HUMANIST CORNER June 2018

HUMANIST CORNER June 2018
“What I’m asking you to entertain is that there is nothing we need to believe on insufficient evidence in order to have deeply ethical and spiritual lives.” Sam Harris
“There is no justice in the laws of nature, no term for fairness in the equation of motion. The Universe is neither evil nor good, it simply does not care. The stars don’t care, or the Sun or the sky. But they don’t have to! WE care! There IS light in the world, and it is US!” Eliezer Yudkowsky, Harry Potter and the Method of Rationality.

It’s been many years since I’ve struggled through a 450 page book. It may have been Ayn Rand’s miserable masterpiece “Atlas Shrugged.” So Steven Pinker’s latest book posed a huge challenge for someone who never mastered rapid reading. Perhaps it was Bill Gates saying it was the best book he’d ever read that threw the gauntlet down! Pinker is the Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard, and the book’s title is “Enlightenment Now – the case for reason, science, humanism and progress.” In an age of alternative facts and fakery, Pinker’s research is painstaking and impeccable – even optimistic!
Here’s a sample of his thinking in the chapter on “Existential Threats.”
“How should we think about the existential threats that lurk behind our incremental progress?…Three of the threats – overpopulation, resource depletion and pollution, including greenhouse gases…Some threats are figments of cultural and historical pessimism. Others are genuine, but we can treat them not as apocalypse in waiting, but as problems to be solved.”
Needless to say mention of humanism in Pinker’s title helped bait my enthusiasm for this big read in my plod along years. But instead of attempting to sum up his scholarly view of the human predicament, what seemed more appropriate and manageable are his quotes from the third Humanist Manifesto (2003). I’m sure they will have a familiar ring…
“Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience – each subject to analysis by critical intelligence..
Humans are an integral part of nature, and the result of unguided evolutionary change. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.
Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond…
Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We…animate our lives with deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death…
Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence…
Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community…”
May I close with my own perpetual wish – that humankind fulfills our potential as the “aristocracy of species, stewards of our beautiful, blue island drifting in space…
SHALOM