Tag Archives: books

Humanist Wins 2020 Ottawa Book Awards

HumanistFreedoms.com is thrilled to celebrate the recent announcement that one of our favourite poets and humanists, Henry Beissel, is a winner of the 2020 Ottawa Book Awards.

Henry Beissel is a poet, playwright, fiction writer, translator and editor. He has published 44 books published including 22 collections of poetry. He lives in Ottawa with his wife Arlette Francière, the literary translator and artist. While copies of the critically acclaimed Cantos North(1980 & 2017) and a poet-autographed copy of Fugitive Horizons (2013) adorn our shelves, it was Beissel’s Footprints of Dark Energy (2019) which caught the eye of the Ottawa Book Awards jury (Paul Carlucci, Lyse Champagne, Amatoritsero Ede).

Jury Statement for Footprints of Dark Energy: 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.

Courtesy of Youtube and the ongoing COVID-19 social environment, you can enjoy a highly personal, yet socially distanced, reading by the poet himself:

Since 1985, the Ottawa Book Awards have recognized the top English and French books published in the previous year. Both languages have categories for fiction and non-fiction. All shortlisted finalists receive $1,000 and each winner receives a prize of $7,500. 

Footprints of Dark Energy

Winners of the 2020 Ottawa Book Awards were announced during a virtual ceremony on Wednesday, October 21, 2020, at 6:00 p.m. To watch a recording of the event, please visit:

Ottawa Public Library’s Facebook page!

Congratulations Henry! And well done! We admire the many contributions you have made to humanism and poetry.

Sources, Citations and References

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of https://ottawa.ca/en/arts-heritage-and-events/ottawa-book-awards#2020-winners-and-finalists
  2. https://www.henrybeissel.com/
  3. https://www.cbc.ca/books/beverley-mclachlin-henry-beissel-win-2020-ottawa-book-awards-1.5772822
  4. https://ottawacitizen.com/entertainment/beverley-mclachlin-beissel-among-winners-of-ottawa-book-awards
  5. https://theworldnews.net/ca-news/finalists-announced-for-2020-ottawa-book-awards
  6. https://canlit.ca/article/gifts-for-the-journey/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

BOOKS: Pre-order Opportunity

You may recall Ray Argyle from his July 2020 article here on humanistfreedoms.com. 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 pre-order opportunity is here!

What follows is the press-release information shared with us…and now with you.

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.” 

Inventing Secularism, US$45.00, is available for pre-order at https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/inventing-secularism.  

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.


Sources, Citations and References

Featured Photo Courtesy of https://rayargyle.com/a-radical-life/


The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Books: Great State: China and the World By Timothy Brook

It approaches impossible to be a humanist without eventually trying to reach an understanding of the politics of China. Enter just about any conversation about secularism and sooner or later someone is going to mention the human rights record of the Chinese government over the last 80 to 100 years. Here’s a book that may be a good place to move toward an understanding of China’s immense history.

Great State: China and The World was published in 2019/2020 by one of Canada’s leading scholarly experts on China. It is a collection of thirteen historical vignettes written to support its author’s thesis that China is, and has very nearly always been, a “Great State”.

Timothy Brook is a professor at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver). A native of Toronto and graduate of the University of Toronto, Brook moved from Toronto to become principal of St. John’s College at UBC in 2004, where he was named to the Republic of China Chair. Brook previously held positions at the University of Alberta, Stanford University, and the University of Oxford, where he was Shaw Professor of Chinese from 2007 to 2009.

Book Marks reviews of Great State: China and the World by ...

At a little over 400-pages, the entire book is well-worth reading; however humanistfreedoms.com found particular interest in ….Chapter 8: The Missionary and His Convert, a chapter providing some interesting insights into how China’s political leadership has approached religious influences in the country. The chapter is set in the early 1600’s and reviews political events stemming from the arrival of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in China. Brook demonstrates that some leading Chinese political forces felt that “...these foreigners were not official envoys from their rulers. There were protocols for receiving tribute envoys, but these men had entered China without having received such clearance. That they were in China to speak of matters of Heaven – which could be construed as infringing on the divine authority of the emperor – only made the illegality of their status that much more offensive.” (pg. 203)

It is not uncommon for Western people to view China as having been cut-off from the world (i.e. Europe) for must of its existence. Brook attempts to dispel this view as a myth. But he also reinforces, in this chapter and others, the deep concern Chinese political leaders have had regarding foreign influence in their country’s affairs. The lesson seems to be that foreign influence that is cut-off is very different from foreign influence that is limited and controlled.

Another valuable chapter to the humanist student is Chapter 10- The Lama and the Prince, dealing with the Dalai Lama and China’s occupation of Tibet – what Brook describes as China’s act to “reimpose its active sovereignty over the territories of the old Great State.

Despite being reasonably attentive readers, we found it difficult to locate where Brook differentiates a “Great State” from an “Empire”. Clearly in certain parts of Western culture, the words empire and imperialism carry a great deal of baggage. The words bring up notions of militarily-strong foreign control and influence of local populations.

In the book’s introduction, Brook argues that Great State is an “Inner Asian concept. It is not a term that Chinese today will recognize, let alone accept, but it has hugely shaped Chinese Political thinking since the time of Khubalai Khan. Before the 1270s China was a dynastic state in which one family monopolized power at the center because, so the theory went, Heaven had given that family an exclusive mandate to rule.. What changed with the coming of the Mongols was the deeper conviction that this mandate entailed the right to extend the authority of that one family out across the entire world, incorporating all existing politics and rulers into a system in which military power is paramount. This was the Great State, and this is what China became.

The book is well-worth the time spent.

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of https://thetyee.ca/Culture/2020/03/25/China-Pandemics-UBC-Expert/
  2. https://www.harpercollins.com/blogs/authors/timothy-brook
  3. https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2019/09/myth-chinas-great-state
  4. https://history.ubc.ca/profile/tim-brook/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Books: Kingdom of Frost

An award-winning science journalist explains what Earth’s frozen waters tell us about the past, present, and future of humanity.

Bjørn Vassnes is one of Norway’s leading science journalists and has won several national and international prizes. He has a regular science column in the newspaper Klassekampen, and has written several books for a popular science audience. He was also part of a popular Science TV-show “Schrødingers Katt” on NRK. Vassnes has been around the science journalism block. Having grown up in the Norwegian Arctic, one of the coldest places on Earth, he also knows his way around cold weather.

Vassnes frostens rike hd

The cryosphere, what Vassnes calls “The Kingdom of Frost“, is a term for those parts of the earth that contain frozen water; like snow, ice, permafrost, glaciers and even a phenomenon known as invisible glaciers. It’s a part of the world that is close to the hearts of Norwegians like Vassnes or Canadians like us at humanistfreedoms.com. The book benefits from a consciously Norwegian outlook.

Vassness explores how this shrinking frozen zone, from the peaks of mountains to the north and south poles, is still vital to human survival. It supplies us with water and helps cool cities from Bangladesh to Bangkok, Los Angeles to Oslo.

To tell the story of how the cryosphere helped to start life on Earth, Vassnes draws on cultural history and anthropology. He also offers a view on what will happen if it all disappears. Vassnes surveys climate research, biology, cultural history and archaeology. Weather you live in it or not, The Kingdom of Frost affects all life on earth.

Plus there are important summaries of recent climate science such as methane bubbles and explosions in Northern tundra and deep concerns about the potential effects of permafrost thaw. Vassness cites work by Ted Schuur which suggests that the upper 10 feet of permafrost, which contains more carbon than is currently present in the atmosphere, may thaw over the next 100 years.

Kingdom of Frost didn’t take us long to read as it is a slim (less than 200-pages) book and the English-language version was nicely translated by Lucy Moffatt.

Kingdom of Frost

Citations and References

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of https://www.dagsavisen.no/kultur/nekter-a-svare-om-margbok-1.283400
  2. https://greystonebooks.com/products/kingdom-of-frost
  3. https://norla.no/nb/books/927-the-kingdom-of-frost
  4. https://moffatt-editorial.com/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Listen: “the laborious, collaborative and sometimes poorly-compensated work of humanist scholarship between the Renaissance and Enlightenment”

From Francis Bacon to Barack Obama, thinkers and political leaders have denounced humanists as obsessively bookish and allergic to labor. In this celebration of bookmaking in all its messy and intricate detail, renowned historian Anthony Grafton invites us to see the scholars of early modern Europe as diligent workers.

That’s how the publishers of Anthony Grafton’s new book, Inky Fingers: The Making of Books in Early Modern Europe (Harvard University Press: June 2020) begin their exposition of the book.

To begin our approach to the labours of book-making, we turned first to a podcast! While that may be seem ironic, the rapid growth of podcasts as a transmission vehicle for information is fascinating to consider in light of the subject. Surely there is plenty of messy, intricate detail involved in producing any one of the thousands upon thousands of podcasts currently available.

In Theory is the podcast of the Journal of the History of Ideas Blog. On September 1, 2020 In Theory’s co-host Simon Brown interviewed Grafton on themes to be found in the book.

Grafton is the Henry Putnam Professor of History and the Humanities at Princeton University and has taught both undergraduate and graduate courses on art, magic, and science in Renaissance Europe and on the history of books and readers as well as the history components of Princeton’ four-course undergraduate introduction to Western civilization offered by the Program in Humanistic Studies.

Grafton’s special interests lie in the cultural history of Renaissance Europe, the history of books and readers, the history of scholarship and education in the West from Antiquity to the 19th century, and the history of science from Antiquity to the Renaissance.

Included in Grafton’s many publishing achievements are several “intellectual biographies” of a variety of original and influential thinkers such as a 15th-century Italian humanist, architect, and town planner, Leon Battista Alberti; a 16th-century Italian astrologer and medical man, Girolamo Cardano; and a 16th-century French classicist and historian, Joseph Scaliger.

Over the course of the In Theory podcast interview, Grafton discussed the various kinds of human labour involved in producing the works of scholarship, taking pains to contrast it with previous views of scholarship which relied on “divination” as the explanation of how scholarship worked. In considering textual divination Grafton suggested, “scholars realized that all that divination means is that you’re simultaneously applying many different kinds of knowledge: lexical, grammatical, stylistic, knowledge of the use of the author, knowledge of historical context, knowledge of the development of the language, knowledge of meter if its verse. All of those things are being focused down on a single passage and that’s what enables you to divine the answer. There’s nothing miraculous about it. It’s a highly interdisciplinary and remarkably erudite process.

At a little over forty-seven minutes in length, the interview is worth the listen. It is a reminder of the often-ignored but still necessary supportive contributions made by people that enable academic or intellectual output – whether that work is by a printing press operator, a scribe or a sound technician.

It also offers a vantage point to consider the subtle ways that systemic faithism has been, and arguably continues to be, deeply engaged in obscuring or appropriating human endeavour.

Finally, a listen to the interview suggests that Grafton’s book will provide valuable and interesting insights into humanistic scholarship. According to the publisher’s website, “Meticulously illuminating the physical and mental labors that fostered the golden age of the book—the compiling of notebooks, copying and correction of texts and proofs, preparation of copy—he shows us how the exertions of scholars shaped influential books, treatises, and forgeries. Inky Fingers ranges widely, tracing the transformation of humanistic approaches to texts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and examining the simultaneously sustaining and constraining effects of theological polemics on sixteenth-century scholars. Grafton draws new connections between humanistic traditions and intellectual innovations, textual learning and craft knowledge, manuscript and print. Above all, Grafton makes clear that the nitty-gritty of bookmaking has had a profound impact on the history of ideas—that the life of the mind depends on the work of the hands.


The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.


Sources, Citations and References

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of: https://www.unibas.ch/de/Aktuell/News/Uni-Agenda/Anthony-Grafton-haelt-Basel-History-Lecture-2018.html
  2. https://history.princeton.edu/people/anthony-grafton
  3. https://soundcloud.com/jhi-blog/inky-laborious-humanism-simon-brown-interviews-anthony-grafton
  4. https://jhiblog.org/2020/08/31/in-theory-simon-brown-interviews-anthony-grafton-on-the-labor-of-humanist-scholarship/
  5. https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674237179

Little Book of Humanism

A timely new book by Humanists UK President Alice Roberts and Chief Executive Andrew Copson is to offer universal lessons on finding meaning, purpose, and joy in our ever more uncertain world.

The Little Book of Humanism, published on 27 August, shares over two thousand years of humanist wisdom through an uplifting collection of illustrations, stories, quotes, and meditations on how to live an ethical and fulfilling life, grounded in reason and humanity. The book quotes everyone from ancient philosophers like Epicurus and Mencius, through to contemporary humanist sources of inspiration such as Frozen and The Good Place actor Kristen Bell, the novelists Zadie Smith and Margaret Atwood, and the playwright and poet Wole Soyinka.

It examines how humanity came to be, our unique place in the world, and why humanists reject religious explanations, before offering reflections on how to be good, how to live well, and how to think clearly. It emphasises the need to celebrate diversity and promote equality and why we should rely on science for the answers to many of life’s most important questions. Finally, it offers some particularly timely reflections on death and dealing with loss. It does all of this whilst drawing upon a cornucopia of humanist thought from many of the world’s greatest thinkers, accompanied by beautiful original illustrations.

Welcoming the publication of their book, authors Andrew Copson and Alice Roberts commented: ‘In the past, people were more likely to turn to religion during times of crisis than look to other sources of guidance. But there has always been an alternative – the humanist approach – and in today’s UK, where most people are now not religious, that alternative is more relevant than ever.  We hope this book offers timely sources of guidance, comfort, and inspiration, in a way that has a positive and lasting impact on people’s lives.’

The book can be purchased from Waterstones, Amazon, Blackwell’s, and all good bookshops, with both hardback and eBook available at £7.99 RRP. It is published by Piatkus Books, an imprint of Little, Brown. Author royalties from the book go towards supporting the work of Humanists UK.

About the authors

Professor Alice Roberts is a writer, broadcaster, and President of Humanists UK. She is the bestselling author of eight popular science books including Evolution: The Human Story, The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being and Tamed: Ten Species that Changed Our World. Making her television debut on Time Team in 2001, she has become one of Britain’s best-known broadcasters and has written and presented a huge range of television series for BBC2, BBC4 and Channel 4, including The Incredible Human Journey, Origins of Us and Ice Age Giants, and several Horizon programmes. Her humanist ‘mini-sermons’ on Twitter have been liked and shared many thousands of times.

Andrew Copson is the Chief Executive of Humanists UK and President of Humanists International. He has provided a humanist voice on many television and radio programmes and written on humanism for publications including The Economist, New Statesman, Guardian, Prospect, The Times and Buzzfeed. With AC Grayling, he edited the Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Humanism and his most recent book is Secularism: A Very Short Introduction.


The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Featured Photo Courtesy of: http://www.lbabooks.com/cover-reveal-the-little-book-of-humanism-by-andrew-copson-and-alice-roberts/

Books: Tom Rand’s The Case For Climate Capitalism

Tom Rand is on carbon mitigation venture capitalist, business-owner, author and speaker. He is Managing Partner of ArcTern Ventures and sits on the board of a number of clean energy companies and organizations. He also developed Planet Traveler, a low-carbon hotel project in downtown Toronto. His first book Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit (2010) was winner of the 2011 Whitepine Non-Fiction award; his second – Waking the Frog – became a bestseller in Spring 2014; his third – Climate Capitalism: Economic Solutions for a Planet in Crisis is out now.

And yeah, it is worth reading.

Particularly as federal elections in both Canada and the United States seem to be rapidly approaching. And particularly if you could benefit from a pragmatic, mostly-positive and capable exposition of the economics and politics of carbon pricing. It is in the title, after all – Climate Capitalism.

First, – about pragmatism. It is rare to see the word so fondly,

Buy The Case For Climate Capitalism by Tom Rand With Free ...

deliberately and repeatedly used in books dealing with climate change, economics or politics. Perhaps it should not be a surprise since Rand holds a BSc in electrical engineering (U of Waterloo), an MSc in philosophy of science (University of London and LSE) and an MA and PhD in philosophy (U of Toronto). Rand is, no doubt, fully up-to-speed regarding the origins of pragmatism with Charles Sanders Peirce and all that this origin implies.

Indeed, Rand seems to be fully up-to-speed on all areas of the book: economics, climate science, politics, business ownership and being a thinking human faced with a planet with finite resources and a seriously-damaged environment. In the preface, Rand, a new father, states, “The prospect of hitting catastrophic tipping points in the next few decades bring more than sleepless nights – it makes having a kid a complex moral question. First, there’s the issue of bringing yet another person to our profligate emissions party. It’s uncomfortable (to put it mildly) to say climate change is as much a population issue as an environmental one. Having kids is no longer as morally benign – or even good – as it was in previous generations.

Rand’s thesis is that carbon pricing is a good thing. That the planet needs it. And even if – all of us from economists and politicians and from billionaires to minimum-wage earners – we manage to take the pragmatic step of implementing sensible carbon pricing strategies, humans are still in for some tough environmental situations in the future. That sounds a bit glum – but the book’s subtitle is Economic Solutions for a Planet in Crisis. Rand delivers information that can be put to use now and in the near-future. Overall, Rand’s 200+ page book comes across as having an appropriate attitude.

Not coincidentally, having the an appropriate attitude is a perspective that Rand seems to want to recommend. Addressing climate change, and we might emphasize global population issues, are an issue of attitude. Rand’s book approaches the topic with a pragmatic, solutions-oriented and appropriate attitude. Rand says that climate capitalism is “about coordinating an accelerated response across the globe. How we might move from the level of independent (often bickering) sovereign political entities to something larger…” Note that Rand includes individuals in his consideration of “sovereign political entities” and sovereignty which he defines as making one’s own rules in one’s own interests.


Recommended Soundtrack for this post and reading Tom Rand’s The Case For Climate Capitalism.

Wondering about politicians who may be open to investigating solutions to a planet in crisis? Have a look at our page on Andrew West – one of several contenders for the leadership of the Green Party of Canada in 2020.


Citations and References

  1. https://www.tomrand.net/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pragmatism

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Featured Photo Courtesy of https://www.tomrand.net/

Books: Friendship by Lydia Denworth

Lydia Denworth is a Brooklyn-based science journalist whose work is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. A contributing writer for Scientific American and Psychology Today, she has also written for the Atlantic and the New York Times.

Friendship: The Evolution, Biology and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond was published by WW Norton & Company in 2020. Just under 300 pages in the hardcover, it fits snugly in the contemporary genre of popular science journalism. Denworth’s tone, like the book itself, is neither too-heavy nor too light.

The book’s introduction is titled “A New Science” – setting up Denworth’s stance for the book. Denworth asserts that science has, until recently, mostly ignored the question of friendship’s purpose. The book, Denworth states, is intended to “consider the visible and the invisible aspects of friendship.

NBIC Award - Friendship 3D

As is typical of popular science journalism, Denworth spends considerable time recounting the stories of scientists past and present and the studies that they’ve undertaken. That should not be taken as a criticism but as a compliment as the stories of researchers ought to be more-widely shared and discussed. Heroes are, after all built in the telling. In the first chapter of the book, titled “Fierce Attachment”, Denworth suggests that the new science of studying friendship was seeded in 1954 with the meeting of John Bowlby and Robert Hinde when they spoke at a meeting of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association. From the humanistfreedoms.com perspective – this is an excellent place to begin. Bowlby was an ethologist (ethology is the study of animal behaviour) whose final work (published posthumously) was a biography of Charles Darwin. Hinde was a developmental psychologist and zoologist who counted Jane Goodall as one of his students. Hinde had written that “‘it does not matter too much what you believe, for many different cultural beliefs bring meaning to believers’ lives (though differences in religious beliefs can lead to horrendous conflict). But what does matter is how people behave.”

Whether by intention or not, the influence of developmental psychology (and thereby the above-noted protagonists) is present throughout the book. The book’s chapters tend to progress through the developmental stages of life from newborns and infants early on to older adults at the back of the book. In the second chapter, Denworth introduces new work being completed to study the brains of babies and infants using fNIRS ( functional near-infrared spectroscopy) explaining that this technology uses light to study brain activity in people too young and sensitive to bombard in an MRI machine. Denworth’s exposure to this work leads her to the conclusion that human “experience matters on the order of minutes, not months.

In the third chapter, Denworth explores the influence of friendship on health. In the healthcare setting, this concept may often be identified as social determinants of health and is an area that continues to see increased attention, particularly in elder care. Social determinants of health include a person’s social networks and engagement but there are humanist-oriented initiatives to widen that to consider the delivery of health-care itself. Consider The Gold Foundation’s Tell Me More program which attempts to build better connections and bonds between healthcare providers and their patients. Stated more simply – growing friendship between providers and patients.

The middle chapters deal with issues of youth and early adulthood. There’s a chapter titled “Middle School is about Lunch” and another “Digital Friendship”. Each chapter explores recent studies of friendship relevant to the stage of life. Chapter Five, “A Deep Wish for Friendship” includes noteworthy observations of primatology and animal friendship which acts as an interesting challenge to concepts of human exceptionalism. Yes, animals do have the capacity of friendship.

In the sixth chapter, “Digital Friendship”, Denworth reviews the work of “an affable Canadian who runs the Social Media Lab at Stanford“, Jeff Hancock. Hancock completed a meta-analysis of the effects of social media on measures of well-being from 226 papers over 12 years. Without giving away the plot, Hancock’s analysis resulted in six categories of effect: depression, anxiety, loneliness, eudemonic happiness, relationships and the delightfully final category of hedonic happiness (happiness of the moment).

Borrowing from Hancock’s categories, reading Friendship: The Evolution, Biology and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond was a genuine hedonic happiness of its own. It is a reminder that friendship (and so many other experiences in a human life ) does not need to be a mystery. “Our social lives have a backstory,” Denworth writes, “and it’s time that story was told.

Citations and References

  1. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/45894128-friendship
  2. https://lydiadenworth.com/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Featured Photo Courtesy of https://lydiadenworth.com/

Event: Webinar Book Series: Unveiled by Yasmine Mohammed

Sunday May 17, 2020 – 3 pm EST

Register for the Event

Unveiled

book cover_edited.png

With Yasmine Mohammed

Canadian human rights activist, Yasmine Mohammed, advocates for the rights of women living within Islamic majority countries, as well as those who struggle under religious fundamentalism.

Her book, Unveiled, is a memoir/polemic that recalls her experiences growing up in a fundamentalist Islamic household and her arranged marriage to a member of Al-Qaeda. In it, she sheds light on the religious trauma that so many women still today are unable to discuss.

Yasmine Mohammed is an activist, writer, college instructor and the founder of Free Hearts Free Minds, an organization that provides psychological support for freethinkers living within Muslim majority countries, where the State-sanctioned punishment for leaving Islam is death.

To learn more about Free Hearts Free Minds visit www.freeheartsfreeminds.com.

References and Resources

  1. https://centerforinquiry.org/speakers/mohammed_yasmine/

Book Review: There is No Difference by Peter Best

According to the back cover of his book and his website, Peter Best is “a lawyer who has practiced law in Sudbury, Ontario for 43 years. Raised in nearby Espanola, favored with lifelong personal and professional relationships with indigenous Canadians, he brings a personal, literary and historical perspective to the greatest social crisis experienced by Canada today- the perilous state of its original peoples.”

What is the book? The long-form version of the title probably acts as the best summary of its contents: There Is No Difference: An Argument for the Abolition of the Indian Reserve System and Special Race-based Laws and Entitlements for Canada’s Indians. In a regular book review, we might investigate the overt arguments and contents of the book. Certainly the title contains enough potential for drama and controversy to whet almost any intellectual appetite. But that’s not what we’re going to do here. What we’re going to do, instead is feature, an underlying theme presented by Mr. Best.

On page three, he writes that when he was growing up in Espanola, “there was a sense that old religious and ethnic prejudices were hollowing out and being overcome, and that increasing social unity and equality was happening.” It is the first of many hints (and outright declarations) of an underlying theme of humanism to be found in the book. This is what we will consider.

How many books are currently published with an overt declaration of humanism or humanist values? More specifically, how many books are written about contemporary issues wherein humanist-based positions are asserted, explained, referenced and documented? These aren’t questions with precise answers. These are startled observations of an avid reader. I haven’t seen humanism asserted and affirmed so clearly and frequently in a long time. Water for the thirsty.

On page seven, Best writes…”the humanist assumptions were ones that emanated from the confident, busy, properous people we were then. They seemed to be shared by everyone, right to the political and economic top of the country. They highlighted what a civilized, progressive, ‘ideals in action’ society Canada was becoming.

The book is written as a series of essays which, across 700+ pages, delves the matter outlined in the title in pains-taking detail. Frequently Best grapples head-on with various ideologies and asserts arguments and positions contrary to those from Canadian intellectual and political “elites” (Best’s term). The book is thoroughly referenced and widely sourced. The overall theme is that “somewhere along the way, liberal, humanist aspirations once common to our entire country have ceded to various forms of petty and chauvinistic ideological tribalisms and, with respect to our Indian peoples, to actual racial tribalism.”

And then again, Best asserts that he believes “that the vast majority of Canadians profoundly disagree with this trend towards further legal and social racial apartness between Indian and non-Indian Canadians. They want our humanist values – with their emphasis on equality and the rights of the individual over the rights of any racial group – respected, maintained and promulgated in all areas of society….why this rejection of 200 years of enlightenment thinking?

The point to be made is not that all of Best’s arguments represent a clear, consistent and authoritative humanist approach to the topic. It seems highly unlikely, not to mention undesirable, that a singular humanist outlook should be asserted on any substantive matter. Nor should this article be read as an endorsement of every argument Best makes. Instead, Best is here approved on the basis of making an attempt to present a considered humanist-principled perspective on a hot and fraught topic.

Best makes an argument about his chosen subject that may be stated about any number of contemporary issues: “this issue is being driven and dictated by…a minority elitist theory of democracy, where on an issue of this importance the majority is being asked for and being offered no say.

Peter Best has asserted his version of a humanist-informed opinion. More humanists need to step forward to assert similarly cogent humanist perspectives on whatever contemporary issue seems to require the attention.