2009-08-21

A Misanthropic, Pessimistic Humanist?

I've sometimes wondered whether it's truly possible for a misanthrope and a pessimist such as myself to be considered a Humanist, but after some reflection, I've concluded that these mental and emotional tendencies are irrelevant to the question and that it's only my principles, words and actions that are relevant. Here is the International Humanist and Ethical Union's Minimum Statement on Humanism:

Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.
There is nothing in this statement suggesting I must have any positive feelings toward or confidence in humanity in order to call myself a Humanist.

It doesn't matter that almost everyone angers me from time to time with their irrationality, ignorance, selfishness and outright malice, that many people constantly disappoint me, or that I have a very low opinion of “the average person.” It only matters that I recognize that I, too, have numerous personal flaws, that I believe I'll be happier if I treat them sympathetically rather than disdainfully, and that I at least try to do so.

I don't know whether morality can be said to objectively exist, but I think a secular morality based on human needs and desires rather than a religious morality based on divine revelation is the most conducive to human happiness and can be universally applied.

I don't think humans are free in the sense that we instinctively imagine, but that doesn't mean that our lives have no meaning and that the illusion of free will isn't useful. An appreciation of determinism has greater potential to increase our power than it does to decrease it.

I don't think science can answer every question, but I know it can answer many and that religions can answer none.

I don't think democratic institutions regularly make decisions in the best interest of the governed, but I do think they make them much more often than any alternative, and I don't expect anything better to ever be developed.

I'm not at all confident humanity can solve most of its own problems, but I'm very confident that if any problems are solved, it will be our reason and compassion that save us rather than supernatural beings.

I'm not necessarily optimistic that civilization will avoid destroying itself, whether by global environmental degradation, nuclear holocaust, technological disaster or any other means, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to build sustainable societies and even eventually try to branch out into different worlds.

In my last entry I settled on “atheist” as my preferred label (without at all disclaiming the other candidates), but perhaps I should change once more to “Humanist,” having now determined that it suits me well despite the necessity of making the above qualifications to clarify my exact opinion. I have a tendency to be react belligerently, at least mentally, toward any mention of religion, and this does nothing but make me tense and angry, so a stronger identification with Humanism rather than atheism may serve me well. We'll see how it goes.

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3 comments:

vjack said...

I'm with you on the bulk of this, especially the misanthropy, pessimism, and atheism. I agree that most definitions of humanism fit, and I do consider myself to be a humanist (at least on good days). Still, I'm not about to stop using the atheist label to describe myself.

Secular Planet said...

Well, I never said I would stop using the word atheist. It's just a matter of preference and focus.

Anonymous said...

I'm young, but I'm not an impressionable person. I feel like you took all of those thoughts out of my head.