The mythologies of Humanism rose to prominence as the bedrock of liberal society after the death of God in European Christian society. Boldly, Liberal society charged forward, promising a new age of enlightenment under the doctrine of reason, compassion, human agency, and Scientific Materialism. In taking on this Scientific Materialist perspective, all had assumed that rule of myth was gone, and the fate of man rested in the hands of “the people” guided by the infallibility of objective truths.
However, as the modern world unfolded, it became apparent that the myth of Humanism had its own inherent failures. Instead of the much-vaunted age of reason, we again see dogma, unquestionable doctrines, and the adoption of largely symbolic collective rituals, except now clad in the garb of scientific truths and liberal ideologies.
We now pray to Liberal institutions who, despite repeated failures, supposedly uphold the ideals of reason and progress. Appealing to these institutions has become nothing more than a shield used to suppress dissent under the guises of “enlightened” political and economic systems.
Nor were the failures of Humanism simply domestic. Just as Christian Europe crusaded around the world in a fit of dogmatic fever, Humanism became a casus belli for neocolonial interventions drenched in blood, all under the banner of ‘progress’ and ‘development.’
Now the eschatological ‘age of reason’ promised by Humanism seems further away than ever.
Humanism has been defined in many ways over the years; for the sake of clarity, the interpretation this article is working on is a philosophical approach that emphasizes the value of human agency and rationality above all other beings. This is often paired with a commitment to secularism, objectivity, scientific materialism, and ethical conduct for the ‘greater good’ without the need for religious or supernatural intervention.
Institutional Power: Church
A state, is called the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly lieth it also; and this lie creepeth from its mouth: ‘I, the state, am the people.’… But the state lieth in all languages of good and evil; and whatever it saith it lieth; and whatever it hath it hath stolen… Everything will it give YOU, if YE worship it, the new idol: thus it purchaseth the lustre of your virtue, and the glance of your proud eyes” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: The New Idol
One of the most pronounced transformations brought about by Humanism was the transfer of power from the church to the state institutions. However, in the present day, we can begin to uncover some striking resemblances by examining their material role and function. In essence, liberal institutions have become the new ecclesiastical entities they sought to replace.
The Humanist Rites of Justice
In the courthouse, judges preside from their thrones, cloaked in black robes, and backs pressed up against the wall. They cast judgments based on interpretation of hundreds of years old esoteric holy texts of national mythology. Only after, of course, one swears an oath before said judge. All of which occur within a Roman-style temple to ‘human rights’ and ‘impartial justice.’
One may think that interpretation of something like the Constitution would be relatively straightforward; however, such is not always the case.
Liberal society is full of various rituals and ceremonies dedicated to the veneration of sacred institutions. National holidays play a significant role in the fabric of modern-day liberalism, embodying a shared narrative to reinforce collective identity. Elaborate ceremonies, parades, and public gatherings all serve to evoke unity and patriotism in a higher power, the state.
However, the narratives spun around these events overlook or simplify the historical events they claim to tout. Thanksgiving, a pivotal national holiday, is portrayed as a peaceful gathering between settlers and Native Americans, while the broader history of colonization and devastation of the Native Americans is, at best, glossed over in the festivities. The Forth of July is ostensibly a celebration of the United States’ independence, which reinforces the mythos of the United States as an abstract beacon of freedom and democracy, all while celebrating ‘Founding Father’ slave owners.
Through these rituals, liberal societies construct a shared narrative similar to the church with excerpts from the bible. The sacrosanct narratives of the state become a unifying force to a higher power that demands fidelity, creating a sense of order and identity for its followers. The choice of what to include in these sacred narratives is not neutral but reflects and reinforces the power structures within society. Just as the Christian church selectively curated what history would be canonized in the bible, so does the state with national mythology.
Hymns of Allegiance
From this perspective, it’s hard to see the pledge of allegiance in any other light than a binding oath to the state. Hymns are sung in worship to create a powerful collective emotional and spiritual attachment to the ideas and values the state claims to represent, overshadowing the tangible conditions of the people they are meant to represent.
In the modern era, putting one’s hand over their heart symbolizes submission and reverence that is only otherwise found in religious rituals. This gesture is not just a demonstration of loyalty but also an act of worship. While the outward manifestations may differ by society, the fundamental function remains the same.
The Theater of Power
The grand spectacle of state ceremonies, such as state funerals, official visits, and state dinners, all resemble the grandeur and majesty of religious rituals. Meticulously choreographed shows of symbolic gesture, elaborate attire, and ceremony all seek to evoke a sense of awe in the masses reinforcing hierarchical structures and the power of the state to exalt and sanctify its divinity.
Much like the mass, these ceremonies are a theatrical production with a cast of characters in carefully designated roles. These performances remind the audience of the state’s omnipotence and imbue a divine aura around state institutions.
State Surveillance and Confession
The modern-day state commands unprecedented surveillance driven by technological advancements that show no signs of slowing. The act of confession was a means by which the church could keep a moral inventory of the citizenry, leveraging fears of divine judgment and damnation.
Today confession has been replaced by social media platforms through which individuals confess their thoughts, opinions, and activities. However, unlike the priest that once offered forgiveness, modern-day confessions are designed to predict behavior and manipulate desires. Data has become a new currency that feeds the Capitalist machine to reinforce consumerism and compromise personal privacy.
Sacred Grounds of the State
Last but most importantly, monuments to the state exist as hollowed sites that embody its people’s collective memory and aspirations. Much like towering cathedrals or sacred shrines, national monuments have become pilgrimage locations where crowds gather, not merely to admire the architectural or artistic merit but to pay homage to the state and its mythologies. In these monuments, we often find characters such as the “Founding Fathers” elevated to saints or demigods. These idolized figures, once again, devoid of historical context, become focal points for collective veneration.
It is no coincidence that individuals get whipped up into a frenzy when monuments, such as Confederate monuments, are defamed or removed. Monuments are physical manifestations of a myth that reinforces identity, regardless of whether one consciously subscribes to the values it represents. They are deeply intertwined with our perception of reality, and any threat to them can feel like a physical assault on the individual.
Like the idols of old, these monuments serve as a physical testament to and reinforcement of the mythology of the state, protected zealously, and etched in stone and metal.
The Capture of Science: Divine Right
“We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning.” – Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation
The rise of science as a defining attribute of modernity was underpinned by the promise of objective truths and an end to dogmatic belief. However, ironically this practice, under the influence of Capitalist capture, has become subject to the same pitfalls it sought to transcend, effectively turning science into another battleground for power and influence.
One glaring example is the climate change debate. Despite overwhelming evidence to support human-induced climate change, it’s become common for individuals to selectively cite studies that “debunk” climate change. This denialism gained traction due to a history of corporations, particularly those in the fossil fuel industry, suppressing studies that painted an unfavorable picture of their impact on the environment as early as the 1970s.
This pattern isn’t limited to environmental science. The pharmaceutical industry in 2008 was found to be selectively publishing trials on anti-depressants, of those published far more were found to have positive results. Not to mention the problems with ghostwriting, a practice in which articles are penned by someone other than the named author, usually a paid professional with ties to industry interests.
I’ve selected these two examples to highlight because, on the individual scale, it’s hard to imagine anything more pressing than psychological well-being and, on the collective level, an existential threat to humanity more significant than climate change. There are far more examples that fall outside the scope of this essay. These cases aren’t outliers but indicative of a broader trend permeating diverse facets of society. For those interested in further study, look into how publicly funded research has been utilized by corporate America; in which research intended for public benefit has been co-opted to sell products for private profits. Examples range from the tech industry with the internet, GPS, and early operating systems to agriculture industry and new crop varieties.
Mass Media: Street Preachers of Capital
The ‘mass media’ has become increasingly casual about misrepresenting these studies and printing sensationalized headlines, some of which posit the exact opposite conclusions made by the study in question. They may or may not issue an update in tiny letters at the end of the article, knowing that most will never read to that point. One of the most upheld tenants of the Humanist project was the pursuit of knowledge. In the hands of capital; it’s become nothing more than another product to be bought and sold.
In a world where attention becomes a currency, science becomes nothing more than a weapon deployed against the world’s most vulnerable populations.
Capitalist capture exists in all facets of modern society; this is certainly not in any way, shape, or form unique to science. This essay is not intended as an indictment of science itself. On the contrary, much of what we advocate is covered by the Occult Sciences. That being a methodology rooted in empirical exploration and iterative understanding, where experiments are undertaken, results are recorded, and the findings are verified through replication. This interpretation of science is not historically unjustified; those who explicitly rejected a scientific materialist worldview uncovered some of the most substantial discoveries in the history of science.
However, mainstream science in liberal society as a whole has become a means by which one can post hoc justify the opinions they already hold. Dominant power structures have intentionally capitalized on this for their own means.
The use of science in this way is yet another example of the modern liberal humanist state replicating patterns seen in the religious order it aimed to transcend. Much like the church, which monopolized the interpretation of the “word of god” Capitalists in the modern world manipulate the “word of Science”. This capitalist capture of science becomes a form of ‘divine right’ under liberal Humanism, echoing the church’s divine right to interpret scriptures in the past.
The exact means by which we were meant to clarify the world has become a means of distortion. Through this process, the divine right of Humanism is bought and sold.
Donald Trump: The Heretic
The rise of Donald Trump can be seen through the lens of reaction to the neo-Liberal order of the last 50 years. One of the key aspects of his appeal was positioning himself as an outsider to challenge the established norms of Liberal institutions, specifically by appealing to the “forgotten man” left behind in a new age of global Capitalism.
Trump’s flagrant dismissal of decorum, crude language, and open embrace of “alternative facts” are all direct repudiations of liberal Humanism’s faith in reason, progress, and taking the moral high ground. Further, Trump’s rejection of global cooperation, such as withdrawal from the Paris Accord, signals a broader retreat from Humanist principles around international solidarity and mutual progress. This has only served to further already existing tensions within the global neo-Liberal order.
Trump is not only an indicator of the demise of the god of Humanism but its most significant accelerant. Ironically, his supporters are some of the most dogmatically entrenched in the religion of the modern liberal humanist state. They idolize the Constitution, revere the Founding Fathers, and are patriots with deep faith in the contemporary liberal Humanist project. Yet, in their zeal and arrogance, they are throwing fuel on the fire burning the only world they have ever known.
Social Fragmentation: Reformation
In stark contradiction to the universalism and homogeneity put forward in the ideas of Humanism based around shared values, we now find ourselves in an era marked by fragmentation. A new wave of identity and class politics in reaction to hollowed-out neo-Liberal Humanism has brought into focus deep-seated tensions that lurk beneath the facade of the ‘United’ States.
Similar to the social fragmentation that followed the splintering of the centralized authority of the Christian church, we see this fragmenting now within modern Liberal societies. Citizens are becoming increasingly disillusioned with institutions once seen as the keepers of Humanist ideas, from everything to socioeconomic inequalities to global crises such as COVID-19 and climate change.
This sense of fragmentation opens the door to almost all possibilities. Not only did it pave the way for the rise of ‘political outsiders’ like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who positioned themselves as alternatives to the established order, but also creates fertile ground for the non-hierarchical and decentralized decision-making advocated in projects such as our own.
“The long, dark night of the end of history has to be grasped as an enormous opportunity. The very oppressive pervasiveness of capitalist realism means that even glimmers of alternative political and economic possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect. The tiniest event can tear a hole in the grey curtain of reaction, which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism. From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible again.” – Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism
To be adequately understood, none of this is meant to decry the abstract principles represented by Humanism but rather as a critical examination of how Capitalism has consumed them. We ultimately must come to terms with how Humanism and its Liberal institutions under Capitalism have transformed into a mechanism that serves the interests of those in power rather than the common good; and now functions in the same material manner that the Christian Church operated in medieval Europe.
The once revered tenets of rationality, reason, and superior human intellect stand in front of us, degraded and deformed so much that they can perfectly fit the intention of demagogues of any form. Everything held sacred under Humanism has been commodified, their meanings replaced with catchy marketing slogans intended to be weaponized against the vulnerable.
Self-care has become nothing but a toxic coping mechanism for survival in a fundamentally unjust world. Personal growth and individualism have been repurposed into a mechanical production line, churning out homogenized consumers for an ever-increasing landscape of over-consumption and commodity fetishism.
We are experiencing another ‘death of God’ in the present day. This time, it is the God of Humanism, the mythologies and doctrines that underpin our contemporary Liberal institutions, are unraveling. The architects of the world where we currently find ourselves are gone, and faith in an enlightened era of human progress has deteriorated into a paranoia of looming apocalyptic scenarios. No longer are we subjects of a single shared history but rather players in a multitude of overlapping and contradicting stories
We are emerging, once again, into a time and place in which anything is possible.
“There is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons.” ― Postscript on the Societies of Control
Toutā Caillte is entirely funded by our readers. Please consider donating via my Patreon to fund future writing and ecological projects. Thanks!