Populist and Secular Humanist in the Face of a Virus

I’m a humanist sociologist. That means I think about how important it is for people to have a social life. To see our friends and relatives and colleagues. To be in the world. The social world.

As a Marxist, I know how crucial the economy is for having a foundation for social life. I am not a fan of capitalism, as my blog entries make clear, but if the economy blows up, if workers sink into poverty, if the neighborhood are disorganized, if crime rates soar, our social lives are comprised. When health and safety and well being are put in jeopardy, people are forced to scrap at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid. The higher order functions of life—our one and only life—are unattainable without the lower needs met. Dreams are dashed as people lose their jobs, their livelihoods, and their experiences. Fear is a terrible thing. Feelings of helplessness wear on person’s spirit.

The importance of social life to human being means we have to think about when we can open up our society again so that folks can have their lives back. We have to focus on sooner than later. Reasonable people interrogate the facts and make arguments to make determinations. I can’t stand passively by and watch partisans shame folks away from discussions about the most important matters confronting people.

When I read memes trashing people for wanting to consider life beyond avoiding a virus, shaming people by rhetorically asking them who they think should live and who should die, when the same question can be put to any other communicable disease to doesn’t ask us to shelter-in-place and, more than that, a host of other ordinary human activities that come with some risk to health and safety, I get angry. I admit it. It offends me. We don’t stop living because life is risky. People aren’t evil or reckless for wanting to live, work, and recreate.

It’s unfair to those who are asking folks to consider all the factors determining the human situation, those activities that make for the good life, to make them out to be heartless assholes, to trash the skeptic for his skepticism. Worse, on top of that, attacks on reasonable questions are thrown into the stupid and tired partisan frame, the frame that divides people into Republicans and Democrats—“are you for us or against us?”— taking a sledgehammer to one side or the other, pile-driving a vulgar ideological wedge between working people.

I don’t accept the corporate two-party hegemony, established by the ruling class to keep the working class in line by keeping us busy thinking in racial, ethnic, religious, gender, and partisan terms in order to keep us from organizing around what we have in common as working people. Progressives are the worst. That’s why my politics are populist and my morals secular-humanist. For the record. So you can understand me better.

Finally, Maslow, as a humanist, recognized that, devoid of instinct, our species builds its humanity through the fulfillment of our animal needs (air, drink, food, shelter, sleep) and, only then, through the fulfillment of human needs. The ruling class has been taking notes. By keeping down the majority of the world’s population on the lower rungs of the needs hierarchy, our betters have prevented the masses from contemplating the higher levels of humanity to be attained, namely self-actualization and substantively meaningful achievement and respect.

Indeed, it seems our masters have stepped up the project to keep the masses ignorant by forcing them to scramble to meet their basic physiological and safety needs (and here almost entirely on an individual basis) while giving them ideologies of fear and superstition. Creativity, curiosity, higher-order reasoning and fact-acceptance are luxuries when they should be the warp and woof of daily human experience. The power elite recognize that, if our needs are met, they know we will turn our attention to them and demand to know what contribution they are making to human well being. By then, it will  be a rhetorical question. And a revolutionary one.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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