At some point I stumbled on the term misanthropic humanitarian, or humanitarian misanthrope to describe my general sentiment towards humanity. I don’t think anyone would argue that I’m a misanthrope, but the humanitarian part might be more debatable. And misanthropy seems like it’s mutually exclusive to humanitarianism, but I actually think they can be complimentary.
I think my brand of misanthropy can be a basis for a kind of humanitarianism. Definitely not the same kind as actual good people that take risks and make sacrifices to help people, that’s a more applied humanitarianism that does actual good. This is a more theoretical framework that doesn’t help anyone but just arrogantly suggests that if we all thought this way the world would magically be a better place.
I’m not suggesting you have to be a full-on misanthrope to be a humanitarian, but I think some of the principles of misanthropy can be applied to humanitarian goals.
So I’m a misanthrope, what’s that mean? Basically it means that as a rule I don’t trust humans. Not as a species, not as a civilization, not even as individuals, and definitely not in large groups. Some of that is because I think the word ‘trust’ is too subjective to mean anything, but somehow it still feels right to say I just don’t trust humans. To me trust is just a weirdly sentimental way of measuring the accuracy with which you can predict or rely on a desired behavioral outcome, and by that definition, humans are very untrustworthy animals.
But trust has all this intent and value attached to it, and I don’t not trust humans because I think they’re all bad people or evil or any of that nonsense, it’s just because we’re incredibly complex and the more complex things become the more bizarrely unpredictable their behavior. And maybe I’m socially inept or whatever, but I’m talking about history here- sacrificing to sun gods, wars between incestuous ruling families and over religions, steam powered flat earther rockets 50 years after the moon landing, like 80% of the internet, this is humanity, just absolute batshit craziness on tap.
It’s partially biology. We’re mammals, and mammals are all pretty nuts, plus all life is nuts. Evolution works with what works, not with what makes sense or doesn’t suck. Humans are the product of what worked on Earth, and we do have some amazing advantages, but we’re just complicated animals, and even simple animals are nuts.
But we don’t really talk about trust with animals unless we’re anthropomorphizing them like with dogs. We describe wild animals as ‘unpredictable’ sometimes but I think we know intuitively they’re not, their nuttiness is within well established parameters so whether we say it or not it’s pretty easy to ‘trust’ animals, because we trust them to be animals. That’s really the only kind of trust that makes any sense to me. But if you just trust things to be what they are, then trust doesn’t mean anything, but I guess that’s kind of my point so, yeah…
But so I trust animals to be animals, and humans are animals, so why not trust humans to be humans? Well because like I just said- they’re animals. The human part is not a given. Humans are precariously built out of animals and if much of anything goes wrong with that construction what’s left is just the animal.
We accept this on a sort of medical level. From full-on lobotomies to Phineas Gage to meth-brain and just regular old dementia, it’s no secret that human minds can degrade into functionally different beings, sometimes to the point they are only human by biological standards. But those are the hard-core, obvious cases where the faculties necessary for doing human things are damaged so they just stop acting as much like a human.
But a lot of things can go wrong with people that are not really biological, and they continue to act exactly like humans. A sociopath is, for all intents and purposes, much better equipped to deal with the complexities of modern culture than someone burdened by empathy. They act more human than most humans, they’re good at it, but- I don’t think they’re really being all that human. Obviously that puts a judgement on what human means, so I’ll say I think ‘human’ is the part of ‘human animal’ that makes civilization together, and a sociopath doesn’t seem like they’re really using that part.
Our culture doesn’t really teach much about the human-animal duality of human nature, so people tend to think of human beings as atomic things, you’re born human and you die human, no matter how much of an animal or otherwise not a human you become along the way. So we may casually say a sociopath is an animal, but they really do get all the benefits of being a human being.
And for moral clarity we it’s probably best to say they’re all still human. It’s hard to argue the value of humans just saying all human life is sacred, full stop. And I think we can keep that value, but with a modified understanding that actually doing ‘being’ a human being is more than just being of the species homo sapien sapien.
Unfortunately the whole ‘human animal’ thing is pretty easy to run afoul of the whole ‘sanctify of human life’ thing, because where do you draw the line except by literal species without the danger of some people being labeled less than human life? I think the simple prevention is just don’t think of human being as a permanent state, but a potential, and give the whole species credit for the potential no matter what. That way you can say accurately when people are animals, but you can’t cross the line of treating them like animals because they have a body that has the potential to be human.
That said, I’m not saying ‘thou shalt not kill’ or anything. If people try to kill you, I think it’s acceptable to try to kill them right back. And there are some threats that cannot be neutralized any other way than permanently. But to me it’s a pretty simple rule- if you can neutralize a threat without death, do that, if not- stay alive. In simpler terms I can deal with a death penalty for a stranded colony with no means to effectively neutralize dangerous prisoners, but not in places with the means to build literal prison cities.
Also while I’m on the death penalty I’ll say I’ve actually come around to the position that there is a moral basis for a death penalty even in prosperous civilizations, but only for abuse of public power. To abuse public power is to undermine the basis of civilization. If someone tries to make you do something against your will, you have the right to fight them. But if they wield the power of the state, you may willingly, or unknowingly give up that right. So it seems fair that the price for wielding the power of submission is enhanced punishment for its misuse. I also think that this is the only case where capital punishment actually would be a deterrent. I don’t think violent psychopaths are pensive enough about mortality for a death penalty to really change their behavior, but I’d prefer anyone who assumed public power would be.
Sorry, I kind of accidentally then on purpose shoehorned my death penalty shpeil in there, but back to the thing…
So the gist is- I’m misanthropic because humans are animals, and animals are nuts, but I don’t not trust animals, and even though humans are sometimes animals they’re still humans and we can’t not treat them like humans, so what the hell am I talking about?
I’m just trying to get around to the point that to be a very effective humanitarian, especially at large scales, you have to recognize and account for the human animal. We’re weak, imminently corruptible, and intrinsically vain, but- we can help each other rise above it, and that’s kind of nice. Maybe misanthropy takes it too far, and brings the implication of disappointment or something, which goes against the point that this is about looking at the ‘human animal’ dispassionately, but I like the juxtaposition of misanthropic humanitarianism as a reminder that responsible compassion isn’t always snuggly.
It really helps when you need to look at humans as data. We are raw data, sucks to think of ourselves that way but we are, and that data is valuable. Humans actually are fairly predictable in large numbers. Being a little misanthropic can help you get over the fact that we’re just numbers, and being a little humanitarian can help you use your ability to get over our statistical predictability and use it to create beneficial outcomes for human beings.
When you want horses to do something, do you don’t moralize about it being the right thing to do, or why they should have done it. You create the conditions in which that horse will be most likely to do the thing you want them to do. There’s no judgement, just observation.
Of course you can create conditions that make the horse do it because it’s terrified not to, or because it associates it with a reward. Both can be called for in various circumstances. But most handlers tend to understand that horses are better to you when you’re better to them, but more importantly, they’re better when you create the conditions that are favorable to them being better.
Also just to be clear none of this is an argument for philosophical zombies. Everything feels, even sociopaths. I do think some meta-cognitivie capacity varies wildly between humans, but I don’t think that’s a critical defining factor of the human experience, it just can be. And again, it’s the potential to be human that grants the rights of humanity, so it doesn’t matter either way.
So that’s the main point I want to make about humanitarian misanthropy, the human-animal thing, but it actually goes a little further into cultural connections for me too. I don’t advocate this level of misanthropy for everyone, and it’s not as well coupled to humanitarianism, but I think the best way to avoid an us vs them mentality is to not be an us.
The ‘them’ part is pretty hard to ignore. I see ‘them’ everywhere, but everytime I think I find an ‘us’, it turns out to be another them, or just a few of us with a bunch of them hanging around confusing things. So for expediency I’ve just taken to assuming there is no us. Or I guess I’ll qualify that by saying there is no ‘us’ beyond people you’re on a first-name basis with, and even there- people change.
There’s a lot of focus on human’s destructive tendency to identify ‘the other’ as the enemy, but I think the easily disprovable ‘us’ part is what creates the unfalsifiable ‘other’ part. But as many times as the ‘us’ is disproven, the ‘other’ remains compelling. Best way out, just be a ‘me’.
Sounds too lonely to be right though, right? Because humans are social creatures, etc… yeah, fine. I’m not saying you have to be a hermit over it. You can hang out with people, and like I said- people know actually know by the sound of their voice can be your ‘us’, just don’t join any clubs. That seems like a great rule to me. And by clubs I mean anything. Political parties, religions, ‘isms’ of any kind, maybe even fan clubs, but that’s a bit too literal. You speak for yourself on your own behalf and no one else’s, always and forever, and no one else can speak on your behalf by group association. Every club you join inherits some of your character and will, but you can’t control how other members use that association, so I consider it irresponsible to grant it.
Also the jackie gleason thing- won’t be a part of any club that would have me as a member. Great recognition of the paradox of self-standards. You should never meet your own standards, so if you meet someone elses, theirs aren’t as good as yours, but that’s not really a misanthropic humanitarian reasoning, just a good one.