Staying Human

by frankbeswick

There are forces within the world which reduce human significance, but the Christian church should be adamant in its mission to promote a fully human life for all.

Recently certain significant thinkers, such as Stephen Hawking, have voiced concerns about the growth of artificial intelligence, observing that people could be replaced by machines. Indeed, when we think of automation we realize that the aim of having it is in some cases to do without workers and monopolize profits in the hands of a few. There are other dehumanizing pressures on people, from capitalism and socialism. The church has a prophetic role to proclaim God's will to the world, and to work to create a world run to God's standards. These standards require a fully human life for everyone.

Copyright image courtesy of Stuart

A vision for humanity

The mystic and evolutionary philosopher Teilhard de Chardin articulated a pair of visions for the future. Writing in The Phenomenon of Man he spoke of a Utopian future when humanity would have achieved megasynthesis, a unity of all humans in community with each other and the divine, in full respect of each other's individuality and humanity, a great harmony of  love, the final realization of the Christian vision expressed in terms of Teilhard's mysticism. But the dystopian vision that opposed it was the unity of the anthill, when humans were organized into a collectivity that denied their individuality and reduced them to mere functionaries of a machine or system that had swallowed them up. In the anthill there is no freedom for there are no individuals to exercise it; and there is no love, for there are no individual persons to love, in fact love would be frowned on as it is a relationship between individuals that affirms the individuality of the other. 

These are extreme visions, but there are dehumanizing forces operating in our world, generally the extreme forms of economic systems. Look at capitalism, while free enterprise makes a positive contribution to society, the harsher forms of this  economic system treat workers as less than human, disposable commodities to be treated with no concern for their well being. They are paid as little as the company can get away with and  the companies pay little or no attention to worker health and safety. Exponents of this system are apt to argue that business works better when workers have fewer rights, so they see the humanity of the work force as a burden to be ignored as much as is possible.  

The rush for artificial intelligence is linked with the capitalist desire to do without workers, for robots do not need to be paid and they have no rights. In a system that sees workers as inconvenient necessities to be tolerated while they are  being used, a robot is a desirable choice. But while we are told that we need not  fear artificial intelligence, the ones who tell us this are those who are set to reap the biggest profits from it. Do we trust them? Should we? Would you trust the words of a capitalist with much to gain?

Yet there are forms of socialism that are no better. I have argued with socialists who decry liberty [or other people's liberty, never their own, which is sacrosanct] and individuality.Socialism in its communist form produced totalitarian tyrannies in which individual freedom was effectively abolished. Karl Marx detested the libertarian works of John Stuart Mill. This sort of situation is still occurring in some states, such as North Korea, where humans are treated with contempt. Most forms of socialism elevate the role of the state and therefore regard at least some individual liberty as an impediment to the state's effective functioning.  

There are other forces. ISIL,Islamic state, has produced a monstrous society in which non-Islamic women can be  treated as slaves and gay people thrown from the tops of high buildings. Slavery and the death penalty, both of them deny the humanity of the subject, devaluing the life of some and the personal liberty and inviolability of the dignity of others. Naziism regarded non-Aryan races as subhuman, and while Hitler slaughtered Jews and Gypsies, his vision for the Slavs and black races was perpetual slavery. A dehumanising condition, and the Nazis still have their supporters in our time. 

But all these kinds of dehumanizing tomfoolery overlook one principle. If you deny the humanity of another, you deny your own, and you become less of a person because of it. The Islamic State fighter taking a slave girl against her will denies her humanity, but dehumanizes himself in the process. In denying the humanity of Jews Hitler denied the humanity of the Nazis. Thus, only by fully affirming the humanity of everyone in the  world can we fully affirm our own. 

A Catholic Vision

Something beautiful for God were the words of Mother Teresa. In the view of Mother Teresa every individual counts from conception to death, and in doing this she was articulating the Catholic vision of the world. Now there are ways in which I disagree with her, as she disbelieved in women priests, whereas I, a male, agree with them, but even in this disagreement she saw a vision for humanity in which everyone has a place in the world where they can be themselves to the  full.

Catholic social ethics believes in moderation and balance, placing great emphasis on the state, which should be run in the interests of all its citizens. It teaches that any state run in the interests of the few, or even which prioritizes the interests of well placed  and powerful groups, is immoral. In fact, in Catholicism there is deemed to be an option/preference for the poor. and this reflects the old prophetic message in the Bible that the poor are to be cared for, they are part of God's people. Jesus in Luke chapter 4 quotes the prophet Isaiah by declaring that he had come to give good news to the poor and bring liberty to captives, hardly a message that appeals to plutocrats or autocrats, which is  part of the reason why Jesus was crucified. 

Yet Catholicism does not overdo the state, but argues for subsidiarity, the principle that decisions should be taken at the lowest possible level consistent with their effective discharge. The state should not replace civil institutions such as churches and charities, and it should not strip away autonomy from individuals, but rather foster it. Catholicism also believes in strong international institutions in which states work  together for a better world. While there are some Catholics who support nationalist movements, I think that nationalism sits uncomfortably in the Catholic mind and does not fit into the belief system of Catholicism. I would never vote for a nationalist politician. 

Critical to the Catholic vision is that all should have meaningful and fairly paid work on which they an live. The present situation in the United Kingdom in which the salaries of chief executives and directors are mushrooming, while ordinary workers remain on minimum wage in  many cases, is a monstrous injustice. Catholicism believes in fair wages and dignity and protections for workers. Any replacement of workers by machines merely to boost employers' profits is regarded by Catholicism as fundamentally immoral, as is any treatment of worker in a less than human way. Worker participation is deemed vital to a fully dignified human life for workers; and any denial of health and safety to boost profits is condemned,note that I say condemned rather than frowned on. 

Some might observe that Catholics have not always lived up to this high vision, and I fully agree, for there are those who tried to keep afoot in both camps, hanging on to unjust economic privileges [keeping slaves] and underpaying workers. Sadly, not all  priests and bishops have been guiltless in this. There have also been Catholics who have tried to accommodate with hard left and right political systems,I know, I was at theological college with a few who were of this ilk. But these are failures to conform to the high vision of Christ, which remains despite the failure of many to live up to it. 


Steering a Course Through the Future.

What is the future in a world where size matters and large states and  companies powerfully assert their will? I have spoken of the Catholic position, but I am fully aware that there are people of goodwill  in all faiths and none who are concerned about the world and a dignified life for all who are  in it. So what I propose is that all people of good will should be aware of the need to create a society that protects and fosters human dignity and a fully human life for all  people. .

What does this involve. We should all work together in pursuit of fair wages for all, and this involves rejecting the capitalist notion that wages are just a matter for negotiation. States should be prepared to legislate for fair wages. Similarly there should be fair and humanizing conditions for all people to live in. Trade deals between nations should not be a matter of the strongest getting what they want, but we need a fair arrangement that respects both sides. Similarly, we should reject undemocratic and overweeningly powerful states that intrude into the lives of their citizens and reduce the freedom upon which dignity depends.   

But what we need is to ensure that humans are not  seen as replacable. We cannot prevent automation, and Luddism [machine destruction] has a bad and unsuccessful history, but states should encourage people to take control of their own lives, establishing self-employed projects and co-operatives so that they can enjoy the dignity of work if they are made redundant by machines. Churches and religious bodies should be at the heart of this strategy to preserve humanity. After all, the church exists to promote God's will for humans, which is that all have a happy, full and human life. Quite a task, but it is what we are called to  do.  

Updated: 10/30/2015, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 02/04/2016

Thanks, I agree.

DerdriuMarriner on 02/04/2016

frankbeswick, Thank you! I've always preferred the translation of Albert Camus's famous observation as "People die, and they aren't happy" as opposed to the gloomier "People die, and they aren't lucky." One is the fact that we all must admit and the second is the problem that we need to acknowledge. Happiness for the few need not entail the unhappiness of the many, and vice versa. Your article outlines the path to that happiness.

frankbeswick on 11/22/2015

The question,Who created God, assumes an infinite series of beings of equal contingent status in a temporal series of realities. Aquinas believed that this temporal series of contingent causes cannot exist, so there must be a non-dependent self-existent cause outside the temporal series that grounds the process. However, Aquinas thought that also the dependence of the cosmos on God was not only dependent upon an initial cause but upon on ontological grounding in God as the non-temporal ground of all being, the condition of the cosmos' existence. Hawking did not adequately address these philosophical points. He approached through the concept of imaginary time,which can postulate a cosmos without God.But the question is why does he think that postulating imaginary time is the right approach.

WriterArtist on 11/22/2015

Coming back to humanity, it is easy to say that we should treat people as equals. Gaps in accepting humanitarian ideology can arise from several reasons. Money, social status, intellectualism, beauty, religion, country and many others.

While we all know that some traits should not come in between distinguishing humans, some traits need to be differentiated. Students who are genius and those who are mentally challenged should be treated different. Also robots are not supposed to demean humans, they need to be used where humans cannot perform such as highly radioactive and hazard prone locations.

WriterArtist on 11/21/2015

I am an admirer of Stephen Hawking, he is a scientist and physicist who says - it need not be a Deity who has created the Universe. I totally agree with him because if God created Universe then the question is who created God. I feel the Cosmos exists from eternity and there need not be any creator. I believe strongly in Law of Nature and its supreme powers.

frankbeswick on 10/30/2015

Thanks. You are right about so-called Liberals, who demand tolerance from everyone but themselves. I call these people pseudo-liberals.

jptanabe on 10/30/2015

Excellent! Indeed we should not be Luddites, and just act out of fear of machines taking over. Nor should we exploit people like bad capitalists, or mandate that everyone be liberal except the liberals themselves who are somehow allowed to be intolerant.
Your more important points to me are about the humanity of every person. Well put - if we deny the humanity of another, you deny your own. If religions could remember their purpose is to ensure that all have a happy, full and human life, how much better off we would all be!

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