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The Humanist Institute

Global Humanism:
Paradox and the Concept of the Future

(Several Starts toward a Course of Study)

Harvey Sarles

Is this the moment in history when the ideas of Humanism based on an inclusive rationalism, might be introduced into the context of a global society? These ideas certainly seem to be universal in scope as they underlie the idea of human rights. And they are at least theoretically inclusive as applying to all people(s) in all places: a sense of individual rights and responsibilities; a global conversation concerning the ways in which we/they want to govern ourselves; a government representing all people in a singular republic, thus a global democracy.

This is a time when the world's greater and lesser political entities (countries, city-states) and traditions now meet in the large, but also in the small of interpersonal acts and interactions in many regions and most cities of the world. Through developments in communication and transportation, we now form an increasingly cosmopolitan population which meets frequently in actual interaction and in the global instantaneity of television and virtual reality.

This is also a time when the world's greatest gathering traditions and ideas are exchanging and changing. West meets East as South affects North. Western (Judeo-Christian-Islamic), Confucian, Buddhistic, Amerindian, African concepts express themselves in politics, in medicine, in ecology, in economics, in intellectual exchanges and critiques which affect us in myriad and complex ways. Television, conversation, movies, journals, theater, talk; the cosmopolitan buzz grows more intense each day.

In some contexts these ideas expand and enlarge all our thinking. In others, they seem to conflict and compete as each of the large traditions which have had the conceptual power to gather large numbers of persons wants to claim its own authority within the obviousness of its pronounced truths and histories.

It is in this setting, in this moment of great gathering and/or conceptual conflict or competition, that we address the possibility of global Humanism. It is in this moment that there is competition for ideas, that there are also potential openings for the development of creative ideas. Can we develop a notion of global Humanism which is inclusive more than competitive; which might grow beyond the particularities of various world traditions to become more truly global?

An initial difficulty is that Humanism is at some variance with the range of world histories and traditions in which our ideas of universality may be seen as an imposition of Western and/or American ideas upon the rest of the world: an intellectual and political colonization more than concepts which might be more truly global and free of the traditions in which they originally gained meaning and power; a new form or cloak of power grab. Global Humanism may well be associated early and directly with the prevailing world political economy, and opposed (even adapted) within the various traditions . . . as they are. That is, the concepts of individual freedom and integrity which underlie Humanism are derived particularly from Western history, irrespective of their potential global application.

Alternatively, we may be able to develop a global Humanism which is not bound to the ideas of any tradition, but cuts more to some core of human experience. Can we somehow relook at the human condition--outside any oppositional derivation of Humanism--and attempt to see what gathers and creates meaning in the human condition?

If so, can we find gathering ideas which we can still see as a global Humanism, rather than as some ideas wrenched from contexts of Enlightenment, universal rationality, and so on? Can we, that is, circumnavigate cultural, political, and historical issues in order to explore and establish a global Humanism? How can some--at least partially--very different traditions come together in some unity of Humanism, with a sense of positive virtue more than hegemonic yearnings?

I suggest that each of the successful world traditions (cultures, civilizations) has similar or mutually understandable ways/ideas of considering the nature of the human. The openings for new ideas, therefore, reside somewhere in the loci of the definition of being human as they have been formulated in different contexts. I place these ideas within the Pragmatism of James, Dewey, and G. H. Mead.

Humanism is a movement which has attempted to return to us humans the power and definition of our being: a return or a retrieve to/from Western philosophical and religious texts and traditions, and from religious and political structures which those texts and their important interpreters support. It is a return from narrative or textual notions of our being to the human condition and human experience as we live it in the present age.

Since the Enlightenment, humanism has focused on fairly specific human abilities especially the ability of each of us to reason out the world and our being within it, and has concentrated on science and the scientific method to distill and clarify the ways in which we can obtain truth about the world, and potentially about the human. As well, the notion of human reason based upon science has underwritten the authority to justify this approach to knowledge.

Humanism developed from a critique of the human condition, in a (Western) historical setting in which the definition of the world and our place within it had been dominated for many centuries by a deific conception of the world and of our being within it. Humanism has opposed the idea that we and our place in the world were created by a transcendent being, a god, an agency outside of any particular experiencing; usually outside of time.

In the more philosophical (less religious) renderings of the human condition, authority over our being was located in the great thinkers and texts of ancient times. Experiencing the present was to be understood within the contexts of what particular thinkers of other eras considered essential or central to the human condition. Generally these textual traditions tended either to diminish the importance of human experience in the living, or to locate the central issues and reasons for our being in times (and texts) long gone, or places far away.

Humanism, in particular, developed from a direct engagement with the deific textual traditions which attempted to locate truth and being within the ancient textual ideas that the essence of being human is in having reason, or in being capable of rationality. For Humanism, the world, not ancient texts, was to be the locus of our understanding. Methods of science were to be the modes for obtaining knowledge and understanding of the world and of our place within it.

However, in replacing being within the world, and potentially within human experience, Humanism has developed less from some sense of its own integrity. Rather it grew to a large extent from an oppositional notion; opposing the idea of deity to control our lives, individually and collectively. Within the Western, Judeo-Christian tradition the notion of opposition, of either/or, has seemed correct as Humanism and theism appear to collide quite clearly and obviously.

At this point in our thinking toward a global Humanism, it seems important to critique whence our ideas have derived, but particularly to begin to rethink the nature of the human. What needs to be included in such a study, and how do we go about it?

Some questions to rethink our thinking: How do we think about a global Humanism in the context of the world's traditions? Does Humanism easily and directly expand, or does it have different resonances as it claims to have a place in the thinking of non-Westerners, and to expand to include potentially all the people in the world?

Is Humanism clearly universal, following some usually Western notions of human being and knowledge?--witness the current arguments with China and other countries over questions of human rights. In attempting to expand an idea of Humanism derived from Western ideations, is it reasonable or legitimate to expand Humanism to the entire world?

How can we go about seeking some core aspects of human nature which might resonate globally, yet still develop a recognizable Humanism which expands the concepts of individuality, rationality, and human understanding?

To wedge ideas into this opening moment, this essay will consider the world's traditions with some claim to look at them from continuing human experience rather than from or within the histories which are usually invoked to tell us how the world is, and what is the place of humans within it.


The world is rapidly becoming smaller, people(s) and ideas interacting everyday in real and in computational time. There is an increasing sense that all is becoming one: a global society. A process; an inevitability; a necessity?

What sort of world would we--or they--have? Can we form a singularity which is not dominated principally by political economy--transnational corporations--or by some religious and/or political totalitarian? Can we find, live in any harmony dominated, say, by a universal golden rule: a rational Humanism supporting a participatory democracy, extended to the sense of the universality of objective knowledge? Or do we witness the rise of forms of cultural hegemony which are less inclusive and tolerant? Will an emerging global culture look like a democracy, a world in which each person has some say; a top-down despotic rule of control and power; Orwellian anarchies of misfitted ambitions; an aristocracy of . . . ?

To the pessimist, it seems somehow inevitable that one or another tradition will attempt to take over, either on purpose or in the sense that one or another thought system will seem, say, obvious or necessary. Obvious because the thinking we are doing has so limited possibilities that kingship or aristocracy . . . vaguely, possibly, some sense of democracy . . . might emerge and hold, at least for a while. Necessary, because anarchy might spread amoeba-like throughout the world over issues of water, pollution, or power, and we will have to forestall and placate the angers and frustrations which may engage us fairly full-time in interventions, close and far.

The alternative of the Realpolitik of political-economy is that a small number of transnational corporations will take-over in some still being determined limited set of cartels: look at your clothing labels! There are also pessimistic theories that the future will see an increasing number of anarchic, small wars similar to Somalia, particularly over water; gangs, tyrants, localisms; fundamentalisms. Or the world will break up or re-form into its ancient traditions, much as Orwell's 1984.

For the more optimistic, the facts of our cosmopolitan global communication seem hopeful. A global melting pot has very real dimensions for many people. In the context of these global gatherings, can we begin to imagine and construct a globality, a sense of being and governing which would be more inclusive, a sense of some-think to which we could adhere, with which we could agree? What might that be like? How can we even go about thinking about a sense of globality which would include, that is, all human beings into some confederation of being, ideas, geography (property, ethnicity, history, language . . . )? A global Humanism!?

One senses the impetus and inertia of the will to power of each of these traditions which has been successful in gathering peoples to its ideations; that when this will to power meets the other similarly motivated and successful traditions, they will likely compete rather than join or complement. West and East, North and South, the very obviousness of opposition will drive each tradition into its history for roots and redefinitions of the world and the place of the human within it: witness the current returns of American neo-conservatives to Plato and the Great Books, and of fundamentalists to the Bible, especially the Book of Revelation. Witness the various nativist and nationalist movements all across the world.

But there is also a vast and growing cosmopolitan awareness of the ideas and traditions of the world's constellations of being and meaning. We are, remarkably, able to communicate to a large extent with everyone, and can at least find glimmerings of what is in common to all humans. There is ample evidence of some commonalities of human nature: experience, abilities, practices, virtues. Human grounds for a global sociality are, that is, apparently available, irrespective of history and polity. The path: from commonality to communality.

Can we move global thinking? Better, can we move study and understanding in the direction of an inclusive Humanism, rather than yield the powers of definition to one or another tradition, to some (likely) corporate forms or religio-philosophical presumptions which will tend to favor some oligarchic or totalitarian grab for ultimate power: actual and/or definitional?

Are we Humanists prepared to debate the notion that a universalizing humanism may itself be seen as the attempt of one tradition to captivate all others, lending its power willy-nilly to some larger forces of political economy (or an anti-religio-philosophy)?

This all on the table, I propose that global Humanism ought to examine what it is within the human condition and in various traditions that gathers people(s) into communities of activity, polity, and understanding. How can we infer from our tendencies to join with others and to think in particular modalities, to outline a global architectonic?

I. Global Commonalities

In this essay, I will explore two aspects of the world(s) traditions:

1) What are the conditions--attractions, promises, worldviews--which have attracted and held very large numbers within commonality and loyalty to different traditions and ideas of government/governance?

2) What are the primary architectonics of such traditions: the sine qua non, the obvious, perhaps the necessary ideas in whose terms different people(s) develop and live particular senses of their meaning, identity, and outlook or worldview?

I will attempt to step outside, as it were, of the structural thinking of the (historical) world's traditions, and direct our attention to common aspects of human experience. Rather than dealing with (apparent) differences between religions or philosophies, I will ask what is it in common experience which moves us toward notions of a gathering transcendence: a sense of identity with some concept beyond oneself and one's significant others. I am less concerned with particular facts of history than in the human dialogues in which we continue to emerge as thinking-acting persons. This approach will, I hope, become clear in its exposition.

1) The principal conditions that have gathered people(s) in common in the largest and most successful populations have been, I will claim, transcendent or utopic. These traditions hold out the promise of meaning, the possibility that something good, better, wonderful will happen . . . if their followers cling to these traditional outlooks. Concepts of heaven, of nirvana are examples of utopic promises beyond life; while the Jews and Confucians seem to find and continually open (often transcendent) possibilities within life--by a Covenant with their community for the Jews and a sense that the best is yet to be (L'chaim!), or by remaining On The Way, in Confucian lines of thought and doing.

The conceptions of the human of any global society which might have continuity and the hegemony of any singularity of outlook and practice, must proffer a worldview which includes a promise of utopic futurity to its practitioners/believers/followers. Else we will be continually in combat with anarchy and its attendant attempts at mind control.

2) What are these commonalities, at various levels of universality? Are they principally, as in Western religio-philosophic history, those characteristics of human nature which particularly differentiate us from other species, and are particularly mental within ideas of Platonic oppositions? (Complicating this, but necessary for our pursuit of global Humanism, is the Western idea that there are ways of ascertaining some outside truth in consonance with a reality which includes the human condition.)

Indeed, I think this is the most usual line of inquiry about the human condition deriving from this outlook of the West, and will resist it in this essay: call it the search for human universals . . . based, ironically in this context, on Western ideas of the uniqueness of human nature: different from all other species on the basis of language and rationality. We Westerners have utilized this (narrow) notion of the human to extend our ideas to the world in some melange of rectitude, necessity, and inevitability. Each tradition takes its ideas, creates the strawpersons of different modes of thinking, and either defends or replaces the other, with its own sense and defense of polity and human nature.

Instead, I will attempt to show how human experience (as opposed to Platonic essentialism) is most widely conceived and understood as the ways in which different traditions deal with what I will call life paradoxes. Paradoxes are arenas of (usually) paired experience which have different faces or outcomes: life/death, male/female, sleep/wakefulness, one/many, change/permanence, form/content, and so on. They number, say, about two dozen. They are found--I claim--in all human experience, in languages and cultures, and extend into the experiencing of our being.

Human experience with and within these paradoxical axes is common to all of us. It/they are the raw material, as it were, for our being; the relief against which religious and other narrative traditions have found their ground: much of what I am calling human architectonics. We actually gather our ideas of, or define reality, to some large extent within the context of (experiential) life paradoxes.

This is to say that the quickest/most efficient/revealing ways into the understanding of the different world traditions in their present forms, at least, is through a probing of paradoxes. Which of these life paradoxes are most important in particular traditions? Which of them are backgrounded or not much recognized in any tradition? My observation/understanding is that the very idea of reality for different traditions, settles upon the issue of which paradoxes are foregrounded in any system of thought/being.

The second principle in the grasping of different traditions is in their handling of the various paradoxes they have chosen to highlight/background: do they resolve these paradoxes or do they complementarize them (e.g., yin and yang).

For example, Western thought has chosen wakefulness as a/the central definitional element of reality; whereas the Amerindian tradition seems to have carved out sleep and the dream-state (a Western imposition?) as the life-experience in which our spirit is free to wander from us (human) to our animal-companion-spirit (Nahual). Jews concentrate upon life and its celebration, but let death recede; whereas Christianity focuses upon death as the overarching truth of our being, and reads into life the notion of it being chimerical, and essentially a preparation for (life-after) death. These are both example of traditions in which paradox is to be resolved as the principal(!?) architectonic of the tradition.

In the Confucian tradition, now more than ever entering our thinking, paradox is more usually complementarized: yin/yang, study the I Ching to think about when is the moment for change/or not. Both are--the issue of our being is more in the living experience and its study: not whether change is, but whether just now; or not.

I opt for the recognition and study of paradox in our lives in developing the conceptual apparatus for a global humanism. Included in this thinking are an expansion of the (usual) ideas of nature which have framed our thinking until now, including a move toward a critical naturalism, rather than wandering upon the unfirm grounds of cultural relativism which recent notions of multiculturalism have urged upon us vs. a restricted notion of absolutism which Western thinking seems to have imposed upon our thinking.

As well, I urge that we develop and sustain the notion that meaning and futurity--the heart of any useful utopic outlook--lie within human experience. Here, I proffer the notion that the world is intrinsically secular--humanistic--but there are certain relationships/tasks which are sacred within the secular.

Here I want to domesticate the term sacred to life experience, rather than yielding to some notion that sacred represents some transcendence which is intrinsically outside of human experience. The term represents the Nietzschean notion that overcoming our experience is a continuous yearning of or directive for the human condition.

II. Some Background

Conceptually, the idea of any actual globality appears to be quite recent. Perhaps only since 1969 when the first astronauts stepped upon the surface of the moon and looked back, have we been truly capable of containing the entire earth in our minds' eyes.

By now this concept seems to have become more realizable with the advent of CNN and ITN, the television NEWS sense that events anywhere on earth are immediately available to our witnessing and human testimony. This is to say that the concept of globality is by now more or less firmly graspable in our collective human mentality.

Much of this conceptual expansion has been due, in complex causal webs, to technological developments in transportation, communication, information which have effectively shrunk the world. All the peoples on earth are effectively--often actually--right here and now in our towns and businesses and classrooms. Money flows each day in enormous amounts across all the boundaries formerly thought to enclose the ideas of nation-states: all now less well-bounded and permeable; ideas as well as the city-state.

The outlooks and practices of other global traditions interact with ours, framing and placing into some critical constructions, the ideas from the Western tradition which had become obvious and commonplace . . . to us. We begin to hear insistent notions from Asia whose populations far outnumber the West, but also those from Africa and from indigenous America. What is occurring is some mixing, blending, contrast, and competition of and for ideas and outlooks in the context of a global, cosmopolitan world.

On grounds of common humanity, but also within the contexts of ecology and the human problematics of teaching and curing, of meaning and identity, ideas from other traditions now enter our thinking continually, often subtlely. Practice and thinking in medicine changes day by day: some epic battle depicted recently by Andrew Weil as the (ongoing) competition between Aesclepsius and Hygeia over the nature of curing sickness and maintaining health. Over half the visits to curers these days are to practitioners of alternative medicine, it is being claimed widely: alternative presumably being somehow different from ideas and practices which have developed within Western-scientific medicine: from pathology vs. toward wellness; curing vs. teaching

This is to say that it is timely to consider how ideas from the entire globe enter into one another--competing, complementing, altering, expanding, passing each other by: pathology vs. wellness, but also in many of the other arenas in whose terms we gain meaning and worldviews.

Problems in pursuing this goal include the temptation of each way of thinking and of worldview to impose its ideas on everyone else--if only from the presumption that its way is the right way or the only way to be, and to think about being. Arguing within these traditions will immerse us forever in what appear to be details of history and habits of thought. Can we break through or bypass such details to see the human condition more, say, directly? 

III. Life Paradoxes

It is my observation/suggestion that the most direct/easiest way to begin to enter the variety of the world's traditions is to attempt to see past or through various practices and philosophical histories. Studying how different people(s) of the world deal with various life paradoxes seems to be the most direct way of doing this. My observation of paradox--which was awakened during a two-year stint of linguistic fieldwork among the Mayan Indians of Southern Mexico--began with the (dim, at first) understanding that the sleep/dream state of these people is not a commentary on their waking life, as it is for us.

It has--for them--a full sense of being. Living in the same compound with several Mayan persons, it gradually became clearer to me that their dream life is very important to their experiencing of life. On gathering words for a dictionary, it appeared that the words for sensory experience had its grounding in a vocabulary which was--for them--located within sleeping states.

Thence began a stream of thinking about why Western thought has considered wakeful experience to be the reality, and dreams apocryphal or commentary. From this comparatist positioning, I began to note that Western thought since Plato, at least, considered permanence more real than change; men more rational than women; the universal more actual than the individual object. Historically, there had been a large shift from the notions of change of Heraclitus, to the enduring via Parmenides and Pythagoras. In the most current of thinking, chaos theory and the notion of the vast change coming after the millennial moment of 2000, Heraclitus is regaining prominence.

Reading in other traditions--meeting thinkers of other philosophical outlooks--I began to realize that various thinkers come to their notions of reality from their parents' culture. And to a very large extent, presumptions of reality, of worldview are merely presented to children as their ongoing actuality: the parental response to the inquisitive child's why is usually because (I say so). Slowly, again, I began to wonder and realize that one could make a first quick-cut of understanding into other traditions, if one could but discern which of the life-paradoxes was foregrounded within these traditions: life or death (death is the reality of Western thought-Christianity; life an illusion or preparation for a return of the soul to heaven), and so on.

After spending some time studying Tai Chi and reading in Confucius, I began to wonder, as well, if the Confucians weren't taking some of these paradoxes, and treating them in a complementary fashion--permanence and change, ying and yang--rather than finding some necessity to resolve them. It became clear, as well, in Tai Chi, that the possibilities of growth and improvement, knowledge of the forms, practice, and understanding of the martial arts, continues to grow indefinitely: the master/mistress of the form who reaches some venerable age is beyond vulnerable--glimpses of a transcendent notion, but within life.

Rethinking Amerindian notions, it appears that they--as we--tend to resolve various paradoxes but on different sides than we; but they share with us the wish or need to resolve rather than to complementarize.

At any rate, within the context of thinking about global Humanism, the study of paradox seems a most useful and potentially productive mode or site for us to cut-through or to bypass the ideas of the traditions which will otherwise block us from moving toward ideas which might unite the world's peoples: we seem to see the world at the level of basic assumptions in terms which conflict or compete much as they might be complementary; or we Westerners see mysticism where others find direct meaning; or . . .

So I propose that in thinking about global humanism, it is worth our while to ponder, observe, read, study how other traditions and our own come to think about foundational issues in whose terms we cast the reality of the world and of the human condition. Here, the nature of life paradox would be a primary study in designing a global Humanism which could grow to include all the people(s) of the world. Else . . . , else we will be caught at a level of thinking which will likely result in Orwell's stand-off of three civilizations fuming at one another.

IV. Looking Out for the Future

My other contention concerning the commonalities of the world's traditions which have been successful in gathering large numbers of people over time, is that they somehow promise a good and hopeful future. In the West, we might refer to this as utopic or transcendent: a time when all will be good, and we will do well; a return to Heaven for Christians, the idea for Jews that the best is yet to be; for Buddhists that Nirvana is a great release from life conceived as a burden, for the Confucianists that if we remain on the Way, life will increasingly reward us.

There is, apparently, something in the human condition about futurity and its promises and possibilities, that works to gather people; to gather persons beyond the families and small direct-experience communities into the imagined communities which have become the city-states' foundational thinking for our notions of the body politic.

The ideas which have worked to gather peoples and their notions of self-definition, their sense of belonging and covenant to/with particular others, their willingness to become subservient to institutions and ideations, have been notions which transcend individual lives. They are stories, offerings, ideas that some usually collective futurity promises, insures, and guarantees that life will be . . . good, better, . . . wonderful. These are notions of the future which we would think of as utopias, loci of increasing wonder and power which often appeal to us as aspects of some transcendence: transliterated often as a time or aspect of being which has its own power--the deity; or in some sense of Emerson, Thoreau, or Nietzsche in which we overcome our earlier being each day.

Why/how utopic ideas work is another ground for our study toward a global Humanism. Probably some aspect of the urge toward a moving/growing future derives simply from our own (individual . . . ) development and growing-up. We are urged to become adults in each community within various contexts of growth and towardness.

This urging, which each of us takes on within senses of conscience and responsibility, does not simply disappear upon reaching maturity. I take this to be a major psychological etching toward transcendence, making it at the least attractive to search for meaning within the larger sense of political community/tradition which have collected/held vast numbers of followers.

Those transcendent or utopic notions of futurity most familiar to Humanism offer a resolution within the paradox of life and death, on the side of death being the ultimate: the soul's return to Heaven of Christianity and Islam, the deliverance of Nirvana for the South Asians. The Jews and Confucians find their utopias within life: the best is yet to be and on the Way to true knowledge, a promise is made that existence/experience holds out the promise of . . . improvement, a good life getting better.

The promise of Humanism has itself been utopic. The notion of progress has been the principal utopic fuel driving the engine of modernism and the reasoned understanding of nature and human nature. And, it should be noted, an increasing loss of faith in the idea of progress is presently weakening the gathering force of Humanism on its home ground; a loss requiring ongoing critique and study to rethink the grounds of Humanism in all contexts, especially as we are experiencing an attempt to reground reason and authority within narrativity rather than nature in the name of postmodernism and fundamentalism.

What I propose, therefore, has less to do with any particular solutions which might establish and perpetuate a global Humanism. We must start with modes of being, studying, and living--with a major focus on our experiencing--rather than using modes which have been chosen historically to bolster our human senses of knowing and control.

Some thinking about transcendent/utopic models toward forming-establishing and maintaining a global Humanism:

The openings of this global moment include the idea that the various competing traditions are actively receding in their demands upon their people(s), tending to place many of the world's persons in a cosmopolitan setting and sensibility. This is to say that establishing a global notion such as Humanism has a fairer possibility of realization than in any other era so far. Something of global dimension will happen in the near future. It is timely to have this discussion at this moment in what is soon to be: global history.

In a global future one holds out the promise that the world/life will have the active possibility of moving beyond present experience. As children are promised the place and privileges of adulthood, the ideas of a hopeful futurity and the possibility of a meaningful life well-lived, need to be embodied in the ideas and practices of a global Humanism: meaning in the present and well-promised in the future; remaining in actual and realizable potential. Any attempt to present or create a utopic or transcendental idea of being outside human experience (deific, mystical, . . . ) leading us back to the histories and belief systems which will continue to divide us.

In order to avoid the likelihood that most attempts to deal with transcendence/utopia lead fairly directly back to themes and variations of the traditions which we hope to bypass, I propose that we consider and study the idea of human experience at some depth and with a breadth which attempts to be world-inclusive. What do we mean by the concept of global virtues; how do we find the common spaces of the prevailing world traditions?

The study of experience: the notion of the human, caught so far in the paradox of being or doing, takes us fairly directly to the Pragmatist tradition from C. S. Peirce and William James to John Dewey and G. H. Mead. Humanism rests in no small measure on the importance of the individual, and it will find itself in conflict with other traditions in which the idea of the individual is often submerged to history and tradition.

In the Enlightenment idea of the individual as particularly rational, using nature to define being and a method for knowing, the concept of the individual is usually taken as a given: a primary, a presupposition. This idea of individuality has been at war with most Marxist ideas, and will conflict with various of the world's traditions which consider the individual subservient to larger gathering ideas. Sociality, in these modes of thinking, is either primary or a derived necessity in the vein of thought from Hobbes and/or Rousseau projecting society as a necessary evil to control life's threatening vicissitudes; so-called natural law.

Instead, recent scientific observations of the human condition--relating humans to our nearest related species--indicate that humans are, like all these other species, social as well: social by-our-nature. Sociality is not a human cultural invention; rather, it is our nature. We are not survivable except within the experience of human parenting. However, most of our ideas concerning the human condition are themselves derived from Western thinking about human uniqueness; not from the observational-experiential study of humans.

G. H. Mead's writings offer us a direction of understanding this apparent paradox: that the individual is indeed a strong aspect of our existence, but that the individual is emergent from sociality. Our upbringing is not, then, merely towards becoming rational, but becoming rational is itself a statement about the ways in which different traditions regard the nature of human development toward becoming a reasonable adult.

Development includes a reading-into each child/person the character whom one sees, as well as who we would have them be-come. That is, the individual is continually re-incorporated into social being. Different societies (traditions) do this quite differently: but they all seem to act essentially within the nature of human experience that Mead outlined. Any move toward a global Humanism has to move critically beyond the ways and beliefs of each tradition in order to see what is most generally and actually human; not just the implications of different traditions' ideas of the human (derived especially from their favorite paradoxes and how the tradition has incorporated them into its philosophies).

Experience is not simply what one knows about the (external) world, but how one is and knows: my most general critique of Humanism-so-far is that we tend to remain stuck in our notions of knowing, within the Western dualistic opposition between a (hard) mechanical body and a (soft) mentalist idea of the stuff of consciousness and rationality. It is particularly important and timely to study one's own (and others') bodily knowing, in order to begin to broaden our ideas of knowing and meaning to encompass a more global understanding of human understanding: tai chi, yoga, but also Alexander technique as outlined by John Dewey . . . and more lest we remain forever ensnared in (fairly parochial) arguments within a couple of favorite Western paradoxes: change and permanence, and the one and the many.

The notions of utopia and transcendence are intimately coupled with questions of meaning and being; especially of becoming, hope, and futurity. Aspects of the realization of the openings of these times has the problematic side that the openings often occur because issues of meaning and futurity come into some crises. While globality and cosmopolitanism are themselves hopeful for many persons, many others find these times undercutting to their ideas of meaning and futurity: e.g., returns to nativism, fundamentalism, nationalism, historicism, and more promising theme and variation upon global anarchies rather than any inclusive globalism, or the emergence of some totalitarianism in the name of religion or political economy (or another form of necessity).

How/who might take some advantage of the openings which we may discern in this moment of a possible global Humanism? We might begin by gathering those who have already begun to see the world as their locus of being and futurity: World Federalists, Human Rights persons (Amnesty International), those who work and imagine the world is their place of operation--IMF and the World Bank, the United Nations, the world's religions, and so on. My concern is that most of the members of these organizations conceptualize the idea of globality already within prevailing ideas, seeking for power/control or to diffuse that which they see as damaging or otherwise worrisome. (It would certainly be interesting/educational for the Humanist Institute to call such a meeting. Color me in!)

Who will help create the idea of a global Humanism? Where do we find the inspired and inspirers of the future, the hopeful, particularly those who have themselves survived life's vicissitudes and come to the table anew, almost every day? I propose that they include the thinkers and teachers (and mothers) and all those who take care, the ecologists and sustainers of the world and its bounties, in the attempt to create a world of vision beyond the usual and everyday of here and now, of only a few yesterdays, and a sense that tomorrow will take care of itself. We must create a sense of vision which will gather and sustain, else we will tend to furrow the world into narrow modes of opportunism where the worries of anarchism and small ambitions will cause attack and/or retreat on the smaller scales of nation and corporation and the views of the narrowers.

How can we do this? I, reacting to my cultural-critical observations and analyses, worry that any world vision we dream up will tend to be restricted by the sorts of boundaries we carry already in our thinking. Concerned as well that this moment in (Western, at least) history is a time of reaction to a vast surplus of world labor and the radically changing nature of work, finds itself in a moment when the future appears unscripted, especially to its young. That is, the very idea of futurity has become unclear and blurred. Thus, my election for the sorts of persons who would most help to develop a global vision are those whose work and thinking are already committed to guaranteeing the future: e.g., Teachers who include others in their thinking in the context of teaching as dialogue.

(Master/Great) Teacher model: some of the world's traditions focus a great deal of authority (and prestige) on their senior population, especially those who are seen to be Teachers/teachers. In effect, these persons act to insure/ensure, to inspire, even to guarantee the idea of futurity. The Confucian model is, for example, to show that the Tai Chi master/mistress is capable of such great knowledge that they hold out a direction and promise of important abilities for younger persons. The Sufi master is sought out for those who wish to grow in the direction of whatever is thought to be wisdom. In some senses these person are more than others (authority, skill, knowledge, wisdom). In effect, Teachers act as kind of sacred persons within a secular (humanist) world: those who engage in dialogue, interaction--the sacred being those arenas/persons in dialogues where the learners yield or surrender some of their power to their Teacher or Curer (or parent) temporarily, in order to grow more than they would . . . on their own.

We will have to debate how this idea of Teacher might fit into any global Humanism. It conflicts with the idea of the universal rational as it creates/admits that there are persons of privilege (with special responsibilities) in society: at least during certain periods of life experience. Not too different from Plato's notion of the philosopher king, but with the proviso that the Teachers' influence or power is limited and directed eventually toward subverting her/his being; enabling students to explore their own powers; accepting Freire's challenge and not oppressing the future because we act out of our own earlier pedagogical oppression.

Might it (also) include the ecologists, those whose observations already cross the very idea of geographical boundedness?

V. Questions in Lieu of a Conclusion

Some continuing issues for discussion (soon!): What is the positive in the transcendent?--progress, futurity/hope--wisdom (integrity, honesty, . . . ).

How do we market these ideas to the people(s) of the global society? Are they/we already in the mood to think globally, a new gathering idea for a next millennium? Short of crises--anarchies over water, land, religious, and other disputes threatening all-out wars, take-overs of business as many in the South/3rd World seem to think is already the global situation--it is difficult to discern any great outcry for a world order which is any more clear and definite than the rough and ready situation which prevails at this moment.

It will be good to find some celebratory glue-pots which will bind us all together in some sense that is positive and not merely defensively reactive. No doubt this takes leadership as well as ideas. Perhaps some global leadership will invent itself in this moment of openings, when some students begin to see themselves globally. I think I begin to see some already, developing the imagination, the richness of what might be, considering what is and what promises to be that they find odious and closing to a rare moment of vast, that is global, opportunity. Sustainability . . .

How do we diffuse the histories and traditions which will find their turf shrinking, if this is to occur, this global Humanism?

What can draw people(s) beyond the personal testimony of those who would breathe life into futurity and globality: global Teachers? Else we fall into histories and traditions, competitions based on pre-global visions, or global depictions of an always collapsing earth.

How could a global Humanism resist the temptation to react to any criticisms as forms of anarchy? If we have trouble (since Plato's Laws, at least) with the problems of virtues and vices of those who (would) have power, can we (as it were) remold the human to be beyond the temptations which have corrupted us since . . . ? How can love one another and live the Golden Rule be translated into any ongoing actuality which might continue to engage its . . . citizens?

Would a (hopefully small) crisis enable/pursuade us to see some more necessity in a global Humanism: ecological, geological, political, economic, toxicological? What then?

Can we devolve some new ways of thinking about stability, of meaning and purpose, so we can avoid the Scylla and Charybdis of The Glass Bead Game (Hesse) or the millennial-prophetic mystics whose idea of transcendence will overwhelm life itself either in mysticisms or in attempts to control all of being. That is, as we enlarge our thinking from city-state to global, how will we re&emdash;envision being and becoming. The temptation has often been to diminish human experience, and this may only hurry this process, perhaps especially for those who would substitute the robotic human E.T. for the one of flesh and blood who is only too liable to the vicissitudes of the climates of opinion.

How/where do different traditions come together--one notion of openings?


Do we even know how to think globally, or do we find our theories of society, behavior, and politics bound within various theories which presume a world composed of city-state entities: large, but always with the presumption of other similar city-states outside variously friendly, competitive, dangerous . . . ? That is, there may be no real precedent idea for considering globality except as an extrapolation of how we (any tradition) thinks about its ordinary.

In a recent book reviewed by W. H. McNeill, Samuel Huntington cautions us against the universalist ambitions of Western thought (hegemony?). "Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers from three problems: it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous . . . Spurred by modernization, global politics is being reconfigured along cultural lines. Peoples and countries with similar cultures are coming together . . . fault lines between civilizations are becoming the central lines of conflict in global politics." New York Review of Books, Jan. 9, 1997: 18.

The notion of {return} implies one or both of the ideas that human experience has been depicted and interpreted in texts: 1) historically, humans were more in-tune with our experience until writing and textuality essentially froze the nature of our being; or 2) in our own experiencing, we tend to waver or to include both our sensory-bodily-intellectual readings of the world and us within it, as well as seeing ourselves within literary/textual enscriptions of our being with which we either match actuality or interpret actuality within such representational terms. Humanism has as often used philosophical-conceptual renderings of the human condition to tell us how we are, as to examine or appeal to our ongoing experience.

There are some current disagreements about the cleanness of truth obtained by scientific methods, especially as questions of the objectivity of the human observer elides into the politics of who gets to do science. My suggestion, in this arena, is that we need to do a lot of thinking/studing the human condition in order to more fully understand the nature of human nature, particularly as it reflects our notions of being in pursuit of science.

The nature of human nature and of the human condition is central, in my view, to this discussion. Who and how we are, in our individual and social contexts of being, is the locus of the question of human experience. How we think about our being, what issues seem central or peripheral or merely absent from discussion, frame the questions we ask about our being. Western thought, for example, has set much of the definition of the human in the context of how we are unique and different (presumably) from other species, especially our thinking: thus most of the philosophical discussion about humans devolves upon language and rationality, aspects of the humanly unique mind. How we are actually, in our more comprehensive experience, reveals that much is absent from the study of our being human, and paves an easy road for us to extrapolate from narrow Western ideas of the human, to the entire global population. See my Language and Human Nature (University of Minnesota Press, 1985) for a critique of this thinking.

The time paradox--change vs. permanence--is perhaps the most central paradox with which we will be dealing in this essay. It is worth raising our awareness of the paradoxical nature of many of the central issues of humanism, as the essay moves toward an incorporation--rather than a resolution--of various of what I call life paradoxes.

It continues to be a temptation, sometimes a necessity, to battle theism with seemingly endless attempts to refute the idea of a transcendent deity . . . as if it were possible to solve this issue once and for all. I take the position that human experience (within the larger contexts of life upon earth) is what there is, and we need to examine the human condition/human nature as cleanly as possible by observation and rethinking, and begin to extricate ourselves from arguing against particular traditions of thought about humans (deific or not), in order to derive some essential Humanism.

Universals and the claim that some idea(s) apply to everyone can be seen as the attempt to find what is in common to all humans, implying an ongoing study of human nature and of the human condition. Or--more likely as it derives from a Western opposition to deific thinking--it fits into a fairly specific mode and history of thinking about humans which has dominated thought about humans since Plato, but particularly developing since the early middle ages. It has been based on a notion of human individualism as a given, on what has been considered or assumed to be uniquely human (different from all other species), and on various political and moral ideas which has blended Plato's and Aristotle's ideas of the human as intrinsically consisting of mind and of body: most of our thinking about humans deriving from or existing within this oppositional thinking. Other traditions do not seem to think about the human within this form of (easy) oppositions, and their relations between, say, morality and politics seems quite different from the Western model. In this context, the idea of a global Humanism could be seen as a Western attempt to universalize its thinking from a position of arrogance much as from reason and knowledge.

Humanism's claims to be rational and universal may have a more complex status once it moves from a Judeo-Christian context to other settings where the traditions of thought and history are different from the West, especially where Humanism does not easily or directly oppose a theistic tradition.

The issues which have arisen in the context of Human Rights seem (to me, at least, having been trained within Boasian Cultural Anthropology) to be an aspect or derivation of Humanism. Boas and his students, especially Margaret Mead and Ashley Montagu (who, with Pedro Comas, drafted the United Nations Human Rights Declaration) directly attempted to bring all humans into the human family. This had not been the case until well into the 20th century. By the mid-1960s the last of the aboriginal peoples of the world (the Australians) came to be thought of as essentially a single family with the fame of tennis player Evonne Goolagong. Since that time, battles over inclusivity have continued: in this country civil rights battles continue concerning women and ethnic minorities, and various of the physically and intellectually handicapped--many of whom were considered freaks or beyond the pale of educability until quite recently. Boas' plan was to consider the three-part aspects of being human: physical (race), language, and culture. His work (and that of his students) has turned out to be quite inclusive, with continuing attacks from various quarters, especially within the context of deterministic bio-psychology. The argument against Human Rights--and, by extension, against global Humanism, I think--are against any universality of human nature or thinking, on the grounds of cultural perspectives or differences which are held to differ from tradition to tradition, or from differing histories: one of the reasons why this essay will attempt to probe the human condition to explore global Humanism, rather than trying to place Humanism against various (cultural/philosophical) traditions.

This is not to deny that there are dominant groups everywhere (business, government, etc.) trying to control flow of information.

Many of the ecologically-aware members of movements which support global sustainability, worry less about cultural or conceptual ideas, and more that global resources supporting our vast populations will soon come into crisis: water, climate, food. If they are approximately correct, questions of the politics of global Humanism will take on some urgency in the near future. From personal discussions with Rod Sando, Commissioner of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and a champion of global sustainability.

By the notion of Realpolitik of political-economy, I suggest that the global sense of political-economy which now seems to rule our thinking seems--for the moment at least--to be at a similar level of the obvious as the ideas which our intellectual traditions grant to our thinking. If it seems compelling in this moment, other ideas could as easily have pervaded. It is in this rethinking of Realpolitik that I seek other notions of what is human nature.

See The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington, Simon and Schuster. 1996. Reviewed in New York Review of Books (p.18-22) by W. H. McNeill, Jan. 9, 1997.

The temptations to take-on various (often oppositional) ideas in order to justify and/or define Humanism are great: the seemingly endless task of disputing the idea of deity, of fighting/arrogating the great prophets--Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius et al--or, in this tradition, of seeking guidance or certitude in the ancient philosophers over the meaning of our ongoing experience. In my view, a viable notion of Humanism will (must?) be centered in the ongoing present.

I locate myself and this project in the context of Pragmatics, especially of George Herbert Mead. Perhaps the major shift in thinking from the (rest of the) Western tradition, is in the conceptual apparatus of our individualism: Mead's idea is that we are (primarily) individuals, but that this individuality is emergent from social interaction, rather than primarily a given of our existence.

The idea of progress has been adapted within Humanism as its transcendent offering. The current climate of cynicism/nihilism seems to undermine the idea of progress, undercuts rationality/science as the authoritative routes to truth, and weakens the power of Humanism to represent a sense of the Good Life and to gather great numbers of adherents.

The necessary literature here includes the utopic and dystopic narratives which have and continue to shape our time. I have been particularly influenced by the concerns of Orwell and the various shapings of mind control, and of the anti-bureaucratic dialogues of Kierkegaard, Gogol, Kafka, Dostoevski, and Borges.

Leaving us frequently within either an often morbid history of bodily differences which have been regularly cast within racial and slavery narrative structures, or a philosophical necessity to hierarchize the capabilities of various populations to think, but also to rule or be ruled. This is currently playing out in some (ancient) battle between a mechanical/material approach to our being of neuropsychology and a mentalist approach of critical theory. The truths of the human condition are often obscured upon this battleground.

We can account for our rationality without invoking human uniqueness based on little actual knowledge of the abilities of other species. See my manuscript, To Tell the Truth, to be submitted to the Humanist Institute, 1998.

An important conceptual history to restudy stems from Aristotle's Politics, in which he takes Plato's oppositional ideas of mind and body, and places them in the context of polity, where it becomes inevitable that monarchy becomes the rule. Humans begin as anarchical creatures and become social, as Rousseau spins this tale. Instead, observation of other species strongly indicates that we are social by our nature, making individuality a necessary topic for observation and discussion: more of why I claim we have to rethink our Western tradition lest global Humanism become a (another) form of philosophical imperialism.

The ontological status of life paradoxes, we'll leave somewhat dubitable: whether statements about the world, the human experiencing the world, . . . !? What seems to be true is that all(!?) humans recognize pretty much the same paradoxes within their life experience.

They also often form the bases for what we usually think of as logical categories from Aristotle (Organum) to the present. But they are foundational to the development of our individuality: op. cit., fn. 20, To Tell the Truth. The paradoxes are located in the very learning of language, and are thus universal to this process. See my Question-Response System in Language and Human Nature, University of Minnesota Press, 1985, chap. 9. An example of a logical category which is not a life paradox is the question of the one and the many, which is solved by every child before age 2, but remains problematic to logicians.

The idea that we can infer from our experience in the West to the remainder of the world through our own ideas of religious transcendence or of human universals derived from notions of human uniqueness due to mental-linguistic properties, seems anthropomorphic and not very revealing of different traditions.

Sarles, H. B. 1991. "Cultural relativism and critical naturalism." In Cultural Relativism and Philosophy: North and Latin America. Ed., Marcelo Dascal. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 195-214.

In contexts such as curing, teaching, parenting, friendship--where one person regularly yields power to another at least temporarily, towards future growth, I see these relationship as sacred within the secular. As teacher, for example, I use the power given to me by students toward their growth and development, eventually subverting my power; similarly with curers.

We need to remind ourselves that most of our thinking habits--even about globality--developed during times that were not conceptually global. Rather, most of our thinking about sociality and politics was developed during periods of ideation when the city-state was presumed to be a natural, perhaps obvious, form of social arrangement. This thinking about who we are and where we are, included the idea that there were other similar loci outside of boundaries of our being somewhere, someone . . . a citizen/subject of . . . The very idea of global thinking therefore resides in and is an extension of thinking about being within the idea of city-state. Blame it on, locate it within, say, Machiavelli's Discourses. (Don't we need to read together?) Here much of our thinking is bound within ideas deriving from Aristotle's Politics, including Hobbes' analysis (Leviathan) and Rousseau's that society is somehow anti-human, anti-natural (The Social Contract). Modern, observational ethology says this is ideology rather than the truth of our being.

Weil, Andrew. 1995. Spontaneous Healing, New York: Ballantine.

I appreciate that what I am referring to as details of history, are regarded as reality and actual history to most people. On the one hand, I apologize for my presumptuousness. On the other, I propose that a deeper comparative thinking about the human condition and human nature than has been the practice within any tradition up to now, can enable us to see much more clearly what is in-common to us all, and how the different traditions have gained their footings.

I was gathering the dictionary not from concepts--which I could never have known from my background--but from the sounds/phonemes which I was attempting to systematize in schemata such as consonant-vowel-consonant, and came upon a number of such sensory terms serendipitously.

My training as a comparative linguist is the undergirding for this position. I was trained to suspend my own languaging, in order to enter into the cognitive abilities of speakers of other languages, and understand the world of sound as they conceptualize it in their own languages. Then I would return to my English languaging and be able to see both their languaging and my own within a comparative framework. Similarly with a cognitive anthropology: toward a way of seeing my own ordinary: here, a probing of why Western thinking has taken reality to be the waking state--and the beginning for me of a long intellectual historical journey back to Heraclitus and forth to the present.

I think this is at its base a rational study of human nature and the human condition. It will reveal, for example, that our construction of the human individual as the base of being and of our institutions, needs to include the fact that we are--by our nature--social beings. That is, we have to review our own philosophical and traditional presumptions in beginning to consider other traditions: else we will oppose and conflict, and enter into a popularity contest, rather than a reasoned discussion of the human condition. In following G. H. Mead in thinking that our individuality is emergent, rather than a given--I can make a strong case that fundamental notions of reality are generated from a social grammar, rather than our usual thinking that humans have a given matrix for language. (Sarles, Language and Human Natur).

Benedict Anderson. 1983. Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. Verso.

Sarles, H. B. The Ideal. Foundations Project. 1998 Ms.

It is important for Humanists to critically review the utopic sorts of stories which have informed our own tradition cast usually within the progress of the human from (primitive) nature toward civilization. While these have usually paralleled the development from infant to adult, they have been derived particularly from the philosophical tradition of Plato and Aristotle as they have played out variously over the past two millennia plus. They are based to some (large) extent on a particular notion of human uniqueness, derived in turn from a largely misinformed idea of other species. In this context, we Western thinkers have often applied our thinking about globality and humanity to other traditions, and have misunderstood and mis-estimated their ideas, within our terms: notions of civilization, development, and so on, may derail our attempts to universalize global Humanism as we tend to estimate others with respect to historically derived ideas of our own being--rather, for example, than looking at ourselves from the perspectives of other species being not all that different from us than Plato and Aristotle claimed. That is, we need to rethink what we have meant by human nature in global and comparative contexts. For a critical and corrective view of the origins of human intelligence, see Peter Wilson's The Domestication of the Human Species (Yale, 1988) for an experiential explanation of our rational dispositions. He claims that we became geometric thinkers as we became domesticated, living in permanent settlements where there were literal walls: we learned, for the first time, here and there, and became Euclidean in our lookings-out. In the contexts of globality, these ideas of being may well have altered.

Lyotard, J-F. 1984. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. University of Minnesota Press. This can be appreciated in several contexts: internal weakenings and external attacks upon science from the humanities and from religious scientific creationism; a rise in cynicism and nihilism; a rising interest in the spiritual.

Remembering as well that many of the world's peoples find themselves increasingly resistant or marginalized in this globalizing moment.

My reading and study in various world-traditions so far, leads me to think that (most of) the traditions rely for their architectonics--their underlying ideas about the world--upon ideas of human experience, and how to understand what and how they provide meaning to being. The attempt here: to enter meaning and experience at a level or place which, again, by-passes the traditions which have developed from various of the underlying notions of how we are, and are to be. Hopefully this will develop into/devolve from ideas which are, say, more basic to the human condition since they derive from very general ideas and observations. I will claim, as well, that there exist elements of human experience which have not been much observed or granted their due importance in the construction of meaning and being: e.g., the (central) importance of the (human) face in our knowing others, and ourselves; the idea that individuality is emergent rather than given.

In the pursuit of global Humanism, it will be necessary to critically review our own Western tradition, in order to see, for example, that this notion of natural law, is itself derived especially from Hobbes' Leviathan. That is, we must study critically the history, sociology, and politics of ideas.

Sarles, H.B. 1995. Ethology and the Philosophy of Language--Handbuch Sprachphilosophie. Eds., M. Dascal, D. Gerhardus, K. Lorenz, G. Meggle. Berlin: De Gruyter: 1700-1708.

An apparent paradox, because we have not so far considered that the individual is emergent from sociality, an idea which gathers power from the observation of related species, then the return to observing the human.

Sarles, H. B. Reality. The Foundations Project. 1998 Ms.

Hard and soft are references to some of the binds Humanism finds itself in: hard referring to a mechanical-material model of the bodily being which we are, and soft referring to ideas of rationality and human uniqueness. The rub is that both of these are crucial aspects of Humanist thinking, usually invoked in non-competitive contexts so we hardly notice the contradictions in our loyalties. Obviously we are (both) bodily and thoughtful, and have hoist ourselves on the petard of our own traditional thinking.

Dewey, John. 1969. "Three prefaces to books by Alexander" In F. M. Alexander, The Resurrection of the Body. (169-184)

Sarles, H.B. 1993. Teaching as Dialogue: a teacher's study. Latham, Md: Univ. Press of America.

Freire, Paulo. 1995. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum..

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