What's Wrong with Humanism

When the last Puritan has disappeared from the earth, the man of science will take his place as a killjoy, and we shall be given all the same old advice but for different reasons.
---Robert Lynd
Humanism, which those who are not humanists, especially the religious, refer to redundantly as Secular Humanism, is not exactly a philosophy and not quite a movement, and would actually be somewhat hard to define, except that Humanists have quite clearly stated what they mean by humanism. Because humanists claim to embrace rationality and science while rejecting irrationality and mysticism, one would expect their views to be objective and rational, but in fact, humanism is actually a kind of religion, dominated by subjectivity and credulity.

Inside the front cover of any Free Inquiry magazine, are listed twenty-one brief paragraphs outlining Humanism. The statement is called, "The Affirmations of Humanism: a Statement of Principles." A brief examination of these, "principles," reveals that Humanism is actually anti-reason, anti-human, and collectivist. Despite their claim to rational skepticism, Humanism is a dangerous obfuscation of the truth and impediment to clear reason.

We are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.

A clear and explicit lie is not very dangerous, a dangerous lie is a subtle one, a lie mixed with the truth in such a way that it obscures the deceit. We may give Humanists the benefit of the doubt. They may not intend to deceive, but vague generalities and combining disparate concepts is not the method of intellectual honesty. For example, "understanding the universe," is about as vague as one can be, and, "solving of human problems," which is equally vague, has no stated logical connection to "understanding the universe."

But it sounds good. Who could be against the application of reason and science to problems or to understanding? No one could, of course, and that is why this is so subtle. It seems to be saying humanists are just promoting reason and science. What they are actually promoting is only suggested here with the door-opening phrase, "solving of human problems," but will be made more explicit later.

What are "human problems," after all? Is that the purpose of reason and science, to solve problems? And why "problems?" Why are reason and science only to be used for this negative purpose? How about using them to fulfill human aspirations, to accomplish human ambitions, to achieve human happiness.

Ah, we have fallen into the trap. Without even noticing, we begin to use their language of vagueness. Instead of individual aspirations, individual ambitions, individual happiness, it is collectivized, obscuring the fact that aspirations, ambitions, happiness, and even problems pertain only to individual human beings, not to some vague collection of humans called humanity.

Only individual's have problems, and only those individuals who have objectives or goals. A person without aspirations, without ambitions, and with no particular objectives, has no problems. There are no obstacles in the way of those who do not care to accomplish anything or go anywhere. But it is not the problems of the ambitious and creative that humanists are concerned with, as we shall see.

We deplore efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.

There certainly is an anti-intellectual movement today, which ought to be deplored, but this statement is not directed at that. This statement is directed at religion, especially Christianity, but also all other forms "faith-based" ideologies. There is no justification for embracing any concept, view, or teaching which has no rational basis, and all such concepts are rightly called superstition and ought to be deplored, but the objection of the humanists is disingenuous. While castigating religionists for their superstitions, they blithely admit their own irrational conviction that man certainly needs salvation. What man needs to be saved from is not stated, but certainly is implied by the affirmation that the place to look for it is in nature. Nature? Yes, nature, everything that lies outside human intelligence and creativity.

We believe that scientific discovery and technology can contribute to the betterment of human life.

This expression, "we believe," is used eight times in this "affirmation," and each time it is emphasized, just as in the statement above. If by, "we believe," they only meant, "this is what we hold to be true based on our best rational judgement," it would be fine, but a statement, "we affirm," or "we hold," would sound more like an assertion of truth than a statement of "faith."

That human beings have benefited from the discoveries of science and the products of technology is undeniable, but it is not "human life," but human individuals. This "human life" concept is another collectivist slogan that views humanity as a unit with a value of its own, higher and more important than individual human beings.

Another problem with this kind of vague statement is the question of what is meant by science. There is so much, today, that is called science but is no more scientific than the inventions of Wylie Coyote, and much of "science" itself has become filled with irrationality.

We believe in an open and pluralistic society and that democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.

What is an open society, as opposed to a closed one, and what is a pluralistic society? What about a free society? Freedom, I guess does not matter, so long as a society is open and pluralistic, and if you should happen to have a free society that is not open or pluralistic, then I guess freedom ought to be sacrificed for the more important values of openness and pluralism.

And this wonderful contradiction is only possible to those who really have no idea what freedom is: "democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from ... repressive majorities". But that is exactly what a democracy is, rule by a repressive majority.

We are committed to the principle of the separation of church and state.

They are all for government interference and control of schools, businesses, and private property, however. The government has no business in controlling or interfering in any of these things. If Humanists were really principled, they would be for the separation of education from the state, economy from the state, and property from the state, as well as the church from the state. Those who emphasize separation of church and state while ignoring government interference in all other aspects of human life, are really statists who are suspicious of anyone who has ideas contrary to their own.

We cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.

Whenever good compromises with evil, the good loses; whenever right compromises with wrong, the right loses; whenever truth compromises with falsehood, truth loses. The, "art of negotiation," is a con man's art of fooling the decent and honest into believing the intended evil is not as evil as it seems and the intended harm is really from good intentions.

If you know what is right, and want to do what is right, you do not need anyone else's understanding. If they do not have the moral courage to do what they believe is right without your understanding, that is their problem. What they really mean by understanding is, "just go along with those who want to take your freedoms away."

We quote Ayn Rand:

There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil. The one who is wrong still retains some respect for truth, if only by accepting the responsibility of choice. But the man in the middle is the knave who blanks out the truth in order to pretend that no choice or values exist, who is willing to sit out the course of any battle, willing to cash in on the blood of the innocent or to crawl on his belly to the guilty, who dispenses justice by condemning both the robber and the robbed to jail, who solves conflicts by ordering the thinker and the fool to meet each other halfway. In any compromise between good and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit. In the transfusion of blood which drains the good to feed the evil, the compromiser is the transmitting rubber tube....

When men reduce their virtues to the approximate, then evil acquires the force of an absolute, when loyalty to an unyielding purpose is dropped by the virtuous, it's picked by scoundrels--and you get the indecent spectacle of a cringing, bargaining, traitorous good and a self-righteously uncompromising evil.2

We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.

We are tempted to say, who cares what you are concerned with, and would, except that this is part of a declaration of supposed "principles." But these are not principles, they are a mash of contradictions.

The world is not fair. Reality is not fair. Nature is not fair. But they are all just, except when men interfere and attempt to force fairness where there is none. When one person applies the abilities they are born with to productive effort and earns a lot of money, and another squanders all their opportunities and abilities and ends in poverty, it is called unfair. The situation can only be made "fair" by committing the gross injustice of confiscating the wealth of the productive and giving to the unproductive.

What is the good of tolerance that does not tolerate individual freedom and choice. If individuals are not allowed to discriminate, to decide who they will hire and not hire, who they will honor or not honor, who they will support or not support, even if their choices are irrational or mistaken, there is no tolerance. Those who oppose discrimination oppose individual judgement, that is, the freedom to think, judge, and choose.

We believe in supporting the disadvantaged and the handicapped so that they will be able to help themselves.

The words, "disadvantaged," and, "handicapped," are used for just about anything anyone wants to use as an excuse to demand unearned benefits or privileges. Everyone is "handicapped," and everyone suffers "disadvantages." The only difference between those who claim, "handicaps" and those who do not, is those who already help themselves are not considered handicapped, and those who wallow in their faults and hold up their sores as a claim on others are considered worthy of "help."

Show me anyone with a handicap of any kind, and I will show you someone with exactly the same condition who asks no one for help and would be insulted if it were offered to them.

We attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.

Here is an excellent example of collectivist sophistry. Free people can have any loyalties they choose, even if they are ignorant ones. Now notice the kinds of things that are indiscriminately collected together under examples of "divisive parochial loyalties:" race (an unchosen condition), religion (a chosen practice), gender (an unchosen condition), nationality (a chosen identification), creed (does not say what kind, so includes any stated set of beliefs, even correct ones), class (what kinds of classes, honest versus dishonest? criminals versus victims? children verses adults?), sexual orientation (a chosen practice, but which? those which are carried on by adults in private? those perpetrated on others such as rape, molestation, pedophilia?), ethnicity (whatever that is). This is an attempt to eliminate values and principles by blurring clear distinctions.

And here is the collectivist clincher, "work together for the common good of humanity." This is the purest of socialist slogans you will find anywhere next to "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need."

We want to protect and enhance the earth, to preserve it for future generations, and to avoid inflicting needless suffering on other species.

Besides the shear nonsense of this sentence, this is nothing but enviro-nazi, animal-rights propaganda. How are they going to "enhance" the earth. Are they going to make it heavier, give it more air, make it flatter, or what?

If all the claimed beliefs, concerns, and commitments of these leftists are put into action, there won't be any future generations to save the earth for. Now what is the mystic insight these "humanists" have by which they have determined people in the future are more valuable than people here and now. If the earth is going to be good to use by "future generations," why is it bad to be used by the current generation? Don't wait for a answer from them.

We believe in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.

This may seem like a contradiction of their previous "principle," and would be, if they were consistent. This is the real meaning here. The earth must be preserved for some as yet unknown future generations. The earth is not raw material that must be developed for our (human) good. People are the raw material that must be developed "to their fullest," not for their own individual good, but for the "good of humanity." In other words, it is wrong to exploit the earth, but right to exploit people, so long as it is for "mankind" or "humanity" and not for the individuals themselves.

We believe in the cultivation of moral excellence.

This must have been written a few years ago. Four words must always appear in these socialist manifestos today, committment, excellence, exciting, and paradigm. Here is excellence, used as it always is, to suggest something "very good," without having to specify how it is good, or even whatever that mysterious good thing really is. Can a thing be moral, and "not excellent?" Can a thing be immoral and excellent? Does this sentence suggest something while saying nothing? You bet.

We respect the right to privacy. Mature adults should be allowed to fulfill their aspirations, to express their sexual preferences, to exercise reproductive freedom, to have access to comprehensive and informed health-care, and to die with dignity.

Here's another grab-bag of disparate concepts. It is like saying, we believe grandmothers should not be tortured and eating meat is a crime. Are you for this or against This? If you are against this because you see nothing wrong with eating meat, it will be presumed you are for torturing grandmothers.

Certainly mature adults must be allowed to do whatever they choose privately, even when many of those things are both stupid and self-destructive. But there is a glaring omission here. It is fine for people to be able to "express" any kind of preferences, but all actions, including "expressing one's self," have consequences. Everyone may be allowed to do or express themselves in anyway they freely choose so long as it is with their own money, with their own resources, on their own property, and only with those who choose to be part of whatever they are doing, and only so long as they alone bare full responsibility for the consequences of their chosen activities, and only so long as no one else is harmed or coerced in any way directly or indirectly as a result of their choices.

This all sounds like a plug for individual liberty, but smuggled in is another concept which is it's opposite, the idea that people should have access to something, whether they have earned it or payed for it or not. Certainly everyone ought to be able to choose any medical service available on the market, and no one should be prevented from using anything, even if it is harmful, if they can and are willing to pay for it. No one, however, must be required to provide anything, including medical service, to anyone, if they do not choose to. Does the freedom to express one's self only extend to those who have nothing of real value to offer to the world, while those who have something of real value, like medical expertise and ability, must not express their preference to not treat those who will not pay for their services?

We believe in the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility. Humanist ethics is amenable to critical, rational guidance. There are normative standards that we discover together. Moral principles are tested by their consequences.

Seldom is moral bankruptcy more poignantly expressed than here. The words, "we believe in the common moral decencies," which are then listed, beginning with the most evil of anti-moral concepts ever invented, altruism. This obscene contradiction is obfuscated by bundling true moral values (integrity, honesty, responsibility) with this immoral one, altruism. And why are honesty and truthfulness listed as separate "moral decencies?"

An outright hedonist crook would be preferable to anyone practicing the kind of moral values that are "amenable to critical rational guidance" which is "normative." Normative means "normal" that is, "generally acceptable to a society," which means, "by consensus," which means, "whatever is popular today and whatever one can get away with."

Moral values may be "tested by their consequences," but pragmatism is not what determines moral values, or how they are discovered. Moral values cannot be discovered by experiment. Moral values are determined by the nature of the beings that require moral values, that is, beings with a rational/volitional nature, and by the nature of the world in which they live. The means for discovering moral values is objective reasoning about what is required of rational beings to live and succeed and to enjoy their lives. Moral principles are as objective as scientific principles, and as inviolable as any laws of nature. They are no more "amenable" to criticism or opinion than gravity is.

We are deeply concerned with the moral education of our children. We want to nourish reason and compassion.

We have already seen the kind of, "moral values," with which Humanists are, "deeply concerned," and the fact that they want to teach them to "our" children ought to be a concern of every parent. If the humanists want to teach their nonsense to their own children, that is their business, but, (read their literature) they want to teach everybody's children these amoral ideas.

Some of the metaphors in this "affirmation" are priceless. How does one "nourish" reason. Normally, you nourish something by feeding it, but it is doubtful what humanists are attempting to feed us and our children will nourish anything but a garden. For example, the attempt to mix feelings and reason.

"Compassion," George Bernard Shaw said, "is the fellow-feeling of the unsound," and the irrational, we might add. True compassion, that feeling of kinship and our natural emotional response to others, what they do, and what happens to them, is in response to our understanding of others and how we value them. The feelings tell us nothing about others, and the attempt to mix reason and feelings only cripples reason and reduces feelings to meaningless chaos.

If Humanists were really concerned with the education of children, they would seek to teach their children how to think clearly and reason correctly. If they did that, their children's feelings and compassions would take care of themselves.

We are engaged by the arts no less then by the sciences.

Whatever that means, it is certain no good will come of it, to either art or science. Both the arts and science require rigorous and ruthless adherence to rational principles, for which, so far, the humanists have demonstrated no particular fondness.

We are citizens of the universe and are excited by discoveries still to be made in the cosmos.

It is unlikely the universe is quite as excited about having Humanists as its citizens as the humanists are about being its citizens, and I suspect when more discoveries are "made in the cosmos," the Humanists are going to be disappointed. Knowledge of the physical universe is a strictly rational affair and new discoveries will always be ordered along rational lines. Whatever Humanists are expecting to be discovered, "in the cosmos," it is unlikely to conform to their many irrational views of it.

We are skeptical of untested claims to knowledge, and we are open to novel ideas and seek new departures in our thinking.

We must give the Humanists the benefit of the doubt here. There is no shortage of nonsense and quackery in the world by which millions are deceived and taken in. Skepticism in such cases is very good. Quite frankly, the humanists are quite good at spotting fakery and pseudo-science. We must also maintain a bit of skepticism about this position, however, because the same kind of language has historically been used against every significant advance in science and technology.

Nevertheless they claim to be, "open to novel ideas," which we hope only means they are willing to examine them objectively. This is left in doubt, however, by such ambiguous language as, "we ... seek new departures in our thinking." This is not the language of rationality, it is the language of a transcendentalist, "let your mind go free, like a boat without a rudder," bound for shipwreck.

We affirm humanism as a realistic alternative to theologies of despair and ideologies of violence and as a source of rich personal significance and genuine satisfaction in the service to others.

We are very near the end of this affirmation, and so far we are not told what Humanism is, only what humanists are committed to, what they believe, what they deplore, what they respect, and what they are concerned about, but not why. Humanism has no why, because there is no underlying philosophy behind humanism. Humanism does not embrace any philosophical principles, it is entirely a negative. It rejects religion and superstition, and, while claiming to embrace reason and science, these are not the alternative to superstition. Many religious people also embrace reason and science.

Here then is the clear statement of what humanism is, it is an alternative to other religions and ideologies, which it calls "theologies of despair and violence." Humanism offers itself as the alternative crutch for those who look to religion for, "personal significance" and, "genuine satisfaction." If you think Humanism offers you some significant practical difference from religion, a new insight for finding purpose and happiness in life, you are going to be very disappointed. Humanism is the same old tired altruistic gospel of, "you were born to serve others and you will find happiness only in throwing your life away in sacrificial service to them."

We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.

One hardly knows what to say about this. If the statement read, "we prefer," or "we promote," this might have some meaning that could be analyzed, but what can it possibly mean to say, "we believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair..." Does it mean they believe there is such a thing as optimism, but not that there is such a thing as pessimism? Do they doubt the existence of despair, dogma, and ignorance?

If we assume, which I think we must, that this is a list of things they believe are preferable, or believe ought to be promoted, it is just a list of nice generalities that could be interpreted to support anything, from the American Constitution to the Communist Manifesto. But some of these pairings of preferences are also obfuscations of truth. Is optimism about everything good? Is despair never correct? Learning is not the opposite of dogma, dogma must be learned too, before it can be embraced. Truth is not the opposite of ignorance, truth is the opposite of falsehood, which requires as much leaning in many cases as the truth. These are all false juxtapositions. Joy is the opposite of misery; what has that got to do with sin or guilt?

Tolerance is not the opposite of fear, it has nothing to do with fear. Some things should be feared, and they should not be tolerated. One should be afraid of what might hurt their children, and threats to one's children should not be tolerated. But many people are intolerant of things they have no fear of at all. Should everything and everybody be loved. Should we love our wives and love the one who threatens to beat and rape her. One cannot love anything unless they can hate what threatens what they love. What kind of love is it to love someone and to also love what will destroy the one we love. Compassion is not compassion unless it is selfish. Unselfish compassion is a fake.

And what can it mean to prefer beauty rather than ugliness? Who doesn't prefer beauty to ugliness. We know what it means, and it is not good. Beauty, to the humanist, is nature, ugliness is whatever is done to nature by the application of the human mind.

We wish they had put this first, then exercised it before writing the rest, "reason rather than blind faith or irrationality." Well, of course, and before nonsense too, which this all happens to be.

We believe in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.

Thus, we end with a meaningless bromide. Since the good is never defined, there is no way of knowing what is meant by the "best," and historically some of the worlds greatest horrors have resulted from those doing what they supposed was noble. It would be better for every individual to learn what is required for them to thoroughly enjoy their own lives, and to do it. It might not be "noble," but it would be moral, and all the world would benefit from it.