Submitted by Marvin Miller
The American Ethical Union’s statement of purpose says that the supreme aim of human life is to create a more humane society. This idea is in accord with the recognition that humans are social beings and that every act of a living organism has the purpose of making life better for that organism and its species.
What would a more humane society be like?
In a more humane society, there would be increased acceptance of the principle that everyone, equally, is worthy of respect, regardless of the individual or group differences that make each of us the unique individuals we are, such as age, appearance, sex, language, ways of thinking, place of origin, descent or residence. No one would be exalted as superior or despised as inferior. Politically, no one old enough to be able to form a political opinion would be denied the right to vote, for any reason or excuse, and no one would have more or less political power than anyone else.All elections would be deemed public functions and financed purely publicly, with no private contributions (alias bribes) permitted.
Currently, the relationship between employer and worker in most jobs, where there is no union, isn’t significantly different from master and slave or lord and serf. The supreme sin for a worker is insubordination, failure to accept subordinate status and obey the orders of one’s “superior,” regardless of whether those orders are just and reasonable. In a more humane society, the concepts of equality and democracy would be extended to the economic realm of activity. Workplaces would be democratic nonprofits, as Ethical Societies are. The members of Ethical Societies do the work necessary for the functioning of these societies because we believe in the necessity of doing it, not because we get paid for doing it. People’s motives for all work would be similar to their current motives for volunteer work, recycling, or hobbies: the desire that the work be done, rather than fear of poverty.
In a more humane society, supervisory and managerial workers would be chosen democratically, to the greatest extent feasible, by those whose work they supervise and manage. The Declaration of Independence says that the just powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed. This principle, which supposedly applies to the government of a whole country, would also apply to workplaces within a country.
In a more humane society, the economic necessities would be distributed as universal human rights rather than as market commodities. No one would be denied adequate food, housing, clothing, healthcare, education, or any other necessity of a decent life, for lack of purchasing power. The incomes of supervisory and managerial workers would be limited to a low single digit multiple of those of the lowest paid workers. Purchasing power is political power. Economic inequality is political inequality. Limiting income differences would limit the extent to which upper and lower classes would exist.
American society is unlikely to become more humane in the near future. Just the opposite. Through the upcoming dark days, it will be valuable to keep in mind the potential for a more humane society.