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Blog: Humanist Voices

freedom-birds-20249289Humanists in Minnesota, meet diversity and inequality. Diversity and inequality, meet Humanists in Minnesota. Introductions are usually made when people/things are strangers to each other. What difference does it make to our understanding and practice of Humanism whether we bypass diversity and inequality or take them into account? 

Well, ok, some Humanists here might say, we have not only met them but in fact have experienced them. True but my point is that diversity and inequality have not been acknowledged to the significant degree that they would inflect our understanding of Humanism. Other Humanists here might say, well, why, Humanism is about the universal concepts we have in common and that make us the same, underneathand aboveour diversity and inequality, even regardless of them; in other words, we are all human. Nice but it is somewhat self-evident that we are all human! My question is: who are these humans? Or are we saying it doesn't matter?

The Humanists of Minnesota principles as described currently on two of our main webpages leads us (many members of this association) to do at least one of two things. The first is done by detaching the principles from their local ethnic/racial/gendered/economic locations and assume their universality. In other words, to believe that despite our diverse locations, we all believe in the same principles in the same ways. The other, somewhat contrary, is to draw a straight line between some visible attributes (skin color, gender, accent, perhaps class/education) with certain moral/ethical beliefs or positions, and acknowledge diversity and inequality in this way.

I want Humanism in Minnesota to respond to, and thus be relevant in, a nation (the U.S.) and in a world where hybrid identities and heterogeneous experiences are increasingly frequent. One way to do that would be to revisit the history of Humanism and encounter the fact that it is hybrid—it is a compilation of ideas from Mediterranean (Greek and Latin) and Medieval Islamic cultures. This fact may upset our notion that Humanism is produced exclusively from Anglo-European intellectual traditions, also read as white. Moreover, humanistic traditions existed, and still exist, in ancient and indigenous American, African, South Asian, and Chinese cultures. And moreover, it is significant that American forms of Humanism, as the one in Minnesota, identifies primarily, implicitly or explicitly, with European forms that, through the 16th into the 20th centuries, can be contextualized in histories of colonization and industrial capitalism.  Read further on Humanism and America and History of Humanism

The second approach is about the humans in humanism. We are, each and every one of us, products of this complex history. One way to view diversity is to count discrete identities as collectively representative (one woman, one man, one white, one black, one old, one young, etc.). This list of separate attributes runs counter to my understanding and experience of how we are all simultaneously gendered, classed, racialized, classed, etc. Another way is to consider ourselves individually as having emerged from, and formed by, heterogeneous histories that have gained the aura of homogeneity and singularity, even universality.

Basically, then, I'm saying that, for the here and now, we need a materially-grounded humanism that takes its historical hybridity (collective and individual) into account. This accounting may infuse the universalized principles (Reason and Compassion, for example) with rich, diverse interpretations that may really get us talking and acting with greater intention and awareness. 

We are making the history of Humanism as it will become, and our philosophies as well as our practices are history in the making.  So we should be on the alert to the place of Humanism in an ever-changing world.

In short, who the who are affects what the what is. This first blog post from this author for this site, might as well just have been this one line! I felt obliged to explain it.  The grammar auto-check tells me there is something wrong with this sentence. In addition, I risk invoking ex-U.S. president Bill Clinton’s (in)famous 1988 response on being asked in a grand jury trial about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, “it depends on what the meaning of the is is.” Or sounding like Dr. Seuss. I trust that what I’ve said above stays away from both political disingenousness and sheer comicality.


About the Author

Sonita Sarker


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