Sunday, May 30, 2010

The False Promises of Liberal Humanism and the Truth of Dr. Marimba Ani

[source: here]
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. The term can mean several things, for example (1) a historical movement associated especially with the Italian Renaissance; (2) an approach to education (in any period of history) that uses literary means or a focus on the humanities to form students; or (3) a philosophical approach that sometimes stands over and against traditional religious modes of thought, but that may also be fully integrated into them (e.g. Christian humanism). For many today, humanism is a worldview and a moral philosophy that considers humans to be of primary importance. It is a perspective common to a wide range of ethical stances that attaches importance to human dignity, concerns, and capabilities, particularly rationality. Although the word has many senses, its current philosophical meaning comes into focus when contrasted with appeals to the supernatural or to some higher authority.[1][2] Since the 19th century, one developing strand of the meaning of humanism has come to be associated with an anti-clericalism inherited from the 18th-century Enlightenment philosophes. This particular use of the term covers organized non-theistic religions, secular humanism, and a humanistic life stance.[3] Such interpretations can be compared and contrasted with other prominent and repeated uses of the term in traditional religious circles.[4] Humanist, humanism, and humanistic can very frequently refer to literary culture.[5] [source: here]
If it isn't already blatantly obvious, and I believe it ought to be, there is a problem with this thing called "Western Liberal Humanism". All my adult life I've heard people tell me, "Well, I don't go in for that whole thing of calling myself a FEMINIST, or an ANTIRACIST. Because I'm a HUMANIST. The message carries with it an implicit message to the listener: "I'm more evolved than you. You're still in that stage where you're stuck on identity politics."

Identifying as a human apparently doesn't count as declaring an identity, and, in fact, humanism makes no effort to save non-human animals from becoming extinct, or to save the Earth from pollution, over-population, and death.

And what humanists don't seem to realise is that, whether they wish to acknowledge this or not, they are identifying rather strongly with European white het men, who are, materially and spiritually understood by WHM to be "fully human". It is that group that conceived of this idea of humanism, and if you think part of what they intended was for white het male supremacy to disappear any time soon, you're mistaken. If you're not white, not het, and not male, you're probably sorely mistaken.

Stating one's values doesn't equal action in the world to make the world less oppressive for oppressed people.

Promoting civil liberties in societies which don't value or protect civil and human rights won't do anything to liberate oppressed people.

Liberal humanism has no means, methods, mechanisms, plans, or organised systematic practices for actually ending any form of systemic and institutionalised suffering. Such goals, including the collectivist democratic processes for attaining them, aren't on the checklist of what Western Liberal Humanist's adherents and espousers want to achieve, except abstractly, in spoken or written proclamations backed up with nothing at all--no resistance movements, no concerns or protests beyond those impacting the social individual who is human, which, in the Western world means the white het man. Humanists have their academic humanities, whereby they extol the virtues of societies they cannot create and do not currently live in.

The best definition of liberalism I've ever heard was that "it makes promises it has no intentions of keeping". Yes, that's one of the problems. Proclamations about one's values aren't quite enough to keep rain forests and sacred land from being destroyed; oil and many manufactured toxic substances from spilling out into oceans and other waterways; Indigenous, Black, Brown, and Asian people from being poisoned and killed by white men's militaries and corporations; heterosexism, including the promise of lesbian and gay youth committing suicide at greater rates than heterosexual youth, from flourishing in practice; anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim white terroristic Christian supremacy from thriving, misogynist, rapist male supremacy from dominating and ruling. If cities, by definition and in reality are without exception not sustainable, as Derrick Jensen states, what is liberal humanism's plan to dismantle them?

If liberal humanism can't produce human rights, can't liberate the oppressed, can't create sustainable societies, what good is it? And for whom, exactly, is it "ethically good"? The answer: wealthy white het men and those who wish to practice the ethically bankrupt ideals espoused by them and their philosophers.

So instead of proclaiming to me the advanced, progressive values that you hold most dear, tell me what you're doing to ensure that everyone has human rights and that the most structurally and institutionally empowered among us are accountable to people of color and Indigenous people if you're white, to radical feminists if you're a man, and to the Earth and all its live forms in a commitment to sustainable living.

Because if you're living in ways that are unaccountable to those you structurally and institutionally oppress, the terms you use don't mean shit.  But they do mean the continuation of CRAP. And that's the problem.

Supporting ideals such as dignity and rationality is bound to some very dangerous ideas and practices. Declaring platitudes are easy. Challenging white het male supremacy is less easy.

If you want to know exactly what humanism is responsible for, what valuing dignity and rationality has done to the world, please read Yurugu: An African-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior, by Marimba Ani, and get back to me on how "evolved", or "good", it is to be a humanist.

And, in the mean time, please figure out how to be directly and meaningfully accountable to those you oppress.

See also here and especially here.

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