2.10 Objectivism & "Collective" Humanism

Back to 2.9 Humanism & Atheism

2.10.1 General humanism encourages us to think of the well being of our neighbors and our entire human family in our ethical decisions. It also encourages sensible charitable contribution and helping one another. At the same time, it stands strongly for individual human rights and individual human dignity.

2.10.2 As general principles, most all well meaning secularists can find common ground on the above. Humanism, then, leaves the implementation of these principles in specific issues up to individuals to debate among themselves. This helps to avoid dogmatism within the philosophy and doesn't force everyone into a single mold with respect to various issues.

2.10.3 This leads to a general (and healthy) dichotomy within the humanist community. Some humanists are strongly pro-individualist. They prefer minimal government in all affairs and (while not necessarily opposed to helping others) look at self-sacrifice as a vice and its promotion as a social cancer. Other humanists are extremely collectivist. They look at a pure form of socialism as the solution for many of society's ills and extol self-sacrifice as a heroic act. Of course, the bulk of humanists lie somewhere between these two extremes, but favoring one over the other. The former of these views is compatible with Ayn Rand's individualistic philosophy of Objectivism, which shares humanist metaphysics and epistemology. For these purposes, I shall consider Objectivism to be a subset of humanist philosophy. The latter I will informally refer to as "collectivism."

2.10.4 The ideals of collectivists are backed by noble intentions to be sure. Humans are often happiest when they are doing good for others. Often the best remedy for coping with one's own problems is helping someone with theirs. Psychologically speaking, it is often truly is better to give than to receive. Some would even argue that the ability to contribute to something larger than itself is a basic need of the human animal. Surely, it is logically evident that such a value system contributes to the immediate functionality of a society.

2.10.5 However, despite these worthy sentiments, there are a number of disturbing problems with this view. Collectivist ideals have often been used as a basis for oppressive and/or totalitarian regimes in which individual rights are ignored or outright obliterated. In some societies, collectivism merely manifests itself within the cultural ideology. In this more insidious form, collectivism has led to self devaluation and is often the antithesis of human dignity.

2.10.6 The Objectivist solution to this is to regard the individual as supreme. The highest moral purpose of the individual's life is the achievement of that individuals' own happiness. Not to sell this philosophy short, Objectivism is not simplistic in suggesting a sort of barbarism between individuals. It realizes that people must work together and form relationships to maximize their own happiness in life. However, it abhors its definition of altruism. Objectivism holds that no one should sacrifice themselves to another, nor should they sacrifice others to themselves. This means they cannot use people merely to serve their own ends, since each person is considered an end unto themselves.

2.10.7 Such an outlook has the advantage of strongly supporting individual rights, non-intrusive government (in both economic and social/moral arenas), and individual dignity and self worth. Despite some of the more brutish and unsophisticated criticisms of Objectivism, it is not incompatible with personal accountability and a respect for our fellow human being. Objectivism is the perfect antidote for the unfortunate side effects of collectivism.

2.10.8 Unfortunately, pure Objectivism can have some side effects of its own, as one is left wondering if the cure is not as bad as the disease. The American stereotype of the economic and academic success of the Japanese is often attributed to a cultural vision of the larger duty to one’s family and society. The good returns of such economic and academic success to the individual cannot be ignored as well. In the United States, individualism has been perhaps more prevalent than any other time or place in human history. Yet, well known are the ills which plague our nation, often stemming from what one might call an overdose of individualism. Societies tend to strip philosophies down and run away with their most basic core, while leaving behind all of their subtle and crucial qualifiers. Given this, Objectivism's extreme self-centered value system seems to be the last thing a nation such as the United States needs at this time.

Continue to 2.11 The Socio-Personal Principle