No One’s Evil.”  I wrote a letter to the editor about this op-ed, but it was not published (though many others blasting Machan were). 
   
Here was mine: 

      Free Inquiry, according to its masthead, celebrates reason and humanity.  This would imply that though the essays and op-eds chosen for Free Inquiry do not have to narrowly promote humanism, they should have something to do with reason & humanity…

    Contrary case in point: Tibor Machan’s op-ed, “For Liberals, No One’s Evil.”  Machan wants to make a point about what he thinks is the liberal mindset, but he not only misunderstands modern liberalism, he fortifies his arguments on antiscientific, therefore anti-reason, premises. 

    First, who’s definition of liberal is Machan arguing against?  Not all liberals believe what Machan would have us believe they do.  Indeed, one reason liberals are having such problems advancing their worldview in America is because unlike conservatives, their ideas tend to be very nuanced and specialized ... each according to each person’s, or group’s, primary focus.  Environmentalists, feminists, anti-death penalty advocates and antiwar liberals don’t always share each other’s ideas on environmental protection, women’s issues, punishment or war. 
 
    Still, what is most unreasonable about Machan’s argument can be found in its very premise.  Machan claims the problem with liberals is that they are determinists.  Let me ask you this, how many liberals do you know whom don’t believe in free will?  I produce a program at a very liberal radio station - WBAI-NY - and almost everyone there is at odds with me about the issue of free will.  That is, almost all of them believe humans possess this magical power. 

    It is true that liberals understand that alcoholics, sex addicts, those with disabilities and criminals can indeed contribute at least part of their problem to the structure of society, but this is not a “left-wing” idea.  Indeed, the entire nature/nurture debate focuses on the scientific relationship of one to the other. 

    Furthermore, calling people names such as drunks or lechers - or calling underachieving students stupid or lazy - is not just rude, it is quite worthless.  Just how does Machan think such people got “that way?”  By magic? 

    Oh yeah, I forgot” he does!  He believes in Free Will!

    Free will is a myth, yet both conservatives and liberals still believe in free will, despite that science otherwise.  Those who study consciousness understand this, as do neuroscientists and many philosophers.. from Ted Honderich and Sue Blackmore to Gerald Edelman.  In fact, if more liberals actually understood and accepted this fact, perhaps they would actually create a real alternative to conservative and neo-conservative ideology.
    Indeed, liberals need to produce a coherent philosophical/political worldview upon which they can defeat those who accept free will mythology and/or religion as essential to their regressive world view. 

    And by the way, a real understanding of human nature does not mean we ought to capitulate to Bush supporters who haven’t a clue; instead, we ought to be calling for, and working toward, a progressive, scientifically sound, humanistic political philosophy ... and sweep Machan’s conservative, misanthropic atheism into the dustbin of history.

Well, that’s a start….  LOL

Barry F. Seidman

Field Organizer, Center for Inquiry
http://www.centerforinquiry.net

Coordinator, CFI Community of New Jersey
http://www.centerforinquiry.net/nj

Exec. Producer: Equal Time for Freethought
http://www.njhn.org/etff.html

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
http://www.BarryFSeidman.com

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Posted: 15 March 2006 03:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Response to Barry

I think we have a “secular humanist statement of doctrines” at our own peril. To me secular humanism is just being nonreligious while advancing a set of values.

Some secular humanists believe in free will, others do not (I am skeptical about free will, and like the truce that Daniel Dennett suggests). I dont think anyone should be kicked out of the secular humanist tent for believing in free will.

Some secular humanists are pro-choice, while others are against abortion. I dont think anyone should be kicked out of the secular humanist tent for being morally against abortion.

Some secular humanists are politically left-leaning, while others are politically right-leaning. I do think that many of the values that Progressives say they cherish are simpatico with secular humanism: gay rights, rights for women, racialized minorities, etc. But to argue that to be a secular humanist, one much toe (not tow) the party line and be against this or that war or favor this or that domestic policy is a big blunder. I dont think anyone should be kicked out of the secular humanist tent for supporting the war in Iraq or for being a fiscal conservative.

I am somewhat right-of-center on economic matters, but am no hard-and-fast Republican.  Others at CFI are left-leaning, as social democrats (or even democratic socialists). We may disagree on politics, but we have basic agreement on the fundamentals: where religion fits in society, our view of our place in the universe, our perspective on the existence of God and the supernatural, and our duties to our fellow human beings.

To be such a stickler for “secular humanist doctrines of belief” calcifies our views and can be divisive, and keeps us from being open minded to uncomfortable opposing views, which is atithetical to a basic value of the secular humanist, namely, to be open to views unlike our own cherished ones. I think the mark of the educated person is to live and let live, and to let others have their views, while also being willing to honestly, and with civility, criticize their views when appropriate (and to allow for criticism of one’s own views, too).

DJ Grothe

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Posted: 15 March 2006 06:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Again, what is Secular Humanism?

“I think we have a “secular humanist statement of doctrines” at our own peril. To me secular humanism is just being nonreligious while advancing a set of values.” - DJ Grothe

I certainly disagree.  Atheism is “just being nonreligious,” and atheists can have all sorts of values. 

What are humanist values?  We see many of them in the Humanist Manifestos.  They are very specific.

If secular humanism is just about nonreligion, and some vague set of ideas about values, then what are we fighting for besides secularism and rights for atheists? 

I’d argue that for Secular Humanism to be both true to its history and defining documents, and for it to be relevant to the real world we live in, it must be called a “political philosophy” informed by scientific naturalism, compassion, and the cooperative nature of the human species (which in contrast to Wes’s feelings, really is the case when societies can find ways to foster our better natures rather than our competitiveness - which, in turn, is our behavior when we foster ideas like Capitalism which does NOT disperse our natural resources well). - Barry Seidman

“Some secular humanists believe in free will, others do not (I am skeptical about free will, and like the truce that Daniel Dennett suggests). I don’t think anyone should be kicked out of the secular humanist tent for believing in free will.”  DJ Grothe


I agree.  I do not think that Dennett’s truce is altogether honest, but we do not know enough about brain science to know FOR SURE.  But I’d say that humanists, more than anyone, should very much entertain the deterministic world view because science tells us it is very, very likely. - Barry

 

“Some secular humanists are pro-choice, while others are against abortion. I don’t think anyone should be kicked out of the secular humanist tent for being morally against abortion.” - DJ Grothe


I agree.  There can be reasons, I share some of them, for being against abortion morally.  That issue is not so black and white as say the death penalty issue is.  Still, humanists MUST protect the legal right for women to have abortions… For the personal issue of abortion should be beyond the role of government. - Barry


“Some secular humanists are politically left-leaning, while others are politically right-leaning. I do think that many of the values that Progressives say they cherish are simpatico with secular humanism: gay rights, rights for women, racialized minorities, etc. But to argue that to be a secular humanist, one much toe (not tow) the party line and be against this or that war or favor this or that domestic policy is a big blunder. I dont think anyone should be kicked out of the secular humanist tent for supporting the war in Iraq or for being a fiscal conservative.” DJ Grothe


I disagree, big time!  There is nothing wrong with being “fiscally” prudent ... something the Bush Administration certainly is NOT.  But what most conservatives mean by ‘fiscal conservatism’ is that we should be prudent (often to the max) about social issues the government should pay for, but not for military needs.  How far back in history do we have to go to find a fiscal conservative who gives lots of money to education, welfare programs, head start programs, etc., and not overspend for weopens (does Star Wars ring a bell?)??? 

I see my disagreement with DJ as a refection of our differing definitions of humanism.  In that his definition includes mainly non-religion (secularism) and some vague notion of values, he can find a way to include warmongering, and other agregious foreign (or domestic) policies in his worldview.. even the invasion and occupation of Iraq (perhaps the most obvious anti-humanistic U.S. “war” since Viet Nam). 

I, however, see humanism as a progressive political philosophy where war is never the best solution to problems, and preventative, aggressive, baseless war is inherently anti-humanistic.  As the principle of humanism #13 in the Humanist Manifesto II says: ‘This world community must renounce the resort to violence and force as a method of solving international disputes ... War is obsolete.’ 

A humanism that defends the Iraq “war,” then, is not a humanism at all. - Barry

 

“To be such a stickler for “secular humanist doctrines of belief” calcifies our views and can be divisive, and keeps us from being open minded to uncomfortable opposing views, which is antithetical to a basic value of the secular humanist, namely, to be open to views unlike our own cherished ones. I think the mark of the educated person is to live and let live, and to let others have their views, while also being willing to honestly, and with civility, criticize their views when appropriate (and to allow for criticism of one’s own views, too).” DJ Grothe


To promote and defend one’s philosophical world view is not equal to being a “stickler” for said worldview’s highest principles.  If one cannot promote and defend their own philosophical worldview’s principles, and instead find it necessary to deconstruct this world view so that all one is left with is some supposed common denominator (secularism), then one should give up pretending to have such a world view (humanism) and instead argue for secularism. 

Yes, the basic value of Secular Humanism is to be open to other views, but this has already been practiced (by humanists) for decades and decades, and written about in the manifestos and other places.  I do not see DJ as being “open” to religious fundementalism, even if it is the sort which defends seperation of church and state (as in so-called liberal evangelicalism).  These ideas (humanist ideas) which have been accumulated over the years are not “doctrines of belief” in as much as they are well thought out responses to the world as it is, and an educated set of values to be promoted and defended based on knowledge. 

Sure, the live and let live model is good in that it does not compel us to force our ideas on others; but then again, humanism is about educating folks and advocating for reason-based policies, and NOT forcing anyone in any authoritarian sense.  And this is what I think I am arguing for. 

In summary, DJ’s definition of humanism is simply not a definition that matches realty, previous humanist definitions, or is relevant to the real world (beyond attacking religion). 

As MLK once said: “Many people fear nothing more terribly than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion.  The tendency of most is to adopt a view that is so ambiguous that it will include everything, and so popular that it will include everybody.”

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Posted: 15 March 2006 06:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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This is an interesting discussion, DJ and Barry. I come down more on DJ’s side here. Although I support many of Barry’s political aims, I wouldn’t want to saddle Humanism with very heavy political baggage.

Clearly, to be Humanist one must have at one’s focus humanity, its condition and betterment, to the exclusion of the supernatural and afterlife. Otherwise there’s just no sense in calling oneself a Humanist.

Unfortunately, there will always be disagreements on how Humanist goals are best achieved.

If we exclude a group of people who believe in the simple Humanist definition I have written above, we will basically be guilty of creating another quasi-religion, with a written “creed”, which cannot be questioned on pain of ex-communication.

Better to have Humanism as far as possible be a “broad tent”, and that our aim be critical inquiry into how best to achieve Humanist goals.

That is, it is better to have an ongoing dialogue and argument rather than an ab initio creed to swear by.

Only by such reasoned dialogue and argument will we hope to get closer to the best Humanist aims.

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Posted: 15 March 2006 02:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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creed to swear by?

Clearly, to be Humanist one must have at one’s focus humanity, its condition and betterment, to the exclusion of the supernatural and afterlife. Otherwise there’s just no sense in calling oneself a Humanist. - Doug Smith

I agree - Barry Seidman


Unfortunately, there will always be disagreements on how Humanist goals are best achieved. - Doug

True, the methods may be various, but the reasons behind the methods must be agreed upon or else no method will be effective.  My arguements were about reasons leading to methods, not methods themselves. - Barry


If we exclude a group of people who believe in the simple Humanist definition I have written above, we will basically be guilty of creating another quasi-religion, with a written “creed”, which cannot be questioned on pain of ex-communication.

I dissagree.  If we define humanism as it actualy is, when does it exactly become a quasi-religion?  Why would we really want to describe humanism based on one of its tenets, rather than on the whole picture?  Do we want to sell the term humanism to anyone who might join our tent just because some of these “anyones” might be secular or atheistic?

Also, not all creeds are religious, supernatural or even exclusive… but even if they were, humanism is already quite broad and would only exclude those ideologies which are directly opposed to the main priniciples of humanism. 

For example, war.  A war which perhaps came about due to the invasion and occupation of ones’ home could be seen as mainly defensive, so even though war is to be avoided at (almost) all costs, if the fight is in defense, then NOT fighting may lead to an even worse condition for those attacked.  So, the “insurgents” fighting the US in Iraq are fighting in defense, so their “war” may not be inherently anti-humanistic.  Of course if the US acted humanisticly, the invasion would not have occured at all. 

Ditto for the Native Americans who fought the European invasion and occupation of the “new world.” 

True, it would be nice if there were more Ghandi’s in these situations (rather than groups like Hamas, for instance), but this comparason of “wars” shows humanism - even on this key “creed” - is not dogmatic.  Humanism is not pascifism, but humanists should struggle for international rejection of wars in general.  Barry


Better to have Humanism as far as possible be a “broad tent”, and that our aim be critical inquiry into how best to achieve Humanist goals.  That is, it is better to have an ongoing dialogue and argument rather than an ab initio creed to swear by. Doug


Dialogue is good, but I do not think humanism, even as described like I have, is something in danger of being “sworn by.”  One can fight for one’s prinicples, and not become dogmatic… especially one who’s worldview is based on scientific naturalism. 

Yes, it is possible that some folks WOULD act dogmatically, of course,  for lots of reason ... We don’t need a clearly defined humanism to bring them out of their closets.  But in humanism, such people would be rare.

A broad tent is only as good as we understand that even such a tent has boundries.  DJ and others (have you seen the definition of humanism argued for by David Koepsell in his review of my book - Toward a New Political Humanism - in Free Inquiry?  He says humanism is not a belief system at all - not a philosophical worldview - but merely a method of inquiry), would put religious fundementalism, or even possibly ordinary religious folk, on the outside of such a tent, but he would include in said tent almost everyone (ever idea) else. 

I would like a broad tent too, but I would not include within the boundries of such a tent - at least a humanist tent (for a secularist tent or an atheist tent can be much broader by definition) - those ideas (or persons?) that are directly opposed to humanism.  Having such ideas or advocates in our tent would spoil the air if you would, and muddy our message.  Do we really want to promote and defend a humanism which does NOT find the Iraq invasion and occuption repugnant?  And if we did, what kind of humanism would we call that particular brand ...  Imperialist Humanism?

Again, MLK’s words are relevant… let me add a few things to them…

“Many people (who would like to call themselves humanists) fear nothing more terribly than to take a position (on humanism) which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion (within organized humanism).  The tendency of most (in organized humanism) is to adopt a view that is so ambiguous that it will include everything (except supernaturalism), and so popular that it will include everybody (except supernaturalists).”

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Posted: 16 March 2006 12:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Re: creed to swear by?

[quote author=“Barry”]A broad tent is only as good as we understand that even such a tent has boundries.  DJ and others (have you seen the definition of humanism argued for by David Koepsell in his review of my book - Toward a New Political Humanism - in Free Inquiry?  He says humanism is not a belief system at all - not a philosophical worldview - but merely a method of inquiry), would put religious fundementalism, or even possibly ordinary religious folk, on the outside of such a tent, but he would include in said tent almost everyone (ever idea) else. 

I would like a broad tent too, but I would not include within the boundries of such a tent - at least a humanist tent (for a secularist tent or an atheist tent can be much broader by definition) - those ideas (or persons?) that are directly opposed to humanism.  Having such ideas or advocates in our tent would spoil the air if you would, and muddy our message.  Do we really want to promote and defend a humanism which does NOT find the Iraq invasion and occuption repugnant?  And if we did, what kind of humanism would we call that particular brand ...  Imperialist Humanism?

I haven’t seen David Koepsell’s book review, but agree with him that Humanism is a method of inquiry which puts human welfare at the center. 

Politically I agree with you that the Iraq war is very bad. But OTOH there are certainly some Humanists (like Christopher Hitchens) who believe that it is being undertaken for Humanist ends: the setting up of democracy and secular government in an Islamic nation. I don’t want to get into a debate here about the war, especially since I agree with you about it. All I want to say is that this is precisely the sort of thing which should be up for debate in a Humanist context, and not rejected ab initio. To do so is simply to reject debate in favor of prejudicial dogma.

The course you advocate would lead immediately to splintering into Humanist camps and ex-communications. All I can say is that I think it is precisely the wrong way to go.

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Posted: 16 March 2006 08:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Humanism is NOT a method of inquiry

Doug Wrote:

I haven’t seen David Koepsell’s book review, but agree with him that Humanism is a method of inquiry which puts human welfare at the center.

Politically I agree with you that the Iraq war is very bad. But OTOH there are certainly some Humanists (like Christopher Hitchens) who believe that it is being undertaken for Humanist ends: the setting up of democracy and secular government in an Islamic nation. I don’t want to get into a debate here about the war, especially since I agree with you about it. All I want to say is that this is precisely the sort of thing which should be up for debate in a Humanist context, and not rejected ab initio. To do so is simply to reject debate in favor of prejudicial dogma.

The course you advocate would lead immediately to splintering into Humanist camps and ex-communications. All I can say is that I think it is precisely the wrong way to go.

===============================================

Doug:

    With all due respect, humanism is not a method of inquiry, even if it did not put human welfare at the center.

    A method of inquiry is SCIENCE.  What would make humanism any different from science if it were ALSO just a method of inquiry?  The human welfare part? 

    I don’t think so. There are many, many ethical systems (religious and not) which can compliment SCIENCE by looking out for human welfare… it need not be humanism. 

    What separates humanism from not only such religious systems, but from secular ones as well?  I’d argue that humanism is different because it is INFORMED by science and scientific naturalism (rather than BEING either of these, or informed by pure ideology), AND that it has developed over the centuries into a clear political philosophy with specific ideas and goals - as laid out in all four Humanist Manifestos. 

    The Manifestos?

    Sure, you can argue that the manifestos are baseless ideologies (which I’d think would show a profound ignorance of the history and educational background that went into the drafting of these documents), but then you would have to first argue WHY the definition(s) of humanism (in these documents) are no longer valid (the burden of proof would be on you).  Then - if successful somehow - you would try to change the actual international definition(s) of humanism to what it is (based on the manifestos), to what you and DJ and David say it should be. 

    Then, if all of your work is accepted, you would have taken away any uniqueness to humanism as some alternative to other secular philosophies (if you even still would call it a philosophy).

    On Hitchens, it is clear that he is wrong about Iraq - and if you say you agree with me, then this is a given for you too.  My problem with Hitchens is not that he is wrong about something, but that his particular take on Iraq is one which justifies immoral means toward an end that is unlikely.  THAT is irrational by most humanist standards.

    Humanists MUST be concerned with means.  It is one thing to want to make the world a humanist place - that is, to have all people free from religious dogma, political tyrannies, and “in charge” of their own destinies (what democracies are supposed to be about, though it does not even seem to be so in the US).  It is quite another thing again about deciding HOW to get there. 

    By ignoring the history of Iraq (which became what it is now thanks in large part to US foreign policy - a truism Hitchens rejects), and by ignoring the history which shows that democracies and religious reformations only really come about from within and not from without… Hitchens puts himself squarely in the imperialist camp.. A place only his own privilege as a white westerner of some status can even dream of as being legit. 

    The invasion and occupation of Iraq has not, and CAN NOT force democracy on Iraq, nor will it end Islam in any way.  In fact, it has all but promised that civil war and “holy wars” will be fought by Iraqis against each other and other Arabs in the region for some time to come. 

    Also, of course, this invasion caused the death of 2200 Americans and over 40,000 Iraqis (with countless others injured and maimed).  I do not think humanism is about supporting such means toward ANY end. 

    Yet since so much of the lies and cover-ups of this invasion and occupation have come to light, Hitchens has not turned his arguments into humanistic ones or even rational ones; instead, he now argues that these lies and cover-ups are irrelevant or not lies or cover-ups at all!  Indeed, he still argues for the existence of WMD’s in Iraq at the time of the invasion!  He argued just this only a few months ago on national radio!  Where is the humanist idea of requiring evidence or reason or skepticism when making such claims? 

    But even if nothing I said about Hitchen’s ideas were true, we all have eyes and ears and all have read the humanist response to war and violence in the manifestos, and all know what the Iraq “war” is really about (it was never about democracy for the Neo-Cons whom Hitchens defends). 

    We therefore KNOW that this “war” was anti-humanistic to the umpteenth degree.  Yet you want us to keep the tent broad enough to include Hitchens’ ideas within our boundaries of humanism because he self-identifies as a humanist?  Stalin self-identified as a socialist, but his form of “leadership” was hardly socialistic. The Bush people self-identify as conservatives when they (neo-cons) are really anti-conservative in many ways, and are actually very radical).  I could self-identify as a Libertarian if I wanted to (because I believe in certain civil liberties), but that would not make me one (I reject most Libertarian ideas). 

    Hitchens self-identifies as a humanist when he really is a secularist and atheist; neither organized or individual humanism/humanists should support Hitchens as a humanist based on his own strong anti-humanistic arguments.  Otherwise we can support any pro-democracy atheist as being a humanist even if they support “endless war” against an entire people and religious group because THEY are not what said democratic atheist wants them to be. 

    And recall, it is not primarily these people’s Islamicism that makes them want to kill Americans, it is American actions for over 100 years in THEIR lands which create such anti-Americanism.

    So I am all for splintering “humanist” camps, but not based on some political ideology, or on one war, but based on who is actually a humanist (based on current definitions, not DJ’s, David’s or yours which are radically different from the current definitions), weeding out those who are merely atheists or secularists who’ve jumped on the humanist band wagon.. a wagon they did not even like in the first place.. and then sought to change the wagon into a stationary exercise bike .. spinning its wheels and making no relevant changes to the world at large.


Joe Chuman, an atheistic humanist from the Ethical Culture movement, wrote in my book:

“Humanism is ineliminably political.  On occasion one still hears the plea that humanists confine their interests and activities to discussion centered primarily on reinforcing humanist identity, yet efforts to exclude political activity is a logical contradiction that debases the humanist project.  All associations, organizations and movements are unavoidably political, either by intent or default, and there can be no stance of innocence.

“Opponents of political action within humanist groups contend that by taking sides humanists risk fracturing their small and fragile organizations. These putative risks frame the challenges; they of themselves do not exempt humanist groups from the mandate to actively join the political struggle. The reluctance to assert its small, but distinctive voice in the political arena equates to a position of quietism, which in any time, but especially in our time of conservative and ultra-conservative triumphalism, lends whatever political capital humanists possess to the maintenance of a perilous status quo.

“Moreover, quietistic humanism resembles the characteristic non-engagement, especially the preoccupation with individual salvation, that humanists frequently seek to condemn, rightly of wrongly, in the traditional faiths. Humanism is an activistic world-view and needs to express itself as such, lest it stagnate as a middle class indulgence preoccupied with refining metaphysical correctness.”

Barry F. Seidman

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Posted: 16 March 2006 08:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Barry, with all due respect, it sounds like you want to create a political party. I wish you luck!

:wink:

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Doug

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Posted: 16 March 2006 08:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Secular humanism is not just a method of inquiry, but it is among other things, yes, a method of inquiry (I am persuaded by Paul Kurtz on this point). Humanism as a method of inquiry basically says that you should only believe those things for which there is good evidence, and it therefore concludes that there is no good reason to believe in the supernatural. PK has argued that secular humanism is the following:

1. method of inquiry
2. a cosmic outlook
3. an ethical stance based on rationality, placing human welfare central
4. a body of social and political ideals

He says it is a fifth thing as well, but I cant remember what the fifth thing is.

Above all, secular humanism is not doctrinaire.

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"Few have the courage of their convictions. Fewer still have the courage for an attack on their convictions." - Nietzsche

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Posted: 16 March 2006 08:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Humanism is ____________________?

DJ, Doug, et al:

I think my argument(s).. and all previous ones on this topic, respond well to DJ’s last post.  I just can’t write anymore on these forums about what humanism is, because it is clear that some just don’t see the forest for the trees.  What IS our cosmic outlook?  What IS our body of social and political ideals? What IS our ethical stance?  I’d agrue for what I already have in answer to all of these what’s, and more. 

And Doug, Humanism is a political philosophical lifestance…  But making it a political party would probably destroy humanism because political parties tend to be about getting votes and not backing philosophies.  But then again, some humanist groups seem to be about getting votes (dollars) and not about backing philosphies too.

However, I COULD perceive of a humanist political platform..

Barry

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Posted: 16 March 2006 10:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Humanism is ___________________?

Barry:

Your wrote: “I’d argue that for Secular Humanism to be both true to its history and defining documents, and for it to be relevant to the real world we live in, it must be called a “political philosophy” informed by scientific naturalism, compassion, and the cooperative nature of the human species (which in contrast to Wes’s feelings, really is the case when societies can find ways to foster our better natures rather than our competitiveness - which, in turn, is our behavior when we foster ideas like Capitalism which does NOT disperse our natural resources well).”

First - Secular Humanism is and should be a political philosophy simply because all philosophies are political to some degree. 

Second - You note that “...the cooperative nature of the human species ...really is the case when societies can find ways to foster our better natures rather than our competitiveness.”  Notice that you admit that ways must be found, and sometimes can’t be found, to be cooperative.  It really does not come naturally as competitiveness.

Third - It seems to me that you have cause and effect exactly backwards.  Capitalism is an effect of our competitive nature not the cause.  Is Capitalism a problem - oh yes, a very big one.  But that is a different discussion.  BTW - Notice the competitiveness of this whole thread.

Fourth - I find it difficult to understand how you can consider yourself a naturalist humanist and not see human beings the way they really are!  :?  At best humans are amoral and seek the best outcome for themselves and those around them.  They organize themselves into tribes that compete with other tribes for resources (wars are economic).  Capitalism, the marketplace, is a natural human development and does not rely on political structure for its life.  Human beings are naturally competitive.  To deny it - absurd.  Humanists must understand the way human beings are in order to help define a path forward that keeps human welfare at the center.  Making an assumption as clearly false as the naturalness of human cooperation is at best a wishful political assertion.  If it were so then everyone would flock to the banner of cooperation instead of the “greed is good” camp (and not only in the West).

Can humans cooperate?  Of course, but under certain circumstances.  Should humans cooperate?  Of course, we need to optimize methods to move forward in cooperation.  Should Humanism hold cooperation as an ideal?  Of course, we need to help it spread.

Wes :D

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Posted: 17 March 2006 07:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Cooperation and Human Nature

First - Secular Humanism is and should be a political philosophy simply because all philosophies are political to some degree. - Wes

Agreed (see my latest post in Politics and Social Issues for more on this) - Barry

You note that “...the cooperative nature of the human species ...really is the case when societies can find ways to foster our better natures rather than our competitiveness.”

Notice that you admit that ways must be found, and sometimes can’t be found, to be cooperative. It really does not come naturally as competitiveness. - Wes

That is not what I meant.  Humans are really actually competitive when resources are hard to come by, but not for a long time should this be so.. Not for black folk in New Orleans or black folk in Africa, to use two examples here.  The U.S. is 5% of the world population, and yet is the richest country of all, and it uses 60% of each year’s resources (and still we have New Orleans, which shows how both racism and capitalism go hand in hand). 

Humans have - right now - the capacity to feed the world, and to lift all “Third-World” peoples to First World status, if our leaders wanted to.  They fear, however, that this would bring on too much competition, and under a capitalistic world system, it would!  But the system does not have to remain capitalistic.


It seems to me that you have cause and effect exactly backwards. Capitalism is an effect of our competitive nature not the cause. Is Capitalism a problem - oh yes, a very big one. But that is a different discussion. BTW - Notice the competitiveness of this whole thread. - Wes


I disagree, obviously.  Eliminate capitalism or any state-controlled economic system, and see how fast we all revert to our natural cooperative natures!

And, I do not see these discussions as competitive.  My goal is not to have my ideas “win” and others’ “loose.”  My goal is to promote ideas which seem to best define what we all signed up for - humanism - and enlist the cooperation of my fellow travelers toward a new political humanism and a planetary humanism!

Finally, I think human emotion, which does not support our ruthless competitive society, and does support helping one another - when these emotions are not squeezed out of us like so many of our self-proclaimed elite of history have done to us - can lead us to become a generally cooperative species.  Just look where our forced competitiveness is getting us.. Almost extinct! 

I do not think SELF-CAUSED extinction is the evolutionary “way.”  Not like this.  No, it seems that we have evolved as a social species because we work well together.  Take away that which artificially divides us - religion, capitalism, dictatorships - and we can be a much healthier species.  These things are the tyrannies of the few over the hearts and minds of the many.  It is time for the many to make change.

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Posted: 20 March 2006 03:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Capitaism

Barry:

It is difficult to know where to begin in response to your last posting.  I really think you do have it upside down.  :?  Oh I agree that unrestrained Capitalism is the wrong system but for very different reasons than you assert.  However, you wrote: “Finally, I think human emotion, which does not support our ruthless competitive society, and does support helping one another - when these emotions are not squeezed out of us like so many of our self-proclaimed elite of history have done to us - can lead us to become a generally cooperative species. Just look where our forced competitiveness is getting us.. Almost extinct!>

I highlighted “almost extinct” and ask - really?  The world’s population is continuing to increase.  America has about 300,000,000 people and growing as well as billions in India, and China.  Clearly you must have meant something else.  Perhaps you were referring to the population of Humanists.  In that you are correct.  I submit that one reason is the clear rejection of human nature that is part of the cause.  A rejection like, but opposite from Libertarian.  Possible “converts” see the Humanist movement as being way, way to the left, holding positions like your innate cooperative human nature, and see how that it runs counter to experience and history.

On the emotional side I make a very different conclusion.  First I do not see our emotions as you do when you wrote: “when these (cooperative) emotions are not squeezed out of us like so many of our self-proclaimed elite of history have done to us.”  Our emotions are a product of our genes - that is a scientific fact.  Those emotions have helped us survive as a species - that is a scientific fact.  Those emotions recognize kin and other close relationships - that is a scientific fact also supported by simplistic computer models.  Such cooperation is tenuous and very fragile in the presence of “others.”  Even among kin there is competition, natural competition - sibling rivalry - that is a scientific fact!  The conclusion is inescapable - we are naturally competitive!

You wrote: “Humans are really actually competitive when resources are hard to come by, but not for a long time should this be so.. Not for black folk in New Orleans or black folk in Africa, to use two examples here. The U.S. is 5% of the world population, and yet is the richest country of all, and it uses 60% of each year’s resources (and still we have New Orleans, which shows how both racism and capitalism go hand in hand).”

Scarcity of resources is a perception.  If a person cannot get a new cell phone they may steal it.  Or perhaps the latest upscale sneaker or team jacket and kill for it.  Or an executive wants a new boat to keep up with the Jones’, so defrauds in stock trades.  Some people will always believe that they are getting the short end of the stick and want more.  Yes the US has more than its fair share.  And yes it will take a lot to fix NO and yes some of the delay may have been racial.  But no, most of the delay was ineptitude on the part of all governments.  I submit that you have made a leap of faith to conclude that racism and Capitalism are directly coupled.  Any such coupling and the source of much suffering in the world is due to our natural human competitiveness and fear of the “other.”  The direct coupling is genetic.

Consider 2 of your statements: Eliminate capitalism or any state-controlled economic system, and see how fast we all revert to our natural cooperative natures!”  And: “...can lead us to become a generally cooperative species”  These statements are contradictory!  In the face of the Soviet controlled economy the people practiced a marketplace.  Many women made clothing in their homes and sold them, for a little profit, to others who were doing the same.  We revert to the market species we are.  Your second statement clearly demonstrates the notion that you would like us to “become a generally cooperative species.”  So would I, but it will take quite a lot to overcome our natural proclivity.

As Humanist we need to understand our human nature including limitations and devise strategies to overcome them.  The goal of such strategies should be to advance the sum total of human welfare in the world.  Without fully recognizing the source of our behaviors strategies for human welfare will not work.


Barry:  We can agree to disagree on the issue of cooperation vs. competition.  I understand your belief.

Wes :D

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Posted: 20 March 2006 07:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Re: Cooperation and Human Nature

Barry and Wes,
“Humans are really actually competitive when resources are hard to come by.”

  I think this may be true when resources are extremely scarce. But humans seem to cooperate with one another more than any other primate. Pre-humans had to learn to cooperate when they were forced by events to live on the ground.
Bob

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Posted: 20 March 2006 09:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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What is Humanism

I posted this on the politics thread, but it perhaps belongs here too:

Capitalistic Democracy an Oxymoron?

“Personally, I’m in favor of democracy, which means that the central institutions of society have to be under popular control. Now, under capitalism, we can’t have democracy by definition. Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are in principle under autocratic control. Thus, a corporation or an industry is, if we were to think of it in political terms, fascist; that is, it has tight control at the top and strict obedience has to be established at every level—there’s little bargaining, a little give and take, but the line of authority is perfectly straightforward. Just as I’m opposed to political fascism, I’m opposed to economic fascism. I think that until the major institutions of society are under the popular control of participants and communities, it’s pointless to talk about democracy.” - Noam Chomsky

Why the USSR was not a Socialist country…

“Lenin’s dictum that “socialism is nothing but state capitalist monopoly made to benefit the whole people,” who must of course trust the benevolence of their leaders, expresses the perversion of ‘socialism’ to the needs of the State priests, and allows us to comprehend the rapid transition between positions that superficially seem diametric opposites, but in fact are quite close. The taskmasters (Soviets) (had) attempted to gain legitimacy and support by exploiting the aura of socialist ideals and the respect that is rightly accorded them, to conceal their own ritual practice as they destroyed every vestige of socialism.” - Noam Chomsky

—————————————————

Chomsky is opposed to what he calls the “corporate state capitalism” that is practiced by the United States and its allies. He supports “libertarian socialism,” which requires economic freedom in addition to the “control of production by the workers themselves, not owners and managers who rule them and control all decisions.” He refers to this as “real socialism,” and describes Soviet-style socialism as similar in terms of “totalitarian controls” to U.S.-style capitalism, saying that each is a system based in types and levels of control, rather than in organization or efficiency.

I have said I oppose most tenets of Libertarianism, but I am referring here to the US or British variety, which is really Right-Libertarianism. The closest political idea resembling Chomsky’s in American is Anarchism (but not exactly).

If ‘Libertarian Socialism’ embraces individual freedom and non-statist democracy, as well as the cooperative, pro-equality ideals of socialism, with little state (or coperate) control, then planetary humanism might most resemble this political system.

With the extra added and emphasized secularist and naturalist components within humanism, I’d say that we have our world view best defined as thus:


    Secular Humanism is a sociopolitical philosophy - informed by scientific naturalism - which advocates for a democratic, non-hierarchal society, and promotes individual freedom, economic and social equality, human cooperation and planetary peace. 

Now THAT’s the “good life!”


PS:  I will respond to Wes’s email soon….

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