The Descent of Man: Human, Post-Human, and Subhuman
From our transhistorical vantage point, it seems "an anti-Christian revival of pagan antiquity, a turn from what Nietzsche called slave morality to the master morality of the Greeks and Romans" (Gillespie). Remember, although ancient Greeks and Romans stressed virtue and honor, they also had no problem with infanticide, slavery, brutal torture, and horrible treatment of women.
And by the 20th century, this (per)version of humanism had prevailed. Christian humanism devolved to secular humanism, and here we sit today with the postmodern, post-literate, post-intellectual and post-noetic barbarians not only inside the gates, but in control of virtually all the disseminators of "culture" -- the news media, the arts, primary education, academia, professional organizations, and even perhaps most religions, e.g. the National Council of Churches, or reform Judaism (AKA, the Democrat Party with holidays thrown in).
Clearly, humanism answers a human need. But is it a legitimate need? Or, can it be made legitimate? The good news is that humanism "made the Renaissance and the modern world possible" (Gillespie). But one must immediately qualify that statement by noting that it also made the Renaissance and the modern world possible.
Is it really just a matter of all things human cutting both ways, of every blessing coming with a curse, and vice versa? Or, is there perhaps a proper way to be human? This is an idea that has always intrigued me, from my earliest days in graduate school. That is, when you train to be a clinical psychologist, you are training to be a "healer of souls." That being the case, there must be an explicit or implicit model of how a soul is supposed to function and what it is designed to "accomplish."
As I wrote in my book, only with the emergence of life do we have this new cosmic category called "pathology," because only when things need to go right, can something go wrong.
But the same holds true for the human subject. If it is not designed to do anything -- if it is just an absurd cosmic accident -- then it can have no intrinsic purpose and therefore no pathology. At best, "psychotherapy" would be purely analgesic, just a matter of reducing pain (or increasing pleasure) -- even when the pain is providing critical feedback about a life wrongly lived. But that is precisely the problem: you cannot say that a person is living his life "wrongly" if there is no ultimate purpose to life.
Recently our resident troll articulated the humanist position with his characteristic coarseness, that this is indeed a chaotic and meaningless cosmos except for the "meaning" that human beings invent and impose upon it. The whole problem with this approach is that this is not "meaning" properly so called, any more than a paranoid delusion is meaningful. Rather, it is pretending that the meaningless is meaningful, precisely. Frankly, I have much more respect for the secular humanist who is intellectually consistent, and who lives life as a true nihilist and anarchist.
But no human can consistently live this way, because it is not human to do so. Nor is it even "animalistic," for animals are anything but nihilistic. Rather, they well understand the purpose of their lives, and are never at a loss for "what to do." To paraphrase Schuon, animal instinct is their "collective intellect," whereas for man, the intellect properly so called is his instinct. We are born to know, and not only that; rather, we are born to know truth, otherwise our knowledge is ultimately of "nothing."
Nor is there any intrinsic limit to what a human may know. That is, he may know, and know absolutely. Or, you could say that he knows that the Absolute exists, if only because he can absolutely deny it, as do the neo-retro-atheists.
The question is, what is man that man should be mindful of him? You will have noticed that the more secular humanism "succeeds" in its project, the more it fails, because it converts potential humans into infra-humans exiled from their own spiritual archetype, their own salvation. Rampant narcissism, the cult of celebrity, neo-pagan body mutilation, the exaltation of the instincts, the most base impulses and sentiments masquerading as art -- if that is what humans are, who needs them?
But again, this is only a crude caricature of humanism cut off from the very impulses that brought it into being. The answer is surely not to suppress the human, as they do in the Islamic world, or in Communist China or Korea, or on leftist campuses, with their politically correct thought police, oppressive speech codes, and coercive totolerantarianism. Note the irony that they too have their implicit idea of what it is to be a proper human, but that it is imposed from on high, when one of the inviolable features of a true humanism would be the freedom to discover this on one's own.
Again, Petrarch tried to steer a middle course, on the one hand rejecting "Aristotelianism on essentially nominalist grounds," but also rejecting "the nominalist contention that God's omnipotence made all human freedom impossible." To a large extent, the new humanists found their inspiration in some of the earliest Christians, who were not only more intimate with ancient, pre-Christian wisdom, but also free of the institutional corruption that had gradually developed during the middle ages.
What makes a human a human? We cannot merely be rational beings, for if that is the case, then the ideal man is more of a machine than a human. In that model, the least human would be the most human, an obvious absurdity (which is why naive positivists and materialists such as Charles the Queeg are so creepy to us).
Rather, Petrarch regarded humans as primarily willing beings, which immediately goes to the question of freedom. Although reason can never account for man's freedom, if his freedom operates outside reason, then it is no longer free. Rather, it is merely "absence of constraint," which is neither here nor there. In this regard, the existentialists are absolutely correct that freedom without truth is nothingness, so that to embrace the nothingness makes one more human. An absurdity, yes, but existentialism does not pretend to be otherwise, which is to say, other than wise.
Way out of time. To be continued....