Nature is harsh. There is no controlling the life you are born into. We all want liberty from nature. Kurt Vonnegut in Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons said “Plato says that the unexamined life is not worth living. But what if the examined life turns out to be a clunker as well?” I remember praying to be other people. I measured myself not in terms of what I could do, but by how other experiences appealed to be. I wanted to be the genius. I wanted to walk into rooms filled with people who admired me. I wanted to have power and to do great things. I desired actualization of my most valuable faculties. However, it wasn’t until the negation of that idealized state realized after I became incredibly ill and disabled that this pursuit of self-escape stopped. I realized that without suffering I can’t know what I’m demanding of life.
Humanism as a concept has always alluded me. I was always skeptical of its premise, that humans have some inherently important position in the world. That didn’t sit well with my ethics. I read Nietzsche as my introduction into serious thinking and since that point onward I have questioned power constantly. I distrust most ideas and concepts, and humanism seems like a vestige of pre-twentieth century thought, where there was no need to clarify the distinction between man and ‘beast’. Nor was there the need to clarify the importance of man. Other than offering something akin to liberation theology to people almost guaranteed to exist within a power vacuum, I thought it was a growth on a disfigured image of the world. Today I think those arguments make themselves. We are constantly learning more about evolution, and that knowledge dissuades most from preoccupied thoughts about the superiority of human agency. And those who cannot shake the need for power bear the typical marks of a person forced through affliction by order of complete and total loss of everything . Ego is not useless, and not even always wrong. And yet inspite of knowing that almost all of the ideas and concepts from which humanism was developed, I think valuing the human is beneficial and helpful.
Humanism to me isn’t a campaign towards some idealized form. It’s a celebration of the human, in all its forms and variations. It’s a celebration of the quality of diversity at least as much as it is of individual human beings. I don’t believe it proscribes anything like what it used to, or anything like what religions do. I don’t believe it bounds us to our current states. I don’t believe the celebration of our uniqueness, the greatness and the failure, requires us to submit to mediocrity, to suffering, and to less-than what we as individuals need ad infinitum. I think humanism is a way for individuals to by their own volition separate themselves from others, in-spite of the chasm nature creates between people. It’s not a slave morality. It doesn’t involve accepting fate. It represents our power to control the information nature forces on us, however wonderful, and however harsh. Whether you were born with a brilliant mind to a wonderful, supportive and loving family in a prosperous country with equal opportunity, or whether you were born to apathetic, abusive parents, with a genetic disease and guaranteed life-long suffering, isolation and pain.
Sartre said man can always make something out of what he’s been made. I think at some time to avoid the work understanding complex ideas ensures we all wish for some cheat code or simple mnemonic that cuts quickly to a simple explanation. If a quote could capture Sartre’s existentialism, it’s that one. Freedom is the recognition of necessity. Freedom is but the cost of food. We won’t ever forget that life must be better. Lingering around the necessity for change as constantly diminishing hope as you believe yourself inadequate and life unfair still entails the pressing distinction backwards against nature that you are no less than what you are, and no more for it.