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Film: Immortality or Bust

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

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Photo credit: istockphoto.com

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

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

Immortality or Bust Trailer

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

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

A Bit of History

According to research by Peter Harrison and Joseph Wolniak that

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

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

A Bit of Fun

Listen: Beliefs Podcast with Susan Jacoby

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

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

On the podcast, Jaboby discusses secularism, humanism and

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

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

Film: Selvmordsturisten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few good places to start include:

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

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

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

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

Image Courtesy of Pegasos Swiss Association

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

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

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

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

Philosophy Now Issue 138: The Religion & Society Issue

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

Einstein & The Rebbe

Ronald Pies sets up a dialogue between science and religion.

Christianity & Homosexuality

Rick Aaron argues that religious recommendations are sometimes unrealistic.

Beyond Humanism?

Robert Griffiths argues that humanist ethics has significant limitations.

Suffering & the Media

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

Buddha Travels West

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

Philosophy & The Creation of the Individual

Mark Vernon chronicles a revolution in consciousness.

The Character Gap by Christian B. Miller

Massimo Pigliucci is frank about human character.

Issue 138

Visit the Philosophy Now website.

Featured Image courtesy of Philosophy Now.

Student Essay Contest

Humanist Canada

The national voices for English and French Humanism in Canada, Humanist Canada and Association humaniste du Québec, respectively, will host another essay contest this year. The theme for the Humanist Canada Essay Contest this year is “Religion and Humanism in Education” in a Canadian context. We welcome Canadian high school students to submit their strongest ideas, thoughts, and arguments to us.

The essay contest provides an opportunity for students to think critically on Humanism in Canadian society. The first place prize in each language will be $1,000. Deadline is September 30th, 2020 at 11:59pm Eastern Time. There are no predefined topics. However, the bounds of the content should be relevant to the humanist community and its values across Canada.

“We are once again pleased to be able to host this forum for young writers interested in humanist themes,” Dr. Lloyd Robertson, Vice-President of Humanist Canada, stated, “This forum promotes a defence of science and reason from those who would attack it,” The full information for the essay contest can be found on the Humanist Canada website.

Chair of the Humanist Canada Essay Contest Committee and Member of the Board of Directors of Humanist Canada, Scott Jacobsen, said, “This is a rare opportunity for the presentation of the best and brightest young freethought minds the country’s high schools have to offer, in a formal academic-based competition with written essays. Any inculcation of values comes from the passing of them and providing a space for the next generations to evaluate, present, and live them. The Humanist Canada Essay Contest is one opportunity for young freethinkers to shine.”

About Humanist Canada

Humanist Canada (HC) promotes education and awareness of humanism. We are a resource for secular groups and causes across Canada. We support the advancement of scientific, academic, medical, and human rights efforts.

Contact information

Lloyd Robertson
Vice-President, Humanist Canada

Vice-president@humanistcanada.ca

Humanist Canada Essay Contest Link

Dr. Richard Thain Versus

We consider this matter closed.

On September 20, 2014, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights was opened to the public. Located in the City of Winnipeg, one of the Museum’s guiding principles is to inspire human rights, reflection and dialogue. It is a principle that ought, perhaps, to have been given closer attention when Dr. Richard Thain was advised that his interest to place a series of advertisements on the City of Winnipeg’s buses was rejected.

Dr. Thain had planned to advertise his opposition to the public funding of Catholic school systems in Canada. His idea was to leverage local and national media coverage of the museum’s grand opening to bring attention to his position on this issue. Thain worked with a professional advertising designer to develop a series of simple and elegant bus-ads. The theme of the ads was that the system of public funding for Catholic schools in Ontario is a human rights disgrace. The ads contained no images, words or phrases that could reasonably be considered offensive. The only contained a message that some people might disagree with.

Thain grounded his views with a position taken in 1999 by the United Nations Human Rights Committee when indicating that the provision of funding to Catholic school systems while simultaneously denying it to all other religious groups is discriminatory. Thain hoped to inspire intelligent, reasonable public discourse on this long-standing issue.

Thain contacted Pattison Outdoor Advertising, the firm responsible for the management of the City of Winnipeg’s bus advertising at the time, to gain access to advertising space. During the back-and-forth of price negotiations and content review, he began to understand that that some of the “higher-ups” did not agree with his views and planned to put an end to his campaign. It was then that he received a letter advising that his ads would not appear via the Winnipeg Transit system and that he would not be provided an explanation of why his ads had been blocked. No one from the City of Winnipeg called him as he had requested.

Thain says that he received a letter from the City of Winnipeg’s agent, one of Canada’s most powerful and influential advertising agencies, that contained a five-word sentence which altered his view of human rights in ways that he could not have imagined. The sentence read, “We consider this matter closed.”

No dialogue. No reflection. No right to self-expression.

Thain’s initial shock soon passed and he was struck by the need to confront a deep and worrisome dilemma. What do you when authorities tell you to go away? How do you fight City Hall? Thain decided that the matter was not closed. He decided to sue the City of Winnipeg and Pattison Outdoor Advertising.

In the summer of 2017, Thain procured Winnipeg-based legal counsel, Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP to represent him in his response. Thain believes that he has been denied his charter right to freedom of expression. and has launched a legal suit against the City of Winnipeg and Pattison Outdoor Advertising.  The parties in the suite are set for an examination for discovery on January 30 & 31. 2020 – 62 months since the attempted advertising campaign. An examination for discovery process is intended to help all parties in a law suit find out about the other side’s case. Generally the idea is for each party to find out what the other parties have to say about the matters contained in the lawsuit, to see whether there are areas of agreement and to try to obtain admissions which could be used during a trial.

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