I am writing a novel. I’ve worked on the idea for this novel for over ten years, mostly just playing with it in my head. But the stress of working, not to mention the time spent working, prevented me from writing it. I’ve just been too tired. Now I’m retired, and I’m writing.
The novel–and I’m digressing from the focus of this article–is about a camel caravan set several hundred years before the common era. The novel will have lots of stuff going on in it. It will have friendship, gods (especially Zeus), monsters, evil and good, fighting, and just as in the classic The Princess Bride, it will have true love and sword fighting. But most of all it will have philosophy. I like philosophy and my novel will be steeped in it. There will be philosopher and Greek mythology. But the main focus of the novel will be the ideas. This novel is my humble attempt to change the world. I want the reader to be different and changed after finishing the novel.
This is a big order. It will take years to finish it and I’ve just gotten started. I’m not sure I’m a good enough writer to pull it off, but it keeps me busy. Even if it ultimately fails to achieve my goals, it will be a worthy try. It gives me something to do.
Anyway, I have spent a good deal of time working out the themes of the novel. The basic theme, the main theme, is that humans need humans–not stuff, not religion, not gods; we need each other. But there are sub-themes I want to bring into the story to support that main theme. To help myself think about these themes, I wrote a summary of them, which follows below:
Humans need humans
• Everyone has the same worthiness
• All humans want the same basic things
• Human needs and feelings can easily and securely be satisfied by cooperating with other humans
• The second greatest human need is a desire to feel important and appreciated
• Everyone does their best, always
• There are reasons and causes for all human actions
• Everyone needs support from other humans
Individual and social
• The first greatest human concern is with having security of basic physical needs, shelter, and being appreciated
• Evil is best thought of as a sickness
• Seeking security through wealth, status, fame and religion is not as dependable as seeking it through a society that appreciates and values all people
My novel will be a humanistic novel. It places humans first, and everything else second. But it will not claim humans are more important than the rest of the universe, it will only say that for humans, humans are more important. That humans need humans is the overall theme.
This theme, which seems to be obviously true, goes against thousands of years of religious teaching. Not that religions are necessarily anti-human, but many religions do claim humans should defer to gods as being more important than themselves or other humans. At least this is true with Christianity. Sophia disputes that and claims what humans need first and last are other humans. Believing in a might be of help to some humans, but it is not a necessity for our society, and those people who find religion helpful, could get the same benefits from an intimate and friendly secular community.
The novel will go against the historical and cultural norms of most societies in its message about religion. It places religion in the optional category, of something you can believe if you must, but you’d be better off without. Still, it is not an anti-religion novel, although it may be understandable that the religious will think so given that religion is the default in our society.
It will be a pro-humanistic novel. It is about humans. Its basic theme is that humans only need other humans to engage in a great life. In other words, humans need humans.
It will enclose several sub-themes to support this main theme. These sub-themes are assumptions and inferences. I hold them to be facts, although admittedly they can be argued and disputed. These sub-themes are in some cases assumed in the idea that humans need humans, and in other cases they help us understand why we need each other.
The idea outcome of this novel is that readers will come away with enthusiasm for their fellow human beings. They should come away with a new positive perspective on themselves and others.
The first sub-theme is that everyone is of equal worth. Viewed from a big, universal view this is absolutely correct. All things are equal to the universe. But viewed from a lower, human view this equality is not so certain. Individuals do not need to view or except that other humans have the same rights to life and happiness as they do. But they should. By doing so they will be better off as individuals and society will be better off as a social entity. For example, no matter what an individual does, no matter how they choose to approach life, bad things can happen. A person can reduce their risk simply by excepting everyone else as equals, cooperating with them, helping them, and allowing themselves to be helped. Life is easier when you treat others as equals, and allow them to treat you as an equal.
Perhaps the second task is to show why humans need other people. One reason we need others is because we NEED to feel important and special. This need is extremely strong and is a part of almost all explanations of why humans do what they do. We do some things because we must or need to for our survival, but we always do those things with an eye to how they can increase our feelings of importance and specialness. This need can only be achieved if other people are around to acknowledge our importance and specialness. We need and want other people to acknowledge our specialness. And when we see others as important and special, they will be well inclined to see you as being special and important.
Another thing we want is security. Almost all human actions and behaviors can be understood both by understanding our need to feel important and special and by understand our need to feel secure. There are some things we want to embrace, and we want as much certainty as possible that we will continue to have them. We want to feel secure that we will have physical safety, financial wellbeing, health, relationships, and those feelings of specialness and importance. We want to be assured that all these needs will be met. We want to feel secure that we will have everything we feel we need. The easiest way to build that security is by cooperating with others.
Of course, life is not secure. This creates conflict and distrust. This conflict and distrust creates insecurity. And these feelings of insecurity causes people to do weird and strange things, such as fighting with and sabotaging each other, which only increases the distrust. When an individual or society wins a fight, they might perceive themselves to be more secure for a while, but that security can’t last for the long term. And because the losers will only grungily cooperate with the winner, it is inefficient.
One reason for this conflict and distrust is that it is often hard to see that everyone is doing their best. Sometimes we imagine that other groups or individuals are not trying. But this is not true. Everyone does their best, always. Everyone wants to be secure in the ways discussed above and will seek that security in the ways they understand to be best. However, what one group or individual sees as the best way to secure security or specialness is not always the same as what other groups or individuals understand to be necessary. Even if it is the same, individuals and groups are uncertain if others will share the rewards if they cooperate. The distrust is often well founded and not unreasonable. But if they can get past that distrust and come to a common understanding and realize that they want the same things, and all humans do, that cooperation will benefit everyone, then they can cooperate and everyone will prosper.
Each person will naturally, from birth, do their best. But what we consider the right thing to do or what we understand to be our best can vary greatly depending on what we are taught and our inner decisions and conclusions. We need help learning how to live life. How well a person does is partly determined by how much help they get and how good that help is. A person never spontaneously does an action; there is always a reason and casual force pushing toward that action. There are always deep reasons why a person is as they are. Those reasons are often very hard to see or understand. We often don’t understand the reasons and causes of our own actions, so how can we understand others? Yet, those reasons and causes are always, always, there.
People need help. We need help growing, learning, and developing; but even after we are grown and mature and grow old, we still need help. We need help with security as discussed above and with basic everyday activities. We will need help emotionally and physically for our entire lives. We need others to tell us we are special and important. The best way to get this help is through cooperation. The help will be better and more sincere when we cooperate and help each other. Then we can produce a positive feedback for each other.
A person always does their best. But even if they receive help leaning they may still do anti-social activities such as hurting other people or criminal activities. This can be because the help they received was not adequate or because of their individual unique conclusions and decisions. These anti-social activities are best diagnosed as a sickness to be cured. Anti-social activities should not be dismissed, a person cannot be allowed to go around hurting others, but they should be viewed in the light that everyone does their best, always. A person who does bad things is trying, they are just mucking it up. They are, in a sense, sick. They are socially sick and maybe mentally sick and even physically sick. But they are sick and need to be helped. There are deep causes and reasons for their actions. People do not do evil for no reason, although no one may understand it, included the evil person.
Finally, it is through ourselves and other humans that we can find satisfaction with being alive. Gods don’t do very much; neither does too much deference to wealth, status and fame. To the extent those things bring us into a community of other people or provide us with goals to pursue, they can help us; otherwise they are of minimum help. It is the community they bring us into that is of the most help. It is people that are of most help to people. When people cooperate with each other and help each other, everyone benefits. Cooperation and help brings the desired security everyone wants and reduces the need for warfare and other anti-social activities. When people cooperate with each other they know they are special and important.
Cooperation works because humans, all humans, need the same things. This is also why there is so much conflict and distrust because one way to assure that we get what we want is by denying it to others. By making sure others get less, we hope we can get more. But this is short sighted and can only be true in the short term. Yes, if we want something but don’t have it, and someone else does, we can steal and quickly solve our immediate problem. We also create distrust, dislike, and an enemy.
By way of economy of scales which comes from cooperation, the needs of everyone can be met and maximized. It’s true some individuals–those who are rich–may own less that they would otherwise, but they will still have what they need and more; they will still be reward for their extra productivity by having wealth most do not have.
It is important to highlight a few things. First, all human beings are of equal worthiness for living a good and happy life. Everyone deserves that. Second, we all want the same things. This is a double-edged sword. We want the same things so we compete for those items causing wars and fighting and distrust. However, because we want the same things, this creates a great motive for cooperation. Everyone can fulfill their needs if we cooperate. However, it must be acknowledged that some, those who are rich, might get less than they would otherwise. And third, everyone, every single person, always does their best. We may not see it in other people’s behavior, but they are doing their best as they understand it. This is very important to understand. Instead of condemning others for what they do and quickly distrusting them (although I’m not saying we should be quick to give full trust either, not until we see what they are about), we should seek to understand why they are compelled to act as the do..
Finally, I want to end by going back to the idea that everyone wants to admired, seen as being special, and feel important. We like that. Almost all animals, at least mammals, like that too. I know your dog loves it, and believe it or not, so does your cat. We are not different from them in this respect. We like feeling good about ourselves and having other people feel the same way about us. It’s nice (but don’t get carried away). A great way to receive these good feelings, both an easy and low cost way to get them, is by cooperating with others. They will appreciate you for your cooperation, just as you will appreciate it from them.
People need people and cooperation makes life much easier.
The four characteristics of humanism are curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race. E. M. Forster