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.....CENTRAL HUMANISM HUB continued

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1. Centralisation (first meaning) - affinity and local responsibility

Central humanism encourages people to think for themselves and, whenever possible, to take responsibility for their own actions. Furthermore, this philosophy embraces a version of the popular maxim that charity begins at home. Our responsibilities lie firstly with ourselves and our families, and then tend to recede through the wider circles of friends, country, fellow human beings, animals....* Not only would it be unreasonable to expect people to set their priorities in a substantially different order, but the consequences of their doing so would undoubtedly be ruinous. The concepts of person, family and nation, as we understand them now, would be destroyed. And there are very good reasons for defending these concepts and the values they represent. People are, and should be, protective of their own security, the security of their loved ones and the nation which affords them that security. One might also say: it is natural for people to try to live within their own comfort zones, though many are condemned to lives of hell. This outlook is one of the defining features of Central Humanism. "Centralisation", in this context, means beginning with oneself (where else could one possibly begin?). Obviously it is built into this idea of centralisation that we, as individuals, treat other individuals with varying degrees of concern. But although this reflects the norm of virtually every stable society, Central Humanism acknowledges that in Australia and other developed nations at the present time this concern tends to be too centred, often overlooking the basic rights of millions of people (as well as the rights of other sentient creatures) throughout the world.

*There are some significant omissions from this list, in particular a couple of r-words which (in Australia and many other countries) are so highly politically sensitive that some explanation defending their inclusion is first required.   #7, #9, #10 and some of the comments in Central Humanism Footnotes might be helpful.

The root of this outlook is probably genetic, and can be explained evolutionally in terms of survival value for the species, or perhaps psychologically in terms of the natural empathy people have with other creatures, especially other human beings and especially those closest to them (see #14 and especially #15). Central Humanism is also "centred" in several other ways, outlined below (#12 - #15), but most of these concepts probably have their roots in this same biological mechanism (see #15. One could be forgiven for thinking that the reference to various "centres" makes this account look more than a little wobbly, and perhaps it is, or perhaps it is just that the name "Central Humanism" was badly chosen.)

This attitude is not a form of egoism. Far from it: if people think clearly and reponsibly they should find their interests will in fact extend to those wider horizons. Still, one of the dangers of centralisation is that those who pursue it may become so involved in their inner circle of cameradery that they never get around to confronting the really important issues in life. Centralisation is a starting point, not a goal, and must never be allowed to collapse into egocentricism and narrow-mindedness.


2. Humanism - another meaning

Humanism is not the same as humanitarianism, philanthropy or altruism. While many humanists do identify with these principles, they can hardly ignore the undeniable fact that the human species is far and away the world's greatest pest, and human beings are their own worst enemy. The world's most serious problem is that it is home to far too many people - and our numbers are increasing at an alarming speed. If nothing is done to halt (if not reverse) the population explosion, in the near future we will be like rats at each others throats, if we have not first succeeded in poisoning ourselves in our own effluent. Then goodbye to altruism, and goodbye to everything that is special about human beings. You could put it like this: Any future human being is a pest, but once born it is normally a little miracle to be venerated. (See #21 and Footnote 5).

Humanist concerns extend not only to human interests at large, but to the development of personal character, especially one's own character. As applied to oneself, humanism means being human - trying to maintain one's humanity and if possible to improve it. Central Humanism concurs with the view that, despite their close resemblance to many other animals (see #12), most human beings possess remarkably intricate personalities - elaborate, distinctive, yet changeable, and embodying some "typically human", if not unique, attributes which it is in their interest to develop. Given the opportunity, individuals should strive for goals that lift them above mediocrity. What these attributes are is contentious - they might include rationality, for example, or language, knowledge, compassion, courage, curiosity, artistry, enterprise, sociability, foresight, a sense of humour or "moral conscience" (see #3, #14 and Footnote 18). But there is one feature of humanism (in this sense) that is essential to Central Humanism, namely, that individuals must shoulder the responsibility of being human themselves, provided there are no conditions preventing them from doing so. People must take responsibility for their own behaviour. As a broad (and perhaps not altogether fair) generalisation, this implies that those who put their trust in gods, dictators, socialism and other authoritarian dogmas that undermine self-responsibility or debase the human condition deny themselves a fundamental human quality, preferring instead to surrender to the laws of savagery, oppression, ignorance and despair. This implies in turn that Central Humanism is not without political bias.

"Evil is the condition of an uneducated society"

The key to the humanist way of life is a broad education. A poor education or one that is geared solely to future employment or the development of a specific talent will not provide the kind of diversity – in knowledge and wisdom, in rational thought and inquisitiveness, in grace and artistry and in social conscientiousness and empathy – which are the marks of a civilized human being. But above all, a proper education gives one a sense of proportion:  humanists and theists tend to be alike in getting their priorities muddled and in over-glorifying the status of man in the universe - as a biophysical entity, as a sensitive, caring creature and/or as a bastion of intelligence. Currently education (like diet and religion!) depends very much on country and culture, and only partly on the particular educational institutions one has attended. From the individual's perspective, a sound education demands an all-encompassing sense of curiosity backed by the ability to question and criticise, but these are traits that still receive little encouragement except in some western societies.
In more specific terms, as a bare minimum, people could be regarded as uneducated if they have:
      not thrown off the shackles of religion
      not learned anything from the lessons of history and ecology
      not found out how their food is produced and reacted accordingly

It is an unfortunate hang-up of many cultures that the primary purpose of life is procreation. As a philosophy of life this is animalistic, unsustainable and utterly desolate, leaving no room for personal development. It also spells bad news for the future of the planet.

An obvious implication of the idea that people can improve their humanity is that there are varying degrees of humanity. The significance of this depends on whether "desirable" qualities such as those mentioned above are human in some fundamental sense, or whether we are just mincing words by referring to them as "human". From an ethical standpoint, the concepts of education, self-improvement and elevated degrees of sophistication raise many questions. In particular, they imply the existence of certain values and of a broad partition of human interests between excellence and trash. This might well be "right" (at least from an intellectual's point of view), but another implication is that most people actually prefer excellence to trash, and this is almost certainly false. The combined effect of these two conjectures is that the values of the majority are inferior to those of a more enlightened minority, and this could be interpreted as implying that the former group of people are inferior to the latter, on some cardinal but seemingly artificial scale of human-ness. While it might be difficult to justify so bold a presumption, it would also be difficult to deny that it contains at least a small grain of truth. If it were not the case that humanity could be improved, there would be no value in the idea of progress nor any limit to the depths of depravity into which humanity could sink. The human enterprise is very obviously concerned with promoting wellbeing and progress and with fighting savagery, ignorance, pain and poverty. There is no intelligible philosophy of life, humanist or otherwise, that can survive in an atmosphere that is so relativistic as to ignore these basic human ideals. (Also see #5 and #17.)

Besides, it is perfectly clear that society reveres some human beings and despises others, while tolerating and often relishing the incredible diversity of interests, strengths and weaknesses that shape the vast majority. Some are placed on pedestals, others put behind bars, and the rest of us just keep trudging along the middle of the road. To the best of the best the State awards knighthoods, the Church sainthoods, while the worst are excluded from society altogether. It is true that these days there's an increasing tendency to bestow honours for accomplishment in a specific field (such as cricket or pop music!) instead of complying with more traditional stereotypes of nobility and nationalism, but this diversification only underlines the fact that the real objects of our admiration are the human qualities that led to these achievements rather than the specific exploits themselves. And there can be no doubt that all of us make judgements of a similar kind throughout life - almost daily we find ouselves weighing up people as human beings, often using nothing but "intuition", and reacting to them according to what we find or imagine there. (See #7 and Footnote 18.)

In poor countries environmental, social and political factors seriously hinder the development of individuals as humans, and it is here that the humanitarianism of people in richer countries is especially pertinent. Clearly, basic physical needs and security, the fundamental components of human welfare, must take precedence over educational and aesthetic aspirations. To put it crudely, animal needs come before human needs, and this is an inescapable precept of Central Humanism - if you like, another way in which the philosophy is "centred", and a primary reason why humanists everywhere support the relief of people caught up in natural disasters or born into third world poverty. But even in the developed world there are all kinds of social pressures that make it difficult to maintain one's humanity - impossible, if these pressures are written into the laws of the country. Central Humanism, more than most other ethical agendas, tends to lay much of the blame for poor ethical values on society itself rather than on the inherent failings of individuals. The conventional wisdom sees ethics as being chiefly occupied with the question: how should individuals behave in order to maintain the integrity of society? Central Humanism is a double-sided coin. It is equally concerned with the question: how should a society behave in order to maintain the integrity of individuals? (see Footnote 11). Consequently social reform is a high priority interest.

The most pressing ethical issues of our time, however, are global and national and have little to do with relations among individuals. Ethics today more than ever concerns the behaviour of states and international bodies, i.e in particular, of governments and the United Nations. On the whole their behaviour is abysmal, marked by poor judgment, the most unspeakable negligence, injustice, unnecessary aggression, corruption and self-interest, encroaching authoritarianism, appalling deception and lack of foresight, and often partly driven by nonsensical philosophies. Humanists urgently need to find ways of bringing pressure on governments to rectify these deficiencies. However, they could also achieve much by being more aware of the impact of their own behaviour and lifestyle on the world at large, including world population, climate, environment and the lives of other people and animals (see #3, #12, #21).


3. Transcendentalism

This is the capacity of a person to show concern for matters that apparently don't affect his or her own wellbeing, such as the plight of people in faraway places or the condition of our planet after our lifetime. Secular humanists offer no satisfactory account of why they tend to behave transcendentally rather than egoistically - in which case they would not be "humanists" in the ordinary sense of this word. Central Humanism values the transcendental attitude and seeks to explain its ethical basis.

Note: This special usage of the word “transcendental” has no connection with mystical or Kantian usages.

In theory, transcendentalism implies the maxim: Everything for its own sake. Anything done for people is for the good or pleasure of those people, not for oneself, not for the Party, not for God. Anything done for inanimate objects is for the undisturbed survival of those objects. On the face of it, this makes little sense. It seems that “transcendental” behaviour is either ultimately for oneself, or it is due to uncontrollable biological urges (i.e. purely mechanical), or the universe is a stranger place than we think. Humanists (as opposed to mere atheists and mere rationalists) are bound to keep their options open on this dilemma: they must realise that either they are egoists (no matter how deeply or distantly), or their behaviour is caused by physical factors beyond their control (or which they don’t know how to control), or mind, life and everything are not what they seem. Most thoughtful people find the first two options objectionable – and that’s why many philosophers go hunting for other explanations. (Also see #6.)

Transcendentalism is not the same as altruism (in the strong sense), as it is not necessarily directed towards people, nor does it entail putting others before oneself. A result of combining transcendentalism with non-altruism is that Central Humanism does not necessarily regard every human being - or even humanity in general - as the be-all and end-all of everything. That is, it would not be inconsistent to be a Central Humanist yet sceptical about the human race! Most humanists, for example, are speciesist. But the greeny who is prepared to ram a Japanese whaler or the conservationist in Africa who would shoot the poacher to save the elephant might well subscribe to our philosophy.

Lest we forget.....

As well as the giving or outgoing aspect, transcendentalism has a receiving aspect which in some ways is just as important. We all have an inconceivably deep indebtedness to other human beings, especially those who have endured, and may well have been consumed by, the horrors of war. Not only shall we never know them, usually we do not even know who they are. (Incidentally, while we Australians generally hold our "diggers" and war veterans in high esteem, some of our community, notably the trade unions, have on occasion treated them very badly, even when they are engaged in battle. If nothing else, this says a lot about the character of the unions.)

Anyone feel like meditating? Try watching this World Statistics Clock for ten minutes instead.

4. An open society

An open society does not mean one that opens its doors to anything and anybody. It means a society of open-minded, free-thinking individuals (for more information on what constitutes free thought see Wotser Proper Filossofer? - Principal requirements and concerns of Proper philosophy: 1 and 7).

THE FIVE GREAT FREEDOMS

THRIFT - Freedom from hunger, disease and poverty
PEACE - Freedom from war and crime
LIBERTY - Freedom from political and institutional
                   oppression and censure;  freedom of
                   expression
DIGNITY - Freedom from personal abuse and
                  intrusion
INTEGRITY - Freedom from delusion, misinformation,
                       supernaturalism and cultural hang-ups

An open society also embraces "freedom" in a more conventional sense - a pre-requisite, as it were, for open mindedness. Open societies are peopled by individuals who are free from hunger, fear and stress. Their households flow with both water and love, their streets can be walked at night, their homes and shops need no barricades of steel, their military is minding its own business, their civilians carry no weapons, their thieves are dealt with as effectively as their smallpox, their newspapers can speak their minds but tell no lies. Open societies are unlikely to survive as such if infiltrated by elements that conflict with the ideal of freedom. One must consider not only the risks from inappropriate globalisation (see Footnote 23) and immigration policies, but also the disturbing escalation of neo-sociological humbug, media-hype etc within the society itself - not to mention the increasing trend of "democratic" governments toward authoritarianism, aggression, deception and sheer bad judgment (the current Bush administration, possibly the worst in America's history, is a prime example).

However, freedom has its downside as well as its positives. It allows people to be as cheap as chips and as wasteful of life and resources as they wish. These trends are especially noticeable in the USA, where many aspects of life have become degraded for a seeming preponderance of no-hopers. There’s more to being human than freedom.

On the question of freedom of choice it is not clear that we are “really” free at all. Although when we are fully conscious and alert we certainly feel we are able to choose our actions, and do so most of the time, there appears to be growing evidence that all brain activity has physical causes that are outside our conscious control. Mental experience, both willed and passive, is merely a kind of afterglow of events in the brain. Should this turn out to be true, the normal concept of morality would be overturned, as there would then be little if any justification for attributing right and wrong behaviour to specific, conscious individuals. This prospect, however, is not reflected in the current ethical code of Central Humanism or of any other humanist philosophy.


5. The equality myth

"The only thing people really have in common is that they are all going to die" - Bob Dylan

Some humanists apparently still believe in the innate "equality" of all human beings. In reality, however, there are no ethically or socially relevant qualities of people in respect of which they are all equal. They are not born equal, they don't have equal "rights" and opportunities, and they don't possess any inherent right to be treated as equals (see #8). How they get treated depends on the whims of you, me and the mob. (In some countries "the mob" is the police and/or the military.) It requires but a moment's reflection to realise that all this is unquestionably the actual state of affairs. However, it is one of the principal functions of an ethical social system to (at least partially) redress certain kinds of "inequality". Obviously to achieve this end society must treat individuals unequally. Fair treatment = unequal treatment (see Footnote 4).

Adopting a slightly different perspective, however, one could say there are a number of important areas in which the social system, in Australia and elsewhere, does not treat people with sufficient equality. For example, it does not give everybody equal access to the law, nor every child equal access to a high standard of education. These services are currently much too dependent on individual means (and here we are referring to differences in wealth over and above those that relate to basic human inequalities). There are certain key components of the social environment that should be available to all on equal terms, regardless of individual capabilities. In other words, to begin with there must be a level playing field, and only then can we make appropriate allowances for less privileged players.

But what is "the social environment"? Your idea of equality, in the sense of aiming to equalise the opportunities and lifestyle within a society, is always relative to your ethical and political outlook. It depends how widely you cast your net. The well-off egoist probably believes he is entitled to keep everything he has earned, and couldn't care less about anyone else. The liberal may promote "equality" within his family but is less concerned with others - scanty welfare services will take care of them well enough. The tribalist may share his wealth and resources amongst the clan, but to hell with other clans! The socialist may think all the members of the nation to which he belongs should be levelled out by heavily taxing the rich and giving to the poor (etc etc), but would not be prepared to include Angolians or Somalians in his equation. The altruist says he'd like to see all people everywhere on a similar welfare plane, but has probably not thought through either the practicality or the consequences of creating his perfect world. And none of these groups seem willing to extend their net to non-human animals. Central Humanists are neither egoists nor altruists, taking a "graded" approach consistent with the centralist principle stated in #1. All people (and some or all animals?) should have access to basic resources such as food, water, habitation, education, medical aid and protection from hostile forces, but after that people should be encouraged to accept responsibility for their own lives and the lives of their dependants. As regards the means of achieving these basic living standards, however, Central Humanism differs from present-day altruism: it advocates tackling the underlying causes of poverty, such as population growth and incompetent government (see #21 - Conclusions).

Innate equality is a myth, human beings differ from one another in many different ways, and what they make of their lives is largely their own lookout. Still, there may be one or two ethically important inherent characteristics of normal human beings that we might do well to assume are possessed by all equally, because we apparently have little evidence to the contrary. The most important of these is the capacity to suffer pain and misery. Also note, however, that this is a quality of creatures other than human beings, and that the extent to which many creatures "feel" pain is unknown and beyond guesswork (though comparison with human behaviour and structure of the nervous system might provide a guide). We seem obliged to accept that there is a gradation of sensitivity. Why, then, should we be so afraid of asking whether certain variations in human behaviour might indicate differences in susceptibility to pain and misery among individuals within the human species? (For an aside, see footnote in this travel site.)

A reasonable usage of equality occurs in the phrase "All citizens shall be afforded equal consideration under the Law" and in "This company has a policy of equal opportunity". In most circumstances, however, usages of this kind merely imply that no person should be discriminated against on the basis of irrelevant attributes. The problem is to decide when various attributes are irrelevant. The widely held opinion that certain attributes (e.g. race, gender, sexual preferences, beliefs, age) are never relevant is mistaken. But this concept of equality is nonetheless very important in the democratisation of nations whose governments have hitherto suppressed certain classes of people.

One could describe the general situation broadly as follows. There are two kinds of inequality - intrinsic difference and unequal opportunity. In attempting to provide equal opportunity in a wide range of spheres, people may need to be treated differently because of their intrinsic differences. But this raises problems because of the wide variety of kinds of intrinsic difference, some psychological and some physical; and especially because classes can often be created arbitrarily, dependent on selected characteristics by which people differ. A clear but cynical example (which will anger women the world over) can be found here. In essence it says men and women are segregated in sports because on average men have superior abilities. They are segregated because supposedly this gives women equal opportunity to compete. But in fact from an athletic point of view the male/female distinction is quite arbitrary and makes no more sense than, say, creating classes of competitors aged below and above 45 years old, or lighter and heavier than 80kg, or (in swimming) with large and small feet, or from rich and poor economic backgrounds... In sports as in many other spheres of life, people with inferior abilities in any specific field are thrown into classes so that their weakness in that field can be neutralised or rectified, either by improvement or more often by compensation.

In practice, our society tends to treat people very differently indeed, in line with their own moral outlook and social conduct. We revere some human beings and despise others, at the same time accepting the bizarre assortment of strengths and weaknesses embraced by the vast majority. Some are placed on pedestals, others are put behind bars, while the rest of us just keep on paying our taxes! Some are decorated with State honours or granted awards of distinction in various fields of endeavour; others may suffer severe financial penalties or have some of their civil rights removed. We do not suffer extreme malefactors and intractable criminals in our society. Even Australia’s leaders sometimes join in the chorus of expletives – scum, monster, ratbag, not human at all. Clearly we evaluate people for their general social and ethical competence just as we do for their competence in specific areas from football to dental surgey. We give people different social worths. On a personal level, sometimes I marvel at the talent, courage, compassion and generosity of the fine individuals surrounding me, at other times I wonder why so many of my compatriots are thieves, thugs, destructive hooligans, trouble-makers with no respect for anyone except themselves, or just fat bogan slobs (no apologies for lack of political correctness, which I abhor).

In spite of all this negativity (of which more is yet to follow in #17), I believe there remains an underlying reason for treating people as if they are "equals", that is, for treating them as if they had intrinsic rights to be treated with equal respect under the law. The reason is that every human being (if not every animal to which one might attribute consciousness) is indeed endowed with an unassailable inner sanctity, by virtue of the fact that each one of us is an island, dwelling in a universe that belongs to himself and to nobody else. A person has nothing apart from what is in his own mind, his own interpretation of whatever there is "out there" (if anything, some might add). Whatever may befall a person, this inner world remains inviolable until his powers of conception fade or until he dies, when the world dies with him. So the basic notion of "intrinsic equality", if not the entire characteristic moral and political disposition of our free Western society, stems primarily from the conviction that the individual is sacrosanct, on account of his ownership of the universe as conceived by him. While this may provide some licence for using the "equality" word, unfortunately it remains true that in common usage equality often entails levelling people, an imperative of religion and the political extreme left.

To summarise, in practical terms the most we can wrest from the notion of equality is this: that we employ a uniform, consistent set of values in dealing with people. This is obviously not an inborn right of people to be treated "equally", but a dispensation by those who believe themselves to be treating people equally, i.e. it is sometimes a personal responsibility and sometimes the responsibility of the social system. As it stands, this injunction does not entail that all people receive just and fair consideration. That can only come by specifying a correct set of values - presumably a set of absolute values. But the danger in this view is only too evident. Historically, egalitarian states have also been the most repressive, where unremitting fear and loss of freedom combined to produce societies of zombies. Any state that seeks to enforce equality of any kind and by any means upon its subjects runs the risk of undermining even more important human values than those embodied in the Australian catch-phrase "a fair go for everyone". (see #11. More on the equality myth in #17.)


6. Subdued scepticism

Humanists are often deeply sceptical, but many modern sceptics seem to have closed minds on a number of issues, most conspicuously the questions of the existence of so-called paranormal phenomena and the genuineness of the elevated states of mind (producing a feeling of oneness with the universe) achieved by meditation. The most ardent sceptics appear to make the same mistake as the believers – that of confusing the incomprehensible with the supernatural. They tend to dismiss out of hand various phenomena for which there might well be a rational explanation (see e.g. my suggestions in the postscript of Six kinds of proposition and the edges of normality, following on from the discussion of mathematics in section 8). Furthermore, their uncompromising stance (shared with Central Humanism) against theism, spiritualism and divine intervention tends to get confused with deep questions about the nature of existence: although the prevailing view is that physical reality is the primal stuff of the universe and the cause of mental processes, the possibility that consciousness is fundamental remains open, and in some ways allows for an easier solution to the mind-body problem.

The standpoint of the sceptical movement appears to be based mainly on the absence of so-called "hard" evidence for the existence of any of these phenomena. In many circumstances lack of evidence is a good reason for rejecting a belief. For example, the lack of evidence for the existence of centaurs provides an excellent reason for not believing in them, and this is because of the kind of evidence that can be, should be and is brought to bear on the issue. In other circumstances, however, it is at present unclear what kind of investigation would be appropriate to study the alleged phenomena. (We are not concerned, here, with the many completely nonsensical beliefs which can be dismissed by using elementary reason alone, and regarding which the question of evidence hardly arises.) It is in this "fuzzy" area that the sceptical movement often seems too arbitrary, arrogantly negative and in danger of succumbing to the same kind of prejudice which it attacks. Those paranormal phenomena for which the reports are most credible occur in extreme circumstances and/or allegedly leave no physical traces. If this is the case, current scientific theory obviously will not suffice to explain them. Then why do the sceptics assume they are open to current methods of scientific investigation and statistical evaluation? Like subatomic particles, paranormal events may be elusive under scrutiny. While science and mathematics might well supply the "proper" methodologies to investigate these and many other phenomena, history shows that both are open to far-reaching revision. This is not to suggest that paranormal phenomena probably occur. On the contrary, their existence seems rather unlikely. In spite of the foregoing remarks, many kinds of alleged psychic ability do appear to be scientifically testable and have in fact been quite thoroughly investigated, generally with negative results.

But this is not the most unsettling of the attitudes adopted by the new cynics. Extreme scepticism is often accompanied by another peculiar belief, held by rationalist fanatics who are often far from reasonable, namely that "the scientific method" and logical analysis are the only methods by which we can acquire knowledge of the world. This is ridiculous. Knowledge - the commonplace kind that we need for survival and everyday pursuits - precedes analysis and science by an evolutionary innings. There's nothing especially critical or scientific involved in distinguishing fact from fantasy, truth from nonsense or sane behaviour from silly behaviour. Are you a scientist or a logician just because you know to stop at the red light, or recognise the person next door, or decide to eat a cheese sandwich for lunch? Of course not! (But you'd be a fool if you relied on the stars to settle these things!) Simple observation and reasoning were around long before science entered the arena of human endeavour. "Scientific method" (if there is any such thing) is a modern invention derived from our capacity for ordinary clear thinking, discerning observation and self-preserving interaction with our surroundings, and philosophers disagree about its quintessential features. Let's not get scientific methodology muddled with plain common sense. However, this in no way detracts from the leading position of science in human endeavour and knowledge, in particular, our understanding of the fundamental generalities of the universe. Gods and other objects of superstitious belief do not number amongst those generalities. Science necessarily conflicts with religion and puts into sharper focus the immense negativity and inanity of religious beliefs and practices.(Also see near end of #9 and Footnote 20).

On the question of religion there are no grounds for not being sceptical. Central Humanism is fiercely opposed to all traditional religions and their offshoots (see #9, para 1), so of course it dissents from belief in, and denies the existence of, any of the conventional gods (see #9, para 2). Religion is accountable to truth, reason, decency and fairness. Therefore if any honest, reasonable person is disposed towards matters of the soul, may his or her motto be "Truth before God, God before scriptures". And in this, may he or she be able to give a meaningful description of "God".

Human fate is determined only by natural causes (including human volition). Thus, like most other forms of humanism, Central Humanism is strongly atheistic. (Indeed the "new" synonym for atheism is "naturalism", which takes on board the fact that atheists reject not only gods but everything supernatural. However, this term is to be avoided, as in some ethical contexts it seems to imply "anything goes", and the noun "naturalist" has other meanings.) Furthermore, this atheism is predominantly “higher order”. The word “God”, as used in the Abrahamic religions, is largely meaningless – a mixture of gibberish and inconsistencies, a nonsense word* – so it doesn’t make sense to say either that God exists or that God does not exist (Strictly speaking, "God does not exist" expresses the standpoint of lower order atheists). Indeed it doesn’t make sense to talk about God at all, because he has no meaningful attributes, other than the miscellany of physical events (from creating the universe to answering Aunt Matilda’s prayer to make her carbuncles better) which the faithful may allege to be God’s doing. But there is not a crumb of evidence that a supernatural being (one or many) influences natural events – indeed it makes no sense to postulate such a being. All talk of “God” is just vacuous gobbledegook – yet often potent enough to deceive the unwary and brainwash the young.

        *Not only is most religious talk nonsense - it’s vicious nonsense. By “vicious nonsense” in this context I mean
          at least the following:
                1. It claims to represent some kind of truth and is meant to be taken seriously
                2. There’s no agreed method of deciding whether it’s true or false
                3. It leads to no predictable effects in the real world, apart from eccentric behaviour in those human beings
                    who believe it to be true (the symptoms of religious belief).


It's arguable that even the word religion is meaningless to the degree that the object of religious belief is meaningless. The Australian legal definition of religion is: belief in a supernatural Being, Thing or Principle. But the word supernatural is supposed to "mean" something like: beyond nature and understanding, i.e. that which has no reality and cannot be known or conceived of.  A supernatural being or thing is therefore a being or thing that is not a being or thing, and a supernatural principle is presumably some kind of knowledge that's unknowable. These are plain contradictions, unless one is using words like "thing" etc in a way they are not normally used - indeed in a way that's entirely incomprehensible.

In other words God is ruled out even before we start to look for any possible real consequences of his existence, and he could not possibly constitute an explanation of any observable phenomena.

This viewpoint has sometimes been incorrectly dubbed "igtheism", which is an admission that one doesn't understand what religionists are talking about. But higher order atheism is more than this. It is a conviction that religionists themselves don't understand what they are talking about - not, at least, when it comes to the rationale for their religion. All religions use language in many different ways, some meaningless and some not. Thus "the holy spirit and God the Father are both one and many" and "the blessings of God be upon you" are in a similar category to Carroll's "the mome wraths outgrabe" and "the round excitement is square" (all meaningless). But much religious talk is in a similar category to a Harry Potter novel - the storyline is, of course, predominantly meaningful (else no child would bother reading it), but no sane person would ever think that it represents some kind of reality.

"If you spit on the Earth, you spit on yourself" - attrib. David Suzuki

As against this, the transcendental aspect of Central Humanism hints at an underlying unity of life, if not of everything that exists, but if this sounds mystical it is only because of ignorance. Maybe everything is interconnected in ways that current ideas in chemistry and physics fail to accommodate. Maybe one day there will be a Great Religion (if "religion" is the right word) embodying the transcendental attitude of all humanists and the inevitable developments (or breakdown?) in scientific thought and methodology. But the "god", or unifying principle, of that religion would presumably have to be just as amenable to objective investigation and rational explanation as any other entity to which human beings can relate - allowing that our notions of objectivity and rationality might change. What Central Humanism now adamantly shuns is Faith*, especially in the incredible, and all the ballyhoo and balderdash that invariably goes along with it. (A useful website on atheism is Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc.)

*Note: Faith means an unreasoned and unknowing trust in the power of God to act benevolently in the progress of one’s life. In some people, of course, Faith may induce certain beneficial psychological effects, which may in turn modify their health or behaviour. But this is only to acknowledge the vitality of the human imagination and the existence of psychosomatic interactions. The further supposition that there is in fact a God who directly influences worldly events is without foundation.


7. Classification, knowledge, discrimination, prejudice and the right to make informed judgments

The way we treat other people necessarily depends on classifying them in this way or that. Human minds just work like this - we can only think thoughts, thoughts are "concepts" and we have nothing to work with except all those concepts that we amass in relation to any particular person (or thing). Consciously or subconsciously, we use pretty much the same techniques as do insurance companies (not to mention immigration authorities, tax and welfare departments and the police), only our statistical methodology is usually quite subjective and tacit. To do this successfully and fairly depends on using the best available information, so if we make judgments without relevant knowledge we may be lead to deal with particular individuals inappropriately.

Then again, given the best available knowledge of the characteristics of a person or group, we should be entitled to behave toward them as our "insurance company conscience" dictates. Unfortunately wide-sweeping antidiscrimination laws do not always allow people and businesses to assess risks (or opportunities) and make informed judgments about individuals in the same way that insurance companies can. Why not? It appears to be a reasonable procedure for insurance companies (but see Footnote 8), so it is surely just as reasonable for persons (e.g. employers) to use information such as sex, age, country of origin (cultural background), religion, disability, congeniality, sportsmanship, physical appearance, bodyweight and whether or not a person is pregnant or smokes (see Footnote 10) to assist them in making decisions about individuals. Of course, the information must be used relevantly, rationally and without unfounded prejudice (which is more than can be said about the way some government agencies use it). And where there is any risk of wrongful treatment, individuals should normally be afforded the benefit of any doubt, depending on such matters as the perceived threat to the welfare of other people. But to simply forbid the use of this information without qualification is to undermine freedom of choice and human reason. Central Humanism regards current antidiscrimination laws as overly oppressive. (Also see Footnote 7A on racism and Footnote 14 on unfamiliarity as a rational criterion of choice).

There's an important overrider to this viewpoint. A clear distinction must be made between the way we recognise and judge people and the way we think of individuals as such. Individuals do not consist of a mass of concepts in other people's minds! (in contrast to the very different notion that they might consist largely of a mass of concepts in their own minds). We must don our existentialist hats and think of them as any good humanist would - as we think of ourselves. The Central Humanist view is that this individuality (actuality, essence, inner life or whatever you want to call it) takes precedence over mere concepts (see Footnote 7B). It is more important to preserve our respect for individual lives than for the judgments we make about them. A judgment can be a mistake; a life never is. A perceived function of antidiscrimination laws is to help to preserve the dignity of all individuals, regardless of how we classify them. The trouble is, our entire social organisation and interactivity necessarily depends on these mental processes of recognising, classifying, forming opinions etc, and we should never be denied the opportunity of using them. Discrimination, in the broad sense, is perhaps the fundamental faculty for making any sense of the world, for survival. It is not discrimination (of any kind) that should be targeted by the law-makers, but unfounded prejudice. Prejudice of course comes in various flavours and has various causes. One cause is the misuse of language, an example of which is given in Footnote 22 in relation to paedophilia.

Language is frequently misleading. For example, one should beware of making the mistake of treating people collectively just because they fall under a common name. Often a mere name does not stand for a well defined set of concepts, and even if it does, those concepts may be quite different from the ones on the basis of which we intend to make some kind of collective distinction. (The example of "Jews" in the minds of Nazis immediately comes to mind - see Footnote 16, para 3. But the example of "human" in the minds of most people also comes to mind - see #17 and Footnote 18.)

On the other hand, there are certain kinds of label which people attach to themselves by choice - one might almost call them "designer labels" - and which necessarily load their bearers with a range of distinctive attributes. This is because the adoption of the name involves a commitment to everything that the name stands for: the general displaces the specific. If one were to "discriminate" against (or in favour of) a member of such an alliance (on the grounds of his belonging to the alliance), this would not be at all like discriminating against a person on the basis of his possessing a simple observable characteristic, such as the colour of his skin. For, while skin colour can tell you very little about personality and behaviour, the "designer label" can speak volumes, provided you have a reasonable grasp of its meaning (which is often very extensive). Examples of this kind of alliance include religions, political movements and gangs. These entities tend to replace individuality with vicious generalisations, implying uniformity and loss of freedom. Religions are especially disturbing in this respect because the generalisations they foist on people rely on the abuse of language and have no basis in reality.

Finally, a couple of points of current local interest. The supposed prevalence of racial discrimination in Australian society appears to be mainly a fabrication of the residents of other countries where racialism is a much greater issue. Some of the most hardened racialists are those nasty-minded people who find elements of racial discrimination in almost every trivial (usually amusing) situation involving different races – situations which more innocent people would never dream of interpreting that way, and which would be entirely inconsequential if it were not for their arrogant deprecation. Theirs is an ingrained hypocrisy, often stemming from an inherited, crushing sense of guilt. They blame others for perpetuating racial stereotypes, but they themselves are the chief custodians of those stereotypes. This mind-set seems to be especially common among Americans, many of whom have abandoned their sense of humour to make way for a particularly obnoxious form of political correctness. The fact is, racialism is only an issue for those with a racial conscience. The worst thing that anyone who happens to be on the receiving end of Australian humour can do is to take offence and cry “racialism”, for it is only then that it actually becomes racialist. For goodness sake, chill out! (see Footnote 1).

* It’s a bit mystifying why many members of the Aboriginal community so readily take offence at words like “Abo”, originally used to refer to them by others. To my mind "Abo" is a rather endearing name for an Australian Aborigine, while the recommended term, "Indigenous Person", strikes me as a pretentious stupidity to be used only with contempt - not indeed for Aborigines, but for the crazy system that invents such politically warped absurdities.

It would not do to leave this section without mentioning that one of the worst examples of bigotry, practised by most governments including the Australian Government, is their deep-seated prejudice against humanist organisations. That our Government should give certain valuable privileges to religious bodies, whilst withholding them from humanists, is an injustice of the most serious kind. These privileges apply to such areas as taxation, fringe benefits, rates on property and access to schools to conduct religious instruction. You’d think, if there is reason for allowing special concessions like these at all, they would go to the organisations that are free from superstition and hokey-pokey rather than to those that indulge in these fantasies. Evidently the bureaucracy itself is party to mysticism, its avowed commitment to secularism is phony and its handling of discrimination policy is burdened by hypocrisy.


8. Natural rights - another myth

"Natural" rights here refers to inborn, inalienable rights that are universally held by all people in all circumstances (the French terminology is droits subjectifs). It's impossible to discern any sense at all in this notion. While there may be legal and social rights, e.g. to education, employment, similar conditions for men and women and access to legal aid, there are no "automatic" rights to any of these things, or to food, shelter, property ownership, free speech or even life itself (see note 4 below*). And of rights in general, it's difficult to understand how they can apply to anything other than sentient, conscious individuals, and only then as a privilege conferred by others, under a social licence, so to speak (droits objectifs). Some secularists use "rights" in much the same way as religionists use God - as an excuse to commit all kinds of atrocities, from plundering the Earth to abandoning personal responsibility for one's actions and family.

"Inalienable" rights are not abstractions existing in some phantom realm; they are what a sound ethical/political/legal system imparts to the community (usually as a manifestation of some kind of social contract). Or, to put this rather naively: rights are not something that people necessarily do have, but something they should have - not because they somehow possess them, but because a well-informed, compassionate society respects the needs of individuals. Central Humanism strongly supports the universal promotion of individual rights in this sense (and, in general, when speaking of rights without quotation marks, this is the intended meaning. But note that some rights supported by Central Humanism don't exist in some societies, including our own!*). However, this doesn't answer the question: what are the underlying reasons for according people rights - why should they be given rights? For humanists, this question is primarily another way of asking what's needed for people to maintain and develop their humanity - the answers lie in their human moral outlook, not in any fanciful notion of intrinsic or god-given rights.

In practice "rights" can be translated into other language; for example the right to free speech as: it's better to live in a society where the law allows people to say whatever they want when and wherever they want (with qualifications - there's good reason for placing various restrictions on the telling of downright lies, even by politicians!)

Victims of circumstance
#8 - Fair treatment and productive solutions?

    So what kind of rights are of most importance and upon
    whom should they be bestowed?
In general, the Central
    Humanist view is that firstly, and more importantly, there are
    rights which individuals should have to enable them to live as
    real human beings able to express their humanity. The most
    basic of these is the right to avoid suffering. (Although
    there are some philosophers who claim that suffering is an
    inevitable feature of the human condition, it seems pretty
    obvious that, by definition, suffering is something we want to
    avoid.) Unfortunately there are millions who suffer for various
    reasons beyond their control, sometimes because of the
    impositions of the social system itself. It is especially in
    this territory that humanists seek fair treatment and productive
    solutions.


Secondly, there are rights which individuals earn through their industriousness and wise choices, i.e. people have the right to own and defend what they have earned, provided it's been done without harm to other people or the environment. There is no good reason why societies should make undue concessions for fools, thieves and sluggards. Central Humanism also defends most, but not all, of the rights currently supported by civil liberties movements, including (for example) the right to abortion and the right to die gracefully*, but not the right to plunder shared resources, the right to monopolise (further comments below) and especially not the right to keep on adding to an already overcrowded Earth.

Most humanists are apt to follow the lead of civil libertarians in promoting the rights of people to engage in just about any kind of behaviour they like, provided it doesn't harm anybody (see note 3 below*). But therein lies the rub: how do we assess the amount of harm that might be done in the long run? In general, Central Humanism adopts a more cautious and naturalistic attitude to many human rights issues than many other humanist groups. (Just to make a point, Footnote 22 gives an example which some people might find thoroughly disgusting, if not offensive.) This footnote also asks the question:  does it always make sense to promote the right of someone to do or be something, or might we really then only be asking for the meaning of a word to be changed?

*Notes:
1. Voluntary euthanasia is an example of a right that should be strongly supported by all reasonable self-respecting people. Laws forbidding voluntary euthanasia are laws against human dignity and the right of people to avoid extreme suffering, both of which are key features of Central Humanism. How can any decent society live with such abhorrent legislation? The Christian ethic that denounces the right to die peacefully is as outmoded as the rack - and a sign of mental derangement and unmitigated wretchedness.

Voluntary euthanasia is also a good example of a right which, together with many other examples, provides strong evidence that rights are not innate or inalienable, but depend on the ethical outlook of a society. In some societies this right does not exist, in others it does. There is no argument over facts, nothing substantially new has arisen since Socrates took the hemlock, yet opinions still differ. The Central Humanist view, however, is that someone is right and someone is wrong! To admit ethical relativity on important issues like this is to sink into moral anarchy. But, while the presumption that human beings are born with inalienable rights conveniently eliminates relativity, this is clearly a thoughtless, insensitive and dogmatic way of stamping society with a permanent value system. The proper way of making ethical progress is by using reason and empathy, and by refusing to accept standards which, however ingrained and binding they might seem, become surrounded by question marks as soon as you activate a few brain cells.

2. Another absolutely meaningless notion is that of divine rights. The belief in divine rights is absurd, repulsive and, when applied to oneself, insufferably conceited.

3. Over the last 20 years or so a concept of "human rights" that is new to the western world has grown amongst neo-socialists. Essentially this more or less identifies disregard for human rights with lack of political correctness, which in turn may be identified with defamation. Central Humanism flatly rejects these identities, or indeed any necessary connection between the three concepts. Though a necessary evil amongst leaders of nations, for the rest of us political correctness is simply a gutless form of deceit. See Footnote 1 and for an important example see this para in Footnote 17.

4. According to a character in the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the Indians have the right attitude: " ...the way people see life as a privilege and not a right".


9. Opposition to religion

(In this section the word "religionist" means anyone with strong religious beliefs. An extended, reorganised and indexed version
of these notes and the associated "footnotes" can be found in Religious Gunk
)


"What the world needs is not dogma but an attitude of scientific inquiry combined with a belief that the torture of millions is not desirable, whether inflicted by Stalin or by a Deity imagined in the likeness of the believer" - Bertrand Russell

Central Humanism is strongly anti-religious. The main objection to religions is their utter contempt for truth, personal integrity and human intelligence. Religions are unethical because they compel people to behave irrationally and eccentrically by indoctrinating them with lies, myths, infantile nonsense and ritualism. The dogmatism of religion hinders moral progress, undermines self-determination and responsibility and obstructs the development and application of technologies that promise enormous benefits for mankind. Religion is the world's most persistent divisive force and one of the chief causes of war and unrest.

The concepts of truth and integrity are central to science, ethics and all the activities of daily living. Truth comprises chiefly everyday objective facts, and meaningful explanations and ideas which are wholly consistent with these facts and which have calculable effects in the real world. Integrity refers to our willingness to recognise truths, to repel garbage, to think and behave consistently and to live in tune with reality. Lack of integrity implies self-betrayal and delusion. (For an example of lack of integrity, see Footnote 24 on Creationism.) Our view is that there are clear criteria of truth, and that religion is the chief enemy of truth and integrity - though they certainly have many other dangerous foe. (The philosophically minded reader might like to visit Eliezer S. Yudkowsky's segment on truth. And whilst you’re there, read some of his other stuff on the Meaning of Life. For this guy, the human brain is almost a thing of the past.)

Central Humanists take the view that words like "God" and "Heaven" are largely nonsensical - they don't have any consistent meaning (see above). While many atheists confine themselves to the rather weak claim that there is no scientific evidence for the existence of God, Central Humanists declare that, to the extent that he is supposed to interact with people and the real world, there is overwhelming evidence of all kinds for the non-existence of God (see these remarks). You don’t need science to tell you there’s no God – you only need sanity. And you don’t need religion to tell you what’s right – you only need a smidgen of conscience and common sense to tell you religion is appallingly wrong. Again, while some atheists display a remarkably tolerant attitude towards the practice of religion, we take the view that all the traditional religions and their off-shoots are harmful, and all have aspects that cannot be tolerated by reasonable human beings. Like financial scams and health fraud, religions prey on people's gullibility and weaknesses.

While respecting the right of everyone to pursue traditional religious creeds on a purely personal basis, Central Humanism strongly disapproves of the creeds themselves. It advances the view that they are fundamentally and inexcusably immoral, damaging both to society and to the mental integrity of the individuals who follow them. There are a number of incontrovertible reasons for rejecting them, but care and understanding as well as good reasons are needed in openly opposing them. Respect for individuals is important (see below and Footnote 1), but it is difficult - often impossible - for people to accept your respect while you are engaged in challenging their most cherished beliefs.

Furthermore, although there’s a difference between respecting those whose beliefs are nonsensical and respecting the nonsense they believe, isn't it true that people are to some degree the product of their beliefs? We do in fact judge people by what they do and what they say, and rightly so. It is hardly surprising that many humanists find it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to respect those individuals whose very identity is delimited by gospels that are plainly untenable, deeply disturbing, demeaning, barbaric and potentially dangerous;  whose conduct is ruled by diabolical ritual, mindless repetition, grovelling subservience, entrenched delusion, cowardly escapism, vulgar nonsense, horrendous threats and lies and a near-psychotic gullibility;  and whose sanity has long since been drowned in a swamp of nauseating dogma, superstition and hypocrisy, conspiring to drain a person of every last drop of human dignity, rationality, responsibility and genuine self respect. The difficulty for humanists is that they find it hard to fathom, not so much why people have entrenched beliefs, but why so many believe such transparent drivel - transparent not only to the secular, but, you'd think, to the faithful themselves, if only they would use a quarter of their intelligence for a few defiant minutes. However, in the disgraceful world of spiritual evangelism, in which the aim appears to be to achieve total psychological derangement, intelligence is a word that’s used rarely and with contempt - as if it were not (as they might say) one of God’s gifts to mankind but, rather, a cancer implanted by the devil.

Of course, not everyone who calls himself a believer is steeped in religion to this extent, nor do all religions make the same demands - which is to say, essentially, that they all feature different gods - or, rather, demons. (see Footnote 9 on this point and non-theistic religions). It is clear, too, that not quite everything about every religion is bad. Humanists recognise that the churches are places of comfort and counsel and applaud the humanitarian work carried out by many religious organisations. The new-style Christian churches in particular attract some wonderful, generous-hearted people as well as some exasperating zealots. But while the spirit of voluntary community work in many churches is very commendable, humanists often argue that (1) Churches get funding and tax breaks while humanist organisations don’t, (2) do-gooders who are not especially religious nonetheless tend to gravitate towards the churches because that’s where they find like-minded people and resources, (3) religious people often have ulterior motives for "doing good", moreover many Churches bludgeon the members of their flock into altruism (also see paragraph on benevolence below), (4) the humanitarian work done by many churches is often negated by their anti-humanitarianism in certain areas where brutish dogmatism has gained a stranglehold. (For example, consider the immense harm done to women by the anti-pill anti-abortion lobby in the Philippines and other poor countries where Catholicism holds sway.)   So, while God's commandments seemingly include both good and evil, it is clear that the good attributed to religion flows mainly from the residue of humanity lingering in the believer, who draws out of the scriptures only what was in his heart from the beginning. How much more noble, how much stronger might that good be, had he the courage to fling off the shackles of his religion!

*****

Religionists will often say: Atheists spend all their energy bashing religion. If a person replaced his religion with atheism, what positive things would it have to offer? The answer to this is that religion doesn’t need to be replaced by anything. One does not replace a cancer of the brain with another intrusion – one simply attempts to remove it. The positives in life were always there, lying dormant because they were stifled by the cancer’s presence. After the cancer has been excised, the positive aspects of life will flourish as never before. Atheists generally promote all the good things that religion suppresses, and most accounts of atheism make it abundantly clear what these are.

So here's why atheists are religion bashers. There can be only one reason why atheists think atheism is right, and that's because they think religion is wrong. Religion carries all the baggage, so to speak. Atheism is the default human condition and carries no baggage. The weapons used by atheists to bash religion are chiefly facts, reason and scorn. They use facts and reason mainly when talking to agnostics and to each other (to reinforce their own position), and they use scorn mainly when talking to religionists because they know religionists never listen to facts and reason (if they did, religion would have died out long ago). Religionists, on the other hand, cannot bash atheists, because there’s nothing bashable. All they can effectively do is march, burn flags and effigies, threaten and terrorise. Or they can attempt to convert the unwary by filling them with superficially attractive mush and drivel.

This is not to say that atheism in itself is necessarily a "good" philosophy. If atheists are defined simply as people who don't believe in God, then a theoretical difference between atheism and humanism is that the atheist might also be an egoist, an ignoramus, a philistine and a malefactor! There have been, and still are, plenty of rotten atheists in the world.

Although it's true the spin-off from some religions has included much of great cultural value, for example in architecture, music and the graphic arts, nearly all this is historical. Nor is it clear that artistic enterprise would not have been better off without religion - church architecture, for example, seems inordinately limited in scope. In modern times the arts have well and truly shaken off the fetters of religion, and the contribution of religious organisations to the arts today leans towards performance rather than creativity. However, even if we take a generous view of the role of religion in artistic enterprise, in most cases this input is far outweighed by the negative impact of religion on cultural development. The enormous amount of time and energy expended by the devotees of certain faiths in absurd mental activity and ritual would be much, much more wisely spent in acquiring some genuine knowledge and aesthetic capacity. Although one occasionally comes across that most incongruous of beasts, the educated religionist, in many countries almost all the followers of these time demanding religions appear to be incredibly ignorant and narrow-minded. Undoubtedly they could lead a fuller life - a more human life - if they could escape the grim confines of their faith.

While humanists proclaim their adherence to “the scientific attitude”, it isn’t hard to see why some scientists are not atheists (in some sense of that word - see below and Epigrams & Maxims (no. 41.)). The more science one knows, the more one stands in bewildered admiration of nature’s complexity and improbability. To say that the universe is awe inspiring is to make the greatest understatement of which any person is capable. But this does not imply that it was created by a divine being who also happens to be a dispenser of peculiar moral instructions to people, a being who listens to a billion contradictory prayers, who demands our acquiescence in his power and glory and our commitment to obscene ritual, and who rescues or tortures our souls upon our death. Surely no scientist would be party to this kind of nonsense? (Also see Footnote 21.)

There’s little difference in principle between religion and cultism. The leading brands of religion use essentially the same brainwashing methods as closed communities like the Exclusive Bretheren and the Gloriavale Christian Community (Cooperites). Although they may not physically isolate all their disciples from the rest of the world, they do succeed in obstructing their disciples’ view of reality. Both the major religions and the minor cults fill a need for psychological security, a need presumably caused by the poor ability of the relatively intelligent, sensitive human mind to cope with the harshness of reality. Historically, however, religion has also provided a degree of social security, owing to its powerful control over the organization and behaviour of society. In the modern world this function of religion is breaking down because of the globalisation and intermingling of many different religions, because science and education enable us to handle life more effectively and because of the growing realisation not only that a secular organization can provide better security but that its rules are a product of common sense rather than fantasy, promoting increased freedom of behaviour and liberating the human spirit from the confines of dogmatism and ritual.

In modern times religions, especially of the softer breed, have tended to change, usually for the better. In other words they have relinquished some of their own barbaric decrees in favour of humanist values! The process has been painful. To the atheist, much of the bickering has seemed pointless. (For example, all the fuss about whether women can be priests seems frivolous to anyone who won't rest content until every last priest vanishes from the face of the Earth. Who cares whether men, women or Dandie Dinmont terriers fill the pulpits?)

*****

Church of hypocrisy

#9 - Religion, notably Christian Protestantism, has run riot in many Pacific island countries. Fiji, with a population of only 0.7 million, plays host to more than 100 denominations/sects/ministries/
missions. Methodism is preferred by many because "you can eat and drink what you like". According to locals, this Methodist church at Matawala village, one of many exclusively Fijian settlements, sometimes broadcasts nauseating music and garbage-vending sermons throughout the day from its external PA system, audible up to 2km away. It vies with the equally vociferous Pentecostal church up on the hill, while down in the park in nearby Lautoka the Seventh Day Adventists blast forth with fanatical verve. Tough luck on those of a different religious or musical set, or who simply want a bit of peace. You'd think these churches, doubtless advocating consideration for others, would show a little of the same themselves. God no! - their Maoist-style brainwashing tactics take precedence over common decency.

"There is no justice higher than that of Man"

A humanist may act benevolently for two possible “reasons”: either he has a natural sympathy for the plight of others, or he has worked out that people will get on better together if they act thoughtfully and humanely towards one another. A strongly religious person, on the other hand, may act benevolently on account of various beliefs: for example, he believes it is his duty to God or an instruction from God, or God’s loving spirit propels him in that direction, or God will ultimately reward him in an afterlife - or punish him in eternal hell if he does not act benevolently - see related note. (Islamists, in particular, quite openly do everything “good” for ulterior motives – to receive “blessings from Allah”. What a sickening, wimpish attitude, plunging the depths of insincerity!) These ulterior or "fake" motives are among the shackles that prevent him acting with complete veracity. Indeed reason and personal (agnostic) compassion or concern may not enter the picture at all. Furthermore his beliefs might be just as likely to lead him to act unethically (according to modern secular standards) as to act kindly. To engage in an activity purely and simply because one’s religion dictates it is foolish, irresponsible, insensitive and morally wrong. Religious beliefs as such never provide either moral grounds or cogent reasons for any particular kind of behaviour. Thus religiously motivated altruism is a sham and ultimately self-centred - religion is a form of solipsism which (as Christopher Hitchens puts it) “imagines that the universe is preoccupied with one’s own fate”. To be blunt, anyone who says "I'm doing this for God" is psychologically deranged.

Many religionists, however, do attempt to justify the ethical aspects of their faith with "reason". The absurdity of this is only too plain. If religionists can think of good reasons for behaving in the way they do, why bother with the god that dictates such behaviour? If they are capable of behaving according to their own astuteness and moral sense, why don't they use these human faculties and forget about the supernatural? Of course, most of these "argumentive" religionists (usually made insecure by a little education) do not employ their best powers of reasoning, but simply try to justify their beliefs by producing what look like reasons, good or bad. They are fake reasons, easily demolished by thinkers with no hang-ups. In fact, most religionists don't go down this track at all, because they are terrified of knowledge, truth and reason.

It seems obvious that in civilized western societies the ethical values of religions are measured against humanist standards, not vice-versa, and that the bad in religion far outweighs the good. In less advanced nations where countless missions have gained a foothold, and secularism is definitely not the norm, moral confusion reigns as depraved religious ministers trumpet their miscellaneous untruths and obscene advice to bemused communities. Many of the cultural values promoted by the ancient religions and their offshoots, now entrenched in societies worldwide, represent the most worrying threat to the welfare of future generations. The traditional religions - incoherent bundles of ideas accumulated many centuries ago and barely relevant even then - act as a powerful brake on moral progress - a brake that is "power assisted" by political correctness and the whimpishness of politicians, afraid to say or do anything that might cause offence even to those who are deserving targets of vigorous disapproval.

Despite these considerations, Central Humanism regards tolerance as a virtue and promotes a tolerant society - including, to a limited extent, religious tolerance. However, tolerance is a much misunderstood and misused word (see Footnote 2). Moreover, words like "tolerance" and "respect" may be inappropriate in the context of religion and its adherents. We do not use these words when speaking of other mental illnesses: we simply seek a cure. But regardless of whether religion be considered a disease, curable or not, something needs to be done to modify its many adverse effects on our society. The present broad-sweeping laws relating to religious discrimination in Australia are unsupportable. It is completely contrary to Australian ideals, or to any humane code of ethics, to sanction the practice and promotion of religious beliefs that endow men with fundamentally superior rights to women, or incite violence against unbelievers, or aspire to oust the secular state, or shrug off a person's wrong-doings with a nod and a prayer, or extort money from their followers by slick salesmanship and emotivism, or deny young children access to life-saving technologies, or trap their disciples by threat of punishment or death should they attempt to change their allegiance.

But why stop there? Why should our society be so supportive of any religious dogma that undermines truth, integrity, responsibility, freedom and reason? It would not matter at all if people took religion lightly, rather as they (mostly) take astrology or numerology. Religion is a problem because people take it seriously - it becomes part of their psyche. And it is the depth of this infiltration of the mind, as much as any affinity for fundamentalist doctrines, that provides the measure of religious extremism. (Also see Footnote 17.)

Many religious institutions, with their uncompromising brainwashing and de-education agendas, are the spawning grounds of barbarism, including terrorism. Those who immerse themselves in religion cannot easily disassociate themselves from religiously motivated terrorist activities. Although of course they would never admit it (because they don’t even realise it), they deal in wholesale superstition and vulgarity, of which terrorism is only one manifestation. And the terrorists’ interpretation of their religion is just as credible as anyone else’s. Much of the responsibility for atrocities in the name of religion, notably Islam, lies on the shoulders of religious leaders and their close supporters, just as the responsibility for drug-related crime lies mainly with the suppliers and dealers. As long as muslim leaders in Australia continue to think of themselves as belonging to a privileged global brotherhood, and as long as they refrain from speaking out strongly against organisations such as Al-qaeda, Taliban, Al Shabaab, Hamas, Hezbollah and FPI, of course they stand the risk of themselves and their communities being identified with the aims and methods of these malevolent organisations and the horrendous excesses of Shariah law. They will then cry out that muslims in this country are targets of discriminatory behaviour, but in those circumstances isn't discrimination well justified? Yet muslim communities in Australia continue to support some of their most evil leaders and the anti-Australian causes they represent, while the rest of us either don't care or silently tolerate the situation. (Refer to #7.)

But let’s not forget the brainwashing that goes on in those sections of our society which have not fallen under the spell of religion. We have all been brainwashed with something, and however unethical it may be, we turn a blind eye to it, deeming it part of  “our culture” or a “natural right” (see #8). The little choirs of complaining voices go unheard unless the singers do silly things to attract attention. Then we think they are just silly.

*****

The notions of freedom, open society and religious tolerance tend to go hand in hand. "Freedom" normally includes freedom to follow whatever religion you please (even though some religions do not themselves respect this freedom). Although on the whole supporting this point of view, Central Humanism maintains that one of the greatest freedoms is freedom from religion, and that by rejecting religion you increase your chances of realising your humanity to the fullest extent. But if people wish to follow a particular religion, let them do so, provided that the choice is genuinely their own. Two essential preconditions for freedom of religion for individuals are: freedom from religion in the Government of the people, and freedom from brainwashing during childhood. Where the Government is religiously biased, sound education lacking and religious brainwashing rife, individuals will be denied both the opportunity of making wise choices and (if they subscribe to a minority religion) the empowerment to conduct their lives in the way they would wish.

Religionists of the live-and-let-be variety might say to non-believers “Leave us with our faith and respect our right to practice it – this is what we believe, you can believe whatever you want”. How wrong they are! Atheists don’t believe anything. They simply live in accordance with plain facts and with regard for human dignity. Belief is a state of mind with no foundation of truth or integrity. The beliefs of religionists comprise nothing but delusions. What they believe is very plainly confuted by overwhelming evidence, straight thinking and an ordinary sense of decency. In other words what they believe is a cocktail of obvious falsehoods, nonsense and incitements to decadence – with perhaps a smattering of good advice shaken in, but always offered for the wrong reasons. There is no question of pitting one set of beliefs against another. Atheism is not a system of beliefs at all, but a resolve to eliminate all unfounded beliefs from one’s thinking. It is simply one of the results of a sincere, enquiring frame of mind.

An apt definition of an atheist might be: a person who understands the difference between truth and falsehood, fact and fiction, sense and nonsense, who loves truth, knowledge and reason, who accepts responsibility for his life and who lives in tune with the world around him. The literally atheistic part of atheism, the elimination of gods, is just a nuisance thing, to be got out of the way (like trolls, unicorns and astrology) so that we can get on with life. One of the aims of these notes, therefore, is to show resolve in rejecting the primitiveness and negativity of fettered beliefs and to acclaim the freedom and richness of an intelligently orientated, yet sensitive and compassionate, way of life.

*****

On more specific issues (recognising the deep-seated immorality of all the major creeds and their offshoots), the Central Humanist philosophy strongly and unreservedly condemns the religious indoctrination of young children (see Footnote 12), by their parents or anyone else - this is plain intellectual abuse, generally deserving the same censure as any other kind of child abuse. When augmented by military instruction, religious indoctrination of the young constitutes one of the most horrendous atrocities against mankind, and those responsible should probably be classified as "anti-humans" (see Footnote 18). However, this is by no means the very worst calamity that children worldwide may have to face: the irreversible consequences of malnutrition, disease and injury, loss of parents and lack of shelter are obviously more serious. It is a prime tenet of Central Humanism that basic physical needs take priority over educational and ethical matters. Even most religions apparently concur with this!

Along with other humanists, Central Humanists also object to the linking of religion with political and legal systems, and (as suggested above) to the legal endorsement of the social taboos that afford religions an unmerited level of protection, stifling the rights of more reasonable people to speak critically and to make their own judgments about the rationality, trustworthiness and self-esteem of people with whom they deal. (If a person tells you that a load of patent nonsense is actually the absolute truth, why should you believe anything else he says? If a person behaves ridiculously, or even dangerously, in the execution of his beliefs, why should you trust him to act sensibly at other times? If a person’s role model is a god who is conceited, unjust, sadistic, pitiless and undependable, why should you imagine him to be of good character?

Surely one has a right to choose how to deal with people who have such an unhealthy preoccupation with magic, a dark void where their general education should be, and/or a packet of noodles for a brain? This is certainly not to say they should be denied respect, as persons. They might have been brought up that way, almost as a cultural thing, and in my experience most people in this category are perfectly charming, sincere and often overflowing with love and generosity. The ones who don’t deserve respect are those who have more than their fair share of grey matter, who have had ample opportunity to acquire a good education and may even claim to have received one, and yet who are still obsessed with the supernatural. They are the witches of the modern world, the enemies of truth and integrity.

None of this suggests, however, that religious fervour can be used as a measure of unreliability. After all religion does often bestow a degree of mental discipline and “rectitude”, and there appears to be no evidence that religionists in general are any less trustworthy than atheists. But the problem for the religious is that their poor judgement and lack of integrity are preconditions of their outlook on life, while atheists carry no such burden.

Thus there are probably many aspects of most religions that should not be acquiesced in at all by any sane, caring person or by any government. If we are ever to be released from the scourge of religion, it's time all secular humanists started uncorking their bottled-up antagonism. Thankfully there are some with the courage and strength of will to speak up, as have many of the greatest western philosophers over the past 2500 years. Why, in this liberal day and age, do we approach the subject of religion so gingerly, instead of damning it for what it is - one of the most lamentable and irrational of human perversions, teetering on the edge of inhumanity? (See Footnote 17 on "Which are the most inhumane religions?".)

*****

There are, of course, some sensible rebuffs to this point of view. Even those who agree with it may be disposed to accept the overriding need for restraint, if not respect for the rights of the faithful. After all, religion has for centuries been regarded as a uniquely human occupation, and there is no denying the steadying influence of almost all religions on the societies over which they have held sway. (Religion, it has been said is "the opium of the masses" or "a necessary evil".) At the very least, humanists of every kind are bound to show a deep regard for the needs, dignity and freedom of all people, whatever their beliefs. But regardless of our attitude to believers, the plain facts are that:
(1) religious scriptures are rampant with untruths, inconsistencies, meaningless nonsense, false promises and incitements to immoral behaviour
(2) the practice of religion is demeaning, escapist, irresponsible and obstructive to human progress, personal development and liberty.
Of course religionists would not agree that these are plain facts, but a humanist might say this is because their criteria of truth and integrity are totally unacceptable. (A troublesome thought is that they might retain their irrational ways of thinking even after abandoning their beliefs, and that there might already be many in the humanist movement who suffer from the same kind of perverseness.)

*****

Any religion sporting a god that is supposed to interact with the real world, in any way whatsoever, is of course open to scientific investigation, just to the extent of the alleged physical operations of the god. And any religion whose god is aloof from the real world is open to the questioning of reason. Most gods possess both these aspects. Humanists and rationalists often make much of the distinction between religion and scientific knowledge, either because they believe (usually incorrectly) that the two fields are poles apart, or because they believe (usually correctly) that the findings of science disprove factual religious dogmas such as creationism, as well as the possibility of any practical outcomes from religious worship and ritual. However, this religion/science contrast seems hardly necessary: plain common sense and consideration are enough to disparage religion, as Greek philosophers realised hundreds of years before either scientific methodology or Christianity and Islam were invented (see #6 para 3 and Footnote 21).

A claim of Central Humanism is that there is ample evidence for the non-existence of God. Some may regard this as (1) an "unscientific" statement and (2) an admission that, after all, humanists need to substantiate their "beliefs".

The first charge might be made by those with certain simplistic (if not archaic) views of the nature of science and/or knowledge. They might ask, how do you obtain evidence for the non-existence of something? You can demonstrate the existence of, say, a rare species of tree-frog by uncovering distinctive signs of its presence, or preferably by capturing a specimen of the frog itself. But no amount of evidence could prove its non-existence.

Well, it all depends what you're looking for and what kind of evidence (if any) counts. Does the fact that no-one has yet discovered a tree with the head of an animal and the wings of an insect mean that we must leave it open that such a species might dwell here on Earth? Isn't it more certain that this thing does not and never has existed than that, say, Tyranosaurus rex or Jesus did in fact exist? Must we always leave it open that there might be flying pink elephants, let alone a pink elephant that flies backwards, speaks Swahili, turns inside out when the moon rises and instructs its offspring to gargle three times with radish juice on Thursdays? Yet God is in an even worse situation than this. Not only must he answer to a motley of characteristics no less absurd than the foregoing;  he is apparently by definition "not of this world" (in which case there's no point in going hunting for him) and yet at the same time everywhere in the world and influencing practically everything that's going on here.

Of course there can be evidence for the non-existence of flying pink elephants and other monstrosities - including God, if you imagine him as having some kind of form. The evidence for their non-existence is of just the same kind as the evidence for the non-existence of icicles in a blazing furnace or populated cities at the centre of the Earth. Such entities conflict with common sense, or (to put it more "scientifically") they flout the laws of nature. And once you start to speak of entities beyond nature - the supernatural - that is when you start speaking gibberish. None of it can possibly make sense - not to yourself or anybody else. That's why belief in such stuff implies lack of integrity - a pitiful kind of stupidity.

As for the "signs" of God's existence, there are four kinds - positive things, such as the rising of the sun, the ascent of man and recovery from disease, which are best explained scientifically and for which "God" is no explanation at all;  wishful things, such as answering prayers and providing for people's needs, for which the evidence of God's intervention is overwhelmingly negative;  "revelations" such as the (alleged) blabberings of prophets who claim to be sons or messengers of God, but who normal people would consider to be either lunatics or charlatans;  and finally the absurd antics of those who are convinced of the truth of one version or another of these revelations - antics whose eccentricity and wretchedness strongly suggest that God is nothing but a mental disorder. Indeed, in most forms of the disorder God is so far from living up to his reputation that another name altogether for this ungainly phantom would be appropriate.

Having answered the first charge, albeit with neither science nor logic and with less detail than might seem desirable, it is hardly necessary to answer the second - that humanists need to substantiate their "beliefs". The evidence humanists "need" to produce is so obvious that any child could grasp it. The hard part would be to make the child understand what it is that the evidence is intended to confute (at least, in respect of the child whose imaginative talent has not been painstakingly misdirected by its parents). In fact the growing experiences of children from birth onwards teach them how to handle reality and to avoid confusing it with fantasy. No adult needs to ask for evidence that you'll burn your fingers if you stick them in the fire, that falling off your bike might be painful, that food satisfies hunger, that goldfish swim and butterflies fly, or that today is likely to be about the same length as yesterday. Nor should anybody need to ask for evidence that no goblins are helping us to mow the grass, no unicorns eat cheese-and-pickle sandwiches and no mome wraths are outgrabing in the bedroom. How distressful it is, then, that some religionists do ask atheists to support their views with evidence that can only be just as ridiculous as this. If they ask us silly questions they must expect silly answers.

*****

This attack, it must be emphasised, is directed against conventional religions - those based on belief in the supernatural, antiquated scriptures and faith - and all forms of cultism that follow the patterns of conventional religion. There is no denying the personal utility of positive thinking and meditation (of a certain kind) for those able to harness these forces. And the possibility that mental activity can directly affect extra-corporeal physical events has not been completely disproved. Some cosmological theories do allow for mind/reality interaction. However, it's obvious to anyone with eyes and ears that God never answers the prayers of the faithful and hasn't the slightest concern for the millions killed, injured or made destitute by earthquakes, tsunamis and famine. In fact, whenever there’s an appalling disaster, with thousands of people killed, there always seems to be a priest or imam on hand to proclaim that it is the will of God. So either God is a mass murderer or the priest is a bloody-minded fake. (One thing’s for certain – at these times my anger comes close to exceeding my sadness.) But of course the real reason why prayers are never answered is - there is no God.

In summary, traditional dogmatic religions are the enemies of both truth and humanity. The world's greatest evils are religion and population expansion (the two are quite closely related - not poverty, global warming etc etc (these are effects, not causes). Also see Atheist Foundation of Australia for some excellent articles opposing religion; and The Skeptic's Annotated Bible (+ Qur'an + Book of Mormon) for a detailed guide to everything vulgar and unbelievable in the scriptures. An excellent new (late 2006) book covering everything anti-religious on this website, and a great deal more besides, is Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion (see pages 237-253 for comments on the Bible). Even more recent (May 2007) is Christopher Hitchens' vitriolic book God is not Great (but his writing style, of which he was very proud, is disconcerting).


10. Limitation of multi-culturalism

“Australians are sick and tired of people who come here and want to enjoy all the benefits that Australian life has to offer and either criticise the society they have chosen to enter, or by their behaviour and their utterances progressively undermine its foundations” (Alan Jones, 30 Aug 2006)

Most Australian humanists support the development of a "multi-cultural" society here. If all they mean by this is an "ethnically diverse" society, and the colourful assortment of "shallow" cultural traditions that goes along with this, then Central Humanism is entirely in accord with them. But if they mean "culture" in a deeper sense that includes rules and organisational elements drawn from their society of origin, along with some of their more extreme ethical and political persuasions and customs, then a "multi-cultural society" is virtually a self-contradiction, an impossibility. (See Footnote 19 on cultural collisions in France).

Hindu festival

#10 - Hindu festivals like this South Indian pageant offer a profusion of colours and lively entertainment. No-one would wish these cultural spectacles to die out. The ritual, which includes chanting, dancing, offerings, entrancement, whippings, skewering of cheeks and ears and walking on knives, is taken very seriously by many, but for others it's just a carnival, with free food to boot. Let's keep the gaiety but expel the deities and their strange demands!

In general Australian ideals are undoubtedly among the finest in the world. Although these ideals include a level of acceptance of cultural diversity unequalled by any other nation (with the possible exception of India), we must be careful not to let our standards become weakened by an undue tolerance of moral perversity. Nobody would want to see cultural horrors such as honour killings, female circumcision and child marriage happening in this country (Hmm! - it seems they are already with us). We do not even sanction them in those countries where they are regularly practised. But at present we do allow the importation of various anti-human customs into our society, mainly because they are associated with religion and we are supposed to show a degree of respect towards different religions. An incredibly irrational attitude! Humanists in western society should think deeply about the real meaning of multi-culturalism and ask themselves whether they are prepared to live with the consequences of promoting it, notably the threat to our democratic and predominantly "free" society (though here in Queensland we appear to be revitalizing the Joe Bjelke-Petersen era). Here's a link to an (unauthenticated) series of short video clips which might help to squash any doubts about the reality of this threat.

Regardful of this cautionary proviso, however, Central Humanism supports the development of a rich, diverse, vibrant society and the voluntary preservation of harmless ethnic customs, art and folklore, whether or not they are of religious origin, at the recreational level and in so far as they enhance the fullness of society - including the sub-societies whose cultures are at issue. (The inclusion of the words voluntary and harmless particularly implies intolerance towards any attempts to foist male-dominated or restrictive cultural values onto women and children, or to hinder the efforts of individuals to assimilate into the wider society.) Humanists should also recognise that some cultures do have much of moral value to offer - in particular, the people of many eastern societies generally accept their responsibilities and obligations towards family members much more willingly than most westerners do. It's time we recognised that Australia is a part of Asia and that our country must learn to harness the talents of its Asian immigrants - including the capacity for hard work.

Easter Bilby
Easter symbolism:   In Australia, an endangered species gets new life, as
Bilby aspires to oust Bunny

Accordingly, Central Humanism is opposed to political correctness and is unsympathetic to low tolerance and the tendency to be offended by superficialities (see Footnote 1). To take examples from the Christian culture, there’s surely no problem with the traditions of Easter eggs and bunnies, carol singing, nativity plays and displays, Christmas decorations and even Santa Claus (that is, if you think it's OK for parents to deceive their children and prime them for the acceptance of religious brainwashing). To suggest that these customs should be "contained" on the grounds that they might offend the followers of other religions is claptrap of the most pathetic kind. Provided they are not taken too seriously, legend and myth are essential ingredients of every culture, they greatly enrich a multicultural society like ours and they must not be confused with religious piety. Thus Central Humanism supports the ideal of "unity in diversity", within the limits defined by concurrence with Australian values, i.e. the values of a free and open society.

In short, Australia, like other multi-ethnic countries, can maintain its social integrity only if it promotes a fusion rather than a mere collection of cultures. This implies that potential immigrants who wish to preserve their cultural identity in a strict sense (for example, by not permitting their children to marry outside their religion) ought to reconsider their options, for they would here find themselves outcasts of their own making (see Footnote 21, last 3 paras).

Perhaps this is the place to enhance the charity begins at home list begun in #1. Our responsibilities and interests lie firstly with ourselves and our families, and then tend to recede through the wider circles of friends, country and culture, fellow human beings, people of different race and religion, intelligent and useful animals, less intelligent and nuisance animals....


11. Moral absolutism

Note: In this article "absolutism" means "anti-relativism". It does not mean "strict compliance with an authoritarian, cast-iron set of moral (or immoral!) principles". Needless to say, Central Humanism does not condone absolutism in this sense.

The modern trend in ethics appears to be towards moral relativism. Central Humanism is entirely opposed to this trend, holding that all forms of relativism are incoherent and indefensible - there must be absolute standards or else there are no genuine standards at all. It maintains this position in spite of, and in conjunction with, the apparently subjective idea that the ability to identify both truth and right depends on self-integrity (see #12). However, it is arguable that if there are no absolute values the notion of integrity is itself untenable.

Note that moral relativism does not imply, for example, that it may be right to tell the truth in certain situations but wrong at other times. It implies, rather, that there's no standard way of telling in which situations telling the truth would be right or wrong. Moral absolutism is the view that there exist objective criteria and methods by which such "higher level" quandaries may be resolved. Looking at the larger picture, it is evident that different societies, past and present, do have different moral standards. Moral relativism holds that the values of different societies are appropriate for the conditions existing in those societies and are not amenable to some higher, overriding judgement. Or, in other, less perspicuous terminology, it is claimed that the "belief systems" held by different cultures have "equal validity", or even more absurdly, that they define the "real world" for that culture. Moral absolutism denies this, claiming that some societies really do have better values than others. But if every given set of values is genuinely open to this kind of assessment, in theory there must exist a perfect set of values against which they can be compared, or a unique set of criteria or a special procedure for evaluating moral outlooks. The absolutism of Central Humanism perhaps does not go quite this far (society is too complicated to be regulated by such a naive principle), but it recognises that there is moral progress (improvement over time) and the potential for progress. And if there is or can be progress, then there are or could be moral states that are better than those that existed before.

In fact, there is evidence on at least two fronts for the progress of morality towards an elevated (if not an absolute) state. At the personal level, one's sense of morality clearly develops from childhood through to adulthood. The psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg (refining the ideas of Piaget) identifies six stages of development - the same in every culture - and argues that you cannot progress to any given stage without having passed through the preceeding stages. As adults, different people achieve different levels of development, and in different societies the proportion of people reaching higher levels may vary. Kohlberg's theory was based on empirical observation ("scientific", if psychological investigations can be said to be science - the interpretation of this kind of data tends to be highly subjective).

On the historical plane, when we look back over the recent history of Western society as a whole, we can hardly fail to notice that each stage of its ethical development discards elements of barbarity that were present in the previous stage. Furthermore, this development is directional, it advances along a clear path, rather like science. But unlike science, it is not so much a process of discovery, but more a matter of simply getting on with the job. With foresight, and with adequate knowledge, one can tell what our values will be in the future, provided the trend maintains its impetus. (In fact, one of the main reasons there has been moral progress is, not that our moral sensitivity has sharpened, but that our factual knowledge has grown.) So, if our society had the will, we could instate most of these values now. The point is this: values are absolute and man-made. To a considerable degree, we already know how the world ought to be - we're just too greedy, thoughtless and contemptuous to do anything about it.

Whether one really needs this sort of evidence is doubtful. One only needs to look at the atrocities that have occurred, and still occur, in many regions of Africa to realise that their moral standards are different from those of most other countries. But are we to believe that they are as good as those of the rest of the world? That it doesn't matter if hundreds of thousands of people batter each other to death? That we should just forget about them because we have no right to judge them? A person with any sensitivity would surely say not. Yet moral relativity leaves no genuine room for basic human sensitivity and compassion or for moral improvement.

It should be noted that relativism is an entirely different concept to arbitrariness. Virtually all moral situations are blurred by some degree of arbitrariness, and the personal choices that people must make in "moral" situations are rarely clear-cut. Nor can we always claim to be "free" to make appropriate choices. Much of the underlying arbitariness stems from ignorance and is gradually being removed as our scientific knowledge increases.

Although it is questionable whether there are any universal moral principles, this should not deter us from seeking principles that are better than the ones we already have. However, there are a number of so-called principles, some of them held by some humanists, which clearly cannot be applied to every single human being, and therefore cannot be regarded as genuine principles at all. There are ways around this. One way is to re-define what is meant by a human being – as a moral animal rather than a species (Homo sapiens) – see Footnote 18. But this is evasive, since one must moralise in order to formulate the definition.

An example of a humanist principle in this category is the obligation “to respect the dignity of all human beings”. Assuming this means much the same as “to respect all human beings” (which is doubtful), I don’t believe it's viable without considerable qualification. But in appending those qualifications, all you are really doing is setting limits on who is to count as a person worthy of respect. Which amounts to the same as modifying your concept of “human being”.

NB: For consideration by the philosophically minded - Moral absolutism does not entail the existence of moral facts. And if there are no moral facts then there can be no moral knowledge.

Some philosophers have a strange approach to the relativist/absolutist conflict. According to the absolutist, the relativist cannot win because his theory cannot stand up as an absolute truth. This is the essence of an argument against relativism that has thrived since Plato's day. But the absolutist cannot win either, the relativist says, because his absolutist stance is only a personal or cultural belief, hence relative. And it is indeed reasonable to suppose that the moral code of any culture would be regarded as absolute within that culture. I think we ought to allow the relativist the benefit of standing outside the world he surveys; after all this is not itself a moral stance, nor is it especially "absolutist". Don't all philosophers do that? It's their job, and those who cannot appraise the scene from from a higher place but remain trapped inside it are not really philosophers. The absolutist - or rather the anti-relativist - must do just the same to attain the historical perspective that is desirable for his own pitch. The trouble is, some contemporary philosophers of the "deflationist" clan have seemingly tried to knock the stuffing out of this "bird's-eye" view, using arguments which to me seem totally irrelevant.


12. Centralisation (second meaning) - personal integrity and the broader scope of ethics

"Morality is truth in full bloom" - Victor Hugo, Les Miserables.

A fundamental principle of the basic philosophy underlying Central Humanism is the interdependence of the ideas of meaningfulness, truth and integrity. "Integrity", in a nutshell, means being true to oneself (or true to life, or interpreting one's life-experiences rationally - apologies for the verbal circularity in trying to express these ideas so briefly! For an example of lack of integrity, see Footnote 24). One of the maxims of this philosophy is "No truth without integrity". The notion of self-integrity is what links the ethical philosophy of Central Humanism with objective notions of truth. Morality is founded on integrity, a personal condition that could exist even in a world devoid of other people. In that sense, morality is centralised - it begins with oneself and is not primarily social. Morally appropriate behaviour depends on the abilty to consistently distinguish truth from falsehood, sense from nonsense and fact from fantasy. It would seem that most people (worldwide) lack this ability.

An object of intrinsic value - giant fig tree in Northern Queensland
#12 - An object of intrinsic value - a gigantic old fig tree in the Atherton Tablelends, Northern Queensland. Could it ever take priority over a person? See Footnote 13.

On the other hand, the same fundamentals of personal integrity and conscience that underpin our social behaviour operate to extend our moral responsibilities naturally to distant and future communities, to other creatures and life in general and to the environment. For Central Humanists the scope of ethics is particularly broad, as it tends to endow objects and ideas with an intrinsic value, regardless of any potential benefit to observers or users. Although we humans possess a number of special intellectual attributes (see #2), we also have much in common with most other animals, especially the apes, and should extend to them some of the consideration we show to members of our own species (see Footnote 5 on "potential"). You don't need to be a zoologist - you only need to watch a few of David Attenborough's remarkable documentaries to realise that even the lowliest animals often show a very capable devotion to their mates and offspring. There appears to be nothing uniquely human about love and caring. Central Humanism advocates respect for the needs of all intelligent animals and the conservation of their natural habitats. It is strongly opposed to the needless exploitation of animals, especially to hunting wild animals for sport (this certainly includes birds and probably most species of fish). As for the farming of animals for food, there are also other very compelling reasons for drastically reducing this practice. For example, while barraged with information on how to reduce domestic water and electricity consumption, people remain blissfully unaware that they could achieve a lot more for the environment by not eating meat - also see end of When Society comes First and the michaelbluejay site on vegetarianism (however, some of the claims of the latter site are exaggerated). In regions where vegetable food is plentiful, meat and fish appear to have no place in human nutrition, possibly excepting the diets of children under the age of about 15 and pregnant women. In general, therefore, Central Humanism advocates vegetarianism, and is especially opposed to the consumption of products from animals raised or slaughtered by obviously cruel methods.

This outlook, however, does not sit well with all intellectuals. Some philosophers (among them D.C. Dennett and Steve Pinker) believe that the adult human mind is on an altogether higher plane than animal minds. Dennett apparently goes so far as to say that consciousness isn't possible in the absence of some kind of language ability, and that probably human beings alone (other than infants who haven't learnt to speak) possess the required level of ability. (My personal view is encapsulated in the epigram "No perception without conception", but I certainly do not believe that having concepts necessitates having linguistic abilities.) Regardless, most normal human beings undoubtedly demonstrate conceptual powers far exceeding those of most animals, and, as noted in #2, Central Humanism advocates the nurturing of these powers, as opposed to "mere animal" characteristics. For example, domestic dogs copulate, have an appetite for gourmet food and chase after little balls. Why should these activities be so highly valued in human beings?

Chained existence - pathetic puppy
#12 - Central Humanism advocates respect for animals. This puppy spends more than 99% of its life whimpering in a filthy corner, tethered by a rough 80cm chain with no collar and isolated from people and other dogs. It is fed irregular meals almost entirely of rice, it is often left without water and its chain keeps getting tangled. Whose rights should receive priority, the dog's or the owner's? After all, the person who can't see the need or the way to rectify these faults must be, in some ways, just as dim-witted as the dog. The picture shows a Pacific Island animal and, incongruously, it's owner happens to be a person of quite high esteem and exceptional generosity. In Australia such cruelty is of course illegal, and can never be offset by generosity. The problem in underdeveloped countries seems to be a culturally fostered narrow mindedness, uncorrected by education. The same problem exists with the hunting, shooting and fishing brigade in fully westernised societies. And of course similar issues occur in many other areas of moral concern.
Sheep ship
#12 - What has this ship got to do with ethics? Well, it carries up to 80,000 live sheep in unbelievably cramped conditions from Fremantle in Western Australia to the Middle East, where they meet with an indescribable fate. The attitude of most Australians towards animals is astonishingly inconsistent. Pets, pests, livestock and wild animals are treated according to their utility rather than their intelligence, sensitivity and needs.



12b. The origin of the carnivorous obsession?

Still, I'm wondering if it's possible that some of our academics, accustomed to sitting comfortably in their lounge chairs after a sumptuous Sunday repast of roast pork, feel obliged to defend one of the most obnoxious and powerful inventions in the history of the human race, namely the great biblical myth of the unique ascendancy and separation of man from the rest of the animal kingdom, bestowing him with certain exclusive rights, including the right to kill, eat and use other animals as workers. Forget Darwin, this belief and its culture remain deeply embedded in western and middle eastern societies to this day, assisted by another misguided, more modern idea: that only man amongst animals has a well developed consciousness while the behaviour of other animals is purely "instinctive". What an incredible shemozzle this concoction has generated! How is it possible in Australia that a person can get fined for feeding a live rat to a snake, or that the insitution of greyhound racing might be banned because some breeders have been using live rabbits as bait, yet the agricultural industry faces no prosecution for slaughtering baby animals for human consumption? Remember how only a short time ago we slaughtered millions of rabbits most cruelly by infecting them with the excruciatingly debilitating myxamatosis virus, or poisoning them with carrot baits loaded with 1080 leading to a slow, painful death, or blowing up entire warrens with a mixture of diesel and ammonium nitrate? Huh! Now you can't say boo to a cat! Whatever happened to simple common-sense priorities? Murder is widely regarded as the most despicable crime that can be committed against humans. Are there good reasons for ordering our priorities with animals differently? Inconsistencies in ethical thinking such as these are entirely unacceptable. Yet in Australia and many other "civilized" countries the abuse of animals has ascended the heights of glorification, due mainly to the intense, outrageous popularisation of gastronomy by the media.

13. Centralisation (third meaning) - personal worlds

The ethics of Central Humanism recognises that your own life is everything you will ever know about the world. You carry your world around with you, so to speak, dwelling at the centre of your own unique universe, the only universe that exists for you. That is why every person is supremely important. (This notion is further explained in Wotser Proper Filossofer? - Principal requirements and concerns of Proper philosophy: 6.) The numbers game tends to collapse, and arguably the classical utilitarian formula for calculating the most moral course of action becomes irrelevant (see Footnote 3). Still, there are millions of people whose circumstances confine them to abhorrent world views, reflecting hardly any of the elements of being human and incarcerating them in dungeons of unbelievable wretchedness. This is perhaps the ground where humanism faces its greatest intellectual and practical challenges.


14. Centralisation (fourth meaning) - moral conscience

Many humanists probably think of themselves as being essentially utilitarians or "consequentialists" (see Footnote 13). Utilitarianism as such, however, could operate purely as a legal system or as a behavioural code for machines. The idea that consequences can be evaluated at all presupposes some moral imperatives, and it is these, surely, that form the backbone of a moral philosophy and create its distinctive tenor. Consequentialism as such could be applied to any (genuinely) ethical standards whatsoever, or to none. It becomes a moral philosophy only when it is guided by the moral consciences of those who endorse it. The cause of this conscience and the justification for going along with it are difficult questions which many humanists are apt to shun (see #15). Clearly these questions demand attention: one cannot engage in moral behaviour unless one has an accountable moral conscience. Morality is centralised. (However, in defence of certain aspects of consequentialism, I hope shortly to place a link here to an argument that, in the administration of criminal justice, offences should be gauged by their effects regardless of the psychology of the criminal. This apparently begs the question whether morality as a whole has any genuine psychological basis - even though the subject matter of morals is clearly psychological.) (Also see Footnote 15 on the difference between social and moral conscience).

The main consequence of this position is that one's standards of truth, right and good cannot be imposed by an external authority (either man or god) but must somehow be worked out for oneself. To accept other standards without question is to shirk a foremost responsibility and to live a life of fakery. This does not imply that moral standards themselves are subjective. One has to make just the same kinds of judgments and choices as one does in interacting with the physical world – it’s essentially a question of survival.


15. Centralisation (fifth meaning) - the biological basis of moral behaviour

The biological evidence is clear: the aim of life is to pass on your genes to the next generation - your own genes, not those of your partner, nextdoor neighbour, fellow countrymen or race. Yet rather would you countenance the transmission of your compatriots' genes than those of foreigners or other races: your instincts take command. The moral life appears to be at odds with the biological. Or is it just that by living in harmony with your biological "enemies" you believe your chances of preserving your inheritance are better? In that case, many social dissenters are simply people who believe otherwise, and who is to say who's right?

Still, it's arguable that most aspects of "common" morality do have their roots in biological mechanisms, particularly in the genetic code that has evolved in association with the relationship of individuals to their kin, to broader social structures and to various other environmental factors. As has been suggested, integrity concerns the complex biological interface between an individual and his environment, a marriage which is the product of many thousands of years of wooing, so to speak. Similarly, moral conscience can be regarded as the psychological manifestation of a highly evolved genetic configuration, representing an advanced development of basic biological urges. No further justification would be required, were it not for the unfortunate fact that both the integrity and the moral consciences of many individuals seem to be gravely askew, posing questions of value that place unreasonable pressure on mere evolutionary explanations.

The germ of morality is clearly present in the behaviour of many social animals other than man. The survival of the species often depends on the survival of social groups, so socially appropriate behaviour can be seen as simply a biological mechanism for survival. I don't think it would be stretching things too far to suggest that some of the apes are moral animals, since, like human beings, they exhibit both self awareness and freedom of choice. It's possible, too, that the "moral conscience" of both humans and certain apes is mediated by specific cells found only in the brains of these species. In that case, the roots of ethics are evolutionary and down-to-earth, not philosophical, religious or in any way "elevated" above the animal world. Morality is "centred" in simple biological facts.

Of course this is not to suggest that people should behave like animals (though often it might be better if they did). But the Central Humanist view is that one of the main purposes of the moral code of a civilized society is to ensure the survival of the society and of the human species in an amicable environment. In this respect Central Humanism is fundamentally biological. However, biologism, like utilitarianism, does not justify ethics or any particular moral attitude - it only helps to characterise it. Presumably morality can't be "reduced" to evolutionary causes, any more than a person can be reduced to the workings of his brain or body (although some people do accept this kind of reductionism).


16. Non-violence

In general Central Humanism is strongly opposed to torture, cruelty and all forms of violence, whether amongst individuals or in war, except in defence. However, the new face of war, the ascent of terrorism and the ever-increasing fuzziness between domestic and international interests, and between warlike and criminal activity, create a number of problems with the concept of defence. Increasingly, situations arise in which, it is argued, defence is best served by intervention.

Many undisputably shared resources and assets, such as rain forest, ocean and atmosphere, exist partly or wholly in other people’s territory. Among these assets may be counted people themselves and their interests, including their ethnicity, their ideologies and culture and, above all, their dignity. Well, we rightly create storms over disgraceful activities such as bear-farming in China and whaling by the Japanese (but see entry about whaling). Shouldn't we be stirring up tornadoes over similar atrocities against human beings? Who or what are we defending - a nation, a way of life or the rights of people everywhere to be free from needless suffering and oppression? Are we not chiefly defending humanity against those we do not regard as fully human? As our prime minister, John Howard, recently remarked in relation to the worst kinds of terrorist, we are dealing with people "outside the bounds of human behaviour" - implying that they are not to be treated as human beings? (see Footnote 18). Whatever, can we achieve anything worthwhile without any kind of aggression against other states? Very doubtful! (After the unspeakable horror of Beslan, who could not sympathise with Russia’s avowel to strike at terrorists anywhere in the world to prevent further acts of terrorism in their country? – though this is not a good example, as bungling by Russian security officials has been blamed for much of the carnage.)

There's a bit of a problem with the media. Sometimes one wonders whether they are even vaguely aware of these fundamental facts: (1) Violence is rife! (2) Violence is wrong! You’d think they’d show a smattering of approval for those occasional attempts to reduce it, as well as disapproval for the persistent failure of the United Nations to stem pandemic violence in such places as Sudan and the Congo. But no matter how good the cause, the media seem to concentrate on reporting the downside of intervention by "western" forces in a foreign country. (They look at an appealing body, see only the warts, blow them up out of all proportion and turn them into an acute embarassment.) At the same time, the media in the country controlled by the regime under attack inevitably report to the people only what the authorities dictate, which is usually a mass of lies.

Central Humanism is also opposed to the death penalty, as an outcome of any trial in a court of law. However, as a formal edict (heaven forbid!) this currently conflicts, in a moral sense, with views such as those expressed in Footnote 18. Presumably an extreme case could arise where a person is judged to be "sub-human", and therefore the edict could theoretically be overridden. Since Footnote 18 ventures into unfamiliar territory, the “official” stand on capital punishment should take precedence. (Also see #7, para 3.)


17. More on the equality myth

“There is no essential difference within mankind … Nor is there any member of any nation who cannot attain moral excellence by using nature as his guide.” (Cicero,106-43 B.C.)

Central Humanism applauds the intentions of the last statement but rejects the first. Cicero’s argument seemed to be that because we use one word, man, to refer to people in general, their differences must be minimal. Well, the use of one word does imply that people have something in common (though Wittgenstein might have doubted this), but this is no excuse for brushing aside important differences. You might just as well say there’s no essential difference within the animal kingdom or in the exam results! Let’s not be fooled by language into believing in essences (see below).

The differences between people are to be esteemed more than their similarities – provided they do not lead to social disruption and strife. Variety is the spice of life, both across the human spectrum and for oneself. Any system that imposes uniformity on people, or on the way they think, is evil. And this includes systems in which an underlying foundation of "natural equality" is assumed. As an intrinsic property of human beings, equality is the great social lie, the imaginary force that binds modern society. Yet if equality were real, the notions of freedom, progress, justice, goodness and ethics would be entirely without meaning or use - there would be nowhere left for them to go.

Perhaps the best known and most outrageous statement of equality (though penned by one of the finest human beings of all time) occurs in the final version of Thomas Jefferson's draft of the American Declaration of Independence (see Epigrams & Maxims (no. 18.)). It had high hopes and served its initial purposes well, but present conditions in the USA prove that it has worn thin. Had Jefferson realised that people are unequal from the moment of birth, and that the only rights they have are those allowed by the society into which they are born, undoubtedly this paragraph would have taken a very different form. The Declaration should have recognised that people are unequal by virtue of both heredity and environment, and that it is one of the main functions of government and society to provide the means of removing the injustices that ensue from many of these inequalities.

The Declaration was, of course, targeted at the British, who were perceived as abusing human rights, and presumably one of its aims was to abolish slavery and give blacks equal rights to whites. For, just as there are no ethically relevant qualities of people in respect of which they are all equal (see # 6), so there are many differences between people which don’t – or shouldn’t – have any ethical relevance. These include not only race, but sex, age, social status etc (but not religious beliefs, which are ethically loaded). Not that those statements in the Declaration (or any number of other antidiscrimination laws) are concerned only with ethical matters. But at the time, they were effective because they were held to imply at least that all people, regardless of origin or status, should be treated with dignity. And this is the one salient principle common to all forms of humanism.

The American Declaration of Independence was neither the first nor the last important political document built on the premise of inherent or God-given human equality. But there are many who might now say it’s naïve to take these statements of equality literally. A “more reasonable” interpretation, they claim, runs something like this: that in the dealings of society at large individuals should be treated with equal consideration, unless there are special circumstances that give rise to reasons for treating an individual differently. The problems with this view are all too obvious: (1) The accusation of naivity must surely be levelled primarily at the authors of the statements, not the readers. Why did they not express themselves plainly to start with? Presumably because either they believed the nonsense they wrote or they wished to deceive the public; (2) Any interpretation of nonsense is possible but few are “reasonable” – you can paraphrase nonsensical statements in almost any way you want; (3) Having produced an alternative “more reasonable” parallel statement, people will still have widely different opinions as to how it applies in practice (for example, in the interpretation given above, what would count as special circumstances?). But, all this aside, it’s a fact that many people really do believe in natural or inherent equality, and they are the ones who must now live with the charge of naivity and gullibility. May Central Humanists forever distance themselves from these absurdities.

It would be easy to say that what people have in common is their humanity, and this is what makes them “equal”. But people also share animality with animals, so this is what makes us equal to animals, we share life with plants etc, so this is what makes us equal to plants and all living things, and we share solidity with objects so….. Going in the other direction, murderers share criminality with criminals so must be regarded as “equal” to other criminals, university professors share erudition with the intelligentsia, and so on. The argument is fruitless and silly.

Perhaps what is really intended in referring to the “equality” of people is that we should not imagine any class of persons to be lacking in faculties which they actually possess, and that people should be allowed to live their lives to the full extent of their capacities. This is getting closer, but there are still problems, for in practice we do a lot more than that. For example, we normally try to improve the lives of people with disabilities and we encourage people to become educated so that they can lead more fulfilling lives. On the other hand most people still don’t care a stuff about allowing farm animals to lead lives to the full extent of their capacities, let alone slaughtering them for food or even for sport.

So what merit can one detect in the “equality” hypothesis? Absolutely none. Quite the contrary, these remarks only add weight to the claim that people are very unequal in respect of the two human qualities which probably matter most – compassion and reason. There are, indeed, some kinds of inequality that seem to be intractable, and that affect the very notion of a "person". With these, too, the perspective of Central Humanism is realistic. In today’s world nothing could be more evident than that humankind has its incurable scum as well as its noble benefactors, and it is both a logical expectation and an overt truth that all grades of humanity exist between these extremes. Inequality in its deepest sense, therefore, implies that some people are more human than others. But humanness is an extremely complex quality, and there are probably as many opinions about what contributes most significantly to it as there are people (in so far as people ever think about such matters!)

Well, on a more personal and local level, how do you rate yourself relative to some of the other people living in your suburb? What about those bogan neighbours you may be unfortunate to have - the ones who utter strings of swear words swear-words almost every time they open their mouths, the ones with absolutely no respect for you, other people or the law, the ones you might think of variously as scumbags, uneducated idiots or unspeakable monsters? Are they not less human than you? Assuming my readers (jf any!) are fairly average people, my answer is a resounding "yes". Take it or leave it. Nonetheless, I believe all people in every walk of life should have equal access to legal processes, a luxury which unfortunately the inhabitants of supposedly civilized countries such as Australia are denied.

Thus, despite its aspirations of absolutism, Central Humanism might be thought to embrace a seemingly ineradicable, deep seated subjectivism. But this could be an illusion. For while opinions may differ about the nature of humanity, it usually happens that some opinions on such issues are eventually seen to be wrong and others right. Anyway, there are surely some aspects of human-ness about which all humanists, at least, must find agreement. On the one hand, for example, there are those who flout fundamental humanitarian principles (such as the worst criminal offenders and the torturers and oppressors in control in authoritarian systems), and on the other hand are those unlucky enough to live in a tyrranical, closed system that has robbed them of many of their human qualities, through brain-washing and ruthless coercion. Doubtless the two kinds of case overlap and doubtless they provoke quite different reactions in humanists. Still, we should have learnt from the recurring lessons of history: today's robot is apt to become tomorrow's torturer or terrorist.

The evidence of evolution, history and human development as a whole surely provides compelling, objective support for the view that people are unequal as human beings. If social progress is the march from savagery to civilisation, then individual progress is the climb from brute to person. And the more civilised their society, the greater the opportunity for individuals to achieve their potential for human-ness. Thus, given a fairly rigid but credible definition of “human”, individuals exhibit different degrees of human-ness, depending partly on their social environment (see Footnote 18). It would appear that in most westernised societies, including Australia, progress in certain humanist sectors in the last fifty years has been more than offset by various contrary trends, brought about mainly by the technological revolution, the rapid growth in legislation and the proliferation of neo-socialist policies.

The notion of fundamental human inequality might seem repulsive and frightening to many, bringing to mind the ogres of fascism, slavery and caste. These were indeed (and still are) repulsive, but they were enforced states and obviously had no basis in humanitarian principles. It is partly the understandable desire to push these evils out of sight that has led to the widespread belief in inherent equality. (Another contributing factor is the weird notion of "equality in the eyes of God" - weird if only because this "God" is plainly a brutal extremist when it comes to treating people unequally.) Surely it's high time the unintelligible concept of innate equality was supplanted by a proper respect for truth and a compassionate concern for all conscious beings.

Perhaps the burning question is: if most people came to realise their inequality, what would become of our society? (see Conclusions, para 3). Hopefully little would change, because the social institutions currently in place do tacitly recognise most inequalities and generally deal with them quite appropriately.


18. Trust, the social environment and neo-socialist madness

Central Humanism promotes a trusting community and opposes the sociological trends in our society that undermine trust and pamper the ratbags to the disadvantage of the majority. Our society is losing the thread when it comes to protecting civil liberties and dealing with crime. In a trusting society (and one in which crime is properly managed) we should not need to lock our doors at night.

In Australia encroaching socialism gives in to the misconduct of inconsiderate and negligent people whilst reducing the freedom of all responsible citizens. Central Humanism deplores the mindest of social planners who abolish or outlaw environmental and lifestyle freedoms and services on the grounds that they might be wrongfully used. The abuse of common property and social facilities is invariably by a minority, so if they are closed or restricted the rights of the majority are unreasonably curtailed. In accordance with its support for civil liberties and individual responsibility, Central Humanism favours an unfettered social environment and advocates targeting and reforming or, if necessary, incriminating socially irresponsible individuals. An important topical example of an unnecessarily restrictive policy is the illegalisation of euthanasia. For many other examples and discussion see When Society comes First.


19. "Inverted discrimination"

This is a terrible heading, but it's supposed to draw attention to the fact that our society spends a lot of energy highlighting the evils of so-called discrimination, i.e. finding differences which are irrelevant or which don't exist, but very little energy rectifying the equally immoral custom of glossing over differences which are relevant and do exist, or, just as bad, refusing to acknowledge relevant similarities. ("Relevant" here means relevant to positive social relationships, ethical behaviour and the fair treatment of individuals in our society.) This concept draws together some of the points already raised in sections 6, 12, 15 and 17, and footnotes 5, 10 and 13.


20. Open-ended

Central Humanism is a philosophy for free thinkers, not for mindless disciples. Therefore it is to be expected that most readers who have come this far will find much to disagree with. It is certainly not a fixed philosophy: it remains open on a wide range of ethical issues and asks only that the arbitrators should be empirical knowledge and reason. Nothing is certain in this life - "Certainty is one of the most unyielding and malicious of prejudices", in the sphere of human relations and ethics even more than in science. Once we become convinced of anything, a part of our soul becomes embedded in concrete, a part of us dies. Let us do our best to keep ourselves and others fully alive.


21. Conclusions and reservations

Tsunami victims reaching for handouts
#21 - The need of people on the brink is     the most pressing of concerns
    Are food handouts the answer?

Although the various concepts of "centralisation" take precedence in this version of humanism, the world today is such that humanist concerns are driven to focus mainly on the plight of people in third-world countries, and of destitute children abandoned to the streets and horrendous institutions throughout the world. As far as possible the remedies must be applied in situ, in lavish amounts, but together with and subject to various conditions, such as implementation of birth control policies, political reform, provision of a sound, secular education for all children and guarantees that the right people will benefit. Without those kinds of assurances the whole business of overseas aid is a waste of time and resources. If these strategies entail armed intervention, then so be it. (The attempts of charities, governments and major international organisations to deal with the problem have frequently been unimpressive.) The most important "instant remedy", however, usually consists in providing basic infrastructure, such as clean water supplies and sanitation. Indeed clean water is often the key to health, wealth and wisdom. Without it, diseases run riot, healthy food cannot be grown or sold, and if children have to spend hours every day carting water, there's no time left for them to get any kind of an education. It's a sobering thought that the per capita water usage in Australia is up to 100 times that of some rural communities in the poorest nations.


world population growth

#21 - A graph that looks like this is cause for extreme alarm! Where to next?

"If anyone's interested in the alleviation of poverty...the only thing we know definitely works is giving women control over their own reproduction." (Christopher Hitchens)

Unfortunately in gravely overpopulated regions (e.g. parts of Africa), it appears that the instant remedies prescribed by the richer nations, such as providing food, water and health care, don't have the remotest chance of keeping pace with the increases in mortality and disease generated by the continuing high population growth. Let me repeat: "Any future human being is a pest, but once born it is normally a little miracle to be venerated". The plain fact is that, in the long run, curbing birth rates in overpopulated regions is going to save many more lives than stop-gap measures such as providing famine relief. It could also save the world from disaster. But will the citizens of western nations ever come to think of population control as being more humane than reducing the suffering of human beings here and now? No, their compassion will be spent in vain and birth control may never get the priority attention it deserves. We've already left it far too late and have put ourselves in a position of being forced to deal with the effects of the population explosion rather than the cause. (Good grief, Malthus foresaw some of these consequences more than 200 years ago!) Without doubt overpopulation is the world's number one problem, from which one might conclude that unbridled procreation is the world's greatest social evil. The sooner we understand this, the better. Breeding is not a human right but an environmental disaster.

So perhaps the right question to ask is, not how many children in third world countries die, but how many survive into adulthood. Obviously a lot more than in developed countries, going on population growth figures. Is our concern for the plight of these children entirely justified?

The woes of many other countries are due to political despotism and civil war, resulting in millions of people being placed in desperate circumstances, and with little choice but to leave their homelands. The numbers of refugees are set to increase dramatically, with natural disasters adding to the count. Australians are surely obliged to accept their share of these people.

At home, the ridiculous commitment of politicians and big business to expanding the population of Australia, especially through immigration (other than refugees) is also a grave error that must be put right. Other concerns include equal access to justice, examining some of our own barbaric customs, lackadaisical attitudes towards the environment and appropriate measures to deal with criminal behaviour (including juvenile crime, on which the system appears to have gone overly soft, being unduly influenced by the sloppy neo-sociologist brigade). But perhaps the foremost domestic concern is the preservation of a society of open-minded, free-thinking individuals (with the emphasis on "thinking" just as much as "free"). Paradoxically, an open mind needs a security grill. And in the present world climate an open society needs a security grill, an alarm system, video surveillance, an electric fence and a pack of rottweilers. A most desirable aim of Central Humanism is to make some small contribution towards the establishment of a global society in which none of these safety measures is necessary.

While humanists are right to distance themselves from the absurdities of classical religion, still they (in particular those of an extreme rationalist disposition) have a great deal of soul-searching to do. If it’s really true that our entire being consists of nothing but a few fleeting moments of consciousness here on Earth, there’s no knowing what perspective on life the machinations of reason might hurl at us. Reason alone does not make a humanist, but it might well create egoists. The mind of every humanist also includes many seemingly irrational strands such as love, compassion and transcendence (in at least some of its manifestations - see #3). How can he justify his reliance on such emotive elements as these in his humanist philosophy? Are they sufficient to see him through his diminutive, sometimes disappointing, frequently theatrical performance on the world's stage? Can reason supply the answers? Or is the belief in immortality a "categorical imperative"?

Humanists should also carefully consider whether humanism is a philosophy only for the relatively intelligent and well educated. The humanist movement embraces not only compassion and concern for the future, but the application of reason and insightful, objective knowledge. These elements are spread quite thinly throughout the globe, particularly in underdeveloped regions. Would a society without education, despotism or religion* simply disintegrate? Can poorly educated people control their lives through a proper understanding of moral issues, or do they have to be told how to behave by some higher authority? If the latter, then Central Humanism (and probably most other kinds of humanism) may be a lost cause - unless it sets universal education as its first priority.

* It is indeed the writer's opinion that religion (along with a lot of related nonsense such as the belief in equality and natural rights) is currently a necessary evil, especially in third world and developing countries, but that education could change this absurd state of affairs. Social responsibilty is apparently not a natural or common human characteristic.

But the possibility of a sound education in third world and developing countries depends on so many other things, all interlinked. Poor parents cannot educate their children, even with massive state assistance, when they have six or more of them! They cannot even feed them properly. So population control comes before education, but population control is only possible with education. Again, when the people suffer from poverty, hunger and disease, when they are living under the axe of a corrupt ineffective government, when they have been besotted by the invasive, anti-life dogmas of catholic, pentecostal and muslim hogwash pedlars, when security is almost non-existent and crime and civil unrest rule, when even the most basic resources such as water are hard to find - what chance in hell is there for education? How can we even begin to think of it as a "priority", in any practical sense of the word?

Most modern-world humanists do not even educate themselves properly. Like the majority of the populace, they ignore all evidence calling for behavioural changes that would upset their comfortable lifestyle - a lifestyle based on traditions that have been shaped in part by religion. For example, they choose to overlook the facts concerning animal production - the deep inroads it makes into the world's water and land resources, its contribution to environmental degradation and global warming and the pointless suffering that mass farming methods impose on animals. The reluctance of many humanists to take on board inconvenient truths is totally at odds with their professed rationalism.

Not that this blindness is at all surprising. The peoples of industrialised societies have long since lost contact with Nature. In days gone by, ordinary people knew when water was scarce because they had to fetch it for themselves. They appreciated the value of energy because they had to chop their own firewood. They did not waste any bread because every grain of wheat was planted by hand. This is a form of education most of us no longer get. Now everything comes off a supermarket shelf or through a cable or a pipe, and god only knows where it came from. Our relationship to Mother Earth has become distant and complicated. We cannot understand our dependence on her - or how we are ravishing her - unless we make a real effort to find out. And, for all the science accompanying the menu, we understand our needs less well than ever before, because the corporate giants of industry inundate us with a huge variety of mysterious packages that probably contain few if any of the essentials of life.

The preservation of our society in its present state of detachment from the Earth is hugely dependent on the supply of a single commodity - oil. It is chiefly because of oil that we have managed to become so remote from Nature. (Another contributer to our condition is money, a near-fictional entity which we tend to substitute for real goods.) However, world oil production is forecast to begin declining quite dramatically in 3-20 years from now (2006) - not so much because the Earth's oil reserves are running out, but because of the complexity and prohibitive cost of the technology needed to extract it from ever more inaccessible places. Viable alternative energy sources still seem to be in the notebook stages of development. Furthermore the technologies which sustain our current isolation from Nature are geared to the use of oil and will require extensive modification to make them compatible with other forms of energy. In view of our unpreparedness for the decline in oil production, one can only envisage economic chaos. The means by which all the nameless bounties of the Earth are transported from source to factory, converted into modern consumer goods and again transported to the cities, will be swept from under our feet, along with the make-believe wealth tied up in shares and superannuation. The only consolation is that the decline in oil use may help to reduce the severity of global warming. Or will it just add one crisis to another?

So what should be the first priority of humanists? Much depends firstly on whether you are an absolute centralist pre-occupied with home affairs, or an altruist with thoughts only for others, or somewhere in between; and secondly whether your concern is predominantly with the reality of the present or the uncertainties of the future. Your position on each of these two scales will determine which adverse consequences you are prepared to accept for the sake of certain good consequences. Who's to say whether there's a right or a wrong position (especially if you're not a consequentialist anyway)? But the more speculative humanist might wish to cast his net further afield than the grinding problems of the third world. We are living on a planet where time is fast running out. Some of the areas in which humanists (including the writer of Central Humanist Hub) traditionally expend most of their energy, such as religious denunciation and the secularisation of education and government, are longterm agendas with largely unknown outcomes (in terms of their real effect on society assuming they are successful). In a sense, by devoting themselves to religious, cerebral and sociological matters, humanists are demonstrating a surprising lack of pragmatism and neglect for their own empiricist ideals. Although promoting humanist ideology as such is a necessary activity, there appear to be more insidious, universal issues that the world needs to deal with first - issues that could very soon affect the lives of all human beings regardless of the present circumstances of their society. Surely these cannot be ignored by humanists. We must wake up to the fact that a rapidly increasing number of activities, particularly those relating to population growth and the way we use basic resources, are turning into moral issues. It's high time we diverted some energy into finding solutions to those problems that present the most immediate threat to our very existence. (We should never loose sight of the fact that today - as yesterday - unrestrained procreation is the greatest social evil. No longer can individuals assume they have a "natural right" to produce more than two offspring during their lifetime.)

You humanists out there, you are the lucky ones, you've managed to escape at least some of the brainwashing wreaked by the tyranny of your religious and cultural heritage, your feet are planted on the ground and your minds work with the exquisite power of common sense and reason. Others have nothing to fear, they will be saved by their deities and ensconced in paradise for all eternity, so why should they care about the future of the world? (Some of them despise all life, including their own.) You are the ones who hold the real future in your hands. It is of the utmost importance to figure out now what that future might be like and what needs to be done to change it for the better.


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