My introduction to antihumanism came though reading Heidgger, Marx and Michel Foucault. But they are not really a great place to start for a layperson.
I have not found a great plain English introduction to anti-humanism, so I'm trying to write one.
I do not think that there is human nature (a set of ways of thinking, feeling or acting that are independent from social reality) which make human different from other animals, other than the fact that all culture share a similar facial grammar, handedness and babies preference for their mother's voice (which could be argued to be basic Pavlovian reinforcement but not quite enculturation). Personally I think that it is the plasticity of humans and human behaviour that is common to all. That and that there are a number of behaviours that some animals , but not all, do but most humans can do (while some choose not to do them, including:
- torture, (some animals and some humans);
- using langauge to communicate menaing (some animals and some humans);
- the use of tools, (some animals and some humans);
- the saving of tools to be used later (a recogntion of the pasing of time and their place in it) (some animals and some humans);
- invent languages (some humans only)
- abstract reasoning (maths, science), (some humans only);
- art for art sake, (some humans only);
- thinking through things for yourself (rather than accepting dogma), (some humans only);
- the consciousness of death, (some humans only) and;
- the acceptance of impermanence (some humans only).
Actually, here is the problem: as only some humans do those things... Does that make those that do not do all these things "less human"? I am thinking of Neitzsche here: that there are humans and those more than human. Determining human nature or our common humanity on the basis of how we act in the world is the basis of most systems of reality and most of our legal systems. Judging on the basis of the commonality of DNA is to include all kind of behaviour where the actor is not conscious of what they are doing (impaired by developmental, environmental or psychological condition), my concern is to exclude those conditions. Rather to focus on those capable and willing to choose higher things, but do not.
Anti-humanism: the hypothesis that there is very little evidence for the idea of “human nature”. Humanism can out of the enlightenment and suggested that there were fundamental aspects of the human experience that are universal. These included the concept of human rights. Antihumanists reject the idea of universal human nature. Some even go so far as to reject the universal idea of reason and rationality.
While, I agree that human rights are a good idea in principle, but am not convinced that they should be codified and enforced. But you may well convince me. Here is the reason(s) why: the idea of universal human rights imply that someone is epistemologically and morally superior to another (that is they know better what is right and wrong than others). That implies that there is a such a thing as right and wrong (how can we determine that some actions are more laudable than others?) We could rely on a sense of fairness (distributive and procedural justice) - but that is undermined by the very capitalist societies in which we live. We could rely on empathy and reciprocity, but we now know that not all humans are capable of these things and some are much more capable than others. Are both these things arguments for the destruction of capitalism and the imposition of a global police that enforce decent behaviour? I dunno. And that is shit argument to make, as I am sure the vast majority of humans are smart enough to work out moral problems within the confines of their own society. Which is why I say that if I believe in anything it is: humans and human intelligence.
As a sociologist I would hypothesises that humans attempt to give meaning to a meaningless universe and that sociology is the study of how and why that is done.
Antihumanism also attacks the idea that humans have any form of ontological privilege: that they are supperior to other animals. This idea was part of the emerging trend for the "special place" of humans, as the centre of the universe, to be undermined as part of the Enlightenment project.
Note that the below are only ontological shocks if a person considers humanity to be the centre or hold some privileged place of the universe. Sorry should have made that clear. If as I do, a person considers humans to totally unimportant in the greater scheme of the universe, is it niether here nor there.
Key steps on this trend have been:
1. Copericus - the earth is not the centre of the solar system;
2. Darwin - humans do not come from angels/God.
3. The self is not fully in control of the mind (from Freud, originally. But now also the study of genetics).
4. Marx - humans do not make history, history makes human consciousness.
5. Nietzsche - God is dead (therefore humans are not made in the image of them).
6. Globalisation (and postmodernism): not all human cultures are like mine and are equally valid ways to operate in the world;
7. Frans de Waal and others: the fundementals of "human" morality are not actually human.
Antihumanism is the nurture side of the nature-nurtutre debate. I tend to hold the anti-humanism side, but am open to the idea of universals in human behaviour. My antihumanism rejects the idea of human rights, as they do not have an evidential basis. They are a sort of secular morality , they are good ideas and good ways to live, but we have no evidential basis to say that they are inherent or universal (although it seems to be emerging through primatology and the study of morality in animal behaviour, so I may be completely wrong).
As for the lower order issues: again whilst our experiences may be universal (birth, human development, language use, coupling, parenting, work, and death), there are universal ways to deal with them.
For example, all humans use lanaguage, but there is no universal single language (although some French and Hebrew speakers may claim that their language is the universal human one, there is no way to prove that to be true). Hell, the fact that the same language had dialects that incomprehensible to fellow native speakers of the language proves the point.
On that, here is another example: I am a Japanese as a second language speaker. While I understand "standard/Tokyo Japanese" alot of other dialects (Kansai-ben and even the dialect my father-in-law speaks, Nagaoka-ben) is incomprehendsible to me. My mother-in-law is nice enough to switch between standard Japanese for me and Nagaoka-ben for my father-in-law and even translate what he says.
I am just unconvinced that they are universal or inate in any way. Having said that, the alternatives like moral relativism are really scary in practice