Wednesday, May 14, 2008

More human than humanist

I was digging about the net on Humanism, and I have to say, though I haven't actually done much reading on it before, it's pretty much as I imagined it. For the curious, I've included the Humanist Manifesto II among my links to the side. I expect I'll be referring to it every so often.

It's a very, very interesting document indeed, and was revised in 1973 from the previous 1941 version after decades of apocalyptic war had revealed the old version to be a bit too optimistic. Much like how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is, in all honesty, a wishlist to Santa Claus. It's really happy reading, and it's chock full of glorious and wonderful ideals for a better world, and then you look up and read the news and despair.

Better yet, pick up some Chomsky. No, not his stuff on Universal Grammar, his other stuff. On US foreign policy. Take a good hard look at the fates of Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Cuba and some Panama for good measure. Then tell me whether these words make up the reality we face:

"Blessed are the strong, for they shall possess the earth - Cursed are the weak, for they shall inherit the yoke. Blessed are the powerful for they shall be reverenced among men - Cursed are the feeble for they shall be blotted out.

Blessed are the bold for they shall be masters of the world - Cursed are the humble, for they shall be trodden under hoofs. Blessed are the victorious, for victory is the basis of right - Cursed are the vanquished for they shall be vassals forever."

- Ragnar Redbeard, Might is Right

Two fields of technology have proven useful in charting the progress of civilization: Transportation and communication. Through them, we've pretty much got the run of the planet. And when they became sufficiently advanced, globalization inevitably followed. Now, like it or not, we're all in the same boat and now more than ever we've actually got to learn to get along. We've already witnessed from history that ambitions of world domination by any single state simply won't work; there's too many different people in the world for anyone to possibly gather enough like-minded followers to make a credible bid for power in that fashion.

In a world of untold hundreds of different cultures, we'll all be carrying with us a cornucopia of cultural artifacts, the very stuff (the memes!) upon which our nations have been built. Conflicts can and will arise, but when you think about it, where do the conflicts stem from?

Is this land your God-given right? What if somebody else comes along and tells you it's his God-given right?

Has your family been herding cows for generations? What if climate change means you can't anymore?

Do you have a right to free speech? What about the guy who tells you God hates fags?

Does your culture glorify fertility? What if there's simply too many people in the world?

Seems to me that if people are going to get along, everybody's got a good deal of cultural spring cleaning to do. We have to come to terms with the fact that some of the values we hold most dearly are possibly outdated. Or just plain wrong. Of course, the painful reality of it is that most people are too stubborn or too stupid to critically examine their beliefs, and in all likelihood would rather die (or kill) than admit they're wrong.

So what's left for a rational person to do? First off, identify the problem. The way I see it, if people are killing each other for their beliefs in some invisible man in the sky, fine by me. Looks like evolution at work. Just keep them the hell away from the sane people, eh? No, the real problem humanity faces is not a matter of religious conflict, but one of economics and environment:

How do we make it so that everybody is happy AND that this state of affairs is sustainable?

Pull that off, and we can debate creationism and evolution until the 2nd Coming (pfff...). As it is, the majority of the planet's population don't seem all that happy. Even the ones with material wealth (guess who) don't seem very happy, judging by their consumption of self-help books. And sustainable? That's not even in the vocabulary of today's world powers!

The problem seems simple enough, just reading it as it is, and I've no doubt I'm not the first to think of it, so why the great difficulty in addressing it? That's a little something I'm going to save for a later post. Next up, the long-overdue memetics primer!

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