Hi. Welcome to the site. Please check out the About Us, and if you have a question about crime and/or punishment, perhaps look at some previous questions along those lines first.
Welcome to Anarchy101 Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers about anarchism, from anarchists.

What are some anarchist critiques of humanism?

+7 votes
asked Mar 13, 2012 by anonymous

2 Answers

+3 votes
1. Humanism facilitates ecological collapse.
Belief in the right of human supremacy over all other species (whether explicitly for domination or under the guise of stewardship) has brought us to the brink of an ecological collapse that will lead to a world of polluted wastelands and destroy most species on Earth, including the human species. Divorcing ourselves from values of aliveness, wildness, and regeneration has achieved disastrous consequences for the majority of the human species as well as all other species on Earth and all known habitats.

2. Humanism furthers alienation.
Belief in human separation from "nature" has forced us into a roles that foster neuroses and madness; an alienated existence inflicts increasing psychological and spiritual harm to we who live and more and more in a sterile, deadened, mechanical, symbolic world of control.

3. Humanism believes in speciesist Dominion.
The social construct of property arises from a humanist perspective that treats other species and landbases only as utilitarian to certain humans rather than possessing even the most rudimentary levels of intrinsic worth (spirituality), self-ownership (philosophy), consideration for ecological contribution (functionalism), or belief that they have no superior or subordinate value (nihilism/egoism).

4. Humanism rationalizes abuse.
To do this humanists arbitrarily elevate some measure (e.g. intellect, rationality, tool use) or content (e.g. soul, nervous system) to justify authoritarian behavior toward anyone classified as external. Such criteria change to rationalize the desire for authoritarian behavior as desired. Humanism makes excuses and rationalizations for human behaviors toward other species (slavery, extermination) that humanists would never concede to other entities (e.g. aliens or machines) with greater of even the agreed-upon measures or contents. It's an identity defense system, not a moral truth.

5. Humanism speaks the Myth of Progress.
Humanists almost always believe in the Myth of Progress, the belief that the state of humanity is always positively improving socially or technologically in a straight, forward, unidirectional line toward utopia, or at least claim this pattern has occured so far with the development of the Neolithic Revolution. Humanists believe that no other species does this, that humans are the subject and consciousness of the cosmos, and therefore everyone and everything else is an resource to exploit.

6. Humanism acts as the modern religious authority.
Humanism replaces God at the throne of authority with a particular and unquestioned image of the human species (the rational, productive man), and creates a new clerical class of scientists, technicians, bureaucrats, and others that mediate and divvy out "Progress".

7. Humanism has racist, colonialist mythology & history.
Humanism has constructed myths of an external "environment" and demonizes a concept of "nature" that it perceives as hostile to human aims.
Humanism therefore has easily accommodated racism, as it is anti-"nature" and therefore to some extent anti-any-ethnicity-that-resembles-"nature", such as "savages", "witches", "barbarians", "cavemen", "Indians", "Negroes", and supported those who embody a struggle against "nature", such as "pilgrims", "pioneers", "mountain men", Victorian-era masculine hetero males, Western scientists, who just happened to also be the colonizers.

8. Humanism hates wildness.
Humanists usually love the features of urban society that biotically cleanse landscapes to replace them with monuments to the greatness of Man and and testaments to the glory of Industry, artifacts of repression.

9. Humanism hates aliveness.
Humanists usually posses an intense attachment to mass society and technophilia and drawdown of non-renewables, and false notions that "Everything is natural" or "That which is natural is subordinate", and "Technology is neutral". On a spectrum of (a) all lifeforms and landbases have value, to (b) only humans and their settlements and artifacts and symbols have value, to (c) only industrial technology has value, humanists are a lot closer to (c) than they'd like to admit, and have justified or rationalized the eradication or subjugation of "backward" peoples and entire species or habitats for increasing technical complexity (see: Marxists, transhumanists). For the most part, humanists today can more easily come to terms with having no more traditional indigenous people on Earth, no more migratory songbirds on Earth, no more old growth forests on Earth, than having no more computers on Earth.

10. Humanism inherits ignorance & arrogance.
Humanist rhetoricians therefore often just cloak colonialism and dominion, taking them for granted or applauding them without giving room to radical critiques of their origins, histories, and trajectories, and in fact suppressing dissidents historically.

11. Humanism acts as another concept of sacrifice for control.
Stirner: "How is it with mankind, whose cause we are to make our own? Is its cause that of another, and does mankind serve a higher cause? No, mankind looks only at itself, mankind will promote the interests of mankind only, mankind is its own cause. That it may develop, it causes nations and individuals to wear themselves out in its service, and, when they have accomplished what mankind needs, it throws them on the dung-heap of history in gratitude."

12. Humanism has a cold heart.
Some anarchists have trouble confining our opposition to slavery and extermination to just 1 in 8,700,000 species, during a mass extinction no less.
answered Mar 13, 2012 by AutumnLeavesCascade (9,030 points)
edited Mar 13, 2012 by AutumnLeavesCascade
Not the OP here.  This is not entirely concened with the question however it is related to your response.  I'm curious Autumn, as a primitivist (or the at the very least someone with an affinity for anti-civ theory), what are your feelings about the works of art or other such "mediated forms of communication"?  Do you reject them outright, as Zerzan does?  Do you feel that they are incompatible with your ideas of what an anarchist community would be like; either because they are part of "mass culture" or because they would require an unacceptable amount of environmental manipulation or industrial technologies to produce them?

I don't know if these forms of communication would be ultimately beneficial or detrimental to anarchist community in the long run, but I do know that I wouldn't want to live in a place where all these works of cinema, art, music, and literature no longer exist. Where the only forms of storytelling are listening to the guy next to you at the campfire.  Where the only music is a drum circle and singing.  This might be desirable for other (perhaps many other) people, but it isn't for me.  We're not all the same and I think I'd rather not live if this were the case.  Sorry for the rant.  I wish there was a private messaging thing on here.  What are your thoughts?
Kempo (or whoever commented here) I wanted to respond in good faith to your question, but I can no longer see it. Feel free to reveal it to me if you've hidden it and want to discuss it, and I have an email copy if you deleted it but do want me to respond.
With respect, I am not sure you have a real understanding of what humanism is. I am curious as to where are you getting these assumptions/points from? What readings do you have to back this statement up? I think you may need to read a little more about humanism to understand it better. This would be a good start:

 http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=cherry1_18_1&back=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.secularhumanism.org%2Flib%2Flist.php%3Fpublication%3Dfi%26vol%3D18

Myth 4 and 5 being most relevant to your comments.
I see humanism as ideologies that further a belief in human primacy and supremacy. Feel free to define the word differently, but I see beliefs in the superiority of humans to the combination of all other species and habitats as a paramount issue, and instead value the interconnected web of existence, which puts me at odds with anthropocentric notions.

-For point #2: Nietzsche disputed this claim, and I see his analyses here as valid.
-For point #4: Not all humanism is secular, and also, regardless of whether or not secular humanists "worship" humankind, they certainly have a tendency to put humankind in a position of extreme authority over "nature", with just as irrational reason as Christians who put Yahweh and Man over "nature".
-For point #5: The Enlightenment thinkers, the modern New Atheist thinkers, the older secular thinkers in various countries (Greece, China, India) all espoused the supremacy of humans over "nature", often just as rigidly and intensely as Christians who believe in Dominion, and saw this as foundational to their secular humanism. For example, Richard Dawkins' sees science's utility primaily in the “spectacular ability to make matter and energy jump through hoops on command”, very similar to the power of God, and just as lacking in a concern or value for ecology and wildness.

I am an anti-deist who sees value in deep ecology. "Deep ecology's core principle is the belief that, like humanity, the living environment as a whole has the same right to live and flourish...Deep ecology does not subscribe to anthropocentric environmentalism which is concerned with conservation of the environment only for exploitation by and for human purposes since this is grounded in a quite different set of philosophical assumptions. Deep ecology takes a more holistic view of the world human beings live in and seeks to apply to life the understanding that the separate parts of the ecosystem (including humans) function as a whole."
I hope this is not seen as representative of all anarchism and anarchists. This is mostly a primitivist view of things which borders on misantropy. Humans are indeed the main cause of ecological collapse but the only ones that can control that are the humans themselves with an appeal to the best aspects of humanity which are feelings of empathy, solidarity and the appeal to education and conciousness raising.
Claiming I'm a misanthrope is like claiming those who oppose white supremacy must be racists. I am against species hierarchy, not humans. Nothing I said opposed "empathy, solidarity and the appeal to education and conciousness raising". If you want to discuss any of the points without dismissive name-calling I'm willing to do so but it seems you didn't come here in good faith to discuss it so much as to marginalize me.
i would say only points 5, 6, 7, and 11 are ones i would call anarchist points.
and they are strong ones.
i wish that the pro-humanists would engage in more of an argument, instead of citing links and calling names?
and iconoclast, your appeal to the "empathy, solidarity and education" reminds me also of liberal appeals... after hundreds of years of this, what evidence do you have that any of those things make an impact at all? or do you blame everything on a belief in god (that is presumably withering away, but that i would argue has been replaced by a faith in Science?)
Autumn Leaf Cascade:"I see humanism as ideologies that further a belief in human primacy and supremacy. Feel free to define the word differently..."

Allright then. from your logic we will also have to accept someone coming here saying humanism is about eating cupcakes with syrup.

i guess every one here is a human. i am a human. Unless you call for the extermination of humanity or a continous ideology of self hate for humans, it might be better to foster the best in humanity and fight the worst of it. Just as there is a fascist environmentalism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecofascism), humanist ideas and positions could have been used to justify some bad things.

reason 5 sounds like a humanist has to believe in some kind of religious myth of progress. Progress can refer to overall improvement in humanity´s condition just as in can mean a small good change on a specific issue. For example it is clear in the US there has been some progress in the situation of african americans as far as breaking racist barriers and apartheid laws. the opposite of progress will be regression and so that also happens and humanists will also think that is possible and as such progress could not be seen as something that will happen no matter what.

I don´t see science as good on itself and science is mediated by corporate interests just like almost anything today. From the human posibility of empathy (which is not as clear in non-human animals) one can arrive at a position of concern for exploitation of species and environments.

So "humanism" created technocrats, scientists, bureaucrats, etc. Maybe in part although you might have to be more specific and instead of saying something so broad such as "humanists" you might have to blame monarchies, the rising bourgoise, etc. As far as science i don´t think scientists and science are "bad" per se. From the individualism of humanism one can decide to affirm one´s subjectivity and resist and reject bureaucratism. A humanist will defend the instrinsic value in individuals and so obviously from such a position one can oppose the instrumentalization of humans. Also some humanism tends more to aesthetics and art rather than with science.

On point 7 i think you can accuse many things of that and not just humanism. It will depend if a particular humanist is racist in order that that person will try to accomodate racism in humanism. Otherwise humanism will emphasize the human species as being one and so racism will be considered absurd. In fact scientific racism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_racism) tried to prove that non-white people were not humans or were a "sub-especies" of humans. The major french humanist philosopher Michel de Montaigne opposed the colonization of the Americas and in an essay called "Of Canniblas" he strongly came up againts caricaturizations of american people as "savages". As such "I find that there is nothing barbarous and savage in this nation, by anything that I can gather, excepting, that every one gives the title of barbarism to everything that is not in use in his own country. As, indeed, we have no other level of truth and reason, than the example and idea of the opinions and customs of the place wherein we live: there is always the perfect religion, there the perfect government, there the most exact and accomplished usage of all things. They are savages at the same rate that we say fruit are wild, which nature produces of herself and by her own ordinary progress; whereas in truth, we ought rather to call those wild, whose natures we have changed by our artifice, and diverted from the common order...But there never was any opinion so irregular, as to excuse treachery, disloyalty, tyranny, and cruelty, which are our familiar vices. We may then call these people barbarous, in respect to the rules of reason: but not in respect to ourselves, who in all sorts of barbarity exceed them." http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/montaigne/montaigne-essays--2.html In fact "The discovery of so many new lands in the Renaissance had less impact on most Europeans than one might suppose. They were largely absorbed in recovering (and competing with) their own classical past and engaging in violent theological and political disputes among themselves. Yet some Europeans were profoundly shaken by the new discoveries into realizing that much of the world thought and lived very differently from what was then known as "Christendom." No writer was more strongly moved to view his own society from a new perspective in the light of reports brought back of the habits of the natives of the "New World" than Michel de Montaigne. He began a long tradition of using non-European peoples as a basis for engaging in a critique of his own culture, undoubtedly in the process romanticizing what Jean-Jacques Rousseau would later call "the noble savage." It is a theme which still appeals to many Westerners." http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/world_civ/worldcivreader/world_civ_reader_2/montaigne.html

As far as the citation by Stirner i will say that any concept can be instrumentalized, not just that of humanity and humanism. Even the concept of "individual" is instrumentalized today by right wing laisses faire capitalists in order that people become acritical consumerists saying that there they are being free because they choose what to buy, and also believers that private property is the main base of freedom without any distinction between corporate and capitalist property and things one uses (personal property) such as a toothbrush or a book.

Anyway it seems to me some people here might need to check two articles before talking seriously about humanism:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_humanism
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renaissance_humanism

i find the following interesting "Postmodern critics who are self-described anti-humanists, such as Jean-François Lyotard and Michel Foucault, have asserted that humanism posits an overarching and excessively abstract notion of humanity or universal human nature, which can then be used as a pretext for imperialism and domination of those deemed somehow less than human. Philosopher Kate Soper[61] notes that by faulting humanism for falling short of its own benevolent ideals, anti-humanism thus frequently "secretes a humanist rhetoric".[62]" In his book, Humanism (1997), Tony Davies calls these critics "humanist anti-humanists" " http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanism#Polemics
"Humanism hates wildness.
Humanists usually love the features of urban society that biotically cleanse landscapes to replace them with monuments to the greatness of Man and and testaments to the glory of Industry, artifacts of repression."

I like this. Human supremacy is doomed.
+4 votes
Humanism is, in name or effect, representational politics. It is an attempt to administer to populations that which will alleviate their suffering and provide for them an ideologically conceived of better life. The most prominent examples of humanist politics are humanitarian intervention and human rights advocacy. Both are monstrous aberrations worthy of our scorn.

Humanism is representational in another sense. Humanism is a program or abstraction thought up by some and carried out (imposed) on others. It is an act that defines a massified "social good" and then presumes to magically imbue everyone with the same valuation or the same imagined social/political desire. When this program for the so-called social good is seen to represent universal values it is a moralizing and colonial affair defining for everyone that which is good and evil and compelling us to think, feel and act in accordance with this scheme.

Humanism is a pitiful scheme and a program of pity which seeks to protect people from themselves. The politics trains its vision on our singular and collective humiliations and weaknesses without any desire to destroy the situation that gives rise to them. It prefers refugee camps to fighting enemies and values charity over acting on our rage. An anarchy worthy of the name strives for strength, values our capacity to fight and be cruel, does not bow to the notion that "we", like a chain, are only as strong as our weakest link.

Humanism simply does not exist. There is no innocent and benevolent politics or political actor. It is a contradiction so insurmountable that one can only buy into a humanist project when they subscribe to the moral architecture that undergirds such politics or when they fail to see that political representation is definitionally anathema to anarchy - a state that is sadly far too common. There is no "we". There is no imagined community to protect. There are obstacles to the life we pursue. We wish to destroy them, not to make them more palatable. Humanism is just such an obstacle in need of annihilation.

An acceptance of humanist values or politics would signal an acquiescence to our enemies. Humanism turns expanse into territory and prefigures the terms of our engagement with politics, life and the world. It accepts the terms that capitalism, the state, morality (religious or secular), or our enemies decree for us. It is social in its orientation and conservative for the obscure cause of mass society. Anarchism should stand against all this. It should rage against a predetermined life ordered into repeating patterns, which always serves ends other than our own.  We should embrace our anti-social tendencies and be free of the social/humanist yoke. Anarchism is an opening to chaos and a world without coordinates.
answered Jan 26, 2013 by nothing resonates (920 points)
edited Jan 26, 2013 by nothing resonates
Your definition of humanism is reasonable. This makes no sense though:

“[Anarchy] should rage against a predetermined life ordered into repeating patterns, which always serves ends other than our own.  We should embrace our anti-social tendencies and be free of the social/humanist yoke. Anarchism is an opening to chaos and a world without coordinates.”

A hell of a lot hinges on how you qualify whose and what ends. Who exactly? Anarchists? What is a life that isn't predetermined? You're born into existence which has already been laid down. There are always some level of patterns, otherwise existence would untenable. Even for organisms that don't have the faculties to make culture this is the case. You're essentially saying that anarchy is a state of psychosis; that people are born into a state of abstract potentiality; the weak hold on for dear life to "patterns" and "coordinates" of social life and the strong brave the darkness implacable; that we should close ourselves off to any cooperative association with people who aren't heroically nihilistic and scary. The whole "annihilation/rage/cruelty/strength/fight/burn/kill" motifs of individualist anarchism are really tiresome. I'm almost certain you're a fairly tame, unassuming person. I hope you're not a scary person. There have been too many scary revolutionists. Scary revolutionists and the bureaucrats seem to own that particular "coordinate" of life.

Idk... I'm just not sure why you're tending toward being all fiery and intimidating. Who are you trying to stare down or scare off? You had a good opener with correlating humanism to representative democracy then you went all militant crazypants.
...