Toward Secular Humanistic Politics

Soon I’ll be going to the polls again. This time it’s federal. So how’s a secular humanist to vote?

Before I go into Canadian politics, and lining up the parties, let’s see if I can shape a humanistic political view.

The first thing of note is that secular humanism is typically an apolitical philosophy. With secular humanism having no established dogma people are free to completely disagree with everything I’m about to say about secular humanism and politics and still call themselves secular humanists.

So where to begin?

As always it’s best to start with a rough definition or outline. First secular humanism can best be characterized in terms of:

  • Need to test beliefs – A conviction that dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted on faith.
  • Reason, evidence, scientific method – A commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions.
  • Fulfillment, growth, creativity – A primary concern with fulfillment, growth and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general.
  • Search for truth – A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it.
  • This life – A concern for this life and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us.
  • Ethics – A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility.
  • Building a better world – A conviction that with reason, an open exchange of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.

So immediately we must require a political ideal of secularism, ethics based on reason, and forward thinking governance with an emphasis on the scientific method.

Next, I have always found humanism promising in its affirmations of the value of human life. This is expressed in the value of our time alive as this is the only time we all have. The ability to pursue greatness in life should not be denied to anyone in a society that wishes to be humanistic.

So what does this idea get us to?

There are many forces that can get in the way of a person achieving their potential with their own life. Many (classical) libertarians would argue that it’s the government that solely gets in the way of an individual’s freedom. In many cases this is true. However, often corporations can also trump individual freedoms.

Consider a multi-national monopoly which has the ability to gouge customers in areas with no competition and undercut the competition where it exists. This company then has the ability to prevent start-ups and entrepreneurs by removing access to resources, and selling products undervalued. This limits the individuals freedom in ways that a government typically wouldn’t. (Note this is one example of a corporation limiting individual liberties among many others that could be conjured up.)

So now we require that a humanistic political party must only pass laws that promote or protect the freedoms of its citizens. This includes watching out for the long-term liberty of the populous, through measures such as environmental controls and resource management.

Personally, I feel the only way we can all be free to achieve our maximum potential is if we are all guaranteed some minimum standard of living. When one is living in poverty there exists many quick and easy escape vices (drugs, alcohol, gambling, and other addictions). By letting people fall into these traps (which are often difficult to escape), a society fails to protect the ability of some citizens to achieve their potential.

So here we arrive at my ideal secular humanistic political philosophy: social democracy.

I believe that only by supporting every individual citizen and the environment, while remaining fiscally responsible (as in the long term this is essential to protecting future members of the society), maintaining a scientific rigour and remaining vigilant about the separation of church and state, a political party can perfectly exemplify the values outlined by secular humanism.

On the road to the election, I will outline the relation between each of the Canadian political parties and this idealized secular humanist party. So stay tuned.

[tags]secular humanism, politics, humanism, socialism, democracy, Canada, atheism[/tags]

9 thoughts on “Toward Secular Humanistic Politics”

  1. Hi Ian,

    I’m an atheist, but also a libertarian, so in the spirit of rational debate, allow me to comment on a couple statements.

    You wrote,

    Consider a multi-national monopoly which has the ability to gouge customers in areas with no competition and undercut the competition where it exists. This company then has the ability to prevent start-ups and entrepreneurs by removing access to resources, and selling products undervalued. This limits the individuals freedom in ways that a government typically wouldn’t. (Note this is one example of a corporation limiting individual liberties among many others that could be conjured up.)

    I understand this is merely an example, but I think it reflects some misconceptions about freedom.

    Freedom is not the ability to do anything one wants; that would be license. Rather, freedom is the ability to do what one wants, absent the use of force.

    You’ve given a highly theoretical example of something that could happen, but which in fact almost never happens without the connivance of the state (which is legalized force). Even then, however, no one’s freedom is actually violated. Merely because you find a product you want too expensive does not mean your freedom is violated in not being able to purchase said item. What it merely means is that the seller and buyer could not agree on a price, which happens quite frequently in the market, and no one is claiming a violation of their freedoms as a result. And even if somehow a company was able to prevent other companies from making the same product, you forget about substitution products that other companies could make. In practice, it is nearly impossible for a company to arrive to a position used in your example.

    Personally, I feel the only way we can all be free to achieve our maximum potential is if we are all guaranteed some minimum standard of living. When one is living in poverty there exists many quick and easy escape vices (drugs, alcohol, gambling, and other addictions).

    The problem with your view here is that there is really no hard correlation between such vices and poverty. They are afflictions of the rich just as much as the poor.

    Wouldn’t guaranteeing some minimum standard of living simply encourage people to never rise above that level and take responsibility for their lives?

    1. Wouldn’t guaranteeing some minimum standard of living simply encourage people to never rise above that level and take responsibility for their lives?

      Absolutely NOT!

      The point of my politics I outline is not to endorse socialism but to promote scepticism of claims first! To make a claim like yours, you would need to back it up with some evidence. Instead there is evidence to the contrary when you look to the socialist democracies of Europe which having flourishing economies and minimum standards of living.

  2. To make a claim like yours, you would need to back it up with some evidence. Instead there is evidence to the contrary when you look to the socialist democracies of Europe which having flourishing economies and minimum standards of living.

    I’m afraid the evidence is not quite what you think. Economists have known for a long time how welfare benefits negatively impact incentives to find a job. Take the conclusion of this study, for example:

    The results that emerge from the empirical analysis suggest that social benefits per man may indeed adversely influence the rate of unemployment in EU-15…This finding, in conjunction with the evi-dence that the unemployment rate is invariant with respect to social benefits in USA and Canada, leads us to the conclusion that some EU countries may have to restructure their welfare systems, so as to reduce welfare benefits in favour of greater labour market flexibility and self-reliance on the part of workers.

    Indeed, a country like France, which has a chronic unemployment rate of 10%, should at least give pause to your prescription.

    Can you offer evidence that “our maximum potential” is achieved through the guarantee of some minimum standard of living? Or is this a belief that is, dare I say, grounded more on faith than fact?

    1. Perhaps there’s more to life than money and economics. The quality of life of the people of a nation is not solely determined by GDP and unemployment rates. I’m technically unemployed but am having a great life!

      If we take a quick look at the most livable cities (which roughly correlates to standards of living), we see only welfare states in the top 10-20 of two separate rankings.

      My arguments in my post are also not about Socialism being economically better than capitalism, but about it aligning more with Secular Humanistic values. When I claim we can reach our maximum potential I mean just that – although I mean potential more as individual human beings than as cogs in an economic wheel. Supporting this claim I offer this paper with the conclusion:

      Considering national rates of satisfaction in the industrial democracies from the 1970s to the present, we find that citizens find life more rewarding as the generosity of the welfare state increases, net of economic or cultural conditions. The implications for social policy are discussed.

      I will also quote this:

      Social democracy, whatever its failings, does appear to increase mean levels of subjective well-being.

      from: Benjamin Radcliff, “Politics, Markets, and Life Satisfaction: The Political Economy of Human Happiness”, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 95, No. 4 (Dec., 2001), pp. 939-952.

      He also argues that France and Japan slip from the trend a bit due to a loss of individualism in those countries.

  3. This is certainly an interesting study and worth consideration, but recall your original assertion that it is “our maximum potential” which you seek to achieve, not “subjective well-being.” For an example of the difference, say that I win the lottery and am thus able to fund a quite lavish and relaxing lifestyle. I may be quite satisfied, but is it helping me to achieve my maximum potential as a human being? That’s quite debatable.

    To me, achieving maximum potential works best in an environment of virtually unlimited opportunity, to both succeed and fail. In my view, broadly free market economies with low tax rates, such as Hong Kong, offer such an environment, but I can see how some may have a different opinion.

    We are all “cogs in an economic wheel,” whatever the model.

  4. Dear Ian:

    It is so good to hear someone with a similar view. I label myself as an Antidelusionist Humanist. I believe Canadians (humans) are conditioned to percieve themselves as inteligent when they realy are not. Democracy is problematic as the leaders of a country are representitive of the mental health of the nation. A true humanist party would (should) have only those whom have spent their lives pursuing an issue deal with that issue. Rather what I see in the world is people wanting to make their opinions heard on all subjects while they can not self-actualize and recognize their ignorance of all subjects.
    The nation should be governed by those who specialize and politicians should only be the voice of the rational decisions made behind open door meetings using the scientific method.

Comments are closed.