Does organised humanism have a demographic problem?

The BHA's Voltaire Lecture

I have always been a humanist, really. But it’s only recently that I've made the effort to ‘get involved’ with humanism more actively.

At my secondary school I now run an ‘Asking Questions Club’ – “a space to discuss, with rationality, empiricism, and all-round critical thinking in mind”, reads the poster, “absolutely everyone welcome” – which has been going well.

More and more, I am also making the effort to attend lectures, talks, and conferences centred around Humanism and Science, my pet subjects. One of my recent outings was to the Voltaire lecture given by experimental psychologist Steven Pinker and hosted by the British Humanist Association (the audio for which can be found here, if you missed it). It was a great talk, and the topic – ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity’ – certainly left my Mother and me with a lot to think about on the way home.

The only problem was that our travel discussion at this time seemed to constantly revert back to a different theme to the one Pinker presented. We kept asking: “why are the audiences at these things always so white, and middle-class?”

I think, frankly, that this is unrepresentative of humanists as a whole. My Mother and I are both proudly working-class, and live in what I believe to be one of the most culturally diverse boroughs in London – Haringey. So, each time we attend these events, we feel that there is a very stark contrast between the people in the audience and the people surrounding us in our day-to-day lives, many of whom we know to be humanists themselves.

(Continue reading this post at the Rationalist Association website)

Views: 204

Tags: Atheism, Class, Equality, Humanism, Pinker, Race, Rationality, Shaha, Voltaire

Comment by Unseen on March 30, 2013 at 6:14pm

@Angela  It depends what you want. The more people will be the same, the less friction and strife between groups. In the fruit salad concept, groups can maintain their us/them view of the world, which is why I'm more for the melting pot. 

I always say that we'll have skin-tone racism until everyone is light brown, which is about where Mexican Americans are right now. Consider them the leading edge of anti-racism.

Comment by Simon Paynton on March 30, 2013 at 6:17pm

I think the fruit salad concept applies very well to ideologies - each one has something useful to say. 

Comment by Unseen on March 30, 2013 at 6:19pm

@Simon  Maybe having something useful to say doesn't lead to peace, though. Witness the Middle East. Both the Jews and Palestinians have valid points, but that doesn't seem to be leading to peace anytime soon.

Comment by Strega on March 30, 2013 at 6:55pm

@Thom - I think you're right.  There is a legacy of tribal nature in us, whether it's which sports team you support, what school you went to (in the USA they have Fraternities and Sororities that are a kind of 'forever' club) or some other delineator.  I think the 'them and us' drive is probably hard-coded into us as a competitive survival technique for our specific genes.

Comment by Simon Paynton on March 30, 2013 at 7:49pm

Angela - you kill me. 

Unseen - I just mean I think it's good to have a competing "team of rivals" when trying to decide on policies.  There can be something to be said for Thatcherian competition. 

Comment by Unseen on March 30, 2013 at 9:34pm

@Simon  Multiple points of view when it comes to ideas is always good. However, I think when one accepts immigrants into any company the goal should be to be ABSORBED, not set up little enclaves where they set up Little Egypts, Little Italies, Little Greeces, Little Ethiopias, or whatever.

Here in the U.S., our immigrants have traditionally strived to be like the mainstream Americans for the most part. Sure, they go to their traditional churches and hold, for example, Greek or German or Italian or Japanese festivals in the summer where they introduce the cuisine and culture of their homelands. As a rule, they do not set up enclaves where they attempt to reproduce a neighborhood of their homeland within U.S. borders where they maintain the old ways and speak the old country's language to the exclusion of American ways. That just fosters an us/them atmosphere, and leads to suspicions.

Comment by Unseen on March 31, 2013 at 12:23pm

All cultures would be equal. I think the idea of no more war would make us glad that all the current differences which drive us into conflict are matters for historical study. We would still be able to study and appreciate the cultures of the past, and learn the various languages to keep them alive.

It'll never happen unfortunately.

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