Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The End of Humanism?

Humanism was a secular movement of the Renaissance and following (c.1400-1650) that taught personal independence and individual expression. It moved away from the fixed points of Medieval mysticism and toward the potential of man.

Human experience, man himself, tended to become the practical measure of all things. The ideal life was no longer a monastic escape from society, but a full participation in rich and varied human relationships. ~Steven Kreis, 2000 (see above link)

Think about the following from the International Humanist and Ethical Union:
Minimum Statement
All member organisations of the International Humanist and Ethical Union are required by IHEU bylaw 5.1[4] to accept the IHEU 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.
Apart from the need to ensure that member organisations are bona fide Humanist (or like-minded) organisations, Humanism rejects dogma, and imposes no creed upon its adherents.[5]

The statement of the American Humanist Society is this:

The AHA's definition from its website:
"Humanism is a progressive Lifestance lifestance that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity." —Humanism and Its Aspirations

I believe we in technological nations are moving away from Humanism under Globalization and open markets. These forces put pressure on lives to compete in a global society. People are constantly put upon to produce more, seemingly for individual good but really for the common good. I argue that neither is benefitting.

When work hours increase, workers have less time to educate themselves through reading, taking courses, pursuing hobbies, attending cultural events. We spend too much time producing and then taking care of errands. We are letting the spirit of Humanism suffer by not reaching our potential. When we do that, we are not aiding the greater good of humanity.

As quoted above, we need to practice reason and free inquiry to be Humanists. These need to go hand-in-hand with leisure time and the means of supporting oneself available to everybody. For those people who have no work or are in such low paying jobs that they have no time for anything but survival, there is little chance of reaching potential.

There is a large industry built on culture in America, but that's just the problem. It is an industry, not an avenue for expressing the vitality of human emotion, in most cases, or a direction for change for the greater good.

In the Renaissance art was the vehicle for expressing this new philosophy. True, it was used also to shore up the power of the Medicis and Pazzis and by the Church to intimidate (The Sistene Chapel), but the power of human independence flourished.

Globalization and a disintegration of civic values are eroding Humanism. Most culture is crass and exploitational, buffeted around by market forces. We do have individualism, but too much of it is about acquisiton of goods and expression of style and not about each person expressing him or herself for his or her betterment. It is certainly not done with an eye on civic good.

When we act in this way we hurt ourselves, we hurt every other member. And when we hurt everyone, we hurt ourselves.

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