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Imagine all the People: Human Nature, War, Peace & Humanism

A Humanist View on War, Peace and Human Nature


    "... the life of man (is) solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. ... The condition of man ... is a condition of war of everyone against everyone. ... (The) natural proclivity of men (is) to hurt each other."
    - Thomas Hobbes
    "Throughout history, warfare ... has been endemic to every form of society, from hunter-gatherer bands to industrial states..."
    - E.O. Wilson
    (Quoting John Lennon, 'Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can. No need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man') - "Incredible as it may seem, many of us used to believe this treacle ... If people are innately saddled with certain sins and flaws, like selfishness, prejudice, sort-sightedness, and self-deception, then political reform would seem to be a waste of time."
    - Stephen Pinker

And so, as the 21st Century begins very much like the last ended - in a perpetual state of war - the words of Hobbes, Wilson and Pinker seem to ring true indeed. The nature of Homo Sapien Sapiens therefore, idealists like John Lennon and Dennis Kucinich aside, is such that the violence in Dafur, Palestine, Iraq and other forsaken lands does not speak to the failure of peace, but instead represents the inevitability of human violence. And with the general acceptance, if at times believed reluctantly, of all of us regarding this practical truth, the antiwar Left has dwindled in political prowess and ambition, while at the same time Christian, Islamic and secular Dominionists among us hurry along the "end of days." But does all of this really best describe the actual truth of the human condition? Are we trapped, genetically or otherwise, by our circumstances in this downward spiral to oblivion, or have people like Hobbes, Wilson and Pinker gotten humanity wrong?

Humanism means different things to different people. Some focus on metaphysics and note that humanism is free of the dogma and supernaturalism of theism. Others point to methodology, advocating for scientific naturalism and skepticism. And still others emphasize the social justice elements of the humanist tradition. But what if we hold so dearly to one of these ideals that we forfeit the others to the supernaturalists or authoritarians?

If we cling to atheism as the basis for our behavior in society, then we may become what I call, "atheist avengers," putting our energies in debunking God while leaving social justice issues behind. If we only focus on science and skepticism we risk the twin evils of elitism and arrogance, finding more strength in attacking religionists or debunking the masses, than in making the world a better place to live. And if we focus only on social justice issues and ignore the problems of supernaturalism and the tool of science, we can find ourselves trapped in the labyrinth of postmodernism and luditism, and wind up building our societies on the fallacy that humans have free will.

So, finding all of these above as necessary parts of any meaningful and culturally relevant definition, it can be argued that humanism is a sociopolitical philosophy, both democratic and non-hierarchal, which is informed by scientific naturalism and promotes individual freedom, economic and social equality, human cooperation and planetary peace. With this definition at our fingertips, we can articulate then what may be considered to be a good working hypothesis, by which all aspects of human society can be understood and addressed. So what then about human nature, war and peace?

As with many such questions concerning the human condition this is a hard one, and not such that it will be answered in full here. Still, it is important for humanists to fortify their arguments on issues of war and peace not only with the armament of the most popular or highly regarded crafters of social scientific opinion, but also with lesser known and equally scientific and thoughtful opinions. After all, humanism is perhaps the only "ism" free of dogma because of the very self-correctiveness of science from which it is partly based, and so we ought to use just such a unique tool to its fullest.

Here is a list of names, some of which you may be familiar with. Niles Eldredge, Stephen J. Gould, D.S. Wilson, Harold Barclay, Judith Hand, and Douglas Fry. All have, in one way or another, argued against the current, neo-Darwinian arguments which seem to dominate the university and the work place in these times, yet they all do so from a scientific, and indeed Darwinian perspective.

The work of Eldredge, Gould and D.S. Wilson may be somewhat familiar at this point to the reader, so I want to focus here on the work of the latter three.

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