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The President of the American Humanist Association has a blog out loving Marx for his naturalism, but decrying the wicked old Utopian’s acceptance of human exceptionalism. From the blog of David Niose:

One such shortcoming is Marx’s tendency toward what might be called “human exceptionalism.” That is, any naturalistic consideration of human history would necessarily require a thorough analysis of the first fundamental fact about human existence – the fact that humans are animals. As an animal species humans are defined by their biological characterizations, and any understanding of the human condition, including its history, starts with an understanding of the biological reality of human existence. This biological reality is not just the physical reality of needing food, water and shelter, but also the biological reality of having a brain, and therefore a mind and psyche, that has developed via natural selection. Thus the human animal, in even the strictest materialist analysis, carries with it psychological traits (the fight-or-flight instinct, the tendencies toward anxiety and depression, the craving for food and comfort beyond what is rationally needed, etc.) that have somehow had survival value for hundreds of thousands of years. Marx, to his credit, attempts to incorporate natural humanity into his analysis, but for the most part he does little more than allude to the primitive, underlying biological nature of humans without incorporating a thorough commentary on that nature into his analysis.

In fact, any fair assessment would conclude that Marx actually downplays the animal nature of humanity, for when discussing the subject he falls into the common trap of quickly embarking on a discussion of what sets humans apart from other animals. This is what I mean when I refer to the “human exceptionalism” – Marx does not wish to thoroughly consider how humans and other animals are alike, but rather he immediately wants to discuss what is unique about the human animal.

Humanism was supposed to be about elevating and promoting human dignity and thriving without reliance on religion or supernaturalistic  beliefs.  Indeed, the movement itself originally promoted human exceptionalism from a  purely rationalistic perspective.

But as Niose so vividly illustrates, humanism has mutated to the point that it is becoming anti humanism.  In this view we are just so many animals in the forest, and to some, one of the worst.  What amazes me is that so many people are willing to follow this straight path to nihilism.

You think I exaggerate? Catch Niose’s conclusion:
A more accurate analysis, it seems, would give more weight to the fact that humans are an animal that is not so exceptional, recognizing that so-called “civilization” is a condition that is very new to this animal and its fragile psyche. For most of our history we have roamed the planet like other mammals, traveling in expanded family groups and eating what we can kill or find. We are an animal whose environment, only in the last few thousand years, a sliver of time, has been completely changed, and in just the last few generations has changed even more, and now we must adjust ourselves to our new conditions or, in the alternative, destroy ourselves and much of the rest of the planet.

Whatever we might have been, we are not that now. And engaging in human reductionalism will not lead where Niose thinks:
Surely the general goals of cooperation, justice, and social democracy will be more attainable via this wider view of naturalism.

Justice and social democracy do not arise out of animalistic naturalism, but rather, flow directly out of human exceptionalism’s concept of duty to and love for neighbor. I find this emotional commitment to human reductionism puzzling, sad, and I must say, dangerous.

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