Humanism and the Practical Utopian
28 Jun 2018 · 8 min read
The first Practopian core principle states that “We are humanistic: we are focused on human concerns and human potential.”
The primary intent behind this statement is to signal that we don't claim to represent any authority other than our own very human selves, and that we focus on the interests of ourselves and our fellow humans.
However, there are a whole host of Humanist organizations already in existence around the globe, representing a Humanist movement of sorts, and so it may be helpful to comment on how I see the Society for Practical Utopians in relationship to these other brands of humanism.
The Amsterdam Declaration
A good place to start is with The Amsterdam Declaration, which can be found on the website for the IHEU (International Humanist and Ethical Union). It's worth noting how directly this document reflects many of the core Practopian beliefs.
Following is the Declaration, with parenthetical links to show correlations with the corresponding Practopian beliefs.
Humanism is ethical. It affirms the worth, dignity and autonomy (liberty) of the individual (individuals) and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others. Humanists have a duty of care to all of humanity including future generations (mission). Humanists believe that morality is an intrinsic part of human nature based on understanding and a concern for others (connection), needing no external sanction.
Humanism is rational (critical thinking). It seeks to use science ([science]) creatively, not destructively. Humanists believe that the solutions to the world’s problems lie in human thought and action (individuals) rather than divine intervention. Humanism advocates the application of the methods of science and free inquiry to the problems of human welfare. But Humanists also believe that the application of science and technology must be tempered by human values. Science gives us the means but human values must propose the ends (balance, integral).
Humanism supports democracy (democracy) and human rights (equality) . Humanism aims at the fullest possible development of every human being (education). It holds that democracy and human development are matters of right. The principles of democracy and human rights can be applied to many human relationships and are not restricted to methods of government.
Humanism insists that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility (society). Humanism ventures to build a world on the idea of the free person responsible to society, and recognizes our dependence on and responsibility for the natural world (about the principles and values). Humanism is undogmatic, imposing no creed upon its adherents (written word). It is thus committed to education (education) free from indoctrination.
Humanism is a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion. The world’s major religions claim to be based on revelations fixed for all time, and many seek to impose their world-views on all of humanity. Humanism recognizes that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises through a continuing process of observation, evaluation and revision (science, critical thinking).
Humanism values artistic creativity and imagination and recognizes the transforming power of art (art and storytelling). Humanism affirms the importance of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts for personal development and fulfillment.
Humanism is a lifestance aiming at the maximum possible fulfillment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living and offers an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our times. Humanism can be a way of life for everyone everywhere.
So there you have it: seven concise paragraphs summarizing the basic tenets of Humanism. I certainly see enough correlation here that I would have no problem saying that The Practical Utopian is a Humanist organization.
On the other hand, it's also worth pointing out some areas of difference.
Belief in the Value of the Written Word
The Practopian Creed places explicit value on the written word, whereas the Amsterdam Declaration goes out of its way to say that it “imposes no creed upon its adherents.” This is a nicely egalitarian sentiment, but it also can leave one wondering exactly what it means to be a “humanist.”
In fact, when visiting the American Humanist Association's website, I can find no mention of the Amsterdam Declaration, and instead find a Humanist Manifesto, along with a page listing no less than eight separate definitions of “Humanism”.
All of this is liable to give the impression that humanism can mean whatever one wants it to mean. While I admire the spirit of inclusion, I wonder about the value of a word that has so many different definitions, and the value of an organization that cannot neatly and consistently summarize its core beliefs.
In contrast, what I've tried to do at Practopian.org is to provide a very clear, concise definition of core beliefs, but then expand on these through a set of relevant, but less fundamental, quotations and blog posts.
Consistent with its lack of explicit emphasis on the value of the written word, humanism also makes no mention of the importance of the rule of law.
Acknowledging the Complexities of Cultural Evolution
Humanistic writings seem to neatly divide human cultural development into two and only two phases: an age of supernatural religious belief, followed by an awakening to science and rationality. And then most of these same writings go on to imply that if all the dullards in the room would just move along to that second phase, the rest of us could get on with living our oh-so-fulfilling lives.
In contrast, the Practopian beliefs make a point of acknowledging that human cultural evolution is a more complex, nuanced, and creative affair. Our beliefs make room for more than two stages of our human development, we accept that these different stages work together in parallel, and we allow room for further development in an open-ended fashion.
On the one hand, we have no delusions about even the best of us being perfectly rational; at the same time, we also acknowledge that, no matter how rational and scientific we are, even those admirable traits will not always be enough to allow us to reach easy agreement on the thorniest of human problems, especially when we consider the complex social, economic and ecological systems in which we live.
Parents and Families
The Practopian beliefs include parenthood as a core value, calling out the responsibility of parents to raise their children to become healthy, happy, productive adults.
In contrast, neither the Amsterdam Declaration nor the Humanist Manifesto mention parenting, children or families. It is almost as if they expect humans to pop into existence as fully formed rational, freethinking adults.
Practopian beliefs explicitly embrace the concepts of both private and public property, as well as motivational rewards for value creation. Humanism takes no side in these issues, implying equal support for socialism and capitalism, or perhaps a general indifference to economic issues such as these.
Attitudes towards God and Religion
Humanist writings consistently position their movement as specifically and primarily anti-God. Paragraph 5 of the Amsterdam Declaration, cited above, is one example. Even more strongly, the top line of the American Humanist Association's website offers the slogan of “Good Without a God” and then goes on to say that they are “advocating progressive values and equality for humanists, atheists and freethinkers.”
Practopian beliefs differ here in several important ways.
First, the core beliefs and principles very intentionally make no mention of God or religion. The closest they get is to say that we “place no faith in any single text that we deem to be sacred.”
Next, we acknowledge, along with writers such as Ken Wilber and Albert Einstein (here and here), that there are different kinds of religious beliefs and feelings, that these are important parts of our human cultural development, and that we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater when dealing with these.
And finally, we Practopians choose not to focus our energy and attention on divisions between religious folk and the non-religious. As research from the World Values Survey shows, many factors influence our societal evolution from traditional to secular values, but the primary forces are economic ones, as societies transition from agrarian to industrial to knowledge-based economies. So rather than emphasize our differences along this particular fault line, we choose to focus our attention on common concerns.
Since Humanists position themselves as offering an alternative to traditional religion, it may be fair to say that the Practopian beliefs offer an alternative to traditional humanism. One might think of the Practopians as Humanism+. I think it's fair to say that we start with the basic humanistic beliefs, but then go on to flesh out our thinking with additional, forward-thinking elements that round out our philosophy and make it a more viable, modern belief system.