Human Exceptionalism

Humanists are not human exceptionalists.  Don’t get me wrong. We like being human, but we are also aware that as a species, we aren't necessarily that wonderfully adapted to life. After all, we have only been around a few hundred thousand years and tardigrades have survived several mass extinctions in their current form. We humans, on the other hand, seem intent on causing our own mass extinction.

Which is why claims that humanists are human exceptionalists is so bizarre.  All we are saying, when we say we are humanists, is that given the fact I am a human, I’m going to try and be a good human, whatever being good means in any given situation.

I think what happens is that people who grew up with a religious worldview, which consider humans the pinnacle of creation, when they reject that worldview for very good reasons, are wary of anything that seems to hint at a similarly stupid view of humanity. So when these people hear about humanism, they assume it means that we consider humans the pinnacle of creation and they recoil from that thought – for good reason, it’s a stupid and scientifically inaccurate viewpoint. What they fail to do is ask any actual humanists if we think that way, they just assume we do, because the same religious leaders who told them that humans are special, also told them that Humanists are evil for thinking that humans are special. For the record, we don’t think humans are all that special. We have a scientific mindset and that puts us squarely in the realm of us humans being just another species.

So, if you like our Humanist ethics, but you are concerned that humanists are egocentric assholes who don’t understand science and have some weird ideas about human superiority, please consider that that idea, may actually be baggage from your religious upbringing and you may be projecting that onto us. Because it’s not actually reflective of how actual Humanists think.

For more on this please read James Croft’s lovely essay on Why Humanists are not Human Exceptionalists -

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