James Croft has his next post in our dialog up, responding to my question about the benefits of creating humanist communities that may outweigh the negatives. Part of the fun of this discussion is that we’re really not arguing, even though we’re challenging each other. This post is no exception.
But how can we create moral communities and avoid most of the dangers of out-grouping and ostracizing? I think the first step is to be honest and recognize that this will indeed occur. We won;t overcome the human urge to enforce group norms to the detriment of others. But we can limit it in two main ways, I think: first, by ensuring that one of the explicit moral values that the community coheres around is respect for the dignity of every person without exception. That is an exceptional benefit of Humanist communities over religious ones – Humanism includes an explicit commitment to the worth and equality of all, unlike most religions.
Second, we can consciously design our communities to have institutional checks on outgrouping. This is another benefit of Humanist communities: we need not bow to any given design or have respect for any particular organizational tradition. We can work with the grain of human psychology and bring our full understanding of our own foibles to bear, so that when we design the community structures we ensure to take account of, and even work against, this problem.
I know where I’m going next with this, but you won’t see it until Monday. In the meantime, James has been very good about answering questions if you have any of your own.