Saturday, June 19, 2010

Friends of humanity?

Recently I have reason to comment on George Carlin in a couple posts, one about "rights" and another about environmentalism. I would now like to point out that, although Carlin is often taken for a hero among freethinkers, rationalists, and secularists, it is immensely ironic to consider Carlin a "humanist." In the previous post, about environmentalism, I discussed a clip of Carlin ridiculing eco-friendly worries, a clip in which he also rather gleefully ponders how planet Earth would rid itself of the human species. As his "poetic" AIDS-scenario indicates, as well as many other nihilist reflections, Carlin is profoundly misanthropic, perhaps even zealously anti-human. In his Life Is Worth Losing set, for example,––the set he headlined in Las Vegas until his abuse of the audience got him fired in 2005––, Carlin pontificates, "[W]hen nature strikes back, and smacks him on the head and kicks him in the nuts, I enjoy that. I have absolutely no sympathy for human beings whatsoever. None. And no matter what kind of problem humans are facing, whether it's natural or man-made, I always hope it gets worse." If that's the case, on what grounds, I wonder, does Carlin fault God for not making life get better? This is Carlin the moralist wagging his finger at a fallen humanity and praying for a kind of hell on earth as cosmic retribution, a point not circumstantial to Carlin's biography. It is also another instance of the point I made in a post about "environmental eschatology", namely that all 'deep' humanist views of the world inevitably generate an eschatology, a final judgment, a kind of hubris allegedly unique to "religion."

But I digress.

The fundamental misanthropy of humanism is evident, albeit in a similarly anecdotal fashion, in a post by Volker the Fiddler arguing for an end to human reproduction. Precisely in order to ensure a happier future for humanity, Volker urges mankind to stop bearing children, a moratorium he himself endorses as far as the idea of having children repulses and fatigues him. The good of humanity, thus, lies in the suppression of the good making of humans.

A double irony lies in the alleged humanism of transhumanism, à la Ray Kurzweil's dreams of a better future for mankind by way of technological hybridization: "humanity as we now know it" is ridiculed and, indeed, scorned, rather like the bourgeoisie is loathed in Marxism, precisely because it is such a meager detriment to True Human Potential (there's that insidious ultimate finality again!). Anyone who would defend "traditional human values"––little things, like eating food, raising crops by hand, having sex with the genitals, aging well, growing through pain, dying with dignity––is not only laughably atavistic but also a threat, a threat to "the greater good" of "future generations." Humanity must be saved from itself by being "phased out" and "upgraded." Those, of course, who do not comply, will both be weeded out by natural selection and will be punished as dissidents against The Rise Of A Superior Race. Living for the birth of the Master Race hasn't sounded so noble since, well––let's not go there!

At least Christianity, and traditional moral religions, have the consistent audacity to say, not that people must be saved from "human existence," but from sin. The structures of "being human" are not inherently wrong––things like cities, courts, families, property, sports, nations, etc.––but they are mangled by being wielded without a proper relation to God, their source and judge. A Carlinist or a transhumanist says the human world as we know it is a sham and a disgrace and an outrage, which much be overcome (Hegel! Marx! Nietzsche!) either by sneering mockery or sleek technological "progress." Unfortunately, though, an atheist like Carlin––as well as a transhumanist, who by definition regards all human conditions and values as totally historicized, relative, and malleable––has no grounds on which to say any of the all-too-human foibles he lambastes are wrong or sinful; he can only say he finds such foibles stupid. Well, I learned as long ago as kindergarten that if all someone has against you is that they think you're stupid, just ignore them and keep doing what you're doing. I doubt I'm the only person who realizes that accusing something or someone of "rank stupidity" is a sign of ignorance on the part of the accuser. We fear what we don't know and we loathe what we don't understand, so I am most inclined to see the bulk of George Carlin's comedy as one long screed of ill-informed loathing for normal human existence which he, from his godlike position of moral superiority, finds both incomprehensible and despicably human. I have little to no doubt George Carlin spend much of his loathing the fact that he was a human just like the rest of the idiots he made a career of belittling. According to a Wikientry on Carlin, "Carlin openly communicated in his shows and in his interviews that his purpose for existence was entertainment, that he was "here for the show." As he himself said in his You Are All Diseased set, he pronounced, "I have always been willing to put myself at great personal risk for the sake of entertainment. And I've always been willing to put you at great personal risk, for the same reason!" Carlin sure sounds like a "funny" man. I imagine camping trips with him would have been heaven on earth. I don't know enough psychiatric jargon, but I'm pretty sure that compulsive obsession with the faults of anything and everything is its own kind of mental illness. Would it be too much to say that Carlin was a comedic sadist? Did he make a living out of having social Tourette's syndrome?

I want to add, as biographical proviso, that, despite how critical I seem to be of Carlin, I think he is a brilliant performer and sometimes dead-on in his social satire. His shakedown of the self-esteem ideology and the decreasing value of "being special" in a world where everyone is declared to be special is a wonderful thing to see! As with so many sharp minds, though, I think Carlin's Achilles' heel is that he was not profound enough, not critical enough. He was raised a Roman Catholic in "White Harlem," but he sloughed off his piety and sense of divine mercy without ever losing his Catholic sense of moral outrage. Sadly, this makes him a very funny American Pharisee. Had he pursued the obvious learning he enjoyed, I think he would not have been as satisfied with his "critical" outlook as his fans seem to be. As Francis Bacon said in "Of Atheism", "[A] little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion. For while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them, confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity." At the end of the day, and, sadly, at the end of his life, it was easier for George Carlin to grumble and whine than it was for him to say anything positive or really salvific about a world he only tolerated with scornful amusement.

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