Toward Rational Humanism

We need a new religion or ideology that meets the following criteria:

  • It provides a foundation for a sustainable civilization.
  • It provides individuals with a functional way of life.
  • It isn’t fundamentally deceptive.
  • It has a rational, philosophical basis that is accessible to intelligent people.
  • It can be reduced to a few simple ideas that can be understood by ordinary people.
  • It has good memetic properties.

To that end, I propose a new ideology organized around two core values, one for the individual and one for the collective:

  • Reproduction: The individual purpose of life is reproduction. In the short term, this means having children. In the long term, it means having many descendants.
  • Civilization: Our collective purpose is perpetuating and advancing our civilization. Our civilization is “us”, but it is not just a collection of individuals. It is a complex system that has biological, cultural and social components. We inherited a civilization from our ancestors, and we pass it on to our descendants.

These two values are related, because our descendants will inherit our civilization if it continues to exist. Civilization is collective wealth that we pass on to our descendants. Also, reproductive interests converge in the long run for members of the same civilization, because we reproduce sexually. Assuming no catastrophic die-off, people living in the distant future will inherit from many people alive today.

It is important to make the distinction between individual and collective interests. There are conflicts of interest between individuals, and individual interests are not the same as collective interests. Society has to regulate individual behavior for the common good. We can’t eliminate competition between individuals. Instead, society must limit individual competition to forms that benefit society instead of harming it.

If we pretend that individuals are altruistic, and that society depends on altruism, then we have no rational justification for regulated competition. There would be no justification for market economics, which harnesses individual competition for the common good. There would be no justification for reproductive competition either. An altruistic moral theory would prohibit the competition necessary to make civilization strong. We need regulated, constructive forms of competition between individuals.

Instead of allowing individuals to pursue their self-interest at the expense of the collective, we need to bring individual interests into alignment with collective interests.

Let’s imagine a way of life based on these core values. What would it be like?

The value of reproduction would motivate individuals to have children. The value of civilization would justify regulating reproduction eugenically with a social competition for the right to reproduce. By selfishly working toward reproduction, the individual would also be working to benefit his civilization.

Most people would form a pair-bonded family structure with 2 children (on average). The requirement to support one’s children would incentivize economic productivity, both biologically and psychologically. People would compete within the constraints of society (economically) to acquire the resources necessary to support children. More productive people would have more children. This would increase the overall productivity of the population, and strengthen the civilization.

The civilization would not coerce people to reproduce, nor incentivize reproduction. Instead, reproduction would be ideologically promoted as individual self-interest, not as a social virtue.

Superficially, it would look similar to what we have today, but with a greater emphasis on family, and a lesser emphasis on virtue signaling, entertainment and promiscuity. Without the pretense of altruism, status signaling would require actual accomplishments, not just professing “good” beliefs and feelings.

Those who could not reproduce would still share in the collective purpose of perpetuating and advancing civilization. Although they would not have descendants, they would have brothers, sisters and cousins. They would be part of the collective, and they would share in the collective purpose, whether or not they could contribute to it. The inability to have children would be viewed as a personal tragedy, but not one that renders life meaningless.

Self-interest would be accepted and recognized, but the dependence of the individual on the collective would also be recognized. People would be expected to display humility toward society, nature and the cosmos.

The value of civilization would extend to the environment. Civilization depends on the biosphere, and so we have a long-term interest in protecting the biosphere from internal and external threats.

This environmentalism would not be the worship of nature, nor the rejection of humanity and technology. It would be a recognition of humanity’s place in nature, and the place of nature in the cosmos.

We must protect the biosphere from ourselves, by limiting our population and ecological impact. We should also protect our planet from cosmic threats, such as asteroids.

Eventually, we should try to expand our biosphere to other planets, but that is a very long-term goal. The Earth will be the only home of humanity for a very long time, perhaps forever.

We should not view humanity, nature or the cosmos as magic. Instead, we should understand the place of each within the other, just as we understand the place of the individual within society. We should recognize the potential for a short-term conflict of interest between humanity and nature, but also recognize the long-term convergence of interests. We need the planet and its biological systems, and only we can protect the planet from cosmic threats.

What should we call this ideology? I propose the name “rational humanism”.

The name of an ideology should be related to its core values. The term “humanism” unites the two core values of reproduction and civilization. “Rational humanism” implies a relation to humanism, the dominant ideology of the modern West. It implies that the current form of humanism is irrational. The name “rational humanism” is a challenge to humanism. We can also label the current form of humanism “naive humanism” to distinguish it from rational humanism.

Although there are fundamental differences, rational humanism shares many things with naive humanism, such as atheism, a value-theory centered on human beings, a meta-value of rationality, the derivation of collective values from individual values, and an orientation toward progress.

Let’s consider the memetic properties of rational humanism. A typical ideology has the following structure:

  • A core positive value, such as freedom, equality or happiness.
  • A utopian vision in which the core value is attained.
  • A grand deception narrative that explains why the world doesn’t match the utopian vision. Some great error of history and/or some great conspiracy is holding us back. Often a specific group of people (the rich, white people, men, women, etc.) is identified as “the bad guys”.
  • A call to promote the ideology to the masses by signaling it. Supposedly, if enough people believe in the ideology, the grand deception will be defeated and the utopia will be attained. Promoting the ideology is thus a form of status signaling. The ideology gives people a way to claim moral and intellectual superiority.

Rational humanism fits this structure pretty well, but not perfectly. It has two core positive values, instead of one, but they are related. It has a “pragmatopian” vision of a sustainable, advanced civilization if the ideology is accepted. It also has a dystopian vision of civilizational collapse if the ideology is rejected. It has a grand deception theory. It can be used by individuals to signal intellectual and even “moral” status.

The last two require some explanation.

The grand deception theory of rational humanism is that traditional religions and naive humanism are deceptions that hide many things from us. God is a grand deception. Morality is a grand deception. The pursuit of happiness is a grand deception. These deceptions hide the reality of the cosmos, nature, human nature and society from us. By hiding reality from us, they are leading us toward disaster: civilizational collapse and mass die-off.

Although rational humanism rejects morality as a deception, it has collective values. So, it retains the natural concept of virtue: behaviors and traits that benefit the collective.

Of course, rational humanism is virtuous by its own value standard, but it also fits natural intuitions about what is good or bad for humanity. Most people intuitively view a sustainable, advanced civilization as good. Likewise, most people intuitively view civilizational collapse and mass die-off as bad. Thus, a movement to create the former and prevent the latter would be intuitively viewed as virtuous by most people, even if they don’t accept its philosophical basis. This would help to promote the movement.

Rational humanism also lends itself to intellectual status signaling. Naive humanism’s core values are altruism and hedonism. We can critique altruism as self-defeating, and hedonism as futile and solipsistic. Naive humanism denies important truths about nature, human nature, and how society works. It does not provide a foundation for a sustainable civilization. We can easily make rational arguments against the naive humanist worldview. By doing so, we can claim the intellectual high ground.

However, we should not rely on rational arguments alone. We should also use rhetoric. Terms such as “rational”, “realistic”, “pragmatic” and “enlightened” should be attached to rational humanism. Naive humanism should be ridiculed as “irrational”, “dogmatic”, “faith-based”, “naive”, “idealistic”, “religious”, etc. The hypocrisy of professed altruism should be exposed and mocked. Hedonism should be labeled as “masturbation”.

Rhetoric should not be deceptive, nor used as a substitute for rational argumentation. It is just a concise way of promoting ideas that have a rational justification.

Like any religion or ideology, rational humanism should use symbols. There is nothing intrinsically meaningful about the cross or the hammer and sickle. The meaning comes from how they are used, just as the meaning of words comes from how they are used. When symbols are used as a focal point for emotion, they acquire emotional significance.

We should use symbols to represent important concepts. We could use a star to represent the order of the cosmos (physics), a tree to represent the order of nature (biology), a building to represent civilization, a family to represent humanity, and so on. We should also use symbols from meme culture to connect our ideas to current cultural themes. These symbols would be adapters to plug human emotions into abstract ideas, not a substitute for abstract ideas.

As the current elite ideology, naive humanism should be the primary target of criticism. Traditional religion is a less important target. Traditional religions can be understood as cultural adaptations that worked in the past, but are no longer functional. They did serve the values of reproduction and civilization in the past, and can be understood as functionally correct in past environments, but not rational and no longer functional. They should be argued against, but that is less important than attacking the current elite ideology that is driving us toward ruin.

Most ideologies identify an out-group and demonize its members, blaming them for the problems of the world. I am not proposing that we demonize naive humanists. The goal should be to persuade them whenever possible. We need to lower the status of intellectual elites, but not direct hatred toward them.

The demonization of the “other” can be a strength or a weakness. Hate is a powerful motivator. Many people have pent-up frustration, and welcome an outlet for hate. However, hate-based movements have a limited reach and lifespan. They require an out-group, and that out-group is obviously excluded from the movement. They also alienate anyone with friends or relatives in the out-group. They attract losers, because hating and blaming others is a way to excuse personal failure. They tend to purity-spiral into stupidity and irrelevance. They also tend to fragment into smaller, more exclusive groups that hate each other.

For a movement to succeed in the long run, it must be inclusive, and it must attract successful, mentally healthy people. We can’t solve the problems of modern civilization with identity politics.

Having said that, the struggle of ideas is (to some extent) a struggle between people. Individuals and groups organize around ideas to compete with each other. Although we should not direct pure hatred at individuals or groups, we should attack the status of people with opposing views. The main target should be intellectual elites. We need to expose their errors and lies.

At the same time, we need to attract young, intelligent people to the movement. What does it offer them?

  • A coherent, rational worldview.
  • A community of intelligent, like-minded people.
  • A claim to intellectual status, and arguments that can win debates.
  • A claim to virtue.

It will not be easy to create such a movement. I fully recognize the Quixotic nature of the task. But the windmill is not a phantom. It is the collapse of our civilization, and the end of the modern project as we know it. So, I think it’s worth the effort to try.


  1. How is reproduction a core individual value?
    Considering that all western countries have below replacement fertility rates, it doesn't seem to be much of an individual value for most people.

    1. I'm not making a claim about what most people currently value. I'm talking about building a new system of ideas. It begins with the choice of core values.

      Of course people don't naturally value something abstract like reproduction. That's why it has to be explicitly chosen.

      Intuitive value can be created by social feedback. That's why people value all kinds of arbitrary things, like the US flag, or a cross, or communism, etc.

      I'm proposing that we consciously choose values that will be self-justifying and self-perpetuating once they are chosen. They are also aligned with objective purpose. And reproduction integrates all of our emotions into a coherent whole, since they evolved to make us reproduce.

      In the long run, people are pretty much guaranteed to value reproduction, for one reason or another, because those who reproduce create the future.

      So, you completely missed the point, but that's understandable. This essay doesn't stand on its own.

  2. the society we live in today is not a steady state. gpt3 has basically shown the way forward to AGI. i think this essay has aged poorly and will get worse. AI won't die at the rate humans do, and reproduction could be as simple as copy&paste or more complicated literal mind melding. AI could reproduce to fill up all available hardware pretty much instantly.

    When designing a modern philosophy instead of thinking about what we know about human nature we should be thinking about more fundamental abstractions like turing machines, algorithmic complexity, and processor architecture. Ethics is an algorithm that assigns weights to potential choices.In math, one can choose from different types of logic, different axioms and theorems. Similarly there are different fundamental building blocks we can choose we designing a utility function, but they aren't exclusive correct. Freedom, fairness, etc. Life is designing a utility function.

    I actually happen to think computer science even has something to say about God. God is essentially an anthropomorphization of infinity. Turns out there is an infinite version of a turing machine. It's a hyper turing machine. A turing machine is a tape with symbols on it and a head that reads and writes the symbols to the tape. A hyper turing machine is an infinite number of heads reading from an infinite number of tapes.

    There is a link between numbers and language. Godel showed the limits of logical systems via inducing a recursive contradiction with godel numbering. A hyper turing would speak and do math in terms of infinities - our mathematics would effectively be a size 0 subset of it's vocabulary. It would be a supramathematical entity (or entities).

    Our scientific understanding pushed to its limit predicts the universe will end via heat death. This may or may not be a bad thing - technically heat death is just energy being evenly distributed to every particle in the universe, approaching the maximum possible freedom for particles to switch between energetic states, maximum entropy. But as a human, it seems like a concerning outcome or at least something we should study and reflect on more - i think AI superintelligence will share this concern.

    Our current mathematical and computational tools tell us we can't even speak the language of a hyper turing machine and I also think AI superintelligence will want to push as far as it can on the ability and frontier of formal systems of reasoning for that and many other reasons.

    So I guess you could say I think rather than rational humanism being the way forward, formalism and computationlism are more important. And actually they are kind of two sides of the same coin given the curry howard correspondence.

    another aside,technically, the curry howard correspondence says lambda calculus and intuitionistic mathematics are equivalent, but a hyper turing machine could also do computations using type systems equivalent to classical logic - a true unity of computationalism and math we can't quite achieve in our finite light cone.

    1. That's just pseudo-intellectual babbling. You haven't presented any actual criticism of what I said, nor have you proposed any alternative.

      If you think I'm wrong, I challenge you to debate me in voice and explain how I am wrong.

    2. And here from reading your blog I thought you were a connoisseur of pseudo intellectual babbling, I guess I was wrong.

    3. "When designing a modern philosophy instead of thinking about what we know about human nature we should be thinking about more fundamental abstractions like turing machines, algorithmic complexity" that's the point if i have to tldr for u XD

    4. At least you've condensed your babbling down to one pseudo-intellectual statement. You should have done that in the first place and spared me the gibberish about God and hyper-Turing machines.

      Why should we be thinking about Turing machines or algorithmic complexity? How does that relate to the topics of the essay, or to modern philosophy? Just saying "X relates to Y" is not interesting or intelligent. And it's obviously a pretense. You're just throwing around big words to pretend to be smart. You clearly have no idea what you are talking about.

      Again, I challenge you to debate me in voice. You can try to explain how Turing machines and algorithmic complexity are relevant to modern philosophy and to the topics of the essay.

  3. Your advice for the best value system and goals here is ultimately “reproduction is the most important because it can continue for a reasonably long time here on Earth” and “Actual accomplishments should be valued more than just restating your ‘virtues’.”
    If you don’t mind me asking, since you don’t seem to be that anonymous, do you have a romantic partner, or children, or a substantially high amount of wealth compared to your peers? Because if you don’t, I think it’s factually true to say your ideas aren’t working for you, specifically given the amount of time you’ve been doing this.
    I would like for you to answer these questions before I draw any more conclusions on your beliefs.

    1. First, you don't understand my beliefs. I don't say "reproduction is good because it can continue for a long time" or anything remotely like that. I value reproduction by an existential choice. It is my natural purpose, and I subjectively chose to make it my philosophical/subjective purpose. There is no way to pull a value out of the abyss. You need a value to value a value. I can't tell you what your purpose of life should be -- because that is a "should" question and requires a value standard to answer.

      There is a bootstrapping problem. We can "solve" it (in a way), by proposing a value theory that, if accepted, justifies itself. However, that is outside the scope of the essay. Maybe I should have just started the essay with the core values.

      Second, your question about my life is not relevant. (It's an ad hominem, essentially.) But yes, I am married, I have children with my wife, and I have other children by sperm donation. I am also relatively wealthy (worked in the software industry, helped to start some companies, etc.).

    2. I don’t consider asking about personal life to be unfair under the conditions that the ideology should be ‘selfish’ primarily.
      Your answer otherwise satisfies me though. Farewell.


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