This article annoyed me. Especially the second half of the article. The consumer culture we have now is not an antithesis to the humanistic psychology of the the likes of Carl Rogers. The vague valueless consumer culture we have now is, I would argue, a direct result of the wide uptake of the kind of psychology that the author of this article claims would be a cure to this fluffy consumerism. ‘Whatever’ is an, admittedly cynical, expression of Rogerian unconditional acceptance. The problem with this humanist approach is that people don’t all share the same beliefs and value systems. The humanists pretend to be all accepting but the subtext is that they want you to share their beliefs and values and are quite indignant when most of the world demonstrably does not have those self same views. The second half of the article has that indignant tone and comes close to suggesting that a bit of social engineering is all that is needed to fix the ‘problem’. While there is that pretense of being all accepting the real actions taken towards people they disagree with is exclusion.Â Another point is that the politics of today has next to nothing to do with public debate of ideas or engagement. Any one who tries to take part without the authorisation or blessing of the major parties is considered fair game. In this context the political parties are public relations machines geared to the public mood. Those fluffy humanist values pervade mass media politics. It makes most people feel comfortable and silences those that don’t. Everyone in their own little worlds.
I think that it is better to start off accepting that most people will have differing views and work from there. Rather than trying to argue for a particular humanistic take on Rousseau’s so-called General Will I think the liberal democratic approach that respects the private while being rigorous with public knowledge is the most appropriate for politics. One of the main problems when engagement is blocked and while information is a one-way mass media channel is that problems are not properly understood so the political fixes tend to make things worse. Engagement and public debate are not about yelling from an entrenched position on some political issue but can become a way to clarify the real nature of political problems, for everyone involved, and then work on some strategies given that understanding. There will always be some people who simply do not understand or see things differently. That should not be a problem. Leadership is about making a choice given the circumstances and then continually reviewing your progress. That is our liberal democratic history and tradition. Liberal democracy is not an ideology. There is a system with a structure there and the understanding of the value of that way of dealing with public politics for large numbers of very different people has developed over hundreds of years, if not thousands of years. Everyone has values. Secularism is about a framework within which large numbers of people with radically differing values can agree to live and work together peacefully. Ultimately secularism in the context of modern states comes down to the Golden Rule. Personally we respect each others’ private views and beliefs while with regard to public knowledge and public policy we test assumptions rigorously. Secularism is not an answer-all. It provides the space and structure in modern states within which people are free to practice their faith and associate as they wish. What particular faiths, beliefs, or social practices they may be for particular individuals is no business of the state, unless someone is harmed. Secularism is not in opposition to religion. It actually enables the free practice of religion in modern states. Secularism is very different from the atheism of former communist states. This understanding of secularism is not new.
Humanism is more like a religion such as Catholicism rather than a framework suited to modern states which secularism is. Both Catholicism and humanism seem to have pretensions towards universalism and they both expect people to believe their particular creed for salvation. Secularism works in modern states, like it or not, believe it or not. Secularism is a framework. You don’t have to believe in it. You do need, however, at least a critical mass of the population to know and understand how liberal democracy works. Failing that general knowledge you can fall into the seeming social chaos we have had since Howard and Bush – think cooked intelligence, public lies, personal attack dog politics, intelligent design, Iraq, undermined UN sanctions, WMD and AWB, and the list goes on. There is a sense of honour involved in knowing your heritage and respecting it, not cynically abusing it for personal gain.