George Carlin’s death raises the question, was he a humanist? He was an atheist who certainly “told it like it is” regarding religion, and he advocated progressive values, civil liberties, and the First Amendment. But Carlin’s regular lamenting of “humanity’s bullshit” and a statement like, “I have absolutely no sympathy for human beings whatsoever. None. And no matter what kind of problem humans are facing, whether it’s natural or man-made, I always hope it gets worse,” doesn’t exactly scream humanism to me.
Or does it? You could say Carlin was a humanist in the way Kurt Vonnegut was a humanist (except that I don’t think Carlin ever called himself one). That is, they worshiped at the altar of absurdity. But wait, absurdity is defined as, “The condition or state in which humans exist in a meaningless, irrational universe wherein people’s lives have no purpose or meaning.” Again, not very humanistic! But remember—these guys were artists and entertainers. Exposing the absurd was both Carlin’s and Vonnegut’s bread and butter, their shtick, their—quite literally for Carlin—act. How we respond to it is what matters. George Carlin’s talent rested in his ability to lay open what’s absurd about life and the human species, and in doing so to make us mad. And to make us think.
And so I would propose that illuminating the absurd is an act of rebellion that adds meaning to a seemingly meaningless world. Sisyphus with a smile. (Or is it a wink?) Now, what do you think—is this a humanist’s take?