Conversation with Dan Fisher (Editor-in-Chief, Uncommon Ground Media) on Humanist Materialism


Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We both harbour an affinity for the humanist vision, as seen in the Amsterdam Declaration and in the, probably, 10 or more other declarations and statements devoted to variations of Humanism. In particular, you have a focus on Humanism tied to the philosophical position of Materialism. We live in a material world, or universe of matter and energy. We evolved as a social species. So, we matter to one another as evolved, complex structures with an awareness of social and emotional needs. We are matter, as part of a material order. Bring them together, we have Humanist Materialism. Is this the basic idea?

Dan Fisher: In a sense, yes. Secular Humanism has always had a focus on the material world as opposed to spiritualism. But as we have seen with Humanists UK being captured by the mythology of gender identity, there is room to grow on this matter. 

I have always advocated that reason and compassion need each other – they are useless alone. With Humanist Materialism we can forge the two together inseparably. Never forgetting the realities of the world we live in, never forgetting the value of life. 

It is also a response to the ‘Historical Materialism’ of Marxists. Whether or not it was intended by Marx himself, adherents of his philosophy have demonstrated time and time again their willingness to kill and otherwise violate human rights in pursuit of their goals. 

Since Marxists have never achieved their desired society, what we are left with is a history of blood spilled in service of an elusive end. I too believe we can build a better world, but not by discarding the very principles we should be fighting for. 

Jacobsen: How has a “mythology of gender identity” taken some in the humanist communities? How is this mythos different than more empirical ideas of sex and gender?

Fisher: The science is very clear that there are two sexes, male and female. Intersex conditions affect people who are either genetically male or female. Despite this, intersex conditions as well as normal variations of human physicality have been interpreted as a ‘spectrum’ and this way of thinking is espoused by people including the President of Humanists UK, Professor Alice Roberts. Sex denial has real consequences for both social and medical circumstances and yet is being propagated by people who should know better. 

The purpose of this is to support the belief in ‘gender identity’ which is equivalent to a male or female ‘soul’ separate from the body. This is fundamentally sexist and regressive thinking which has been delivered into public institutions without appropriate scrutiny. 

Jacobsen: How is Historical Materialism of Marx and modern acolytes working to deny fundamental human rights to other human beings? Things they take for granted and harbour unto themselves while ignoring the denials of said rights for others in a denial of moral truisms, including the Golden Rule.

Fisher: I was recently told by someone I previously respected a great deal that we must sometimes sacrifice individuals to protect ‘the cause’. We have seen organisations of all stripes act to cover up, for example, sexual assault scandals, on the grounds that the good work they do is too important to be tarnished. I would argue that such excuses are in themselves what tarnishes the cause. They make a mockery of what we should be standing for. Marx’s focus on the progress of society as a whole enables this overlooking of the rights of the individual in favour of a focus on a promised future. 

Jacobsen: You started a social media presence for this idea. Did you start this philosophy? If so, how? If not, who?

Fisher: Humanist Materialism is the end product of at least half a decade of work on my part. You can see the foundations being laid in my For A New Left series on Uncommon Ground Media. Of course it could never have happened without the inspiration, input and motivation given to me by various philosophers and activists. Two particular wellsprings have been the work of gender critical feminists and the development of the Humanist movement in Africa. 

Jacobsen: How can others find out about the For A New Left series?

Fisher: It can all be found on Uncommon Ground Media . Each article is linked in the introduction of that first one. Consider it a starting point for what I hope to include in the eventual book. 

Jacobsen: What writers, activists, and others have been integral to For A New Left?

Fisher: Historical inspirations include Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill and Henry George, as well as more radical sources such as Rosa Luxembourg and Emma Goldman. 

Many of the writers we have published on Uncommon Ground have also helped me shape my own thoughts – Dr. Em, Jennifer Bilek, Angelos Sofocleous and Emeka Ikpeazu for example. Much of it was developed in conversation with my friends and my fiancée Katie Barker.

Jacobsen: Regardless, why form the online community devoted to it?

Fisher: Although the project is only in its infancy, I wanted to share with people the same hope that they have given me. I want to invite people to contribute their own thoughts to the process and build it from the ground up. 

Jacobsen: What are some of the aims and goals of the group for its early stages?

Fisher: One of the first steps will be the publication of a book, drawing from my article series, but also with potential collaboration from other writers. We were planning to organize a conference, but obviously that’s had to be put on hold. In the meantime, then, we want to encourage people to get talking and sharing their own perspectives.

 Jacobsen: How will this expand into the future?

Fisher: There is potential to form an organization, if the interest and the enthusiasm is there.

Jacobsen: Will this be an entirely non-profit or for-profit affair?

Fisher: Non-profit, for sure. Uncommon Ground Media is a commercial project, and any book will be produced on a commercial basis, but any organization for Humanist Materialism will be strictly not for profit.

Jacobsen: Who have been some early adopters of this philosophy? Who, in reflection, adhered to this philosophical position the whole time?

Fisher: It’s hard to say for sure because there is no formal structure, but we’ve definitely had interest from many of those describing themselves as ‘politically homeless’. We also have interest from people within the British Humanist community who have felt let down by Humanists UK. I’m currently in discussions with a number of key figures I hope to bring on board. As you say, there will be many who have already been on this path independently. 

Jacobsen: It is still early. However, what has been some of the feedback to the group, the ideas?

Fisher: Reception has been positive so far. The For A New Left series has prompted some incredible discussions. In particular the article on Metamodernism had a lively response from the philosophy community, much more so than I expected. Meanwhile the economically focused articles were very well received by Basic Income proponents such as Scott Santens. 

Jacobsen: What is the summary statement on Metamodernism?

Fisher: A response to the meaninglessness of postmodernism cannot be derived solely from modernism. Metamodernism seeks to address the weaknesses of modernism which allowed postmodernism to take root.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dan.

Fisher: You’re very welcome Scott, it’s always a pleasure to talk. 

Image Credit: Dan Fisher.

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