I make a mental note of new words I hear or read if I think they may come in useful. Last week someone used the word “anthropocentric”, and I had to look it up because it had been used in connection with Humanism.
Anthropocentric is an adjective that means regarding humans as the central element of the universe, or interpreting reality exclusively in terms of human values and experience (I’m not sure how else we might interpret reality, but that’s another matter). The person who used the word described himself as an atheist but said he wasn’t “a fluffy Humanist”, because he thought Humanism is about being anthropocentric and is too “soft” on issues to do with religion.
Apart from denying that I’m at all “fluffy”, this set me wondering how many others think that Humanism is all about humans being the centre of the universe, while other life forms hardly matter. I know that some of our detractors imagine that we stand for a form of collective selfish interest, putting our needs and wants before others.
Monday was Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN in 1948. I hope that no one seriously imagines that those rights can be claimed without responsibilities. Of course, the weaker members of society – the very old, the very young, the poor and the sick – cannot be expected to accept the same responsibilities as those of us who are more fortunate, but it’s nevertheless true that one cannot have rights without responsibilities.
The difference between human beings and the other species who share this small planet is that we know – or at least most of us know – how our behaviour affects other people, other species, and the planet as a whole. Humanity is potentially the most dangerous and the most creative species, capable of great harm or great good, or lots of small harms or many small positive acts.
Humanism is about responsibilities and rights, without religion. That’s not “fluffy”, is it?