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Anthropocentrism

Any topics that are primarily about humanism or other non-religious life stances fit in here.
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Radius
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Anthropocentrism

#1 Post by Radius » January 26th, 2011, 2:27 am

Hi all.

I'm an atheist so, don't worry, I'm not here to argue with you about whether God exists.

However I have a hard time swallowing the idea of humanism. Thoughts I've had for the past few years are stated rather lucidly here:

http://www.metanexus.net/magazine/tabid ... fault.aspx

tl;dr version: transhumanism should be pursued extensively to give civilization the intellectual and ethical wherewithal to preempt existential crises and is the best bet for doing so.

And I don't think that human civilization, on the whole, is well-equipped to cope with existential crises that arise from having industrial technology, knowledge of nuclear physics, etc. Honestly if our entire species were aggregated into one person using the whole planet, one would be fully justified in being terrified of that virtual person.

Our current doctrines of human rights are based on 18th century political philosophy which is reared on incomplete or faulty accounts of human cognition and behavior: for example, the idea that all are endowed more or less equally with competence in reasoning. But more recent, more empirical psychology tells us that human beings typically don't really care about facts except insofar as they are immediately useful to them. Many humanist organizations have this idea of sort of "marketing" their viewpoints by appealing to these biases. I don't think this should be necessary. In fact, I think this is misguided. Since the power to substantially disrupt civilization is now in the hands of many, in the form of e.g. climate-changing technology, then society will have to respond to facts, with agility. People will have to care about facts at all levels of society. That is to say, we need a far more profound change in society than most people are willing to admit. But that's not what we see right now. Most people don't care about issues of real substance at all, even if they have ample opportunity to become aware of them. If someone shows no signs of being civilized despite having numerous opportunities to become educated and responsible, then they should be treated as such, rather than being afforded respect they don't deserve. We need to do away with the harmful, outmoded ideas that compel us to show this respect.

To summarize, because so much of human behavior is so aimless, destructive and frankly repugnant, I just can't call myself a humanist at this juncture. As far as I can tell, it's another faith-based position like Christianity, clearly at odds with the facts.

However, humanism would obviously be more convenient for me or anyone else than my current viewpoint, so if you have a reason I should accept it, please come forward with it.

Thank you.

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jaywhat
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Re: Anthropocentrism

#2 Post by jaywhat » January 26th, 2011, 6:28 am

Hi Radius,
I would say I am an atheist first and foremost. I think it was joining the BHA that had me calling myself a humanist as well, but I do not use the word when saying where I stand on the religion question because a lot of people do not know what it is.
It does not matter what you call yourself, IMO and you certainly should not feel under pressure to becomes a 'humanist' in order to be at home on this forum.

lewist
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Re: Anthropocentrism

#3 Post by lewist » January 26th, 2011, 8:28 am

Hi, Radius, and welcome to TH! I am a Humanist, and that includes atheism but unlike jaywhat I don't count that a major part, because for me Humanism is about how I should live rather than what I don't believe in. I gather from the article you linked to that the behaviour of other human beings is a major concern for you, but I suppose I have adopted the stance I have despite what goes on around.

The important thing here, as jaywhat has suggested, is to participate and not worry at all about the labels.

TH is a haven of reason, fun and friendly discussion. Stay and you will get to know some of us quite well. You might even get to like some of us.
Carpe diem. Savour every moment.

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animist
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Re: Anthropocentrism

#4 Post by animist » January 26th, 2011, 8:46 am

yes, I sort of sympathise with this; I suppose the problem is that "atheism" sounds a bit negative and narrow, and also may put off agnostics (though I always maintain that there is no real difference between the two sorts of "a"). But "humanism" does sound like some sort of reverence for the human race (which I certainly do not share - maybe it would have been better if evolution had stopped short!). Also, the nicer type of religious believer is often humanistic in a general sense (meaning that they support human rights and charities etc) so "humanism" is not my favourite word. "Rationalism" might be a better name for what most of us seem to believe in, a good-humoured rejection of all types of "woo" - which includes stuff like homeopathy and astrology as well as religion.

BTW, hi and welcome, Radius

Manuel
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Re: Anthropocentrism

#5 Post by Manuel » January 26th, 2011, 10:12 am

I prefer to use 'secular' than 'humanist' personally, or 'athiest' in terms of religious 'non'affiliation. I was never comfortable with the term 'anti-theist' as Christopher Hitchens describes himself personally, defining himself solely as something you are against or opposed to.

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Dave B
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Re: Anthropocentrism

#6 Post by Dave B » January 26th, 2011, 1:53 pm

First - Hi radius, names are only labels and it is what you stand for and do that is important. Trouble is humans seem stuck on needing bloody labels!
Manuel wrote:I prefer to use 'secular' than 'humanist' personally, or 'athiest' in terms of religious 'non'affiliation. I was never comfortable with the term 'anti-theist' as Christopher Hitchens describes himself personally, defining himself solely as something you are against or opposed to.
Trouble is, Manuel, "atheist" also defines one in terms of something one thinks as non-existent! I feel that "anti-theist" has slightly aggressive tones to it - and in his constant and vigorous pursuit of theists CH was probably qualified in that respect!

For me humanist (small "h" important) is the one word that describes the larger balance of my beliefs and desires for the future of the human race. Though I consider myself a "secularist" as well that does not encompass the whole picture for me in terms of what I wish to achieve. A theist can indulge in some aspects of secular activity without challenging his/her beliefs, but he/she cannot pursue uniquely humanist values without some problems. There are certain things that we can share, thus those are not unique to humanists, possibly going back to pre-spoken-language survival behaviour.

Why small "h"? Because using "Humanist" sometimes makes others feel that one is a card carrying member of some sort of "official" Humanism with an "official" creed, policy, political slant etc. Which I am not.
"Look forward; yesterday was a lesson, if you did not learn from it you wasted it."
Me, 2015

thundril
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Re: Anthropocentrism

#7 Post by thundril » January 26th, 2011, 2:18 pm

:welcome: Hi Radius. Interesting and thought-provoking contribution, for which much thanks! I must say your OP and link give me a slight chill at first glance; but I know I'm going to need some time to read them carefully, so I can get a proper grip of what you're proposing.
I describe myself as an atheist, precisely because that word doesn't try to encapsulate a complex world-view in a single label. It just indicates that I don't see the need for god, either to explain the Universe or to be the ultimate arbiter of morality..
OTOH, I like the word humanist because I link it with other words, (like humanity and humane,) which give me a nice warm, fuzzy feeling,, to do with love, fellow feeling, mutual recognition, mutual respect. And I don't think my (incredibly hard-working and talented, but sometimes rather air-headed) circus friends are worthy of less respect if they don't know or care about PPE, which is the first impression I get from looking over your link.
Anyway, I haven't read it properly yet, so, once again welcome, and I look forward to an interesting discussion.

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Aphra
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Re: Humanism doesn't mean anthropocentrism

#8 Post by Aphra » January 26th, 2011, 4:47 pm

The trouble is that many people, including many nominal Humanists, don’t understand what "Humanism" means. It isn’t synonymous with atheist, and it doesn’t mean the same as the sort of “humanistic” person described here. Supporting human rights and charities isn’t directly relevant. That’s only a part of what Humanism’s about.

Barbara Smoker wrote in her little book on Humanism, “Protagoras [484?-414? BCE] taught that justice is a matter of agreed rules, not divine ordinance, and that ‘man is the measure of all things’. In other words, that for human beings there is no standard or ideal, outside human purposes and values derived from human experience and sensibility. This principle is central to modern humanism, and is in fact the main difference between humanism and religious faith. The religionists generally believes that human values derive from absolute values, originating in a god that is independent of mankind, beyond time and beyond this world. To the humanist, this is nonsense. And so thought Protagoras, some 2,400 years ago.”

Some people might avoid using the term Humanist because they imagine it means an anthropocentric view of the world, where everything revolves around human interests. This is wrong. However, human beings are unique in being the only species that is aware of the effects of its behaviour on other people, on other species, on the environment, and on the planet as a whole. And there are many people who don’t like the word because they think it describes a sort of secular religion. I have some sympathy with them, because there are many within Humanist organisations, particularly those who talk about a “Humanist movement” or “community”, who do see it as an alternative to religion that offers secular equivalents to religious activities. That takes us along the path of organised Humanism, which is anathema to some independently-minded people.

There’s a link on our Suffolk site (under the “Humanism” tab) to the Amsterdam Declaration, which makes it clear that it’s not just about altruistic behaviour (“nice” religious or atheist people doing good things), but that it is based firmly on a rejection of religion and superstition, and a rational approach to life.

Radius
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Re: Anthropocentrism

#9 Post by Radius » January 27th, 2011, 12:39 am

lewist wrote:Hi, Radius, and welcome to TH! I am a Humanist, and that includes atheism but unlike jaywhat I don't count that a major part, because for me Humanism is about how I should live rather than what I don't believe in. I gather from the article you linked to that the behaviour of other human beings is a major concern for you, but I suppose I have adopted the stance I have despite what goes on around.
How do you live with the cognitive dissonance?
lewist wrote:TH is a haven of reason, fun and friendly discussion. Stay and you will get to know some of us quite well. You might even get to like some of us.
Yes, I do like individuals.
thundril wrote::welcome: Hi Radius. Interesting and thought-provoking contribution, for which much thanks! I must say your OP and link give me a slight chill at first glance
Beats the terrible alternative.
thundril wrote:but I know I'm going to need some time to read them carefully, so I can get a proper grip of what you're proposing.
Thank you. You may be one of the first people who didn't just get butthurt at what I have to say.
thundril wrote:OTOH, I like the word humanist because I link it with other words, (like humanity and humane,) which give me a nice warm, fuzzy feeling,, to do with love, fellow feeling, mutual recognition, mutual respect.
Isn't this an appeal to consequences of a belief?
thundril wrote:And I don't think my (incredibly hard-working and talented, but sometimes rather air-headed) circus friends are worthy of less respect if they don't know or care about PPE, which is the first impression I get from looking over your link.
What is PPE?
Aphra wrote:[H]uman beings are unique in being the only species that is aware of the effects of its behaviour on other people, on other species, on the environment, and on the planet as a whole.
Most of these are perhaps dimly aware of these effects at best. Many others are in denial or indifferent.

This gets to the crux of my issues with humanism: its rationale consists of statements which are generally untrue.

Pointing out this, that, or the other individual who acts against these trends is unhelpful. You'd be missing the forest for the trees. It's the aggregate behavior that really matters and as far as I can tell, this is not very good at all.

Lord Muck oGentry
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Re: Anthropocentrism

#10 Post by Lord Muck oGentry » January 27th, 2011, 2:07 am

Radius wrote: Our current doctrines of human rights are based on 18th century political philosophy which is reared on incomplete or faulty accounts of human cognition and behavior: for example, the idea that all are endowed more or less equally with competence in reasoning. But more recent, more empirical psychology tells us that human beings typically don't really care about facts except insofar as they are immediately useful to them.
Well, is that right? As far as I can see, notions of human rights extend to gravely damaged humans who cannot carry out even simple reasoning— and quite right too.

As for the findings of empirical psychology that you mention, I suppose they apply quite as much to transhumanists as to the rest of us. Not that that is intended as a respectable argument, of course, even if the premiss turns out to be true.
What we can't say, we can't say and we can't whistle it either. — Frank Ramsey

Radius
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Re: Anthropocentrism

#11 Post by Radius » January 27th, 2011, 2:25 am

Lord Muck oGentry wrote:
Radius wrote: Our current doctrines of human rights are based on 18th century political philosophy which is reared on incomplete or faulty accounts of human cognition and behavior: for example, the idea that all are endowed more or less equally with competence in reasoning. But more recent, more empirical psychology tells us that human beings typically don't really care about facts except insofar as they are immediately useful to them.
Well, is that right? As far as I can see, notions of human rights extend to gravely damaged humans who cannot carry out even simple reasoning
Really? Why?
Lord Muck oGentry wrote:As for the findings of empirical psychology that you mention, I suppose they apply quite as much to transhumanists as to the rest of us.
A being with a highly modified brain might observe a rather qualitatively different psychology than we do.

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animist
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Re: Anthropocentrism

#12 Post by animist » January 27th, 2011, 8:39 am

my first response to your OP was just about the word "humanism". Now that I am reading more of what you say, which is interesting but a bit confusing/ed, can I just ask how, and at whose hands, these posthumans will emerge?

Radius
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Re: Anthropocentrism

#13 Post by Radius » January 27th, 2011, 11:28 am

animist wrote:can I just ask how, and at whose hands, these posthumans will emerge?
I'm not quite sure but I know that trying to achieve civility through education, especially with the limited timeframe available due to things like climate-altering technology, seems to be a dead end. Not only is cajoling people to do the right thing a tenuous solution, it also seems inviable.

Several other posters have essentially admitted in this thread, at least tacitly, that their subscription to what we call secular humanism is reared on various biases. It is a doctrine not borne out by evidence. Since (modern) skepticism teaches us that indulging these biases will lead us into error, I have done my best to do away with them. Secular humanists, in my experience, tend to claim that people generally have the ability to reason effectively for the sake of both their own welfare and the welfare of society as a whole. In fact, humanity as a whole gives every appearance of being no more mindful than a swarm of locusts who do not know that, in mowing down a field of crops, they will eventually root themselves out through starvation. Take, for instance, the example of Yemen. According to Minister of Water and Environment Abdul Rahman al-Iryan, the level of ground water is dropping by about six meters every year. Yet Yemenis, in aggregate at least, choose to have lots of kids they can't possibly support and grow khat, a water-intensive plant somewhat akin to coca in its effects. (Its nutritional value is negligible.) No reasonable person would do such things. If you are running out of water, grow food, not khat. And don't bring children into the world who will inevitably lead lives of misery. This is not rocket science.

But maybe Yemenis can be let off the hook because they are most often poorly educated. However, in the developed world, where people have lots of opportunities to become wise to these kinds issues, they almost invariably squander them and quite often lead or at least aspire to destructive consumerist lifestyles, ways of living best described by an apparent contradiction I heard in a song once: man in motion, going nowhere. The Chinese have been quick to learn as well: in their meteoric rise to world economic power, they have started to bleed their country dry in the name of frantic annual growth. They have surpassed the US in carbon emissions and have even built dams on the Brahmaputra and Mekong to meet their own voracious needs. Do I need to remind you that India has nuclear weapons just as China does? Their officials were not at all happy when their Chinese counterparts finally admitted to building a dam on one of their most important rivers. Cheap plastic shit is just that important I guess.

So, that being said, I really don't see the point in helping people with this kind of aimless and horrific profligacy, which they will carry out if their "rights" are respected, and the words of Marvin Minsky come to mind:
Will robots inherit the earth? Yes, but they will be our children. We owe our minds to the deaths and lives of all the creatures that were ever engaged in the struggle called Evolution. Our job is to see that all this work shall not end up in meaningless waste.
Right now, we're going down the path of meaningless waste to be sure. Just look around. I don't want that to happen. I don't think that humanism, reared on false premises as it is, is the best way to avoid this descent into ruin. Concepts of human rights, such as they exist now, are not the way forward. We need radical change.

thundril
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Re: Anthropocentrism

#14 Post by thundril » January 27th, 2011, 12:02 pm

Radius wrote:
thundril wrote:OTOH, I like the word humanist because I link it with other words, (like humanity and humane,) which give me a nice warm, fuzzy feeling,, to do with love, fellow feeling, mutual recognition, mutual respect.
Isn't this an appeal to consequences of a belief?
I don't know. Maybe. But then I don't call myself a Humanist, I just like the word I think it expresses the more positive side of my feelings about us humans.
Radius wrote:What is PPE?
Sorry about that, Radius, I was using an inappropriate shorthand. PPE is Politics Philosophy Economics. I was referring to the suggestion in the article you linked to, that people who don't think seriously are somehow less worthy of respect.

Radius
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Re: Anthropocentrism

#15 Post by Radius » January 27th, 2011, 12:07 pm

thundril wrote:
Radius wrote:
thundril wrote:OTOH, I like the word humanist because I link it with other words, (like humanity and humane,) which give me a nice warm, fuzzy feeling,, to do with love, fellow feeling, mutual recognition, mutual respect.
Isn't this an appeal to consequences of a belief?
I don't know. Maybe.
I should say so.
thundril wrote:PPE is Politics Philosophy Economics. I was referring to he suggestion in the article you linked to, that people who don't think seriously are somehow less worthy of respect.
What if their unwillingness/inability to learn causes harm to civilization as a whole?

Are they less worthy of respect then?

Because I think so.

thundril
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Re: Anthropocentrism

#16 Post by thundril » January 27th, 2011, 12:29 pm

I suspect we may be using 'respect' in different ways.
r maybe not. To clarify with an example:
Suppose someone commits an act that society as a whole has defined as a serious crime. Suppose I agree with the general consensus. My concern would be
a. to ensure that person ceases this offending behaviour
b to reiforce for society as a whole the general consensus that this behaviour is unacceptable.

Now, suppose that society's current way to achieve the above aims is to execute the offending individual, and that I agree with the general consensus with regard to this particular crime.. I would not consider this execution a disrespectful act; only a necessary one.

Radius
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Re: Anthropocentrism

#17 Post by Radius » January 27th, 2011, 12:33 pm

thundril wrote:I suspect we may be using 'respect' in different ways.
r maybe not. To clarify with an example:
Suppose someone commits an act that society as a whole has defined as a serious crime. Suppose I agree with the general consensus. My concern would be
a. to ensure that person ceases this offending behaviour
b to reiforce for society as a whole the general consensus that this behaviour is unacceptable.

Now, suppose that society's current way to achieve the above aims is to execute the offending individual, and that I agree with the general consensus with regard to this particular crime.. I would not consider this execution a disrespectful act; only a necessary one.
And where does bleeding the planet dry fall on the spectrum of unacceptable behaviors?

thundril
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Re: Anthropocentrism

#18 Post by thundril » January 27th, 2011, 12:46 pm

Radius wrote:
thundril wrote:I suspect we may be using 'respect' in different ways.
r maybe not. To clarify with an example:
Suppose someone commits an act that society as a whole has defined as a serious crime. Suppose I agree with the general consensus. My concern would be
a. to ensure that person ceases this offending behaviour
b to reiforce for society as a whole the general consensus that this behaviour is unacceptable.

Now, suppose that society's current way to achieve the above aims is to execute the offending individual, and that I agree with the general consensus with regard to this particular crime.. I would not consider this execution a disrespectful act; only a necessary one.
And where does bleeding the planet dry fall on the spectrum of unacceptable behaviors?
Way up there with genocide, IMO.

Radius
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Re: Anthropocentrism

#19 Post by Radius » January 27th, 2011, 12:47 pm

thundril wrote:
Radius wrote:
thundril wrote:I suspect we may be using 'respect' in different ways.
r maybe not. To clarify with an example:
Suppose someone commits an act that society as a whole has defined as a serious crime. Suppose I agree with the general consensus. My concern would be
a. to ensure that person ceases this offending behaviour
b to reiforce for society as a whole the general consensus that this behaviour is unacceptable.

Now, suppose that society's current way to achieve the above aims is to execute the offending individual, and that I agree with the general consensus with regard to this particular crime.. I would not consider this execution a disrespectful act; only a necessary one.
And where does bleeding the planet dry fall on the spectrum of unacceptable behaviors?
Way up there with genocide, IMO.
What does this imply then?

thundril
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Re: Anthropocentrism

#20 Post by thundril » January 27th, 2011, 12:56 pm

It implies that
IF some persons were wilfully or otherwise destroying the planet
AND IF I could distinguish the ones who were doing this from the ones who were having it done to them
AND IF I could think of a way to achieve the aims (a and b) listed above
AND IF the only way to achieve those aims would involve the deaths of those doing the damage
AND IF it would NOT also result in the deaths of large numbers of those NOT doing the damage
AND IF I could carry out the necessary act successfully

THEN I would not think I was treating the (persons whose activities I have curtailed) disrespectfully.

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