The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
William Butler Yeats
We all walk around with colonized minds. All of us are born into a matrix of time, space, assumptions, and requirements. Culture. Gender. Race. Nationalism. Class. Religion. Ay caramba! The list goes on and on.
Some things are fine to be colonized about. Others, not so much. The challenge is to sift our colonial impositions through an ethical sieve and see what comes out.
The oft-condemned individualism of Humanism is about questioning some or all of these colonizations. It’s about sorting through the colonization and looking at why Bethlehem might figure large in the mind, or whose “twenty centuries of stony sleep” are getting vexed.
If Humanism is individualistic, it is an individualism of another sort than the one created to be sold to in capitalist economies, one that questions the concept of individualism itself in the quest for intellectual integrity and how to do good in the world.
The ability (and leisure) to take it or leave it in terms of all those colonialisms—to make choices concerning one’s values—is the very basis of Humanist ethics. We see it as a basic human right.
The Bulgarian philosopher Tzvetan Todorov perhaps best summarized Humanist philosophy with his, “autonomy of the I, the finality of the you, and the universality of the they.”
Humanists insist that each “I” is a “finality,” that finality being a “you” that has exactly equivalent rights to all other “I’s” and “you’s.” Each of us both must be and must treat others as independent ends, never as a means to our own selfish ends. This insistence leads to the “universality of the they.”
This is why Humanist thought is the antithesis of the sort of individualism common in the colonized Euro-American world. Humanists insist that my “you-ness” is expressed only by interaction with other “I’s.”
I must step up and respect the “autonomy of the I, the finality of the you, and the universality of the they.”
All this can get a bit abstract. It boils down to: “No other-ing allowed.” Still too abstract, perhaps. But it goes well beyond the various “Golden Rules,” in that in Humanist thought there are no “others” to do unto. Doing unto others as I wish to be done to is presumptuous in that I am imposing my colonization onto another. I’m spreading my colonization.
How does one reach this absence of judgment? By decolonizing the mind. I live in a time and a place. These things lead me to think in particular ways—what to love, what to find revolting. All the et ceteras.
Ask: how did I get my belief system? Where did it come from?
Who told you?