CENTRAL HUMANISM HUB
Let's be quite clear at the outset: the fundamental issue for planet Earth is the human population explosion. Unbridled procreation is the root cause of many of humanity's troubles. People who produce many children are not only ensuring a dismal future for their own offspring, but for everybody else's too. And the fundamental issues for the citizens of any relatively wealthy, liberated nation are (in broad terms) health and security. In fact, these are arguably the chief concerns of every normal person on this planet. In the near future (10-50 years?) their importance is likely to increase dramatically as the effects of global warming set in, regional over-population hits critical limits and our leaders find themselves battling to contain the ensuing socio-economic disruption. Healthwise, getting superbugs under control is likely to become a dominant challenge, while the security of our shores will always be threatened by new techniques in warfare and the rising tide of raving lunatics. Regardless of physical realities, however, there’s a high risk of sudden economic collapse in the near future due to the instability of the financial fairyland on which the world has become dependent, and exacerbated by the global debt crisis, especially the enormous debts carried by the USA. Such a catastrophe would inevitably lead to social instability if not total anarchy in many countries, with a heightened risk of devastating warfare. Compared with these concerns, much of what follows might seem academic, if not redundant.
As an Australian, you might also question the need for an essay on humanism within a society renowned for its community spirit, minimal class consciousness and forthright ("call a spade a spade") way of speaking. But humanism, both in its conventional form and especially in the modified form promoted here, covers a much wider field of human interest than these mannerisms. Though sunshine and surf may also enhance the brew, not everything about the Australian lifestyle is commendable - or sustainable.
"Central Humanism" is a convenience label, serving no other purpose than to signify the broad "philosophy" outlined in these pages. It does not name any organisation or discrete group of people, nor does it stand for any neat definition or fixed set of affirmations. Central Humanism is supposed to combine a love of truth, nature and humanity with a common-sense approach to ethics, but of course not everyone will see it that way.
Central Humanism has much in common with rationalism (in the modern, popular sense), "free-thought" philosophies, scepticism, naturalism and, especially, secular humanism (now often just called "humanism") - e.g. see Council for Secular Humanism - Affirmations. The key features of secular humanism are respect for the freedom and dignity of all human beings, a lack of belief in any divine intervention and a rational approach to life.
While secular humanism is definitely not a religion, its advocates invariably claim it is a "philosophy", though in practice they find it difficult to give their creed a robust philosophical underpinning. As a result, the principles listed in their various manifestos often look uncannily like the commandments of a religion - indeed one Australian writer calls them "axioms", implying that they need no justification but must be held self-evident. Unfortunately many of them seem far from self-evident and one might therefore be inclined to think that secular humanism in its current form is to some extent a package of unfounded beliefs.
There are, however, three very important differences between the precepts contained in humanist manifestos and the central beliefs of every religion. Firstly, the precepts of humanism are all meaningful while many of the doctrines of religion are meaningless or nonsensical. Secondly, the precepts of humanism are intended to be logically consistent with one another, as well as with obvious truths about the real world, while many of the doctrines that characterise any given religion (in so far as they have any meaning at all) are either inconsistent with one another or with obvious facts of reality. Thirdly, the ideas of humanism are open-ended and freely held, while those of religion are closed, dogmatic and authoritarian. Another difference (of practice rather than doctrine) is that nearly all religions require their adherents to indulge in various degrees of seemingly useless ritualistic behaviour, while humanism makes no such demands.
Furthermore humanism, in so far as it is sceptical and atheistic, is supposedly not a system of beliefs at all, but a resolve to eliminate all groundless beliefs from one’s thinking. The atheist in the humanist is simply one of the manifestations of a sincere, enquiring frame of mind.
Be that as it may, the main problem with most conventional versions of western humanism is that their ethical perspectives are surprisingly narrow and remain stranded in outmoded values of Christian culture. This is in spite of their repudiation of religion as such. As a result, mainstream humanists expose themselves to censure as they are not prepared to address inconsistencies and shortcomings in their world view, principles and behaviour - in my country affectionately known as the Australian way of life.
The bedrock of Central Humanism is meaningfulness (in everything we speak and write). A statement that is meaningless can be neither true nor false, so it would be pointless arguing about it:- meaningfulness is a pre-requisite for rational thought. Since meaningless or nonsensical names and descriptions don't convey any consistent concept, there's little sense in asking whether the entities supposedly denoted by them actually exist. This theme has application in areas such as religion (see #9).
As already mentioned, Central Humanism is broadly compatible with the principles outlined in the Council for Secular Humanism affirmations, as well as the less clearly phrased American Humanist Association Manifesto III, and with some other affirmations of the humanist philosophy. In the main, it concurs with the view that, as a minimum condition, a civilized society is a humanist society - that is, a secularised society that defends human moral values. However, it is not compatible with all proclamations of secular humanism, such as the International Manifesto for Atheistic Humanism - see Footnote 20. More importantly, it does not agree with the requirement of the International Humanist and Ethical Union that all humanists must accept the following "minimum statement" in its entirity:
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.
This (to me) is quite obscure, for the most part resembling a typical piece of theological jargon; the italicised sections, in particular, can only be described as concentrated gobbledygook. Because of the fundamental importance of meaningfulness in the Central Humanist philosophy, this "minimum statement" is unacceptable. (For more useful links see Footnote 6.)
Regrettably Central Humanism - at least in the casual presentation of the topic on this website - may be destined to share the unwarranted stigma of "belief" with most other accounts of humanism. However, one of the in-house objectives of Central Humanism is to develop a sound philosophical basis for its agenda. A necessary prelude to this endeavour would be to clarify the differences between truth, myth and nonsense (some of the philosophy pages on this site aim to do just that) - because if we seek a sensible philosophy of life we must at least be rid of the last two. Our leading principle of thought and communication should be: let’s do our best to call a spade a spade and keep the goblins out. This principle calls for common sense, self-integrity and directness of thought and speech, but excludes the more radical belief of many humanists and rationalists that true knowledge can only be acquired systematically, using scientific method and logical analysis (see #6, paragraph 3). Nor is humanism in general free from deep-seated, pernicious and self-defeating prejudices, many of them originating in Christianity. The reluctance of many humanists to take on board inconvenient truths is totally at odds with their professed rationalism.
So, while upholding most of the fundamental values of secular humanism, Central Humanism differs from the mainstream in several important respects, highlighted in the following notes. One of the main general differences is that it perceives humanism more subjectively - as dealing with life from a human standpoint - rather than as an aggrandizement of humanity or simply as an attempt to eradicate religion from public life. It places more emphasis on the human qualities of individuals, including their competence to live according to respectable criteria of truth and reality, and it shows a deeper concern for non-human life and for the future of the planet. Other differences include its commitment to the search for absolute values, its rejection of "the scientific method" as the the only legitimate route to knowledge, its distinction between the rejection of religion and supernaturalism and the possibility that consciousness rather than physical reality is the primary essence of the cosmos, its insistence that many popular morally provocative terms are meaningless, a stronger opposition to religious observance (which it considers to be profoundly immoral) and the various notions of "centralisation" from which the philosophy gets its name. For the most part, it regards mainstream humanism as representing an unduly narrow system of values, and still unable to sever its last ties with religion.
Moreover in one important respect Central Humanism departs radically from other forms of the humanist philosophy, namely in its contention, which it holds to be a remarkably obvious and undeniable truth, that people are not all equally human, in any socially, morally, or intellectually relevant sense - indeed in any sense at all other than certain aspects of genetic make-up and the resultant physical attributes (those which are used to define the species). This observation and its consequences might lead some to conclude that Central Humanism is not a humanist philosophy at all and should go by some other name. In that case perhaps they should reconsider what it means to be a human being, as distinct from, say, a rat or an automaton; and why they respect the values they do; and whether they would prefer the fabric of society to be woven from unassailable truths or to depend precariously on illusion, myths and absurdities. Hopefully these questions will often arise whilst reading the following pages.
In this way of thinking, nothing is taken to be self-evident. But if self-evident truths were possible, the following might well be included among them:
[Note: Variety should not be equated either with chaos or with cultural diversity, if culture means inheriting your parents' hang-ups and superstitions - because for the inheritors this implies restricted access to life's diversity as well as to life's truths.]
The intention of these notes is to outline general principles and to clarify (or disown) various moral concepts rather than to discuss specific issues. However, certain issues do get limited airing because they serve to exemplify a general principle or a way of thinking. Because Central Humanism casts a broader net than most humanist agendas, there are a number of topics covered here that often receive little attention from other humanist organisations. Due to world-wide natural and societal changes, many former non-issues are becoming issues, and many of these are becoming significant moral issues. On the other hand, some former moral issues are running to the end of their life, either because solutions have been achieved or because of broadening attitudes. Compared to some other humanist sites, in these pages you might find differences in emphasis and opinion on topics such as gay rights, animal rights, religious rights, various kinds of discrimination, water conservation, carbon emissions, vegetarianism, drugs usage and so on.
Finally, the reader must be persuaded into believing/doing two impossible things: (1) Art critics need not be artists: those most qualified to criticise are often the ones who have made the most mess with their brushes. (2) Please do not read or quote any of these notes out of fair context.