Film: Immortality or Bust

The website for Immortality or Bust boldly asks, “Do you want to live forever and become a cyborg?” If your answer to that question sits somewhere in the green-to-orange section of our ever-accurate approval rating system (shown below), then maybe you’re interested in transhumanism.

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Photo credit: istockphoto.com

In the 2016 US Presidential election, Zoltan Istvan embarked on an impossible expedition to defeat aging and forever change the human being through science. Running for President as the Transhumanist Party nominee, Zoltan Istvan took his message to bio hacking labs, cryopreservation facilities, transhumanist churches, and ultimately, Washington DC.

Winner of the BREAKOUT AWARD at the 2019 Raw Science Film Festival, Immortality or Bust follows Zoltan on his improbable journey to its final, and revealing conclusion.

Immortality or Bust Trailer

According to the Immortality or Bust website, you can catch the film via a variety of online services beginning June 23, 2020. Meanwhile, Istvan’s political movement has moved-on to a new candidate.

The U.S. Transhumanist Party endorsed Charlie Kam to run for the office of President of the United States in the 2020 General Election. Mr. Kam was the USTP’s endorsed Vice-Presidential candidate from October 5, 2019, through June 11, 2020. By the rules of succession, and as confirmed by the USTP Officers, Mr. Kam has been endorsed to carry the USTP Presidential ticket forward for the remainder of the 2020 election season.

A Bit of History

According to research by Peter Harrison and Joseph Wolniak that

William Douw Lighthall . - [19-] - Archives de Montréal

appeared in Notes and Queries (2015) , the term “transhumanism” was first used in 1940 by William Douw Lighthall, a Canadian philosopher. Lighthall published a paper entitled “The Law of Cosmic Evolutionary Adaptation: An Interpretation of Recent Thought” in a journal called Proceedings and Transactions.  In it, Lighthall advances a view of cosmic, biological, and cultural evolution, a view he called “transhumanism.” Between his birth in 1857 and his death in 1954, Lighthall was a lawyer, poet, politician, novelist, historian, spouse and parent.

A Bit of Fun

Listen: Beliefs Podcast with Susan Jacoby

The Beliefs Podcast, a podcast of Religious News Service, promotes itself as an exploration of ideas behind the news of religion. On June 26, 2020, the podcast released an episode featuring Susan Jacoby. This episode appears to be a follow-on to a conversation from one year ago.

Jacoby is well known for Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (Metropolitan Books, 2004) and The Age of American Unreason (Pantheon, 2008) and for her association with Center For Inquiry.

On the podcast, Jaboby discusses secularism, humanism and

atheism in context of US politics, growth of non-religiously affiliated population in the US, ignorance and other issues of the past year. Notably, Jacoby argues that politics is not a substitute for religion.

Attributing ethical qualities on the basis on religion or non-religion, I wouldn’t do….. Some humanists are atheists and some humanists are not. Some atheists are humanists are atheist and some atheists and some, like Ayn Rand, are not. Someone who is a humanist doesn’t think the question of whether there is a god or not is very important.or whether they make decisions based on that.”

Film: Selvmordsturisten

In 1795, William Wordsworth met Samuel Taylor Coleridge. By 1798, the two poets produced Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poetry predicated on private between the two whether Wordsworth’s humanist and naturalist poetry would be received by the poetry-reading public as readily as Coleridge’s fantastic, super-naturalist work. It turned out that Wordsworth’s poetry was the more popular.

How does the poetical work of two eighteenth-century British poets relate to a Scandinavian dramatic film about euthanasia? Well, after mostly losing the bet of realism over fantasy, Coleridge eventually wrote his Biographica Literaria (1817) wherein he advocated that consumers of the arts should actively suppress their critical-thinking skills. He called it “suspension of disbelief”.

Coleridge was not the first to promote this concept, but his phrasing of it is extremely helpful when approaching Exit Plan. Suspending our disbelief allows us to approach things that are exaggerated, sensationalized, distorted or otherwise outside of actuality. Applied appropriately, Coleridge’s “suspension of disbelief” is a tool to understand the difference between documentary film and theatrical/popular film. Our global entertainment industries are founded upon “suspension of disbelief”. Documentary, on the other hand is oriented to engaging our critical thinking – even manipulating it – but not in disengaging it.

Exit Plan deals with subject matter of euthanasia – but it is founded upon “suspension of disbelief.” We must treat it appropriately.

Once we set aside our critical thinking…we are into fantasy-land. Anything is possible in fantasy-land. What is not real is temporarily accepted as real for the sake of the story. In this case, an insurance claims investigator, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, chases down a mysterious death at a secretive hotel specializing in assisted suicide. Oooh….a dark drama exploring a taboo subject.

Controversial topic? Check. Name-brand actor? Check. Great title? Un-check.

The decision to go with “Exit Plan” as the English language title is questionable. The film’s Danish title, “Selvmordsturisten” indubitably has direct translations that would establish a more appropriately macabre and sinister veneer. Oooh. Dark drama.

If you’re thinking of spending 85 disbelief-suspended-minutes ooohing, aaahing and angsting over a dark drama, Exit Plan offers a story and some quite good videography.

Is setting aside one’s critical thinking skills particularly helpful in exploring a topic like euthanasia? Perhaps and perhaps not. Fiction, whether print, stage or film does let us approach difficult topics knowing that they aren’t real…and knowing the consequences of the fictions also aren’t real. Perhaps, if we are adequately reflective, we can consider our reactions to a film like Selvmordsturisten to recognize our biases when it comes to reality. Did we find it insulting? Boring? Challenging? Moving? Aggravating? Exciting?

An entertainment film like Exit Plan/Selvmordsturisten should give opportunities to reflect on our biases. But it should also drive us back to reality – get back to a humanist and naturalist position to explore difficult issues through facts and reality. We have to set aside the wild imaginings of “death tourism” and explore real issues of assisted death.

A few good places to start include:

  1. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Absolutely Canadian Season 18, Episode 23 Exit Interview: John Hofsess
  2. Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die
  3. PBS’ Frontline: The Suicide Plan

Equally valuable to establishing an understanding of the complex realities of assisted death is to engage the multi-disciplinary professionals and organizations that have expertise in the area. A few examples:

Pegasos Swiss Association is a voluntary assisted dying association that was created in 2019 . Based in Basel, Switzerland, the Pegasos team of professionals offers an assisted dying service to approved adults of sound mind, regardless of their country of origin/ residence. Pegasos enables a person to receive a peaceful, dignified and caring assisted death

The Pegasos website states that the organization was founded following the landmark death of 104-year old Australian ecologist Professor David Goodall.

Image Courtesy of Pegasos Swiss Association

Professor Goodall was not sick. At 104 years of age, he simply said he had had enough and now was the time to go. His eyesight was failing, his mobility was going. Most importantly, he could not do the fieldwork that had sustained and driven him all his life.

The death of Professor Goodall raised important issues for the right to die movement in general, and for the individuals who would become the founding professionals at Pegasos.

Firstly, it showed that a person’s desire for a dignified and peaceful assisted death is not solely dependent on terminal illness. Old age and a failing quality of life can also play a role.

Secondly, David Goodall’s experience showed that the Swiss law on assisted suicide is well placed to serve the needs of people who may not fit the traditional criteria used in other places in the world where assisted suicide is legal.

W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund Humanistic Photography Grants

Are you a humanist who chooses to document your humanism through photography? You may be interested to learn more about grants provided by the W. Eugene Smith Fund. This New York-based organization focuses on photographers whose work follows the tradition of W. Eugene Smith’s 45-year career of humanistic photography and compassion. While the submission deadline for 2020 has recently passed, it is never too early to start thinking about future projects and opportunities.

The annual W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography is designed to help a photographer begin a photographic project or help complete an ongoing photographic project.

The W. Eugene Smith Grant for Student Photographers is designed to encourage and support students whose photographic work renews the tradition of W. Eugene Smith’s humanistic and compassionate photography. Special consideration will be given to work that promotes social change and that embraces new technologies and image distribution, and that seeks to integrate the tradition of photography and social change with contemporary practice.

According to the organizers, the Judges of both grants will be looking for a photographers and projects that seem most likely to use exemplary and compelling photojournalism (possibly supplemented by or incorporating multi-media) to address an issue of import and impact related to the human condition; social change; humanitarian concern; armed conflict or interpersonal, psychological, cultural, social environmental, scientific medical and/or political significance, ideally expressing an underlying acknowledgement or our common humanity.

The 2020 timeline is as follows:

Call for entries open – January 2020

Submission deadline – 30 May 2020 at 11:59 pm EST. 

Notification to all applicants – 15 July 2020

Recipient announcement to public – 14 October 2020

40th Annual W. Eugene Smith Grant Ceremony – 14 October 2020

The W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation qualified under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, independently administers the grant program that provides photographers with the financial freedom to carry out or complete a major photographic essay. For 2020, the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund will award $10,000 to five photographers in response to the global pandemic. All awards will be presented in a ceremony held in New York City on October 14, 2020.

Featured content courtesy of W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund.

World Humanist Day: June 21, 2020

According to Humanists International, World Humanist Day began with chapters of American Humanist Association (AHA) in the 1980s. June 21 – the date that one of the two annual solstice events occurs – was eventually established by the two organizations as the date for WHD because “the solstice event has echoes of ancient communal gatherings, as well as reflecting humanity’s deepening scientific understanding of our world, and being an event that, by its nature, is shared globally at the same moment in the calendar.

Humanists International recommends a variety of ways to celebrate World Humanist Day such as picnics and parties for informal gatherings or for those who wish to be more organized, hosting lectures, public proclamations and conferences.

As World Humanist Day 2020 approaches, we’re launching our first interactive polls. We want to know more about our visitors’ values and interests. We promise to retain individual confidentiality while making the overall data available to those who are interested.

For our poll regarding humanist values (below), you may choose up to five (5) options per vote. Not enough? You may submit as many votes as you wish.

Have an idea for a poll you’d like to see on our site? Let us know on our contact page.

Featured Image Courtesy of South East London Humanist Group (UK).

Philosophy Now Issue 138: The Religion & Society Issue

Issue 138 of Philosophy Now (June/July 2020) bears the bold sub-title: The Religion & Society Issue. While it was Robert Griffith’s article entitled “Beyond Humanism?” that first caught our attention, the issue’s Table of Contents offers a number of great articles, including a feature section on religion and secularism. The periodical’s website appears to allow complimentary viewing of up to four articles per month – so select carefully! Or subscribe and enjoy some interesting reading. Here are a few of our favorites:

Einstein & The Rebbe

Ronald Pies sets up a dialogue between science and religion.

Christianity & Homosexuality

Rick Aaron argues that religious recommendations are sometimes unrealistic.

Beyond Humanism?

Robert Griffiths argues that humanist ethics has significant limitations.

Suffering & the Media

Ian Church queries the influence the media has on our perception of evil.

Buddha Travels West

Peter Abbs follows Buddhism’s path towards becoming a Western humanism.

Philosophy & The Creation of the Individual

Mark Vernon chronicles a revolution in consciousness.

The Character Gap by Christian B. Miller

Massimo Pigliucci is frank about human character.

Issue 138

Visit the Philosophy Now website.

Featured Image courtesy of Philosophy Now.

Film: I, Pastafari

The film begins in January 2016, when The Netherlands granted official recognition that the Kerk van het Vliegend Spaghettimonster as a religion. With this recognition, Mienke, Sam, Mathé, Dirk Jan, and other members of the church, begin their mission to get access to the same rights Dutch law affords other recognized religions, starting with the right to wear religious headwear in their driver’s license photos.

Michael Arthur – Director/Producer

Michael Arthur holds a business degree from a prestigious American public university, which sits and collects dust in his mom’s basement. He is very much an accidental filmmaker. In 2011, while working in a cubicle somewhere in Portland Oregon, Mike took a filmmaking night class to balance out the monotony of corporate retail. The documentary that resulted went from a YouTube short to a full-length feature which then aired on national TV in 2013. The experience ruined his cubicle aspirations.

Director’s Statement

“Progressives vs. Conservatives. Globalism vs. Nationalism. The Religious Right vs. The Liberal Elite. We find ourselves today in the midst of a war on multiple fronts. While they may appear to be separate conflicts, they all share a common core. In this way, it is only one war: fact vs. belief. To end it, we simply need to align on what a ‘fact’ actually is.

How then do we decide, which claims to accept as fact? Do they exist in an old book? Are they the claims given to you by the powerful, those who deem to benefit the most from the ‘facts’ they provide? Or, perhaps, is it those claims based on overwhelming observable evidence?

Since the Enlightenment, science has consistently proven the best tool to propel society forward. Despite how far science has brought us, recently, we seem to be regressing. The amount of people that have been convinced science is just another system of belief has gotten too big to ignore. All is not lost. The antidote to alternative facts and fake news is science.

When we all share a common definition for ‘fact’, there is no reason to doubt vaccines prevent disease, or that human activity impacts climate, or that murdering infidels may not grant you free admission to paradise. Only when we once again share a common basis for fact, can we stop arguing and start debating realistic solutions on how to fix the woes of the world.

The key to ending this war is to break through to the most vulnerable in our society. Those who do not have access to a quality education. Those who cannot afford to travel and experience cultures and ways of life unlike their own. Those that are convinced that all the answers they need are in whatever holy book their parents read to them. These are the ones who are the most susceptible to the false promises of the powerful. Instead of preaching the gospel of science from the pulpit, to reach them we need to try a different approach. This is the audacious hope of I, Pastafari. In a time of flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, fake news, and alternative facts, the Pastafarians may be the savior the world has been waiting for.”

Visit the I, Pastafari website.

Visit the Journeyman Pictures website.