What is consciousness? Is this even a sensible question to ask? Join us for a fascinating evening of discovery into scientific inquiry, where neuroscience meets ethical philosophy.
Leonard Maler, Neuroscientist and Distinguished Professor at Ottawa University’s Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine will introduce us to interesting new concepts in consciousness that open a doorway into new issues, perspectives and approaches. Arising out of recent discoveries on the neural bases of consciousness and on extensive discussions with colleague, University of Ottawa Philosophy Professor, Vincent Bergeron, the limits of “access” consciousness encounter philosophical ideas on “phenomenal” consciousness and their ethical implications.
Humanist Ottawa is a volunteer-run association, serving the Ottawa community since its founding in 1968. Our vision is a world where reason and compassion guide public policy and social values to enable the fulfillment of human potential.
One year after: Authorities must comply with Federal High Court decision to release Mubarak Bala on bail
GENEVA (28 April 2021) – UN experts* today called on Nigerian authorities to comply with the decision of the Federal High Court to release the prominent humanist and rights defender Mubarak Bala on bail.
“Today marks one year since Mr. Bala was arrested and detained in Kano State, without any formal charges, on allegations of blasphemy. His arbitrary detention has continued despite our appeals to the Government in May and July last year,” the human rights experts said.
As president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, Mr. Bala had led human rights education campaigns promoting freedom of religion or belief and worked to raise awareness about religious extremism. His arrest on 28 April 2020 followed a petition filed with Kano police a day earlier alleging that he had insulted the Prophet Muhammad in Facebook posts.
“The arrest and prolonged detention of Mr. Bala is not only a flagrant violation of fundamental rights, but it has also had a chilling effect on the exercise of fundamental freedoms in Nigeria,” the UN experts said. “Through his continued detention, the Government is sending the wrong signal to extremist groups that the silencing and intimidation of human rights defenders and minority non-believers is acceptable.”
On 21 December 2020, the Federal High Court in Abuja ruled that Mr. Bala’s detention, as well as the denial of his ability to choose his own legal representation, constituted gross infringements of his rights to personal liberty, fair hearing, freedom of thought, expression and movement. The Court ordered his release on bail and that he be awarded damages of 250,000 Naira (about 650 US dollars).
“We are disappointed that the respondents failed to comply with the Court’s order and blatantly undermined the competence of the judicial system,” said the experts. “The Government must take action to ensure that the responsible authorities respect the due process and enforce the judicial ruling.”
On 27 January, Mr. Bala’s lawyer filed another petition to the Federal High Court in Abuja to summon for Mr. Bala’s bail pending trial, if any. A hearing was scheduled for 20 April, which has not yet taken place because Courts are on strike.
“As soon as the Courts resume, the hearing of the new petition must proceed promptly and the authorities must end this unjustified prolonged detention of Mr. Bala for good,” the experts said.
“We remain deeply concerned for Mr. Bala’s security due to continuous death threats and his overall well-being in detention. Such prolonged incarceration may also amount to a form of psychological torture that could severely impact on his mental and physical health in consequence.
“International law protects everyone’s freedom of thought, conscience and religion or beliefs and the right to opinion and expression but it does not protect religions or beliefs per se. The use of blasphemy law is against international human rights law and the imposition of death penalty based for blasphemy is doubly egregious,” stressed the experts.
Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.
Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
** This is an ONLINE only event. Please register for an online ticket using the “Book Now” link **
* Conway Hall is a charity and we politely ask you to add a donation of at least £5 when registering. *
You may recall Ray Argyle from his articles here on humanistfreedoms.com (search for “Ray Argyle” using the search tool). If you’re as crazy for the history of humanism and secularism as we are, you’ve been anticipating the release of his biography of George Jacob Holyoake for months. Well the virtual book launch is upon us!
What follows is the press-release information shared with us when the book was in pre-launch phase. We’re still reading and expect to launch our review soon!
Secularism, the world’s most widely applied model for the separation of church and state, has freed peoples and their governments from control by religious authority. At a time when it is being challenged by evangelical Christianity and fundamentalist Islam, Inventing Secularism, the first modern biography of secularism’s founder, George Jacob Holyoake, is scheduled for the Spring 2021 list of McFarland & Co.
Ray Argyle, Canadian biographer of French president Charles de Gaulle and American ragtime composer Scott Joplin, writes that George Holyoake “changed the life experience of millions around the world by founding secularism on the idea that the duties of a life lived on earth should rank above preparation for an imagined life after death.”
Jailed for atheism and disowned by his family, Holyoake came out of an English prison at the age of 25 determined to bring an end to religion’s control over daily life. He became a radical editor and in 1851 invented the word secularism to represent a system of government free of religious domination. Inventing Secularism reveals details of Holyoake’s conflict-filled life in which he campaigned for public education, freedom of the press, women’s rights, universal suffrage, and the cooperative movement. He was hailed on his death in 1906 for having won “the freedoms we take for granted today.”
More than 160 secular and humanist organizations around the world today advocate principles set out by George Holyoake in his newspaper The Reasoner and in hundreds of lectures as well as books and pamphlets.
Argyle’s Inventing Secularism warns that a rise in religious extremism and populist authoritarianism has put secularism under siege in countries ranging from the United States to such once staunchly secular nations as Hungary, Poland, Turkey and India. He writes that Holyoake “looked beyond his own time, confident of a future of moral as well as material good, offering an infinite diversity of intellect with equality among humanity.”
McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, is located in Jefferson, North Carolina, and is one of the leading publishers of academic and scholarly nonfiction in the United States, offering about 6000 titles in print.
2020 was HumanistFreedoms.com’s first full year of operation. We enjoyed publishing articles promoting and celebrating humanism and our common humanity. We thank our contributors, readers and visitors for making http://www.humanistfreedoms.com a unique online magazine.
Please follow our website, share articles with your friends and help us grow. At the end of February, we’ve had almost half of the views we had for all of 2020! You can help!
Now for 2021 we are looking for even more essays, articles and stories to share! We are not able to pay for articles (yet) but we want to hear what you have to say. This month, themes that we want to explore include:
Contemporary Humanism’s Biggest Priorities and Challenges for 2021
Leadership Within The Humanist Movement
Humanism and Secularism
Humanism and Human Trafficking
Humanism and Global Population
A Humanist Perspective of Radical Politics
Humanist Photography: Photographer Review
Humanism in the Arts
Humanism Behind the Mask: Maintaining Respect and Compassion During the Pandemic
Humanism and the Environment
Humanism and Freedom of Expression: Lessons From 2020
Humanism and Freedom of/from Religion: Global Lessons
Humanism and Architecture
Book Review: A Humanist Recommends….
Do you have an idea that isn’t on our list? Let us know. Inquire at email@example.com
In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find articles published via other venues that we think humanistfreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The following article was located on https://www.counterpunch.org/.
How do white people live with themselves? This is the presumed ethical position emanating from liberal corners in the aftermath of the recent protests around the US. While a seemingly thought-provoking question nudging white folks to contemplate “their racism,” the problem with this question is the question itself. Indeed the minute we individualize what are structural problems of police violence and focus upon rooting out “wrong thought” as if a new global war on terror, we necessarily default to witch hunts of individuals through McCarthyesque callouts instead of understanding racism as a byproduct of structural inequalities.
It has been troubling for me to witness how the liberal soft left has almost entirely capitulated to combating racism as a a moral problem in recent years. If George W. Bush’s war against “terrorism” hadn’t already taught those throughout the political spectrum that you can’t bomb a country into “peace”, certainly George Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests ought to have taught us all that racism is not an evil that inhabits the souls of individuals or that can be disappeared through consciousness-raising sessions led by upper-class white folks. Certainly, there are those who are willing and able to lead the prayer group in this new plateau of wokery such as the recent call to repent by Chick-fil-A CEO, Dan Cathy. Where prayer sessions, kneeling and public calls for atonement become the go-to instead of political dialogue and action, the left is deeply in trouble.
In tackling police violence and other social inequities rampant throughout the world today, we must address the underlying problems and not give overdue focus to the symptoms of the problems. For instance, we already know that class and not race is what determines who is affected most by institutional injustices, from the police murders of George Floyd to Tony Timpa to the the mass incarceration rates of the poor. Nathaniel Lewis demonstrates that after controlling for class, race is not “statistically significant” and that “class appears to be a larger factor than usually reported when studying racial disparities.” And from this query, other questions must necessarily emerge to include our involvement in having asked certain questions and not others and in having kowtowed to what Adolph Reed calls “race reductionism” at the heart of this issue. In short, why is the left seemingly unable to move towards a material analysis of how racism is one of many arms of oppression produced by capitalism?
Instead of approaching this topic of police violence we are told that “systemic racism is enabled when white people do not speak out” and “academia isn’t a safe haven for conversations about racism.” But both expressions are neoliberal sleights of hand for not addressing the structural issues and where attacking a “bad ideology” is believed to be had at the end of myriad callouts and rituals to shame specific individuals who need their thoughts corrected. As for academia not being a safe haven for discussing racism, academic discourse has vastly enabled the ways in which we don’t discuss the structural problems that have brought about racism and sexism. It is in capitalism’s interest that we are all standing about the public square screaming about statues we don’t like rather than clamor for real reform of our governments. Indeed, much of the theory emanating from American higher education of the last thirty years has obtusely avoided discussing class while instead addressing representation, not participation. Just as the left has abandoned discussing class in favor of focussing upon symbolism and representation, political action of recent years has centered on the most superficial changes from language to public imagery. The actual stuff of inequality which engages people’s ability to pay bills, to eat, and to pay rent, has been unsurprisingly absent from both academia and the recent calls to get white people to atone for their sins.
For instance, why is the liberal soft-left not demanding answers from politicians such as Joe Biden who signed onto the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 leading to the mass-incarceration of mostly black men, and putting them in prison for longer? Or why the criminal justice system in the US is locking up so many poor women? Why are American liberals getting behind a presidential candidate who tells African Americans that they aren’t “black” if they don’t vote for him while not seeing how such positive racism still amounts to racism as usual?
One example of how race reductionism is hurting black Americans is taken up by Adolph Reed who analyzes how Joe Biden is not only seriously out of touch with the issues that actually affect most African Americans, paradoxically Biden is billed as the candidate who serves the best interests of the “African American community” because he has not supported universal healthcare. Worse, the Affordable Care Act maintains that “the lower official premiums are in one’s area for that second-cheapest silver plan, the more low-income people actually have to pay for health care.” This is one of many ways that class-consciousness would address the very issues that result in poverty and police violence that affect a whole range of poor Americans to include black, Latino, and white Americans.
While Jesse Jackson has written about class bias and the excessive use of force by the police in reference, the need to focus upon historical material readings of current events is still not hitting home for many. Sam Mitrani notes that the police were created to “protect the new form of wage-labor capitalism that emerged in the mid to late nineteenth century from the threat posed by that system’s offspring, the working class.” Even as we know how police violence functions and who is in its crosshairs, many angry protestors are demanding us to repeat the incantation, “Black lives matter” with literally no class analysis in sight.
A large part of the reason why class analysis has taken a backseat to focussing upon racism is the dire lack of understanding that systemic racism is born from systemic economic oppression, as are socially embedded norms of misogyny, for instance. But it is easier for Americans to address their troubling history with racism because we haven’t had to develop the language to address capitalism because we have a better language: en masse pop-psychology. This is best seen through Robin DiAngelo’s 2018 book, White Fragility, which has recently resurfaced in media reports as many white Americans are using this book to signal their understanding of racism and their participation in it. Yet DiAngelo is part of the liberal racist management class and representative of the kind of sophistry of this movement that holds individuals accountable to their racism based on their skin color. Hers is a rehashing of Rousseau’s “noble savage”, racismbut with a positive spin, which was the hallmark of 18th-century Enlightenment. Where Rousseau believed that the “savage” was free from sin and morality, DiAngelo similarly espouses a similarly bizarre and racist concept of black Americans in the drive to cleanse the souls of white Americans.
DiAngelo is a white woman who has made a killing telling largely middle and upper-middle class white Americans that racism is everywhere. They are told, much like Haley Joel Osment’s character in The Sixth Sense, to “see racism everywhere.” Simply contest DiAngelo’s hypothesis or question if race reductionism might be a huge side-circus issue to keep us from addressing the largely issues of poverty, student loan debt, and the US involvement in the mass surveillance of Muslims both inside and outside its borders, and you run the risk yourself of being called a racist. Just ask UK Labour MP, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Kier Stammer’s shadow education secretary who was fired from her position on Thursday for tweeting in support of British actor, Maxine Peake, who pointed out that US police officers had learned the technique of neck kneeling from Israeli secret services.
Indeed, what is passing as “racist” today has even come down to who can get the largest mob to act in the name of acts that at times are not even racist. Take for instance the recent Twitter event orchestrated by Karlos Dillard who followed a woman home and filmed her in attempting to replicate the Central Park incident last month when Chris Cooper filmed Amy Cooper’s attempt to weaponise racism against him. The problem here is that there was absolutely no evidence of racism. Still Dillard was able to create a social media mob scene to effectively exploit a woman he was stalking as he later posted the video on Twitter which doxxed this woman on Twitter to include filming her license plate and home address. Since then, several people have pointed out that this was staged encounter which is apparently one in a series of Dillard’s harassment of women in making “false Karen statements” to local media and on social media. As Meghan Murphy points out, Dillard uses these harassment videos of women as part of a marketing ploy to draw people towards his website where he sells “Karen” t-shirts. Dillard recycles his exploitation videos of women by conflating their reactions with the police murders of black Americans. Like many others on social media who have employed the “Karen” memes in recent weeks, Dillard has successfully turned the blame of racism onto white women as he equates their having “flipped [him] off” as racist. Despite the pushback by some on social media, class issues are at the heart of who has the power to stalk and harass white women calling this “racist” and those who are at the other end of a police killing.
This dilation of what racism means has been taken to the streets in Toronto where posters are hung in public spaces of a nondescript white woman named “Becky” who “may be armed with financial privilege, white feminism, false victimhood…and a smartphone.” And while many might wish to be alert to what is nothing other than a public relations ploy to weaponize now white women as the problem where Twitter posts and Instagram views might lead to our somehow solving racism, all of this is a huge distraction from the class-based issues that create racism. If only blaming police violence and poverty on white women would solve everything we could all move along after a quick Hail Mary citing white feminists as the problem.
The neoliberal urge to call out racism assigning it to individuals is not new and from where I am sitting, much of the outrage has been largely manufactured. This is not to say that individuals are not racists. As someone who has written extensively about this subject first-hand after an attack, I know quite well how racism and xenophobia function. But I would be derelict to describe reality were I to make out that racism is limited to the era of colonialism, the slave trade, or even Cesare Lombroso’s measurements of cranial size of certain ethnicities to include southern Italians formed part of his theory of the “median occipital fossa” being linked to a criminality etiology. Indeed, we would be making a huge mistake to believe that callouts of racism actually engage in anti-racism any more than they potentially engage in a new form of racist act.
Indeed, what we witnessed with the Coopers—Amy and Chris—last month, two antagonists who paradoxically share the same last name, is that callouts serve to highlight shitty individuals where little to nothing is actually done to change the fact of racism. Where one calls Amy Cooper a racist, another notes that the real “Karen” in this situation is Chris Cooper who took it upon himself to enforce park rules. The problem we now face as a society is not whether Amy is or is not a racist, but the fact that this judgment call is being left up to everyone from mobs on Twitter and her former-employer such that as it stands the right to eat and have a home depends on passing a moral purity test, even if what Amy Cooper did is morally reprehensible.
For the liberal class pushing for such callouts none of these judgments of the “Who Is Racist” blacklist impact our society positively. To be certain, the “knowledge” that yet another racist has been labelled does absolutely nothing to improve the fact of racism, nor of how we might be misreading racism. And herein lies the problem: that liberal solutions to racism are in fact reproducing racist tenets by highlighting that because of one’s whiteness, one is either already a racist or in denial of one’s racism (which begs the question of the former). This kind of liberal game of “fighting racism” reaches back to a language that many will recognize from pop psychology of the 1980s and 1990s where if only we can understand our own participation in the dynamic then all will be solved.
DiAngelo’s White Fragility serves as the postmodern Bible to liberals who seek to right a historical wrong, even if well-intended. A central tenet to DiAngelo’s book is that white people are socialized into a “deeply internalized sense of superiority that we either are unaware of or can never admit to ourselves, we become highly fragile in conversations about race.” Another tenet of her book is that “all white people are invested in and collude with racism” (emphasis mine). Together, these two ideas present what I call a philosophical Möbius strip where there is no way out of the puzzle—you are either guilty of racism because you accept this tenet and you are even more guilty of racism if you do not. But then much of Christianity is based on a similar entrapment. DiAngelo’s hodgepodge syncretism of pop-psychology, Christianity and liberalism leads the reader to believe that confession is not only good for the soul, but it will solve all our problems through the fantastic public confession, where words magically make everything better. Yet, we have well over 150 years of documented psychoanalysis to show that no such confessions or re-invention of language will do anything other than kick this issue into the long grass.
Moreso, DiAngelo proves that addressing racism only centers the white subject all over again. DiAngelo takes the focus off of black lives redirecting a narrative of racism that isn’t a structural result of material and political inequality. Instead, DiAngelo rather successfully makes racism all about white people. Or, as DiAngelo says, it’s about white people speaking too much or too little and it’s about white people being unable to feel discomfort or their feeling discomfort because they are racists. It’s almost a phenomenon that DiAngelo’s book is sold at all given that it is incoherent from its definition of “racism” which depends on the subject having structural power (which would of course, exclude poor or disabled white people) to its feel-good core which depends upon a Christian-esque confession for the “guilty” white reader to pass to the next level (one can only presume).
So let’s look to the facts about what would amount to systemic racism. According to the Pew Research Center the black imprisonment rate in the U.S. fell by a third since 2006, bringing a significant change in the decarceration of African Americans. While not perfect, this is a significant and important change to note when discussing systemic racism. As for economic equality, we are seeing that African American households are not even at the 60 percent income mark as white American households according to The Economist and black unemployment is double that of white unemployment. But then what these studies do not discuss are the median incomes that are far above those of white Americans: Asian households whose real median income falls between $83,376 to $87,194. Still many progressive white Americans believe that addressing these facts necessitates apocalyptic terms where ideas like “white racism” and “white supremacy” is going to result in racism being “solved” as opposed to addressing issues that have direct and realizable responses, such as the widespread poverty in the US.
Here’s an interesting fact about the Department of Justice’s report into the killing of Michael Brown by a member of the Ferguson Police Department: not only does the report underscore that 25% of the City’s population lives below the federal poverty level, but the entire justice system in Ferguson is skewed working against the accused due to their poverty from the first instance: “Court staff and staff from other municipal courts have informed us that defendants in poverty are more likely not to receive such a letter from court because they frequently change residence.” The report also notes, “In particular, Ferguson’s practice of automatically treating a missed payment as a failure to appear—thus triggering an arrest warrant and possible incarceration—is directly at odds with well-established law that prohibits ‘punishing a person for his poverty.’ Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660, 671 (1983).” There is a danger that by not referencing the enormous poverty that is at the cross-section of most acts of police violence, that we are entering into a dangerous tautology whereby race always and uniquely matters.
Not surprisingly, DiAngelo’s book doesn’t really care about black lives as anything more than pawns in her angling to increase her business which is as an anti-racist corporate trainer. Black Americans end up becoming these caricatures and white people are, antithetically, deeply complex subjects. There is no deeper understanding of racism after reading DiAngelo’s book any more than one gains an understanding of what a terrorist is after reading the Patriot Act in full (I have). DiAngelo’s “success” in waging a fake war against racism is simply to have given Americans an immensely racialized charge of what “white people” or “black people” are, say or think. If we follow DiAngelo’s training to its full end, we would thusly be living in an incredibly racist (and sexist) world where one can finish such a “training” only to become hyper-racialized subjects.
So, the answer to my original question is a rephrasing of my original question: how can those of us on the left live with ourselves creating more divisions in fighting racism by manipulating what are fundamentally class issues of poverty and class empowerment? The minute we think that “white people” are like this and “black people” like that we have lost the plot. And it is no surprise that Black Lives Matter has similarly pitched a corporate message to Americans and to funders such as George Soros, Rob McKay, and other Democracy Alliance donors have given millions to groups associated with the movement (now over $133 million). These people have successfully enacted a cult whereby cheap one-off confessions and checks written out to BLM is the penitence one pays for the crimes of the father. Black Lives Matter has become a capitalist free-for-all with other companies known for unethical labor practices like Reebok which has recently virtue signaled whilst calling out CrossFit for not having sympathized deeply enough with BLM. This in addition to the organization’s founders having cashed in to the tune of $100 million from the Ford Foundation in 2017 along with most all of BLM’s co-founders having developed very close ties to various corporations, foundations, academic institutions and government-sponsored agencies. In 2016, Opal Tometi even spoke at the Aspen Institute which has strong ties to the military. So much for defunding the police if you are down with supporting the military.
What social theaters like DiAngelo’s book and Black Lives Matter prove is that race relations in the US have now become part of a managerial class of elites who can just as easily control the media message as well as any other corporate-sponsored speaker. Just spin a message, package it within a Christian orthodoxy, give talks at think tanks closely aligned with the Department of Defense, and the world is yours. Who cares about addressing the causes of racism or even mentioning the increasing poverty in the US when the politics of race reductionism has created a new job specialty, loads of new funding sources, and the inspiration for five-minute spots on CNN about this new and improved “war on racism.” Yet there is no way to win a “war” which is poised upon ideological purity whereby only the self can battle bigotry. In the end, the racism being fought by both DiAngelo and BLM is precisely a narcissistic and neoliberal form of whitewashing structural inequalities through the name-and-blame game whereby the more woke points scored, the least racist the subject is. Hence this is the best game in town for corporations and politicians looking to win over hearts and minds where the white subject controls all. Just look at how many percentage points black salaries have moved in the past month.
As protestors topple statues of Civil War generals and abolitionists alike, this might be a good moment for us to pause and think that perhaps the first problem in naming racism might begin with reflecting upon our embrace of “race” as a signifying real. Moreover, we need to deeply ponder if race might just be the side-show which is keeping us from addressing what are primarily class issues. As troubling as our country’s legacy is having been built on slavery, the decimation of the country’s indigenous population, and unbridled capitalism, the one common factor of the repression of humans in these situations was not decided by their “race” but was most definitely decided between those who held the money, the guns, and the power and those who didn’t.
Since HumanistFreedoms.com began publication early in 2020, we have witnessed more…and more frequent…signs that humanists around the world are seeking a next wave of humanism. Twentieth century humanism is dead – long live twenty-first century humanism!
What will the next wave of humanism look like?
Is Hardcore Humanism An Answer?
Do an internet search for “Hardcore Humanism” and you will find a website and blog for Dr. Michael Friedman, PhD – a clinical psychologist who promotes ” a life philosophy, therapeutic modality and life coaching program that brings together the compassionate holistic approach of humanistic psychology with the scientific rigor of behavioral therapy. Humanistic psychology promotes unconditional positive regard – a basic belief that all people are good and have value – as they strive to achieve their life’s purpose and best self. With Hardcore Humanism, the Humanistic approach is optimized to include the hardcore work ethic and science-based approach of behavioral therapy. In other words, Hardcore Humanism means not only understanding and accepting yourself but also working in a methodical way to achieve your purpose and find fulfillment.”
Whether Friedman’s clinical approach is particularly novel or not, fundamental to his branding is the marriage of humanism to a commitment so staunch, so unwavering and elemental that it is “hardcore”. Friedman’s podcast and website currently has a wide selection of articles which feature connections between heavy metal and punk subcultures and and music.
Is There Room For A Radical Humanism?
On July 1, 2020 Counterpunch published an article by Julian Vigo calling for a “radical humanism” in response to current social and political events and trends. Despite the bold title, “A Call for Radical Humanism: the Left needs to return to Class Analyses of Power“, Vigo did not directly define “radical humanism”. Nor did Vigo clearly state why or how a proposed return to class analysis of power by The Left would fulfill a radical humanism. Over the course of the article, Vigo jumped instead to a kind of applied radical humanism without providing the reader with the benefit of a defined radical humanism.
Vigo’s article suggests that there are contemporary humanists who crave the presence of a form of humanism that has been absent from contemporary public life and politics.
An exploration of the term radical humanism must begin with definitions of the two root words, humanism and radicalism.
Humanism has a rich, complicated and nuanced history that we’re going to set aside as too vast to explore in a short article. If you’re reading this article, you probably have a reasonably well-informed perspective anyway. For the purposes of this inquiry, the term humanism denotes ethical perspectives which focus exclusively on human (and not supernatural or theistic) actions, interests, values and dignity.
Radicalism on the other hand requires more exploration. Vigo’s article is not clear whether “radical humanism” is intended to suggest an extremist position or whether it is to indicate a form of humanist fundamentalism.
Whether Vigo intended a call for extremism or fundamentalism, or some combination of both, it seems that the call for radical humanism is a call for a stronger and more assertive wave of humanism that prioritizes a search for solutions to the root causes of the problems facing humanity over addressing their symptoms and a focus on substance rather than symbols addressing class.
In recent decades, it has been popular to characterize humanism as an ideology of “old white men”. This characterization has become so widely accepted that Roy Speckhardt, the most recent leader of American Humanist Associate recently resigned from the role stating that, “Being at the helm of such an organization as the AHA, whose mission is so critical to our times and whose influence far outstrips its size, was the greatest honor of my life, but I’ve decided it’s time for me to step down and make room for new leadership. It is my emphatic hope that my seat is filled with a Black or Brown humanist because our movement has gone too long without such diversity at the helm and this would open the door for the AHA to truly achieve its potential as a humanist and anti-racist institution.”
On March 13, 2021 we published “Humanists – Where Are You”by Jay Rene Shakur. The article is signed as “The New Humanist”. The question of who The New Humanist may be is vital to the future of humanism.
Shakur heads-up the website HipHopHumanism.Com. The website explores the connections between Hip Hop music and culture and humanism. There is an important similarity between Friedman’s linking of metal and punk subculture trends to humanism and Shakur’s work to do the same between Hip Hop and humanism. In either case, within the mirrored statements, “I am Hip Hop” and “I am Punk” or “I am Metal” there is also reflected a particular statement of who the New Humanist is and how they may be found. The New Humanist is part of wide-spread cultural identities as well as niche sub-cultures with values and aesthetics that are no longer exclusive to “the old white man” of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Another example of the contemporary urge toward an assertively-held contemporary humanism may be found in a new management book by Tom Peters titled “Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism“.
That the term humanism would be used as a primary component of a mainstream business-guru-genre book is evidence of just how widespread and essential humanism has become in mainstream culture. And the current appetite is not for yesterday’s average humanism. The appetite is for Extreme Humanism.
Where some parts of society have social sub-culture identities that form a vital connection to their humanism – others have professional sub-cultures. Business gurus and leaders like Peters are pursuing organizational excellence through humanism. The medical profession pursues better medicine through humanism by including humanism as a key-note speaking engagements or through patient relations initiatives. In January of 2021, PhD candidate Daniel Matthews-Ferrero published an article titled “Towards a Humanist Environmentalism” on Spiked where stating “if we are serious about overcoming the environmental challenges that are facing us, and coming up with social solutions to social problems, then humanism must be our starting point. Meanwhile, the technology industry has the Vienna Manifesto on Digital Humanism with an implicit focus on humanism.
Next Wave Humanism
Next Wave Humanism has already begun. It is an ideological building- block of a wide-variety of sub-cultures, professional perspectives, artistic approaches and adjacent ideological movements.
Earlier waves of humanism were pre-occupied with shifting ideological attention away-from supernaturalism and theology and toward humanity. Thanks to the successfully-waged ideological battles of yesterday, Next Wave Humanism is now far less-concerned with that fight. Contemporary humanists of the twenty-first century are concerned with applied humanism – the many ways that humanism is used for solving problems. The New Humanist says, “I am Extreme; I am Radical; I am Hardcore. I am Humanist.“
The following content is drawn directly from the WHR website. HumanistFreedoms.com makes no claim to copyright, authorship or accuracy of the mater. We recommend that you visit WHR to review and consider the World Happiness Report’s full 212-pages of observations and analysis.
This year’s report focuses on the effects of COVID-19 on happiness and how countries have differed in their success in reducing the deaths and maintaining connected and healthy societies. The effects of the pandemic on happiness, mental health, social connections, and the workplace are covered in Chapters 2, 5, 6, and 7 respectively. The choice of strategies for dealing with COVID-19 are covered in Chapters 2,3,4, and 8. The countries that performed best in minimising the direct death toll from COVID-19 were also able to do better on other fronts, including income, employment, and the mental and physical health of the rest of the population.
The rankings in Figure 2.1 of World Happiness Report 2021 use data that come from the Gallup World Poll surveys from 2018 to 2020. They are based on answers to the main life evaluation question asked in the poll. This is called the Cantril ladder: it asks respondents to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10, and the worst possible life being a 0. They are then asked to rate their own current lives on that 0 to 10 scale. The rankings are from nationally representative samples, for the years 2018-2020. They are based entirely on the survey scores, using the Gallup weights to make the estimates representative. The sub-bars in Figure 2.1 show the estimated extent to which each of six factors – levels of GDP, life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom, and corruption – are estimated to contribute to making life evaluations higher in each country than they are in Dystopia, a hypothetical country that has values equal to the world’s lowest national averages for each of the six factors (see FAQs: What is Dystopia?). The sub-bars have no impact on the total score reported for each country, but instead are just a way of explaining for each country the implications of the model estimated in Table 2.1. People often ask why some countries rank higher than others – the sub-bars (including the residuals, which show what is not explained) are an attempt to provide an answer to that question.
We use the most recent years in order to provide an up-to-date measure, and to measure changes over time. We combine data from the years 2018-2020 to make the sample size large enough to reduce the random sampling errors. (The horizontal lines at the right-hand end of each of the main bars show the 95% confidence interval for the estimate.) The typical annual sample for each country is 1,000 people. If a country had surveys in each year, then the sample size would be 3,000 people. However, there are many countries that have not had annual surveys, in which case the sample size is smaller than 3,000. Tables 1-3 of the online Statistical Appendix 1 show the sample size for each country in each year. Because of our interest in exploring how COVID-19 has influenced happiness for people in different countries and circumstances, we have done much of our analysis (as reported in Tables 2.2, 2.4, and 2.4).
WHR Figure 2.1 Part 3
At HumanistFreedoms.com we can’t help but wish for a comparative analysis of the WHR’s findings and the establishment of secular conditions around the globe.
In a celebration of the humanities, Humanist Ottawa hosts this afternoon of conversation with Henry Beissel, poet, playwright, fiction writer, translator, editor and winner of the 2020 Ottawa Book Award in English Fiction for his book of poetry, “Footprints of Dark Energy“.
In awarding this prize, the jury said, ” Part idyll, part love song and mostly about man in nature, Henry Beissel’s Footprints of Dark Energy approaches the sublime in its epic treatment of its subjects. The meditative undertones of the shorter poems coalesce into the epigrammatic wit of the long title poem, and all are bolstered by the narration’s majestic sweep.”
The title poem of this collection takes us on an epic journey across past and present historical events and through spaces defined by the natural sciences, as it explores the challenges of being human in these troubled times. It is accompanied by a gathering of shorter poems that confront the dark forces in our world as they struggle for the light at the end of the tunnel. In stark imagery, these poems turn words into music to celebrate the anguish and the glory of being alive.
Henry Beissel is author/editor of 44 published books. Among his 22 collections of poetry are his epic “Seasons of Blood” and the lyrical “Stones to Harvest” as well as his celebration of Canada in “Cantos North” and the 364 haiku in “What if Zen Gardens …“. He lives in Ottawa with his wife Arlette Francière, the artist and literary translator.
Feel free to forward this invitation to any of your friends.
When: Saturday, March 27, 2021
Time: 1:30 pm Eastern Time
Medium: Zoom – Please register in advance for this free event at:
Thomas Jefferson, writing to worried Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut in 1802, pledged that his administration would adhere to the “supreme will of the nation” on behalf of the rights of conscience and the free exercise of religion. The First Amendment, he said, had built “a wall of separation between Church & State.” America would have an impenetrable barrier to religious involvement in affairs of state.
One hundred and eighty years later, on April 17, 1982, Queen Elizabeth II gave royal assent to a new Canadian Constitution at a rainy outdoor ceremony in Ottawa. It contained a much heralded Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteeing “freedom of conscience and religion” while asserting that Canada was founded on “principles that recognize the supremacy of God.”
Both countries had set out to build secular and humanist societies. The United States, to all appearances, rejected any role for religion in its founding documents. Canada, in contrast, subjected itself – at least titularly – to God’s will. It guaranteed public funding of Roman Catholic schools and accepted the Queen’s role as head of state and “defender of the faith,” as symbolized by the Anglican Church.
Move forward to 2021 and a world slowly emerging from a global pandemic. What do we find? In the United States, relentless Christian evangelical attacks on secularism; in Canada, almost universal public acceptance for secular social policies. Arrived at free of religious interference, Canada guarantees, among other secular rights, freedom of choice (abortion rights), the right to medically assisted dying, medical and recreational use of marijuana, and a long-standing ban on capital punishment.
Ironically, the most contentious secular issue in Canada is not the defence of secularism, but whether the Province of Quebec has adopted too rigid a form of secularism through its ban on the wearing of religious symbols (i.e., the hijab) by public service workers in positions of authority. Civil libertarians see Quebec’s “Act Respecting the Laicity of the State” as an unreasonable curtailment of individual rights.
Around the world, secularism is under siege from religious forces ranging from populist Christian movements in Europe to extremist Islamic elements engaged in terrorist acts. Hindu nationalism in India has fractured a century of secular tolerance of Muslims and Hindus and China – ignoring its own secular constitution – is brutally suppressing its Uighur Muslim minority.
I gained a fuller appreciation of the ferocity of these attacks while researching Inventing Secularism, my biography of secularism’s founder, George Jacob Holyoake. The dangers I saw impelled me to add an epilogue identifying the actors and their strategies behind the assault on secularism which are now mounting around the world.
Thomas Jefferson’s proscription of religious involvement in affairs of state lasted until the mid -20th century. Then, Congress ordered the phrase “In God We Trust” to appear on U.S. currency and inserted “Under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance. The third Thursday in May was designated as a National Day of Prayer. A secularist organization, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, sees this contrivance for what it is: “… a vehicle for spreading religious misinformation and fundamentalist Christian doctrine under the aegis of the government – precisely what the framers [of the Constitution] were seeking to prohibit.”
These largely symbolic acts, while contrary to the principle that religion should have no place in lawmaking, stand today as minor irritants compared to the systematic attack on secularism that has been unfolding in U.S. courts and legislative bodies, and in countries around the world. The flow of public funds to U.S churches and faith groups through executive orders and court decisions, including an undetermined billions of dollars in COVID-19 relief intended for states and communities, is unprecedented in American history.
Under the guise of strengthening individual freedom, recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court have enabled local governments to fund and maintain public religious displays, provide access to public funding for certain religious schools, and allow service providers to discriminate among those whose lifestyles or religious principles they find disagreeable. From a humanist perspective, these actions amount to a reinterpretation of the religion clauses of the First Amendment – one prohibiting the “establishment” of a state religion and the other guaranteeing the “free exercise of faiths.”
As an example of anti-secular legislation by various U.S. states, a new Arkansas law would allow doctors, insurance companies, and employers to deny patients necessary healthcare on the basis of religious beliefs. “A person’s doctor or boss should not be able to use personal religious beliefs to dictate the healthcare their families can or cannot receive,” the watchdog group American Atheists said in a statement.
An air of optimism surrounded the first inter-faith meeting held by Pope Francis when he spent five days with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Havana in February, 2013. It was the first such meeting in the nearly thousand years since the Great Schism of 1054 split Christianity between Greek East and Roman West. The newly ordained Pontiff had brought a breath of liberalism to the Vatican and his ability to communicate church doctrine in simple, homespun ways was impressing Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Any expectation that Francis, as head of the oldest and arguably most influential Christian church would lead his 1.2 billion adherents to a new reality of modern life was quickly dashed. A thirty-point declaration out of Havana confirmed traditional teachings of both the Russian Orthodox and Roman churches. Most notably, the statement marked the Pontiff’s endorsement of a fresh crusade against secularism.
“The transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all references to God and his truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom,” the statement declared. It attacked the “very aggressive secularist ideology” that seeks to relegate religion “to the margins of public life.” It also declared that “Europe must remain faithful to its Christian roots.”
Aside from alarming humanists, the declaration troubled some Catholics. Jon O’Brien, president of the Washington-based Catholics for Choice, said it misrepresented the true meaning of secularism. “A secular society is not one in which one religion or religious belief is in any way opposed, but one in which all citizens can practice as they see fit. In a secular society, we can have freedom of religion and freedom from religion.”
Since Havana, Pope Francis has stepped up his assaults on secularism. In 2017 he traveled to Egypt to meet President al-Sisi and defend a “vision of healthy secularism” that he would like to see accepted by Muslim countries. The Pontiff’s remarks made it evident that the trade-off for acceptance of his version of a neutered secularism would allow religion to dictate public policies on issues the Church regards itself and the Bible as sole arbiters. He pressed his attack in celebrating World Mission Day in 2019. “Rampant secularism”, he said, “when it becomes an aggressive cultural rejection of God’s active fatherhood in our history, is an obstacle to authentic human fraternity.”
During Pope Francis’s reign, virulent attacks on secularism have emerged in the American Catholic press. The National Catholic Register, which describes itself as the most faithful Catholic news source in the United States, has blamed secularism for the crimes of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, declaring “Secularism in any of its guises is deadly.” Its article was headed ‘Beware the Stormtroopers of Secularism’ and was illustrated with a picture of Nazi troops in Poland taking a Catholic priest to his execution. Such hyperbole overlooks the fact that the Nazis defied secularist principles by persecuting a people based on their religious identity, while the Soviet campaign of atheism invaded the secularist right to freedom of religion.
This preoccupation with secularism is consistent with Pope Francis’s staunchly conservative theology, despite occasional flashes of liberality. Having cheerfully asserted that atheists should follow their conscience and can still go to heaven if they approach God “with a sincere and contrite heart,” Pope Francis also spoke tolerantly of same-sex relationships. “Who am I to judge?” he replied off-handedly in answer to a question about a gay priest. More recently, he has warned that priestly celibacy must be strictly adhered to and on other issues has reflected traditional Catholic views: opposition to abortion, birth control and gay marriage, denial of the right to assisted death, and restrictions on the role of women in the Church. Pope Francis has dealt with child sex abuse, a phenomenon endemic within the Catholic priesthood, by ending the edict imposing secrecy on anyone reporting sexual abuse, and has ordered church leaders to report sex abuse cases and sex abuse cover-ups.
In the United States, the deep strain of religiosity running through American politics has encouraged militant Christian evangelists in their determination to apply religious tests to civil legislation, and to gain public funding through means that violate the First Amendment. A 2020 survey by the respected Pew Institute had half of Americans (49%) saying the Bible should have at least “some influence” on U.S. laws, with more than a quarter (28%) holding the view that the Bible should take priority over the will of the people. Well known examples include denial of LGBTQ rights, restrictions to abortion, withdrawal of funding to organizations like Planned Parenthood, and cancellation of foreign aid to countries permitting family planning (a policy reversed by President Biden).
In such an environment, politicians are generally reluctant to express a commitment to humanist values. There are exceptions. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, declined to attend the 2020 National Prayer Breakfast and just over a dozen Democrats make up the Congressional Freethought Caucus. Its most recent recruit is Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, a Muslim. Its perhaps most notable member is Rep. Jared Huffman of California who has declared himself a “non-religious humanist.”
Between 2017 and 2021, President Donald Trump and members of his cabinet came down consistently in favor of evangelical political positions. According to Mat Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, a legal advisory organization, about ninety per cent of fundamentalist goals were achieved under the Trump administration. “He’s been the most pro-religious freedom and pro-life president in modern history,” Staver told the Associated Press.
“We will not let anyone push God from the public square,” President Trump declared. American states began to require schools to post the slogan In God We Trust on classroom walls. The State of Mississippi, in design of a new state flag, dictated it bear the same words.
These challenges to secularism were echoed in U.S. Attorney-General William Barr’s claim, made in a speech to the University of Notre Dame law school, that “militant secularists” were behind a “campaign to destroy the traditional moral order”.
Appointments to the Supreme Court by Republican presidents – in power for 24 years between 1981 and 2021 – have securely embedded conservative and pro-religious views on the nation’s highest judicial body. Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch, Brent Kavanagh and Amy Coney Barrett tilted the Court further to the right.
The United States faces anti-secularism on other fronts, including white Christian nationalist groups like the Proud Boys and the instigators of QAnon who participated in the January 6 putative insurrection in Washington, and neo-Nazi groups of the type that gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, to defend a Civil War monument and chant “Blood and Soil”, a Nazi rallying cry.
Secularists have welcomed the election of Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic, as President. But they look with concern on his repeated invoking of God and prayer and his description of America as a nation “sustained by faith.” Such comments are seen as a contradiction to the separation of church and state and an expression of disrespect to the nearly one-third of Americans – atheists, agnostics and other non-religious – who hold dissenting views.
Blasphemy prosecutions abound across the Muslim world. They provide a convenient legal process that near-theocratic states employ to control dissent and repress humanist expression. The connection with secularism as known in the West may seem remote, but every charge of blasphemy is an offence to secularism and everything secularism stands for – democratic rule, human rights, religious freedom and freedom from religion, the exclusion of religion from public life, and government non-involvement in religious natters.
In Bangladesh, human rights advocate Rafida Bonya Ahmed and her husband were attacked by a machete-wielding gang enraged by his online anti-religious, secularist comments. Police stood by as he was murdered. Appearing before a U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs subcommittee, she identified 83 countries with blasphemy laws carrying penalties of fines, torture, imprisonment, and death.
While blasphemy – showing contempt or lack of reverence for God – is considered a major crime in Muslim countries, apostasy – abandoning the faith – is considered an even greater offence. Ten countries impose the penalty of death for apostasy.
An Asian nation beset by the disintegration of secularism is India, where the Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has embarked on policies that repudiate the country’s long secularist tradition. The BJP’s policies are having the effect of turning religions that did not originate on Indian soil – notably Islam and Christianity – into alien essences. The most controversial is a Citizenship Act that provides for refugees who came to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal to be given expedited access to citizenship – providing they are not Muslims. A U.S. government commission on international religious freedom has called for punitive measures against India, citing a “drastic turn downward” in religious freedom.
Across Europe, secularism is under siege in many nations. In Poland, the ruling Law and Justice party has imposed a near-total ban on abortion, criminalized sex education in schools; and equated homosexuality with pedophilia. The German state of Bavaria mandated that government buildings display a crucifix to show the region’s “social and cultural identity.” In Hungary a populist government led by Viktor Orban has cracked down on the press and driven the Central European University, a research-focused institute founded by billionaire George Soros, out of the country.
Turkey, once the most secular of Muslim nations, has almost totally abandoned secularism under a government that has repudiated the policies of Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk”, who initiated modernization of the country in the 1920s. After jailing opponents and gaining control of most Turkish media, President Recep Erdogan has openly called for re-establishment of an Islamic state. In a dramatic move toward this goal, the historic Hagia Sophia, a secular museum since 1936, has been restored as a mosque. Within a month the mediaeval Church of the Holy Saviour, one of Istanbul’s most celebrated Byzantine buildings that has been a secular museum for more than 70 years, was also converted into a mosque.
England and France also have been affected by the strains of anti-secularism. The two countries have taken different historic paths to secularism but both have suffered terrorist attacks – notably the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan Concert bombings in Paris and a London subway bombing and an attack on a Manchester concert venue in which 22 people were killed. These events traumatized people in both countries, although the victims were far fewer than the 3,000 who died in New York on September 11, 2001.
Secularists in the United Kingdom accept, reluctantly, the role of the Queen as head of its established church, but wage an unrelenting campaign to remove religious control from state-funded schools. They also oppose the appointment of the 26 Church of England bishops who sit in the House of Lords, pointing out that Iran is the only other state where the clergy are represented as of right.
Attacks on secularism, if not vigorously opposed, will lead inevitably to a world of less freedom and more oppression. A more positive alternative has been articulated by George Jacob Holyoake, the English social reformer who invented the term secularism in 1851. Writing in his groundbreaking Principles of Secularism, he saw it a duty to promote “the immediate and material welfare of humanity … amid whatever diversity of opinion may subsist in a Secular Society.” This is the challenge secularism still must meet, if it is to withstand the attacks of resurgent religious forces throughout the world.
Ray Argyle is author of Inventing Secularism: The Radical Life of George JacobHolyoake, published by McFarland & Co, USA.. He lives in Kingston, Ontario.