First things first, definitions – so we would all be on the same page. Humanism is defined as “a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasises the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism and empiricism) over acceptance of dogma or superstition.” (Nicolas Walter Humanism – What’s in the Word, 1997).
With the start of 2018, I feel more than ever that the humanist ideas and way of life is under attack. How so? Let’s go with a few examples. First of, the idea of “New Year” as a hope for turning new leaf and that humanity can start a new chapter and become wiser and everything would be ok is on itself akin to superstition rather than rational evidence. There IS no “New Year”, really. No new start, nothing begins or ends in reality. We just assign the flip of a calendar significance. And that is not necessarily a bad thing, if it keeps us motivated to go further, do more, achieve things we always dreamed of. Go right ahead and make that 2018 resolution, live by it and feel good, do good. That is what a humanist would do: understand the larger picture of pointlessness in the flip of calendar, but acknowledge that this is the way society agreed to function and contribute the collective good.
Yet this remarkable obsession with HOPE for better next year without basis is beginning to wear thin on my patience. No, the world as a whole will not suddenly turn the leaf as a whole: governments will continue, people will keep being people, doing good and bad or stupid things, our planet will keep spinning, warming, changing seasons (in some latitudes more than others). Same problems will exist: population will increase, food will be wasted, plastic will choke us all and then some. There will be people telling everyone it’s all a fantasy, indoctrination and everything is, in fact, fine. Happy families will continue to be happy while unhappy ones will probably sink further into the bog of despair.
There is no new leaf for people as a whole. It will take a planet-shaking event to change our course and although in some places the ship is already turning, elsewhere it’s going down in flames and people are happy about it. Where I live, in Europe, despite the best efforts by anti-progress (yes, all those left and right wing nutters that call for fringe, pseudo-autocratic travel back into cave age are all anti-progress idiots that don’t know what to do and how to be free) and in turn anti-humanist groups, the ship is slowly being turned towards better future and those unable to comply are slowly being left behind.
Another aspect of humanism that is being attacked is the very ability to live in freedom. Now that is a difficult concept to explain, as a lot of everyday people don’t even realise they are living properly free lives and are good at it, nor do they recognise themselves as humanists although they are. Living in freedom is ultimately being able to provide for oneself and one’s family while not shying away from responsibilities that it entails. We are responsible for our own happiness, our own thinking and our own actions. There will never be (I hope) a world where one person takes responsibility for entire nation’s actions again. That’s where the world will seize to be free…again. Freedom is constituted by the collective sharing of responsibility of what is happening around us. And we do it every day: we pay taxes (yes, taxes are good, get over it), we gather to discuss issues that matter, we donate to charities, we recycle and countless other small things that make us inexplicably happy, because we feel we receive something back from society. All because we have chosen to bear the responsibility that participating in free society constitutes. THAT is being humanist.
There are a lot of people that would wish to shrug off that responsibility, people that wish to be told what to think and what to do, because…well, it is easier. And I understand them perfectly. It’s difficult to live in the world where you are completely and solely responsible for the actions you take and all the repercussions are yours. Yet, there is something inexplicably beautiful in people that silently and patiently take that responsibility and are proudly living their lives, realising their hard work allows others to undermine their very lives. And yet, they would never think of silencing those anti-humanist voices, because they too have the right to exist.
So even if New Year resolutions are somewhat pointless, they do help motivate to do better. My 2018 resolution will be to better myself, so I would have more to give to people around me, despite their views and beliefs. I will be critical, yet reject blind superstition and dangerous dogma, but will never shun them out of existence. I am free, yet I accept limitations agreed on by our society.
I am, openly and proudly, humanist.
P.S.: The Mystery Bogdan (photography side of Fabula Nox) agrees wholeheartedly.