This post sort of came out of nowhere. I was writing about something completely different and then realized I was describing more of my worldview, so I guess I ought to post it as is.
I’m a humanist. I place my trust and value in the ability of rational persons to achieve great things. I happen to believe that people have more similarities than differences, and as such that those similarities can and should be taken advantage of. I also respect people’s differences and may even seek to maintain them in order to avoid losing vast repositories of human knowledge and experience. I do, however, maintain the right to employ my own powers of reason and my own experiences to make judgments, moral and factual, among others, and to declare others mistaken if I feel that their ideas are a detriment to the advancement of human expression. Knowing when I have enough evidence to take this kind of position is a difficult balancing act, and all of my judgments remain mutable. They are not, however, any weaker for this. In fact, because I know that despite the fact that they could be changed at any moment and yet, these are the ones that have withstood the onslaught of critical thought, makes me trust more in my opinions.
This understanding of humanity, combined with my knowledge-based worldview means that I have a fairly broad definition of human knowledge and expression. As such, I have a deep respect for a wide variety of human activities, and multifarious interests corresponding to those activities I would like to make contributions to. This gets very intimidating. I can study hyperbolic geometry, twentieth century feminism and sociobiology all I want, but I’ll never know everything, or even close, within those fields. I might have an interest in something as broad as physics or as specific as scav (Go SCAV!!) but I’ll never learn enough. And that’s what’s so great about living in a time when the vast magnitude of past human achievement can be really appreciated and brought to bear on future endeavors. Big things, like the Human Genome Project. Medium things like being a famous videoblogger. Small things, like geochacheing. Did you know what that was? I only recently found out. Small things that become big, like community organizing.
It’s all so fantastically cool I really just can’t get a handle on it. I’ve had at least three existential crises relating to times I realized I’d never know anything/everything. It makes me anxious, nervous and scared. But it also makes me excited, proud and optimistic. It’s this sense of the world I call humanism, and this willingness to learn I call being an intellectual. I wrote a whole college essay fangirling out on the meaning of mind-boggling. Because that’s what this world is, and it’s pretty excellent.
So what to do if I can’t learn everything? First, learn to respect this fact, because in and of itself, it’s very important. Secondly, talk to people. People know things, and you can learn from them like you’d never believe. My version of humanism supports this in multiple ways. Firstly, people are all due a measure of dignity and respect, by being people. Secondly, one type of knowledge is knowledge about one’s self, and it can be unbelievably mind expanding to try to get into someone’s head, see what they see, feel what they feel. Thirdly, another type of knowledge I try to acquire is about people in general, and that sort of thing is pretty much impossible to access a priori. If you want to learn about people, and come to conclusions about their differences and similarities, you should probably go talk to them. It has helped me both achieve more confidence in my ideas – because I know that they survive in my head not only because I believe them to make sense but also because the knowledge and ideas of others has added to them and made them stronger – and also more flexibility in my point of view – because it has become commonplace for my essential notions about humanity and the universe to be changed or monumentally reshaped by a single conversation. Finally, a reverence for human achievement is incomplete without an equal amount of respect for the importance of collaboration, for all that humans have done together, in groups, to reach higher and higher goals than any alone. Human community is an invaluable resource, not to be squandered, and fostering such communities through your own actions tends to be deeply meaningful.
Caveats: To be perfectly honest, I’m not actually sure that this is what humanism means to me. It’s really difficult to put a handle on. Respect for human achievement certainly is humanistic, but I haven’t yet touched on the political, global, moral, justice-oriented or religious sides of humanism. And the aspects that deal with learning and ambition are in some ways what it means to be an intellectual, or a nerd, or something else. And the appreciation for the passion and excitement that goes into the most niche of activities might define being a geek. The vast reverence I have for it all I might call, if I were an entirely different sort of person, a kind of spirituality. So I’m not really sure what to call this sort of thing. I’m sure I’ll expand on it another time.
For other humanist ideas, check out these links: