on humanism and environmental crisis

Archive for January, 2023

Why humanistic worldview?

Why the humanistic worldview is the best stance to survive the environmental crisis.

Amsterdam Declaration, Humanist Manifesto 2022 is such a concise and thoughtful document that we should start by quoting it.

1. Humanists strive to be ethical

  • We accept that morality is inherent to the human condition, grounded in the ability of living things to suffer and flourish, motivated by the benefits of helping and not harming, enabled by reason and compassion, and needing no source outside of humanity.
  • We affirm the worth and dignity of the individual and the right of every human to the greatest possible freedom and fullest possible development compatible with the rights of others. To these ends, we support peace, democracy, the rule of law, and universal legal human rights.
  • We reject all forms of racism and prejudice and the injustices that arise from them. We seek instead to promote the flourishing and fellowship of humanity in all its diversity and individuality.
  • We hold that personal liberty must be combined with a responsibility to society. A free person has duties to others, and we feel a duty of care to all of humanity, including future generations, and beyond this to all sentient beings.
  • We recognize that we are part of nature and accept our responsibility for the impact we have on the rest of the natural world.

2. Humanists strive to be rational

  • We are convinced that the solutions to the world’s problems lie in human reason and action. We advocate the application of science and free inquiry to these problems, remembering that while science provides the means, human values must define the ends. We seek to use science and technology to enhance human well-being, and never callously or destructively.

3. Humanists strive for fulfillment in their lives

  • We value all sources of individual joy and fulfillment that harm no other, and we believe that personal development through the cultivation of creative and ethical living is a lifelong undertaking.
  • We, therefore, treasure artistic creativity and imagination and recognize the transforming power of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts. We cherish the beauty of the natural world and its potential to bring wonder, awe, and tranquility. We appreciate individual and communal exertion in physical activity, and the scope it offers for comradeship and achievement. We esteem the quest for knowledge, and the humility, wisdom, and insight it bestows.

4. Humanism meets the widespread demand for a source of meaning and purpose to stand as an alternative to dogmatic religion, authoritarian nationalism, tribal sectarianism, and selfish nihilism

  • Though we believe that a commitment to human well-being is ageless, our particular opinions are not based on revelations fixed for all time. Humanists recognize that no one is infallible or omniscient and that knowledge of the world and of humankind can be won only through a continuing process of observation, learning, and rethinking.
  • For these reasons, we seek neither to avoid scrutiny nor to impose our view on all humanity. On the contrary, we are committed to the unfettered expression and exchange of ideas, and seek to cooperate with people of different beliefs who share our values, all in the cause of building a better world.
  • We are confident that humanity has the potential to solve the problems that confront us, through free inquiry, science, sympathy, and imagination in the furtherance of peace and human flourishing.
  • We call upon all who share these convictions to join us in this inspiring endeavor.

Nice, huh?

For the first time, stringing the line of past manifestos, this one uses the term “worldview”. It is a relief: “I am not a humanist, or not only a humanist, I just have a humanistic worldview. I can be many things at once, including a disappointed Catholic boy, deep in my guts.”

I am a humanist, I have a humanistic worldview. It is a big difference, isn’t it? Unlikely “being a Catholic versus Catholic worldview”, no humanist objects. 

With religion it is not enough – you need to be it!

While this manifesto is the most rational, intellectual, and objective description of humanism, at the same time it brings its origins, and motivation to the primordial instinct, and is “grounded in the ability of living things to suffer and flourish”. Our morality, instead of divine scriptures, comes straight from human nature, where else?

And religious people holler at this moment:” Aha*, Gotcha!” And: “ Which human nature? The morality of caveman? Or Marks’, or Lenin’s? God forbid!”

Really, can you sacrifice, and fight to defend “human nature”?

This is the crux (pardon the pun) of the matter. How can you base all your philosophy on something so elusive and controversial as human nature? No surprise that there are fewer humanists in the US than snake-handling and tongues-speaking fundamentalists.

So, first, make humanistic morality and purpose not so elusive:

It is actually much easier to have a humanistic worldview than the Declaration suggests: you just like humans more than corporations, more than the government, and more than the religious authority. The origins of human nature are not so elusive as neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, and paleoanthropology converging over the last few decades. Cooperation and altruism was the hallmark of the evolutionary developmental success of our ancestors over the last 8 million of years (and then of Homo sapiens). New data on language and on hypersociality point out that we are more interdependent than we ever dreamt of. This gives meaning and purpose: you need to be a little bit like an anti-establishment hero- do great things for people, against the authorities, monsters, demons ( including those inside you), and even gods. Fun.

Second, think about environmental disasters.

These days “humanist” actually means “eco-humanist”. 

Humanists see the world literally made by humans, messed up by humans, and with humans as the only resource and responsibility to fix it. In “” Shared reality” and “Hybrid mind and where does it come from”**, I described the details of constructing the world (I wanted to say “our World” or “the World as we see it” but it would suggest that there is another World somewhere. It is not.)

It is how nature made us, we are curious, resourceful, cooperative, and funny. It is a gift, we need to use it and duck again in the last minute before extinction.

The world is divided: the religious people on one side, the science on the other, also individualistic, the Aristotelian West on one side, and The East of Confucius and Buddha on the other. 

Religions are older than humanity and they help to live for billions of people. But they were made to make people passive, resigned with their ignorance and powerlessness (except in smothering heathens), awaiting a better afterlife. We need to fix the world now, be joyful, and teach nature new tricks.

The same with science: it teaches misanthropy, “ look around and sulk!”, “insignificant speck in gazillions of galaxies”” maybe this or that colorful gadget makes you feel better, maybe this pill?” Determinism tells us that everything has already been decided, so what is the point? 

As humanists, we know that we are children of the past but have to think about the future globally and we do not worry about science and religion much- we invented both quite recently. 

To fix the world, the first couple of questions have to be: “what’s wrong?” and “how come?”

The Religion says: we lost love ( or we do not understand /know how it is done). 

The science says: ( as always – long on facts, short on whys)

”We are like overcrowded lab rats, exhausted our resources and fighting each other”

No exit. 

Well, remember we are Houdini -like humanists. We have this trick in our sleeve: consciousness ( which is thinking, free will, memory, hopping from paradigm to paradigm, etc).

We fearlessly examine our past and boldly design the solution.

We need utopian social engineering combined with knowledge of the ancient past and the wisdom of religion and science.

There are two distinct modes of happiness: the first is related to material possessions and power, (which is also dependent on material possessions). The new red tricycle you always wanted, the rise, the promotion in the company’s hierarchy. The other type of happiness is listening to your favorite music, watching a sunset with a friend, and learning how to do mosaics. The first type is like sharing a pie, the more I get, somebody will get less of it. The other type is the opposite, the more I get the more others can get. The first is regulated by money, and the other depends on the quality of experience, the quality of relationships, and skills. The first inevitably requires using material resources, and the other is much more sustainable.

If we can change the proportions of those two types of happiness in society we could be really happier, freer, living with less valiance and with less inequality.

The good thing is that we cannot force this type of change- no Orwellian “happiness”.

Old people are difficult to change, but if we teach our children well change is possible. 

Actually, this type of change is underway. The program devised by French philosopher Frederic Lenoir and his team teaches children to be mindful and think critically. It is called “savoir etre, vivre ensemble( SEVE)”- learning how to be and how to live with others. The courses are offered in 6 francophone countries, the French Canadian version is closest to the US.

I don’t think, these programs are labeled as “humanism” but it looks non-materialistic and non-dogmatic. Let’s start something similar in the rest of the world.

UNESCO and pope Francis promote education for global citizenship and peace. It is not very popular in the United States because of political or religious overtones. Would SEVE be better accepted or “too much philosophy”?

*Aha- American Humanist Association.

** in my blog: ecohumanistlab.com.

More reading:

Eco-humanism, African cosmology and ubuntu:

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Michael-Eze-4/publication/321157259_Humanitati

Essays related to covid 19 and environmental crisis- opening for the new world?

Pope Francis’s “Laudato si” and the liberal agenda:

dium=store_panel&utm_campaign=moving_boldly

SEVE (savoir etre vivre ensemble)

https://www.helloasso.com/associations/seve-savoir-etre-et-vivre-ensemble

Shared Reality

Our environmental and social crisis has many unexpected repercussions and consequences, not all of them negative. As we are running out of the Earth’s resources, it made us think about and research nonmaterialistic societies, the origins of altruism, and human nature. Our collective unconsciousness, as whole humanity assumed more of the undertone; “what’s wrong with us?” And because the niche crisis obviously plays itself in the broad dimensions of time and space, these questions force us to be more aware of our deep past and (unfortunately) not-so-distant future.

The new data from neuroscience, prehistory, and linguistics allowed us to rethink human origins.

The discovery is simple and (like the notion that we come from monkeys) startling. Our reality is created by the human mind. Without the human mind, there is no reality. While the construction of this reality started recently, about 50,000 years ago by our human hybrid mind, it is based on our brain’s ancient algorithms and perception systems millions of years old. 

Since this new reality’s construction started, in the Upper Paleolithic period, every infant repeats this feat and builds reality simultaneously with building language, and selfhood in the first year of life. Every animal has its own world, only one, but we have two- an ancient, instinctual world of algorithms and the new one, shared with the rest of humans, symbolic, linguistic, attached to consciousness. As I will explain later, it started from sharing and naming simple things- like the baby does- but it is the only reality we know! And the only reality there is. ( “is”, the concept of existence, is the intrinsic part of this new system, and is related to  the concept of “self”)

What does it mean for the everyday person? How do these instinctual and new systems work together in our brains? The ancient, instinctual system works all the time-breathing, feelings, and moods- but when we talk to others, write, and use the language, this new system seamlessly piggybacks on the old one.

The things are real, the stone when kicked- hurts.  But: as everything is invented by the nervous system of our ancestors, so all kinds of extraterrestrials and supernaturals are also invented. And all cosmos to add. And everything that exists. Existence as a concept is probably a very recent invention. 

But, how about evolution. This new thing couldn’t have sprouted out of our brain suddenly, out of blue. 

 That’s right, it couldn’t. This is the hypothesis explaining the possible origins and the mechanism of the generation of this strange hybrid system. 

This is the new sequence of events:

 Some of them will appear in boldface, denoting my hypothetical thinking, the rest is well known. I do not need to defend my hypotheses, it will be written soon in detail by some super-professors from MIT or Oxford. ( I am going to be like Alfred Russell Wallace of shared reality).

8 million years ago: split from bonobos: both branches “worked” on the social niche, possibly our ancestors benefited from some minor mutation making it easier to communicate by sound.

Bonobos stayed with social communications via grooming, pheromones, and sex. Homo was improving a variety of sound production and/or discerning. It might have forced parietal hearing and memory centers to grow, made brains even bigger and childhood even longer. The sound system was perfect for prelinguistic algorithms improving cooperation, band organization, and defense. We can imagine that these improved signs and sound utterances are short outwardly but in the brain, they were part of algorithms growing longer and clumsier, part of million years of building, and very difficult to teach, especially without the concept of self.

4 million years ago: another split- “Robustus” branches worked more on using the big brains to defend themself against changes in the environment, mostly glaciation periods. They culminated in producing the Neardenthal, extremely strong, practical, “street-smart”. The “Gracilis “ branches continued with prosocial communications with homo Erectus sporting some evidence of the concept of the unknown, awe, burials, curiosity, and altruism. The benefits were slowly increasing but liabilities and dangers were enormous. Without the concept of self and of names of objects, the algorithms can do only so much in the material world.

Still, some of them managed to escape the climate deterioration- “first diffusion” 1, 7 million years ago. 

500 000 years ago, the last split into “Robustus”- Neanderthal and “Gracilis” -homo sapiens. The sapiens were eusocial, emotional, and emphatic, but still prelinguistic.

( I realize, that for many it will be impossible to imagine such a sophisticated and mature culture without symbolic language).

This gave us, our ancestors, some advantage over other groups but changes in climate eventually killed everybody except a few thousand sapiens remaining, somehow overlapping (Southern Europe or North Africa) with the dying remnants of Neanderthals. They kept improving proto-language, cooperation, altruism, and friendship, but the progression of the material culture was very slow.

My hypothesis suggests that the advances of social intelligence, with big brains without selfhood and language reached its limits– like many of the other intelligent and social species. At least 26 branches of hominids died and the Sapiens population was reduced to several thousand. The formidable social skills couldn’t protect against their environment, especially considering periodical glaciations and the eruptions of the mega-volcanoes during the last 100 000 years. 

50,000 or 40,000 years ago: This small group of brightest, most altruistic, and eloquent homo sapiens survived, they are our ancestors. I imagine a combination of three major factors and a lot of luck. 

  1. Close-knit family, they are on the move,(escaping cold or drought or other animals) trying to survive, and a lot of talking.
  2. Extended childhood, toddlers practicing talking, adults listening. 
  3. Possible elements of translation, desperate contact with other groups or Neanderthals with a different language, and utilization of a child’s learning process.

This is the imagined sequence of events: Proto language communication with sound being a part of a complex algorithm is understood by a child or foreigner as the name of the simple thing. Repeated back as such it creates a circle of people sharing a reality. The name and its meaning are attached to the person who used it. 

( the woman says: “ apples need to be picked up”,  the child cries pointing: “apples, apples”, and a foreigner says: “you called it apples?” and the woman repeats: ”yes, apples”)

Enormous social advantages are immediate. 

My hypothesis is that symbolic language, shared reality, selfhood and consciousness are the same thing, started together, as recently as 50,000 years ago, and are responsible for our survival and success.

50000 to 10000 years ago: The event described above ushered us into the next 40,000 years of the “Golden Age”.

The climate was excellent and shared reality and linguistic skills spread with trade, social life, art, and religion. It was the world before the Big Flood.

It took many generations for the concepts of ownership have become connected to power and pleasure. Humans were non-materialistic, so inequality was different than we can imagine. It could be appearance, being “close to higher powers”, personal skills, the rhetorical skills.  The “power”, still without material wealth, could be more fluid, societies changed from season to season. Huge monuments and mounds were built and destroyed without hierarchy, bureaucracy, and much of inequality. New archeological discoveries in Turkey, Stonehenge, and Meso-America suggest that.

10.000 years ago to the present. Domestication of people, plants, and animals. The “primordial sin’- materialism, eventually caught up with us. Shared reality allowed for agriculture, technology, and inequality. A thin layer of greed spread over our bran new world of things, relationships and gods. Empires and Religions rose and fell until the circle seems to be closing up and we are facing… each other again.

This timetable, based on the development of a hybrid brain changes the evolutionary view of human nature.

Homo sapiens emerged with an almost suicidal drive towards sociality, empathy, altruism, and emotionality. We used primates’ big brains, and rich sensory worlds fueling curiosity, especially the curiosity of others. Then we “bet” on sound-mediated communication, which turned out to be the “winner” bringing us off the brink of extinction.

The sound-mediated communication culminated in the invention of the language-selfhood-shared reality complex. 

This new toy combined with the relatively good climate gave us the abundance of the “Golden Age” with gods, art, and technology. Humans flourished spreading all over the planet.

And then, just recently,10, 000 years ago, let me repeat it: a thin slimy layer of greed appeared. 

How, why not earlier? It seems that the domestication process and concentration of the huge amount of people created the all-pervading illusion of happiness based on ownership.

Materialism, then capitalism and now we have to tame it or die. 

But, evil is not in our nature, we know that the happiness and satisfaction it gives are not real. Can we teach the new generation to get high on experiences?