Humanity Beyond ‘Isms’
Of all the “isms” floating around, I know I fall into many camps to varying degrees. I am an “atheist” because I lack a belief in a god or gods. I am an “agnostic” because I can never know whether a god or gods exist to 100% certainty. I am a feminist for the purposes of gender equality. I am a “rationalist” for the purposes of thought and thought processes. I am an environmentalist when it comes to the needs of the planet, and our role in its preservation. And I am a “humanist”, because I see the value in bolstering and bettering the position of humanity on this planet. I fall into each of these descriptions of “isms” because it is unrealistic to only have one belief, one goal, and one purpose, not if we are completely honest with ourselves. But before I go on, there are a few things we must remember:
- We are all human, first and foremost.
- We all share a common ancestry, not through a single pair of humans, but through millions of years of evolution.
- Our lives on this planet are finite, and we all strive to do the best we can with what situations we find ourselves in.
- Our basic needs (food, water, shelter etc.) must be met in order for us to survive.
- We benefit when these basic needs are exceeded, physically, emotionally and psychologically.
Points 1 through 4 are facts from which we can establish our shared humanity, as a species. Point 5 is needed so we can move beyond the state of mere existence, and into the realm of “thriving” as a species. But through these 5 points we all share, we can see that the one thing that binds us most strongly is our shared humanity. It is for this reason that, of all the category of “isms” I fall into, humanism is by far the most important.
We are a strong species, and one with much collective power at our fingertips. Individually we can teach, inspire and motivate others into action. Collectively we can literally move mountains. We have proven this again and again throughout history, and never in human history has the power of humanity been more obvious. As humans, the species Homo Sapiens, we have achieved what no other species has achieved, such as infrastructure to sustain huge colonies of people, the eradication of diseases, and discoveries deep in inner and outer space. We have sent men to walk on another celestial body, and are working toward sending people farther afield to a completely unvisited planet. We are ambitious, intuitive, creative and ingenious. These are collective achievements, and ones that we can all benefit from.
We have developed numerous cultures over history also, and we celebrate these in our daily lives. Nowhere on earth where humans inhabit is there a space without some kind of cultural injection, with our cultures being built upon by millennia of human interactions. Within these cultures we find our own identities, and we always look back to these cultures when we make decisions about how to live our lives, and what we should do in any given situation. These are what we have learned are the right ways to go about living, and they are difficult to break away from, especially when we are deeply entrenched in them from birth.
A huge part of our cultural identities falls into the realm of ritual, belief and superstition. These are ways we bond together as a collective, find common ground even among the most headstrong and stubborn of individuals, and in many cases, these beliefs, rituals and superstitions are self-reinforcing. This is the realm of religion, which sits as a subset of culture, and sometimes as a cornerstone for cultural development.
While culture can and does evolve as times change, religion is incredibly tenacious in its stubborn inertia because of the nature of what it tells us. Religions purport to be lessons on how we should live our lives, and gain authority from a being created in our minds to make these “life lessons” unquestionable and rigid. In the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, only Judaism encourages people to question and build knowledge from this questioning. In Christianity and Islam, knowledge of this kind is seen as the enemy of faith. It’s because of this “set in concrete” idea of religion that it gains its tenacity, and also where the problems with religion lie.These traditions and cultures have built up over centuries, and build upon already established cultures and beliefs as times warrant them to do so.
However, in the past 200 years, a momentous change has taken place in our world, moved forward by the most tenacious of all species, humankind. The globe has been traversed, and all the lands on earth conquered by the hand of man. We have colonised all places on earth that can sustain us, and have even, in the case of Dubai, created places to live from uninhabitable desert and sea. Our communications now cross physical borders in the blink of an eye, and we can see happenings on the other side of the world as they unfold. All of these events, changes and advancements have changed our perspective on what it means to be human, but none more so than the advent of space travel.
In the past century we have, as humans, been able to look back at ourselves on earth from outside of the earth itself, and for the first time see what it is that we actually are sharing: a tiny blue marble in the vastness of empty space. Very few of us will have the privilege to actually visit space, but those who have report a complete reshuffling of their preconceptions of what it means to be human.
Astronaut William McCool, who died in the tragic reentry of Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003, left behind this poignant observation from his vantage point up in space:
We now live in a world that is so small relative to our understanding of the universe, that we now see how fragile and alone we really are. We live our daily lives as though the universe consists only of our tasks and personal ambitions, and yet we are but a speck in this uncaring universe, and without us, the universe would only continue to exist.
Humanism, as I like to see it, can be one whose methodology can trump these borders we set up between ourselves, break down the differences we create, and lead to a better life for all. This is not an utopian vision, rather a necessity if we are to survive at all on this planet. We continue to broaden the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots”, and we push against one another because of our differences, rather than looking at what we share. But if we wish to continue, which I am sure we do, we need to stop looking inward, and take the perspective of looking around us.
The human imperative demands that we look past our differences and instead look at what we share. It is from this perspective that methodological humanism takes its standpoint.