Humanist Thought of the Week: April 28 2009
A Humanist Prescription for Grief
I have been meaning to talk about this for a while now.
This is a video of Joss Whedon (creater of Buffy and Serenity) talking about Humanism at Harvard. And yes, lots of Sci Fi writers are Humanists. But I am sharing this because he says something very important about Humanism at the end. And that is that religion isn’t the enemy of Humanism. Hate is.
So – today is Easter. Yay! I am a mom of a 3 year old, he woke us up as he always does. He noticed all the candy eggs in the stores and the bunnies and has been asking questions about Easter for the past few weeks now. This was a little bit of a problem for me because I grew up in a non-religious household. We weren’t atheists. We simply weren’t anything. We did do Passover with our Jewish relatives though, and I LOVE Passover though we haven’t celebrated it since, well, we had the boy and haven’t been able to muster up the energy to put together a seder. It is a great holiday though. But getting back to Easter, I don’t ever recall getting an Easter basket growing up. Maybe we did, but at that time Easter baskets were filled with candy which we weren’t allowed because my dad was anti-candy owing apparently to the fact he had one cavity and never wanted us (his children) to suffer the same fate. We may have done community Easter egg hunts when I was young, but by the time I was a teenager, we just didn’t celebrate it at all. So…. surrounded by all things Easter, I find myself bereft of knowledge about how to celebrate it.
I am of course referring to the 3 laws of robotics made famous by Humanist Isaac Asimov. I wanted to write about this because of critiques against Humanism being a situational ethics system – as opposed to an absolute system. All ethic systems have a set of values or rules. Humanist ethics are pretty simple. If it helps, it is good. If it hurts, it is bad. If it does both, try to do the most good and the least harm. Humanists are anti-dogma. We believe that all ethic systems should be held situational-ly because even with the best intentions, absolute ethics cause harm. Granted, holding your value system absolutely does save you the nasty problem of having to think for yourself and you can consider yourselve absolved of guilt if things go poorly if you consider your values absolute which is probably why some people cling to the idea of absolute ethics.
The number of mass murders is growing. It used to be that when someone killed a whole room full of people, it was big news. Now it is so common we hardly notice it anymore. There has of course been lots of speculation as to what we can do to control these homicidal maniacs, and as it turns out, we can’t. We can’t even predict it. But, what is missing in all this discussion is the obvious. It used to be that getting your hands on a gun capable of killing lots of people quickly wasn’t easy to do. Now, it is fairly easy to get such a weapon. Make it harder to get these weapons, and you make it harder for homicidal maniacs to kill large numbers of people. So… yeah – we are talking serious gun control. I am not even sure it is feasible in this day and age. But we should at least try and get some common sense measures in place. We won’t be able to stop the drug cartels, but if we can stop an unstable individual with revenge on his mind, isn’t it worth it? We should at least consider gun control as an option.
NOAA’s Climate Program Office recently published a set of guiding principles for making informed decisions about climate change. It is a very good set of princples definitely inspired by Humanism. This makes me very happy because, I believe that Humanism, as a methodology, is one of the best methods of problem solving. It starts with a belief that we can take constructive action as humans to make things better (as opposed to simply praying or offering sacrafices). And as a method of problem solving, it insists on having accurate information about the problem we are trying to solve before attempting to solve it. Yeah – I know, its a radical idea (even after all these years). Anyhoo – NOAA has decided that the public needs to have a basic level of literacy about climate change if we are to have a rational discussion on how to solve this problem. How very Humanist of them. The entire document can be found here. A synpopsis of the principles is below.