Monday, October 21, 2013

Man and Superman

Humanist religions

The last three hundred years, says Prof Harari, has seen the rise of the humanist religions, religions which put humans at the center of the universe, and in effect, worship Homo sapiens. He sees three main flavors: liberal humanism, socialist humanism, and evolutionary humanism. Liberal humanism puts individual liberty first, which socialist humanism puts the good of society and equality of individuals first. Both of these, he says, are closely related to monotheism, with it's emphasis on the essential selfhood of the soul and the equality of souls before God.

What really interests him, though, is what he calls evolutionary humanism. He singles out the Nazis as exemplars of that doctrine. Nietzsche's name is never mentioned, but Harari's analysis notes the centrality of Nietzschean (plus a dash of Darwinian) ideas to their ideology. At the center of that ideology was the notion of perfecting the human race by elimination of the weak and unfit, thus gradually turning men into supermen. Of course Hitler thought the so-called Aryan race was the superior race, and he worked to eliminate not only inferior races but inferiors like the mentally ill and sickly from that race too.

Of course Hitler's racial ideas have been thoroughly discredited by subsequent scientific research, but Harari points out that they were far less outlandish in their time, a time when it was widely assumed (by White people) that other races were inferior and that mixing with them would pollute the "superior" strain. Such notions were nearly as popular in the scientific literature and government policies at the time as they were among the ignorantly bigoted masses.

Liberal humanism is clearly the dominant notion in the elite world today, but it's foundations look pretty vulnerable. Scientific research has failed to find anything that looks like a soul, and differences between humans and other animals look increasingly ephemeral. Law and society have failed to keep up with science, he thinks. The subject is to be revisited later in the course.