Our secular society has a religion, a grand narrative, despite its insistence on secularism. That ideology is humanism, and though it is not rigid it still carries itself with enthusiastic religiosity. Humanism places man as the center of existence, of the universe. Not God or supernatural forces, only man in his pursuit of improvement through reason and inquiry. Man can be ‘good’ without God. Man is progressing away from the crude savage past and into a refined utopian future. Faith and optimism is placed in man’s ability to comprehend truths and fully understand the world around him. This is a brief summary of secular humanism, the West’s grand narrative that has replaced the previous Christian narrative.
To the the best of my ability I will attempt to define and elaborated on ‘antihumanism’ using various writers and sources. There is nothing official nor academic about this definition. It is only my attempt. It is divided into three major traits for the sake of organization.
1) Decenter: As stated, humanism placed man as the center of the universe and existence. There is no need for God, the supernatural, or a sense of the ‘transcendent Other’. Man is fully capable within and of himself to achieve the highest. The human has attained sentience and has learned to control the environment around him. More or less the human is special, exceptional, and should have Promethean pride in that. As a Christian has faith in God, a humanist has faith in Humanity. Difference being the latter rarely admits it is faith.
The far skeptics throughout the ages, mystical Eastern thought, and ‘weird realists’ have severely questioned the use of reason as the sole source of knowledge. For obvious reasons epistemology is beyond the scope of this article, but the point is acknowledging the limits of human reason and capability. We are finite, our abilities are finite, and it is a kind of arrogance or confident naivety to believe we are capable of comprehending all that there is to comprehend. Our reason and methods have limits, and existence continues past those limits. We are finite within the infinite. In Eastern thought reason is often used as a powerful tool, but it is accepted there is much beyond reason and cannot be ascertained by reason.
Whether it be humanists having infinite faith in humanity, or Christians believing we are ‘special to God’, the antihumanist position states that no we are not the center. This isn’t inherently pessimistic nor nihilistic, rather it acknowledges ‘we are not special.’ We are as susceptible to extinction as the next species, perhaps more so. The world and universe will continue to exist far past our expiration. Even relative to our own history, perhaps now we enjoy this modern period of stupendous technological advancement, and who is to say it could not utterly collapse in the future? No matter what wonderful human rights we have somewhat achieved, that could easily be wiped away if global disaster struck. From a similar perspective, deep ecologists are known for being misanthropic or perceived to be. The deep ecologist places homo sapiens, the primate, within the grand scheme of nature. Not at the top as God’s chosen or conquerors of nature, but merely another species in the eco system. A species easily considered a plague or cancer from this perspective. Be it Ted Kaczynski or Pentti Linkola, there have been multiple deep ecologists which have gone to severe degrees to make this point. Humans are not the center of the universe, of existence. Humans are finite in ability, and it is folly to put complete faith in man as if his abilities were infinite. This sort of certainty about our own certainty is incredibly closed off and naively self-assured.
2) Indifference: Literary realism is the first to come to mind when the indifference of the universe is mentioned. Personally I believe it is too far to say antihuman necessarily contains this. Rather in relation to the first trait, humans are not special and they should not expect the universe to treat them as such. The same can be applied in theistic, there is nothing intrinsic to God(s) that would have it adore us or treat us with favor. This is easily seen in Greek myth when the deities could be as petty as humans. Another fictional example can be found in Robert E Howard fiction, the dreaded Crom which is described as being downright apathetic or misanthropic about humans. Not to mention the endless discussion of the Old Testament and the less than affectionate Jehovah God. Whether by the theist or atheist perspective that the universe is indifferent, either way the point is the universe owes man nothing.
In the weird realism of Lovecraft he fashions the fictional ‘Old Ones’, these cthonic and otherworldly titanic monstrosities of the universe. It put forth the hypothetical that if deific forces exist, there is nothing that states they will be benevolent. Lovecraft applies the same to extraterrestrials, perhaps the visitors will not be hyper-intelligent beings from a utopian planet but savage beasts of supreme conqueror morality. Although Lovecraft himself was an atheist, his fiction conveys the decentering of humanity and the fragility of enlightenment values. The possibility of the ‘Old Ones’ threatens the ego of humanity. It threatens man’s special privilege in the universe, his glorified reason and self-importance. The ‘Old Ones’ is meant to induce insanity itself, and by insanity I mean annihilating man’s faith in reason.
3)Illusion: The term ‘antihumanism’ was first used regarding Louis Althusser, a structural Marxist whom disliked the humanist element of Marxism. He proposed that individuals are ‘interpolated’ by the ‘ideological apparatus’. In less jargon, individuals are products of not just their materialist environment but the ideological environment, and society constantly replicates this to maintain the status quo. The individual is a product, no matter how unique or free we think we are, we are products. The argument of free will versus determinism rages on, and antihumanism would certainly be inclined toward determinism. In actuality, our everyday life and consciousness, perhaps it does not matter which is true. The parading of individualism, uniqueness, feelings of exceptionalism, these are questioned sharply by positing we are mere products. No individual or group can exist outside of the discourse.
Another figure is Jean Baudrillard, cheekily referred to as the “high priest of postmodernism. In brief, he proposes that there is no truth, we are beyond the real, we exist within our own simulacrum, a stream of images and engineered simulation. Antihumanism is not intrinsically nihilistic. For the sake of discussion, if there is no truth except what we treat as truth or interpret as truth, is that sufficient enough for ourselves and as a whole? In reverse, if there is objective truth and no one acknowledges this truth rather only acknowledges their interpretation of truth, does it even matter that there is an objective truth at all? So while antihumanism is not immediately nihilistic, it does question our certainty regarding truths and our ability to ascertain truths.
The illusion of free will, the illusion of privilege, the illusion that the universe cares…antihumanism does not crusade against these illusions, rather points out that these comforting abstracts are or could very well be illusions. These illusions are helpful and allow us to live with civil order and emotional comfort. These abstracts narrate and organize our day to day existence.
One may face temporary nihilism when one questions and discovers these are illusion, and overcoming this nihilism is a triumph in itself. Antihumanism is not the sand trap nihilism that seeks to eradicate any inkling of truth by stating there is no truth. Antihumanism is not misanthropy, which is the adoption of antihumanist perspective but actively hates humanity, perhaps even desiring its extinction. Antihumanism is the adversarial perspective counter to the ego of humanity, counter to the self-importance and self-assuredness that humanity has in itself. If humanism is to be considered Icarus, then antihumanism is to be considered Daedalus.