2018 Jun 28
Welcome to Issue # 4! Feel free to share liberally with like-minded friends. If someone forwarded this issue to you, then you can sign up to get your very own copy on MailChimp.
“Jazz insists on the undisputed sovereignty of the human being. In this technological era we can easily be fooled into believing that sophisticated machines are more important than progressive humanity. That’s why art is an important barometer of identity. The arts let us know who we are in all of our glory, reveal the best of who we are. All the political and financial might in the world is diminished when put to the service of an impoverished cultural agenda. We see it in our schools, in our homes, and in our world profile: rich and fat, lazy and morally corrupt, with wild, out-of-control young people.
“We all know that civilization requires a supreme effort. Our technology will become outmoded, but the technology of the human soul does not change.”
– Wynton Marsalis, Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life
“Following the ‘revised theory of modernization,’ values change in predictable ways with certain aspects of modernity. People’s priorities shift from traditional to secular-rational values as their sense of existential security increases (or backwards from secular-rational values to traditional values as their sense of existential security decreases).
“The largest increase in existential security occurs with the transition from agrarian to industrial societies. Consequently, the largest shift from traditional towards secular-rational values happens in this phase.”
– “Findings and Insights” from the World Values Survey
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
– Herb Bowie, Practopian.org
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