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Humanism and Post-humanism

Humanism and Post-humanism August 11, 2021

Many of the growing cohort of religious nonbelievers refer to themselves as humanists, rather than atheists. Atheism still carries a negative connotation in US society, although it has faded a bit in recent years. Still, few politicians have had the courage to “come out” as atheists…and for good reason. A significant portion of our population would never consider voting for an atheist. Some believers claim that atheism is a faith-based belief system, with no more evidential basis than Christianity. That assertion has been addressed often here in this blog, and thoroughly debunked. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the god-fearers are convinced.

In recent years, a contingent of nonbelievers has found the conventional definitions of humanism…and there are a few…deficient, or at least incomplete. Thus, the emergence of post-humanism. Here is one common definition of humanism:

Humanism: An outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems.

There are several definitions for post-humanism too, including a denial of the above definition…and thus a reaffirmation of faith-based belief. But at least two significant philosophical critiques of humanism are worth examining:

One, which is referred to as ‘objectivism’, tries to counter the overemphasis on human beings, and points out the role of nonhuman agents like animals, plants, or even computers.

A second definition of post-humanism prioritizes social practices over individual actions, contradicting the humanist emphasis on individual human values and needs. You could call it “social humanism.”

Others, including the writings of philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, make my eyes glaze, so I will leave that as a subject for further study for readers who want to dig deeper.

The critique of the humanist emphasis on human values is interesting. What about all the other living things on our planet? Why are we the prime subject of interest? Most, if not all societies condemn killing another human, but why isn’t killing a deer also wrong? Our whole society is based on the industrialized murder of food animals. It’s an accepted part of our culture. We go the supermarket, and pick out pieces of the corpses of cows, pigs and chickens without giving the animal any thought at all. In fact, I suspect most people buy a steak without even thinking about the animal that was murdered to provide it. Killing another human is a terrible crime, but killing an animal isn’t even noticed. Vegans recognize the moral issue, but their food consists of murdered plants.

Okay, just to (try to) prove that I’m not a nutcase, I will say that I understand that the net of life on the earth is based on predation. Smaller animals get eaten by bigger ones, until you get to the top of the food chain. That’s how life works. I am pretty sure that lions and killer whales don’t shed any more tears over their prey than we humans do.

But ask yourself this question: Don’t those cows, pigs and chickens have as much right to life as we humans do? Because a lion kills a kudu or an aging cape buffalo, does that mean it’s okay for us to raise penned-up animals until they reach maturity, and then slaughter them at their prime of life? The predation I have observed in the African bush usually involves older animals who are less able to defend themselves or flee. Those animals are less likely to reproduce, so this is a facet of the process of natural selection…a culling of the herd. Human predation has no such natural value. In fact, the “factory farms” are often cruel to the animals during their short life before they are butchered. It is an extreme example of “life’s a bitch and then you die.” Be thankful you aren’t a penned-up hog, barely able to move in your cage, waiting for the day they let you out…and kill you.

Furthermore, the negative environmental effects of those massive torture chambers are damaging to the environment. It’s all about us. And to a great extent, we are destroying the very thing that is sustaining us.

It’s humanism.

But it is still preferable to religionism.


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