The Ballad of Apollo

To commemorate the anniversary of the first lunar landing, 21 July 1969

Apollo 11 Saturn V on launch pad 39A, 1 July 1969. NASA Photo.

We recall history came,
Launched upon Apollo’s flame.
Footsteps on a dusty world
– dreams unfurled –
We all yearned for adventure and acclaim.

Ponder the world’s pride and glee,
Watching astronauts float free.
How we longed to share with them
stratagem
and we did, they went there, they were we.

Nurture your dreams well,
Love them and let them thrive.
It’s only when our dreams take off
That we are truly alive.

Aldrin poses for portrait (NASA Photo AS11-40-5903)

In the depths of history,
We can forge a destiny.
Striving to make stellar views
– or fake news –
Is a choice amidst life’s mystery.

Travellers all through space and time,
Our birthright, our aim, our climb.
We see change as the right stuff
– Not enough! –
Let’s create alternate worlds sublime.

Nurture your dreams well,
Love them and let them thrive.
It’s only when our dreams take off
That we are truly alive.

Apollo 11 lunar footprint (NASA photo)

Our future is not consigned,
No matter how paths may wind.
We each have a part to play
– on the way –
Our small steps form a leap when combined.

In our reflected moonbeams,
History, Science, Academes.
Standing tall or voicing loud
– Just be proud –
And be true to yourself and your dreams.

Nurture your dreams well,
Love them and let them thrive.
It’s only when our dreams take off
That we are truly alive.

With thanks and acknowledgement to James Horner for the inspiration from his soundtrack to the ‘Apollo 13’ movie (1995).

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn

I Sing the Body Eclectic

Image by FelixMittermeier from Pixabay

I sing the body cosmological
I celebrate multiverses;
Particles surfing on dark matter,
Virtualities mingling with the foam of nothingness
from which they came and to which they return.
Whether large or small, cubits or qubits,
Each Big Bang encapsulated in its own bubble.

I sing the body astronomical
Where laws of physics birth and give birth,
From galaxies to primordial goo
Where evolution unfolds from cosmological to astronomical
from stellar to planetary
from geological to chemical
from biosphere to biology
where stellar fires fuel organic fervour:
astronomic ardor begets earthly élan.

I sing the body organic,
A Laniakea of life.
Where muscles, neurons and dynamism
spin and dance and weave together
in a chorus of celebration and exploration
from bio to brio
from leaves of grass to lives of graciousness
from curious to courageous
from ignorant to informed
from enquiring to enlightened.

Image by DrSJS from Pixabay

I sing the body electric,
(The armies of life engirthing each other and being engirthed)
Celebrating confluence to come – –
The rise of sentient AI
and the ennobling and enabling of current life
into TransHumanist and TransOrganic forms.
A joining, a fusing, a suturing,
where neurons marry quantum switches,
where life force marries electricity

A future where organics
and synthetics mingle and merge,
and sentients
and robots
and cyborgs
and DNA-enhanced
and digital
and cybernetic
and conjoined
become the new living normal.

Where ‘society’ becomes ‘singularity’
and where individual thought becomes hive mind;
(the end of loneliness and selfishness and crime and poverty);
where ‘me’ becomes ‘we’
and all flesh and fibre
bone and clone
cellular and crystalline
sweat and sand
mortal and metal
become family.

I sing the body eclectic,
Evolving from cosmos to consciousness,
From cognition to conscience,
From competition to compassion.

With thanks and acknowledgement to Walt Whitman (poet), and Dean Pitchford & Michael Gore (song writers), for their inspiration.

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn

Life Is For Living

This year’s CHOGM theme is: ‘Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming.’ The eyes of the world – and world history – will judge if they are up to this noble task.

One segment of Commonwealth life that needs immediate transformation is the human right to equality and protection under the law for all LGBT+ people in Commonwealth nations. The Commonwealth has failed in this regard.

At this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Rwanda, #CHOGM2022, during the week of 20 June, it is time for the Commonwealth to live up to its declared statement on twitter: ‘The #Commonwealth supports development, democracy & peace. We are a voice for small states and a champion for young people.’ CHOGM needs to recognise that young people want change, democracy demands change, and that peace is only possible when injustice and hatred are eradicated through legislative and educational reform.

1. The Problem

The Human Dignity Trust summarises the problem for millions of Commonwealth citizens:

Discriminatory sexual offence laws, most of which originate in 19th century colonial penal codes, continue to blight the lives of millions of Commonwealth citizens. They criminalise human rights protected conduct and yet fail to adequately criminalise all forms of sexual violence or to protect survivors of such violence. These laws foster and enable violence and discrimination, and they are at odds with international and regional human rights norms and domestic constitutional law. They particularly affect women and girls and LGBT people and undermine the health and prosperity of entire societies.

The Kaleidoscope International Trust notes:

… LGBT+ people are criminalised and persecuted because of who they are and who they love… homophobic laws and attitudes imported and implemented during Great Britain’s colonial regime have yet to be repealed and ruled unconstitutional. This means the prejudices of the past have very real consequences in our present.

WikiMilli notes that ‘Homosexual activity remains a criminal offence in 35 of the 54 sovereign states of the Commonwealth; and legal in only 19’. Punishments range from flogging and imprisonment with hard labour, to life imprisonment or death. Related social discrimination leads to violence, hate crimes, increased rates of HIV/AIDS and other health problems, and murder. (Yes folks, this is the Commonwealth in the 21st century).

“Homosexuality is a criminal offence in the following Commonwealth member states (those with an asterisk* do not enforce the law): Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Eswatini, Tanzania, The Gambia, Uganda, Zambia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan, Singapore, Grenada, Guyana, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Brunei, Mauritius,* Sri Lanka,* Samoa,* Malawi,* Namibia,* Sierra Leone,* Antigua and Barbuda,* Barbados,* Dominica,* Jamaica,* Kiribati,* Tonga,* and Tuvalu.*” (List Source: Wikipedia, last edited on 16 May 2022.)

“There is a direct link between criminalizing laws and increased rates of HIV, and the Commonwealth undeniably demonstrates this link. The Commonwealth accounts for approximately 30% of the world’s population but over 60% of HIV cases worldwide.”
(Human Dignity Trust, in GayStarNews, 2015).

Amnesty International calls for LGBT rights around the world, and Commonwealth nations should adopt these principles unconditionally:

“Everyone should be able to feel proud of who they are and who they love. We all have the right to express ourselves freely. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which set out for the first time the rights we’re all entitled to) protects everyone’s right to express themselves freely.

“Bringing an end to homophobia and transphobia will save lives. Anti-LGBTI harassment puts LGBTI identifying people at a heightened risk of physical and psychological harm. Everyone has the right to life, freedom and safety.”

The Peter Tatchell Foundation is urging all Commonwealth countries to:

1. Decriminalise homosexuality
2. Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
3. Enforce laws against threats and violence, to protect LGBT people from hate crimes
4. Consult and dialogue with LGBT organisations

And yet, according to its own Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, it appears that LGBT+ rights for millions of Commonwealth citizens are not even on the Commonwealth agenda.

Art by janeb13 on Pixabay

2. The Moral Imperative for Change

“I am all too aware that these laws were often put in place by my own country. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now. As the UK’s Prime Minister, I deeply regret both the fact that such laws were introduced, and the legacy of discrimination, violence and even death that persists today.” ~ Theresa May, The Guardian, 2018.

There are many voices across the Commonwealth that reflect its highest aims and aspirations: upholding the nobility of common humanity, with dignity and equality for all; and abolishing prejudice.

“We believe in the liberty of the individual, in equal rights for all citizens regardless of race, colour, creed or political belief, and in their inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which they live. We therefore strive to promote in each of our countries those representative institutions and guarantees for personal freedom under the law that are our common heritage.” ~ The Declaration of Commonwealth Principles, Singapore 1971.

“Our hopes for a more just, safe, and peaceful world can only be achieved when there is universal respect for the inherent dignity and equal rights of all members of the human family.” – UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

“Affirming that the special strength of the Commonwealth lies in the combination of our diversity and our shared inheritance in language, culture and the rule of law; and bound together by shared history and tradition; by respect for all states and peoples; by shared values and principles and by concern for the vulnerable…” (Charter of the Commonwealth, 2013, p. i.)

“If the church, after the victory over apartheid, is looking for a worthy moral crusade, then this is it: the fight against homophobia and heterosexism.” ~ Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“The Commonwealth makes the world safe for diversity.” ~ Nelson Mandela.

“We hope that the Commonwealth Sports movement is playing a meaningful role in the wider global conversation around tolerance, empowerment, and legal recognition for all.” ~ Tom Daley

“We recall the 2009 Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles, which includes a clear commitment to tolerance, respect and understanding… Discrimination and criminalisation on grounds of sexual orientation is at odds with our values and I have had occasion to refer to this in the context of our law-related conferences.” ~ Kamalesh Sharma, Commonwealth Secretary-General.

3. Voices for Change

CHOGM aims to reinforce multilateral cooperation, explore new opportunities, and tackle common challenges for the well-being of future generations.

As part of this year’s CHOGM meeting in Rwanda, a number of forums will be held in order to involve a number of influencer voices and audiences. I respectfully present some voices that must be included in these forums.

Youth Forum:

Rwanda is expecting up to 300 delegates, including two official youth delegates from each member country, as well as key youth sector stakeholders.

The Commonwealth proudly boasts aspirational rhetoric about its young people: ‘We are all very different – but we work together‘ proclaims its website for YoungCommonwealth children, ‘There are LOTS of us in our family. And more than half of us are young people just like you.‘. But the reality is that in nations where homophobic laws are still practised, there are possibly hundreds of millions of Commonwealth people – potentially one in ten of the population – in danger of being disowned or harmed or killed by their family or community, based solely upon their sexuality or gender identity. This appalling statistic suggests that the harm is not confined simply to affected individuals but to whole families, communities and nations. This is a form of ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide that is on par with the Holocaust or colonial-era slavery.

When a young gay poet and friend of mine was murdered with apparent impunity in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya, I asked why the name of George Floyd is known around the world, but the name of Trinidad Jerry is not. Apparently, Black Lives Matter unless you are LGBT+ in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, and other Commonwealth countries. “The reason we’ve been ignored is simply because the world considers queer lives dispensable, more so when you are a queer African, and even more so when you’re a queer African refugee,” answered Lucretia, also in Kenya.

Is this the world – and the Commonwealth – that one billion young people want to grow up in? I suspect not. When is the Commonwealth going to do something about it?

Women’s Forum:

Rwanda anticipates up to 500 delegates from varied stakeholder groups. Leaders from all domains, including civil society, youth, activists, academics, influencers, policy experts, philanthropists, the corporate sector, and experts from all industries in the Commonwealth well beyond, will be included.

Human Dignity Trust reports that on top of obvious problems with autonomy, privacy, safety, family violence and social prejudice, ‘Lesbians and bisexual women also face discrimination in education, employment, health care and housing on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation. These forms of social and economic exclusion and marginalisation are common to all LGBT people, although lesbians and bisexual women may experience some of them in a different way.’ (‘Breaking the Silence: Criminalisation of Lesbians and Bisexual Women and its Impacts’, May 2016, p. 28)

The Trust further asserts: ‘a comparison of … countries that criminalise homosexuality versus those that do not criminalise homosexuality (in any form) illustrates that there is a significant correlation between gender inequality and the criminalisation of homosexuality.’ (‘Breaking the Silence p. 18).

An anonymous lesbian friend of mine tells me: “In Uganda, we [are] running every day because of people who not like us.” This friend tells me that she even fled from a refugee camp in Kenya due to homophobic violence.

Women can and should demand better gender-based governance from Commonwealth leadership, including the intersection of justice based upon gender and sexuality.

People’s Forum:

The Commonwealth People’s Forum brings together civil society representatives from around the Commonwealth to examine fundamental challenges plaguing Commonwealth citizens. It is the most critical single occasion for civil society to connect with Commonwealth leaders on global development challenges.

“I see human rights as the struggles of ordinary people to hold those in power to account – particularly power that is abused by those in government or corporations. These days we have become more conscious of abuse of power by non-state actors as well…

“It does not matter whether we are talking about this at the level of a violent husband, or an abusive landlord, or a government criminalising people because of who they are, or states playing games with people’s lives at the UN Security Council. All of these are about the abuse of power against the powerless. And this is why we need some rules of the game, why we need human rights.” ~ Salil Shetty.

#CHOGM22 is an opportunity for ordinary people to make Commonwealth leaders accountable for decades of homophobia and related bad governance. The Human Dignity Trust has published evidence-based studies to show that, ‘In addition to the criminalisation of homosexuality being an indicator of poor governance and poor human rights in and of itself, countries that criminalise tend to rank poorly on other indicators too’.

The Commonwealth proclaims that it, ‘works … to promote democracy, good governance, peace and the rule of law.’ In the name of the good governance to which the Commonwealth aspires, homophobia must be abolished and legislation must protect the human rights of LGBT+ people.

One anonymous African asylum seeker reports that she has even been denied basic services and assistance due to homophobia: “All LGBTs in Kenya need help because they stand no chance of having life in Kenya. I want the world to know about it and those who can help LGBTs especially in Kakuma refugee camp, please do because it’s real hell on Earth.”

Business Forum:

Hosted as a partnership between the Government of Rwanda and Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC) this year’s forum will address the CHOGM theme ‘Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming’, with a focus on “A Global Reset”, dealing with the impact of the pandemic and the Commonwealth’s role in rebuilding and reinvigorating the global economy.

Businesses across the Commonwealth need to show leadership in recognising that human rights abuse is bad for business, and that rebuilding the world does not mean simply repeating bad and faulty practices from the past; it means making things better. The CHOGM Golf Tournament will not be enough to change the world.

In its published, ‘Study on the Economic Cost of LGBTI+ Exclusion in the Commonwealth’ (2020, page 3), the Kaleidoscope International Trust reports: “Studies show that LGBTI+ inclusion through education, social welfare, and access to health services and the ability to earn a livelihood creates conditions which enhance the generation of financial resources that can then be used to address larger national financial objectives. In effect, the ‘business case’ and the ‘moral case’ for LGBT+ inclusion are not mutually exclusive.”

In its study on ‘Criminalising Homosexuality and International Business: the Economic and Business Cases for Decriminalisation’ (November 2015), the Human Dignity Trust noted on page 9:

In a related preliminary study for the World Bank released in February 2014, ‘The Economic Cost of Homophobia & the Exclusion of LGBT People: A Case Study of India’, the impact of homophobia on the Indian economy was assessed. This preliminary report estimated the cost of homophobia to have been between US$1.9 and US$30.8 billion in 2012 alone (or up to 1.7% of total GDP). This estimate included lost productivity caused by social exclusion and health-related costs and losses arising from HIV, depression and suicide. Commenting on her research on India, Professor Badgett stated:

“Our recent study shows that emerging economies that protect more rights for LGBT people through decriminalization of homosexuality, nondiscrimination laws, and recognition of LGBT families have higher GDP per capita, even after controlling for other influences on a country’s economic output. Each additional right is associated with a 3% increase in GDP per capita for those countries.”

The business forum theme: ‘Advancing Together: Delivering people-centered governance through the Commonwealth’ needs to recognise that human rights abuse is bad governance and unprofitable for business. It is also bad for international relations.

4. Time For Action

In 2014, Dr Paula Gerber in Australia asked a pointed question while highlighting Commonwealth human rights atrocities that continue nearly a decade later: “The Commonwealth should be a forum for advancing human rights across all its member states but unfortunately for LGBTI citizens this is not the case… we need to ask some tough questions: should Australia… continue to be a member of an international body where the majority of countries can jail, if not kill, gays?”

In the UK in 2022, activist Peter Tatchell was more pointed:

“These anti-LGBT+ laws violate the Commonwealth Charter which pledges that all member states are ‘committed to equality’ and ‘opposed to all forms of discrimination.”

“Commonwealth leaders refuse to recognise that LGBT+ rights are human rights. For over 50 years, they’ve vetoed any discussion of the issue at their heads of government meetings.”

“Countries that criminalise LGBT+ people should be suspended from the Commonwealth.”

While this might seem an extreme move, it would be entirely consistent with past international approaches to sporting (and other) boycotts related to protesting apartheid, wars and other international human rights abuses. Just as Russia today is facing world sanctions for its unprovoked aggression against the Ukraine, Commonwealth nations that continue to abuse their own people need to be told unambiguously that the modern world no longer tolerates such behaviour.

Image by succo from Pixabay

5. World Public Opinion and History Will Judge #CHOGM2022

This Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in Rwanda during June 2022 is an opportunity for Commonwealth nations to collectively uphold their principles of equality and anti-discrimination. This meeting must address homophobic laws and demand that Commonwealth nations repeal these laws. This CHOGM must produce positive results if the Commonwealth wishes to be seen as a relevant global agency in the 21st century, instead of an entity that is still clinging to outdated colonial-era laws.

Human Rights Watch has called upon the Commonwealth to demand that the Rwandan government redress its human rights abuses during the CHOGM meeting. Similarly, a call can be made for all Commonwealth governments to redress their slower, but equally violent, homophobic ethnic cleansing.

In 1979, Commonwealth Heads of Government proclaimed that they ‘have decided to proclaim our desire to work jointly as well as severally for the eradication of all forms of racism and racial prejudice’ and to work ‘to the achievement of equal rights for all citizens’ against ‘the dangerous evils of racism and racial prejudice’ (The Lusaka Declaration of the Commonwealth on Racism and Racial Prejudice, Zambia, 1979). These noble sentiments sound hollow when considering that a generation later, CHOGM has repeatedly refused to work for the equality of millions of its own LGBT citizens against the equally dangerous evils of homophobia and heterosexism. It is time for modern laws to reflect modern understandings of human rights and equality. Homophobia and heterosexist privilege have no place in the Commonwealth, just as white supremacy and apartheid are rightly no longer tolerated.

This CHOGM meeting will be a test of the Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth @commonwealthsec. On her twitter feed, she proclaims: ‘Life is for living – be the change!’ Let’s see her (and all #CHOGM2022 delegates) live up to these same principles. The world is watching.

©2022 Geoff Allshorn

Trans* Humanism

Commemorating IDAHOBIT Day (17 May),
Pansexual and Panromantic Awareness and Visibility Day (24 May),
and Mabo Day (3 June).

Earlier this month, we commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia & Transphobia (IDAHOBIT); last week we also commemorated Pansexual Visibility Day, and this week we commemorate Mabo Day. This blog article, deliberately coming in between all of them (but close enough to those days to remain topical), is designed to acknowledge their fight, while attempting to avoid the tokenism of having only one day per year set aside for each of these important social issues.

And yet I also believe that such days can point to an optimistic and better future.

Just as the fight for LGBT+ rights began as ‘gay liberation’ and evolved and expanded to embrace an ever-growing alphabet of terms and cohorts, IDAHOBIT Day began as IDAHO Day to tackle homophobia, and then expanded its mandate and terms to also include biphobia, transphobia and interphobia. IDAHOBIT Day challenges us to reconcile with an ever-expanding variety of oppressed cohorts of people. Pansexual and Panromantic Awareness and Visibility Day – also undergoing its own expansion of terms – adds to this increased awareness and activism. I find such social evolution to be both exciting and encouraging.

Meanwhile, Mabo Day offers us a perspective on another form of entrenched and institutionalised discrimination, and while it does not directly link to the other days in question, it does offer us an opportunity for intersectionality. People within one marginalised group should surely empathize with those within other marginalised groups. If we wish to confront one form of discrimination and oppression, we should surely confront them all.

Transgressions and Transformations

In a pluralist world, some people – many of them falsely presenting themselves as being feminist, progressive, in leadership, or otherwise enlightened – nevertheless manage to display discriminatory attitudes and behaviours against varied cohorts of people. Today, such bigotry is often displayed against trans women, who are seen as the most vulnerable members of the LGBT+ community. I see cisgender heterosexual white men (or heterosexual women who support patriarchal structures) – who have spent a lifetime promoting their privilege – bleating about protecting women’s sport as an excuse to promote transphobia: in Australia over recent weeks, even our Prime Minister aligned himself with such views – and this may be at least partly why his government was effectively wiped out by voters at the subsequent election.

Trans and gender diverse people have actually been part of their human societies for as long as there have been human societies. Even during the homophobic and transphobic bogan Australian society of the 1960s, I recall as a young child seeing other boys who wore clothing or makeup that transgressed gender binary norms for the era. Later, as a teen in the 1970s, I met my first trans friend, who was accepted unconditionally by my cohort of forward-looking, progressive young adult friends. I see the same acceptance today among younger people who often ‘come out’ as trans at younger ages, and in greater numbers, than they did in previous generations. I celebrate the era to come, despite the problems that older people – bigoted, hateful people – create for these young and free spirits.

Art by janeb13 on Pixabay

It seems tragically ironic that some of the most bigoted people on the planet – those who subscribe to particularly narrow and archaic understandings of sexuality and gender, preach the unconditional love of their favourite deity while practising the opposite. The irony of their situation is self evident when considering that although their proclaimed form of divine love for their neighbour appears to be pansexual (loving all humans regardless of whether they are cisgender, transgender, gender nonbinary, genderfluid, or agender, and straight or LGBT+), their lives are a tragic denial of the concept of pansexual human love.

And in fuller recognition of intersectionality, I acknowledge that indigenous LGBT+ kids remain some of the most marginalised people in our country. Their lives challenge all of us to be better and to care more; to all experience a transformation or transition to be the best authentic humans that we can be.

Trans Humanity

This brings to my mind perhaps the most lateral and optimistic intersection of all: the concept of TransHumanism is a philosophy that advocates the advancement of humans through the application of science and technology. It is another form of trans* that challenges us to evolve and become a better species because it implicitly presumes that we will amass the wisdom to suitably use our new technology.

Whether through ethical advancement such as might be found in our treatment of our trans siblings, or scientific advancement as proposed by TransHumanism, we have the potential to be better. This reveals our fullest intersectionality: that of being most fully, authentically human. I do not fear change and evolution, advancement and expansion of our LGBT alphabet; I find it to be exciting and I fully embrace it.

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn

Why Science Fiction?

Commemorating International Day of Living Together in Peace.

Art by Dick ‘Ditmar’ Jenssen

The Sky Is The Limit

I admit that I have not been blogging so much this year – I have been distracted by a need for activism in the world around me. My desire to help create a better world is not only my human instinct kicking in, but a manifestation of my interest in sci fi.

And in my quieter moments, I have been doing voluntary work for the Australian Science Fiction Foundation, especially helping to create their new website (soon to be launched) as my latest contribution to advancing futurism and cultural innovation. This is a refreshing exploration of other worlds and other realities, far from our mundane world of COVID and war and politics and world poverty.

And no, I have not been seeking mere escapism. I do not subscribe to the cliché that science fiction is a crutch for those who cannot cope with reality. Instead, I have been using the ideals and visions within SF to replenish my optimism for the real-life future and to contribute, in lateral ways, to building a better world by (hopefully) encouraging others to look upwards and ahead. Fictional character Sarah Connor once commented that a storm is coming, and her words should inspire us to prepare for whatever that storm may be – climate catastrophe, nuclear war, pandemic, political upheaval, or whatever the future may hold.

Which of course brings up an obvious question: why science fiction?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The Human Adventure Is Just Beginning

Humans have probably been telling stories since our distant forebears leant how to communicate. Those stories reflect our cultures, our values and our circumstances.

Where Jason and his Argonauts once explored unknown vistas, we now have James Kirk and his astronauts exploring strange new worlds. Where King Arthur or Robin Hood once fought for justice against corruption and oppression, we now have Harry Potter and Leia Skywalker. Superman and the Marvel Avengers police the ethereal skies where Olympian deities or other divinities once claimed exclusive sovereignty.

In the past, we had Pythia or Merlin or Sherlock Holmes as our fictional or mythological guides for morality and rationality responding to technology and circumstance; today Spock or the Doctor or R. Daneel Olivaw serve as transHumanist and secular reworkings of our template Everyman.

Through such timeless motifs – including the use of metaphoric humans disguised as robots, superheroes, artificial intelligence, or other forms of sentient life – science fiction holds up a mirror to ourselves and teaches us what it means to be human.

Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4934401

Mission to Planet Earth

Climate change and pollution are hardly new kids on the science fictional block. They have been explored for decades. Through SF films like Silent Running, I became aware of the looming threat of environmental catastrophe, while The Omega Man introduced me to the dangers of epidemics a decade before HIV/AIDS appeared on the world scene and a generation before COVID. Through the Planet of the Apes books and films, I became aware of the power of metaphor and nuance in exploring religious or philosophical themes, while 2001: A Space Odyssey taught me that the Universe’s poetry could be visual if we gaze into the cosmos.

Perhaps most powerfully, Star Trek and Thunderbirds showed me the power of people working together to explore strange new worlds and helping each other out of natural disasters.

And all of this before I hit puberty (which is testimony to the power of sci fi – as a genre that explores the future, it has special power to inspire and empower young people especially).

In the wider world, science fiction has the ability to warn us (The Handmaid’s Tale) or inspire us (Hidden Figures). I have known people whose career choices were inspired by SF: authors, teachers, human rights activists, scientists, doctors, even astronauts. And in turn, the real-life space program has helped to create the technological and scientifically literate cultures in which we live today.

More than all that, space and science fiction have already saved our planet, through NASA’s ‘Mission to Planet Earth‘ (launched in 1991) which led the world response in solving the hole in the Ozone layer.

I have previously written about the inspiration that can be found within science fiction:

I enjoy science fiction because it promises me that humanity has a future, full of dreamers, explorers and heroes. It promotes the joy of diversity – including aliens, robots, cyber citizens, sentients, men and women, [variously] queer and trans and gender non-binary humans – all living together in peace and equality.

We can do more than dream of such a world: we can help to create it. Make it so.

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn

Be The Change…

Photograph by Ian James

In 2009, blogger Keith Akers asked a question about the a popular internet meme which is commonly attributed to Gandhi: ‘Be The Change You Want to See in the World’. Akers has subsequently concluded that the likely original source of the aphorism was a high school teacher from Brooklyn, New York, named Arlene Lorrence, who popularised the saying in the 1970s.

Akers acknowledges that Lorrence was agnostic and that she popularised the aphorism within a larger initiative, The Love Project, as a way of seeking ‘her own spiritual revelation, unconnected with any specific religion… a conscious affirmation that she was open to the next level of her unfolding…’

Some atheists and humanists might find the concept of ‘spirituality’ to be problematic, because it deals with a term describing a realm of existence that lies beyond the measurable, observable universe, and is therefore subject to question. After all, how do we prove that we have a soul? Leaving aside such ephemeral questions; as a humanist, I see the quest for spirituality to be more in line with the basic human aspiration of self betterment and striving for higher goals. In our human quest for significance, we seek to make a difference and to somehow leave the world a better place for our having been in it; and one does not need a ‘soul’ for this – merely a conscience – and so the adage to ‘be the change’ touches a primal and universal human desire.

Alternatively, I do have a problem with the common assumption that religions somehow hold a monopoly upon morality. While social evolution continues to update and supersede religious philosophies – such as the concept that racial segregation could be justified by some conservative interpretations of religious thought (a popular idea within living societal memory), or the idea that women or LGBT people were somehow inferior – humanity continues to improve as humane, critical thought is applied to traditional philosophies. To me, one does not need a religion to be a good person – one only needs a conscience.

One example of outdated religious morality might be found in the Ten Commandments, or the Decalogue (Greek: deka logoi [“10 words”]), a set of religious precepts from Judaism that have also been adopted by Christianity and Islam as comprising a set of divinely mandated rules by which humans should live. It is worth noting the similarities and differences between the Decalogue and the earlier Code of Hammurabi, which appears to be more complex and nuanced but still equally archaic.

According to an email from the Atheist Republic on 18 March 2022, AR blogger Andrew McArthur analyses the 10 Commandments and aptly asks: Hey God, is this the best you’ve got?

This is no mean-spirited bashing of religious precepts nor some attempt to bully Christians out of their religious assumptions. Any objective examination of the 10 Commandments shows that humans can rationally deduce much better precepts for living – and we do every day. It is no wonder that – despite the fervent claims of some Christians to the contrary – the 10 Commandments are not the basis for civil society nor for our modern moral precepts. The Decalogue has long been superseded by humanist principles in everything from civil governance to family life; from the abolition of slavery to the implementation of human rights; from legal jurisprudence to international relations.

The 10 Commandments – Carved in the Stone (Age)

Others have critically reviewed the 10 Commandments and found them to be lacking – so I will not go into my own extensively detailed critique, except to point out what I believe to be their most obvious deficiencies. After all, even a cursory examination of the Ten Commandments reveals their inadequacies, omissions and skewed priorities.

The first three Commandments concern God demanding total and unshared worship – “thou shalt have no other gods before me” etc (an interesting perspective from religions that subscribe to monotheism claiming that only one god exists). This deity devotes three whole commandments (30% of his whole moral code) to demanding that his followers worship only him. In a moment of embarrassing candour, I must admit that this insistence upon his own wants and needs actually reminds me of a schoolkids’ club that I tried to run when I was between the ages of 11 to 14. I drew up a list of club rules, and, impatient that my friends would not drop everything else in their lives and attend every meeting, I insisted on absolute attendance and compliance. OK, that was my immaturity and childhood inability to fully empathise with others (something that I hope I have left behind in my more mature years) – but this is a perspective that any omniscient deity should surely have outgrown.

Only one Commandment really touches upon family issues, and it instructs children to honour their parents. It says nothing about honouring children, ensuring that marriage is a joining of equals, providing a safe family space, banning family violence, or even defining whether a family is a nuclear family or otherwise. Do we help others in our extended family, or all members of our human family? Apparently God does not care about these other matters.

The Commandment banning killing is problematically vague. Does this include banning abortion? (elsewhere in the Bible suggests not) – War and genocide? (the Bible is full of these) – Does it permit execution of declared criminals (such as children who disrespect their parents) or people from other religions, or witches, or LGBT people? (Leviticus is full of it). Or can we kill others in self defence? And does this prohibition endorse the sanctity of all life and imply that we should all become Vegan? Hmm. God seems a little bit vague here.

Andrew McArthur points out the problems with the Commandment banning adultery:

Okay, but what about rape? What about child sexual abuse? What about polygamy? Again, this God fellow seems rather limited in his understanding of the human ability to behave in absolutely vile ways when it comes to sex.

Indeed, this commandment is the only one that mentions any form of sexual morality, so its scope for regulating all human sexual behaviour seems rather naïve and inadequate. Aside from child abuse and rape as mentioned by Andrew McArthur, the Commandments say nothing about banning armies from committing mass rape of conquered peoples and the sexual enslavement of conquered women and children – as frequently happened according to the purported history of the Old Testament. Marriage itself (the subject of this Commandment) is seen in this same religious culture as a form of indentured sexual servitude for women – which, when combined with the Commandment not to covet thy neighbour’s ass or wife or any other of his possessions, makes the intent of the Commandment about adultery clear: adultery is merely an extension of the Commandment not to steal: do not steal a man’s female sexual servant nor his honour.

We can do better. This is, after all, the twenty-first century CE and no longer the Stone or Bronze Age.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The 10 Countermandments – Principles for the Space Age

In order to encourage critical thinking and freethought inquiry, it seems easy to write a better, more balanced and (frankly) more civilised set of 10 Countermandments for our modern world. For example:

THOU SHALT respect the planet, its environment, its many vulnerable biospheres, and all species. This includes recognising and protecting the fragile nature of our solitary blue dot in space.

THOU SHALT respect all sentient life and ensure that societal rules governing life and death are are predicated upon grounds that are rationally deduced and enacted; and are designed to minimise suffering, prolong the value and nobility of all dignified life.

THOU SHALT honour human rights and ensure that all behaviours, cultures, religions, political/economic systems, and laws uphold those rights.

THOU SHALT ensure that all people have access to free education, medical care, employment opportunities, housing, and welfare.

THOU SHALT uphold full equality of all people, regardless of cultural or racial background, sexuality, gender or gender identity, age, employment status, nationality, financial status, physical and mental ability, or other means that have traditionally been used to discriminate and disempower.

THOU SHALT provide special assistance to those who are disadvantaged or oppressed, in order to ensure that they are fully enabled to exercise their human rights and individual potential alongside everyone else. This includes protecting women, children, economically deprived populations, war victims and refugees, people living with disability, older populations and others who are especially vulnerable.

THOU SHALT actively work to abolish inequality, poverty and oppression in all its forms; and rigidly enforce a ban on slavery, torture, violence, war, and entrenched political/institutional inequality.

THOU SHALT encourage opportunities for education, critical thinking, sciences and arts, and the self empowerment of all people.

THOU SHALT love all human and sentient life as much as oneself, and behave accordingly.

THOU SHALT use one’s life and abilities to maximise opportunities for individual and communal fulfilment of potential, happiness, life and love; creating a better world for having been in it.

OK, so these countermandments sound a bit like simplistic platitudes, and I daresay I have accidentally left out important principles, but this list was cobbled together quickly in order to demonstrate that it is easy to find better ethical principles than might be found in dusty old theologies and mythologies. Thinking of such possibilities can be fun.

But what is even more fun, beautiful, challenging and awe inspiring is a willingness to be the change we want to see.

©2022 Geoff Allshorn

Be The Change You Want to See

“A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.” – Ariel Durant.

1965 Soviet Union 12 kopeks stamp. Cosmonautics Day.

A year ago, I wrote enthusiastically about Yuri’s Night, on what was the sixtieth anniversary of the first man in space. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s brief jaunt into the cosmos represented the technological achievement of a now-fallen empire, the Soviet Union, but more than that – he represented the hopes and dreams and imaginings of humans since time immemorial.

And now, like the explosion of the N1 rocket that destroyed the Soviet Union’s ambitions of landing a man on the Moon, the glories of that fallen empire are now in ashes.

Eyewitness to History

Some decades ago, I visited the remains of a Roman villa that lay in a field in southern Britain. The story of the villa was that it had provided opulent shelter to its occupants until the withdrawal of the Romans in 410 CE. I stood there, admiring the colour and vibrancy of floor mosaics after two millennia, and gazed distantly towards the horizon, trying to imagine myself as an inhabitant of this building watching the departing Romans and wondering about the fall of the empire across those distant shores, and how that collapse would affect everyone in my known world. Those last British Romans had stood at a turning point in history as their civilisation crumbled around them.

Today, I recall that awe inspiring moment of reflection, and I realise that I am indeed standing on a distant shore and watching the collapse of an empire which ruled the world in the twentieth century: the colossus that launched the first space-faring life into the cosmos.

I do not mean that they have suffered a catastrophic failure of their economy or political system or society. As far as I can tell – and I certainly hope so – their people in the streets are, on the whole, still safe and healthy and not in immediate danger. They have suffered no natural disaster; indeed, they are enduring a most unnatural one.

The grandchildren of those who successfully repelled Hitler have themselves become victims of a dictator who is dragging their civilisation towards possible self-destruction. They are consequently using their technology – which previously soared into the heavens and held the world in awe – and have perverted it so that their rockets are visiting death and destruction upon Ukraine. They have taken the flower of their future – their youth – and instead of directing them towards futuristic visions of humanity aspiring to the heavens, are using their children as cannon fodder. They have perverted their political ideology – one that that promotes equality and solidarity – to revisit the horrors of invasion and ethnic cleansing.

I do not blame ordinary Russians for this terrible carnage, and I suspect they are victims (in their own way) as much as their Ukrainian brethren. Life under a dictatorship cannot be easy. But I also see this war as exposing the faults, deficiencies and corruption in political and diplomatic systems around the world.

I have seen commentaries that assert that certain other parties should equally be held answerable for invasions in other countries – and I agree. But in the current context of Russia invading the Ukraine, such arguments are irrelevant. Our global attention must concentrate on stopping this particular descent into genocide and possible world war. Let us deal with each case in turn.

Calling International Rescue

We are all humans, and it behoves us to use our talents and resources to embiggen the world, not to diminish it. Let us try to find ways to stop war, injustice and bloodshed wherever they may occur; let us learn to demonstrate lives of generosity and benevolence to our entire human family.

International diplomacy is one possibility – and maybe it is time to reform and rebuild the United Nations, which, for all its inaction and deficiencies, may still be the world’s best opportunity for building a united, international community.

National morality may be another possibility – if affluent, privileged nations like Australia can agree to shoulder their fair share of the burden in accommodating refugees, sharing resources, and putting in genuine efforts to build a fairer world.

As one example, might Australian politicians be compelled to take some needy refugees from Kenya and Uganda and help save the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people – who have endured living conditions akin to war every day for years?

Perhaps – but only if sufficient numbers of Australians are prepared to sign this petition as a demonstration that we also care.

The Perspective from Space

This week also marks the anniversary of the return to Earth of the Apollo 13 mission, a space mission that very nearly led to the death of its crew following an explosion in the spacecraft on the way to the Moon. Their return was a triumph of technical prowess and human ingenuity.

As they limped back towards Earth, not knowing if they would survive the journey, I wonder if they pondered their view of our planet in the vastness of space? Did they wonder if their own lives – or the lives and civilisations that were encompassed by the blue dot they observed – might rise or fall according to the whims of dictators or the nobility of human aspirations? Did they have a numinous experience like I did, as I stood aside those ancient Roman mosaics in 1988?

Or one day in the far future, will our distant descendants look up into the night-time skies and ponder their place at the edge of some galactic empire where divisions like Russian, Ukrainian or Australian mean nothing?

Perhaps – but only if we all work to build a better future for our species. That starts today.

©2022 Geoff Allshorn

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

At the next CHOGM meeting in June 2022, let’s change the world.

Art by janeb13 on Pixabay

“The Commonwealth makes the world safe for diversity” ~ Nelson Mandela.

It was once called the empire upon which the sun never sets, comprising maybe one quarter of the world’s land mass and population. But the colonial British empire – divested from colonial empowerment and largely consigned to history – has been replaced by the Commonwealth of Nations, which also spans the globe. Does it serve a purpose today?

The Commonwealth currently boasts 54 member countries, comprising approximately 2.4 billion people, although “32 of the world’s 42 small states are Commonwealth members, each with a population of 1.5 million or less” suggesting that the sun may indeed be setting on its glory days. Its’s time to challenge all Commonwealth nations, great and small, to live up to the potential to which the Commonwealth implicitly aspires.

Lands of Hope and Glory?

While aspiring to leave behind its racist, sexist, jingoistic colonial past behind, the Commonwealth proclaims itself to be a purveyor of equality and non-discrimination; with particular emphasis on respect for diversity and protection for vulnerable peoples:

“Affirming that the special strength of the Commonwealth lies in the combination of our diversity and our shared inheritance in language, culture and the rule of law; and bound together by shared history and tradition; by respect for all states and peoples; by shared values and principles and by concern for the vulnerable…” (Charter of the Commonwealth, 2013, p. i.)

Such are worthy and noble aspirations, but they are far from being met.

LGBT Rights Now!

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

WikiMilli notes that ‘Homosexual activity remains a criminal offence in 35 of the 54 sovereign states of the Commonwealth; and legal in only 19’. Punishments range from flogging and imprisonment with hard labour, to life imprisonment or death. Related social discrimination leads to violence, hate crimes, increased rates of HIV/AIDS and other health problems, and murder. (Yes folks, this is the Commonwealth in the 21st century).

“Homosexuality is a criminal offence in the following Commonwealth member states (those with an asterisk* do not enforce the law): Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Eswatini, Tanzania, The Gambia, Uganda, Zambia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan, Singapore, Grenada, Guyana, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Brunei, Mauritius,* Sri Lanka,* Samoa,* Malawi,* Namibia,* Sierra Leone,* Antigua and Barbuda,* Barbados,* Dominica,* Jamaica,* Kiribati,* Tonga,* and Tuvalu.*” (List Source: Wikipedia, last edited on 14 March 2022.)

The Human Dignity Trust reports that: “There are more than 70 jurisdictions globally, half of which are Commonwealth countries, that criminalise consensual same-sex sexual activity.”

Nor does the Commonwealth like to be reminded of these extensive human rights abuses within its jurisdiction. Its hypocrisy – proclaiming human rights while abusing those same rights for millions of its own citizens – is breath taking. According to its own Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, LGBT rights for millions of Commonwealth citizens is not even on the agenda.

The Human Dignity Trust reports that: “There is a direct link between criminalizing laws and increased rates of HIV, and the Commonwealth undeniably demonstrates this link. The Commonwealth accounts for approximately 30% of the world’s population but over 60% of HIV cases worldwide.” (Human Dignity Trust, in GayStarNews, 2015).

At this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Rwanda, during the week of 20 June, it is time to challenge the Commonwealth to join the 21st century instead of deferring to outdated elements of its medieval legacy from colonialism. The Commonwealth needs to repeal its colonial-era laws, address its consequences, and offer redress to its victims.

Take Action.

Sign and share this petition

Please consider carefully how to sign this petition if you live in a nation that has homophobic laws.

In memory of my LGBT+ refugee friend, Trinidad Jerry, who was murdered in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya, in 2021.

Note: This is my 100th blog posting, and may be my most important to date. ©2022 Geoff Allshorn

To A Special Friend

For William Katongole (2 February 1989 – 10 March 2022):
gone too soon, too suddenly, and too far from his loved ones.

When in a world
of emptiness,
Friends can be hard to measure,
It’s good to know
that I know you,
Your friendship is a treasure.

To have shared
so much, freely,
with you has been no strife,
I’m glad that you
did open up
the door into your life.

It’s not often
that someone comes,
and makes me have to boast,
that I enjoy
your company
a whole lot more than most.

For even though
My life has been
Occasionally a haze,
I can say
I’m happier now
that you have shared my days.

+ + +

In 1986, a special friend wrote this poem to me, and I treasure it to this day.

Today, I pay it forward by sharing this poem with the world, rededicating it to William, a young man who lived a difficult life, loved his friends deeply, and whose hopeful plans for the future will never be accomplished. Gone but never forgotten.

Original poem © 1986 by Ricky Ransome;
this rededication © 2022 Geoff Allshorn

Lion’s Heart

In honour of International Day of Happiness (20 March).

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

What does it mean to be LGBTQ in countries where being different is a legal or moral crime? How does one live on a continent where being ‘outed’ is likely to lead to family and community rejection, where displaying a rainbow flag is likely to provoke a violent attack, and where the very religion to which one may turn for consolation is the same one that preaches death to queers?

A loved gay friend in Africa recently expressed disillusionment and defined an LGBTQ life as one being full of rejection, pain, suffering, violence, depression, unemployment, discrimination, and an unsafe environment. His life is testimony to such realities.

He wrote poetically and with deep feeling:

This young man fills me with admiration at his courage, his strength and his resilience in the face of hardships. I am proud of this rainbow son, as I am of his whole rainbow family in their adoptive home nation. His lion heart is strong in the face of attack, but gentle to children and those he loves. It is therefore sad to see when he feels down. With love and hugs across the world, I offer him a different definition of what it means to be LGBTQ:

Being LGBTQ means living a full life that is:

Full of love that some might not understand, so we need to keep educating them.

Full of sensitivity that others might not share, so we need to keep exercising it.

Full of potential, so we need to keep being optimistic and enterprising and creative.

Full of difference, so we need to stay proud and diverse.

Full of being fabulous, so we need to enjoy enriching the world with our special skills and perspectives.

Full of pride, so we need to stay strong and forgiving when others are cruel or ignorant or intolerant.

Full of empathy, so we need to keep expressing sympathy for the suffering of others.

Full of humanity, so we need to keep fulfilling our responsibility to care for others in our human family in order to set a better example for those who treat us badly.

Full of humility, so we need to keep loving ourselves with the quiet strength in our hearts.

Full of courage, so we need to stay strong despite our many difficulties.

Full of rainbow, because the world needs the love, sensitivity, potential, difference, pride, fabulosity, empathy, humanity, humility and courage that we possess.

In a world where marriage equality is not the norm but homophobia is, people of good conscience surely have a responsibility to offer a fuller life to those around them. While the International Day of Happiness 2022 proposes that the world rebuild after the trauma of COVID, (‘Build Back Happier’), LGBTQ communities around the world have already experienced a generation of dealing with another, potentially more lethal virus, and we have led the world in developing strategies for harm minimisation and building supportive, safe, loving communities amidst an epidemic. We should do the same for people whose lives have been impacted by the traumatic virus of homophobia. It’s time to rebuild.

©2022 Geoff Allshorn

#BreakTheBias

In honour of International Women’s Day 2022.

From Pexels.

“The story of the human race begins with the female. Women carried the original human chromosome as she does to this day: her evolutionary adaptation ensured the survival of the species: her work of mothering provided the cerebral spur for human communication and social organisation.” – Rosalind Miles, The Women’s History of the World (1989), p. 19.

International Women’s Day is a good time to pause and reflect on the women who enrich our world.

This might include paying tribute to powerful leaders from our world history, such as Wu Zhao, Boudicca, Cleopatra, Queen Nanny, Queen Liliʻuokalani, Evita Peron, Queen Soraya Tarziand, and Indira Ghandi, who dealt with injustice, discrimination and inhumanity by showing their own individual forms of strength and determination.

It should also include acknowledging and honouring women who have been literal and/or figurative mother figures in that they have given birth to much of our world as we know it today: Lucy, Emmaline Pankhurst, Coccinelle, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Marsha Johnston, and Coretta Scott King.

We could also honour women like Caroline Herschel, Marie Curie, Wangari Maathai, Hypatia, Ada Lovelace, Sally Ride, and Mary Shelley, and a score of others spanning Africa and Asia and elsewhere who have extended our scientific, intellectual and literary spheres.

Our tribute must include activists such as the Suffragettes, the Mothers of the Disappeared, the protesters of Grand Bassam, and Grandmothers for Refugees; and individuals including Halina Wagowska and Waris Dirie. We must highly esteem indigenous Australian, African, Asian and Pacific Islander women, and those across the Americas.

Let us also pay respects to current and future influencers in our world: Damilola Odufuwa and Odunayo Eweniyi, Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg, Emma Watson, and Anjali Sharma.

Artist: Miriam English

Our list of female heroes must also pay particular tribute to the everyday women who will never individually make the list of rich or famous, but whose tireless work keeps the world going: those who comprise the majority of micro loan accounts and whose work fuels modern economic, family and social industry; those who are overlooked today in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, China and Tibet and Burma and Ukraine and Syria and North Korea, and in Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya.

Like the 13th (female) Doctor Who from popular culture, the women we admire span time and place; they inhabit varied diverse cultures and religions and philosophies… but I see their collective activism as comprising the purest and most unifying philosophy of all: recognition of our common humanity across the histories and geographies and societies that together create the entire human family.

Yes, International Women’s Day is a good time to pause and reflect on the women who enrich our world – but so is every day. Let’s stop the discrimination, the disempowerment, the direct and indirect (vicarious) violence, the cultural and religious and social and political bias that women experience every day. Let’s avoid the patronising and tokenistic pat on the head that one day per year may afford, and make every day International Women’s Day.

Let’s honour all the women listed above – and more: let’s esteem every woman for their daily courage and determination to #breakthebias and stereotypes and systemic disempowerment and entrenched sexism and misogyny. Let’s change the world for women, and, in doing so, we will make it a better place for us all.

©2022 Geoff Allshorn

Zero Discrimination Day

In honour of Zero Discrimination Day (1 March).

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

In 2017, UNAIDS called upon people to speak up for the principles of Zero Discrimination Day: “Discrimination doesn’t just hurt individuals, it hurts everyone, whereas welcoming and embracing diversity in all its forms brings benefits for all.”

Wikipedia notes that the day has been used by UN agencies and activists across Africa and India to fight against discrimination, especially that targeting LGBT people and those with HIV/AIDS.

In such places, discrimination can still prove to be literally a deadly, daily life-and-death crisis. Religious homophobia is rampant across Africa, and contributes to the culture that forces many LGBT people to become refugees, fleeing for their lives to places like Kenya, where they remain potentially in danger. One of my African friends, Trinidad Jerry, was murdered in Kenya last year and, as far as I am aware, his identified murderer has never faced justice. Alternatively, India took a step forward in 2018 with the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

In a western nation like Australia, it is easy to feel complacent about human rights as we are relatively affluent and insulated from many of the world’s problems that beseige our human family overseas. It is therefore ironic that this year’s Zero Discrimination Day comes in the wake of the latest attempt by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his band of religious holy-rollers to usurp the language of human rights and legislate new forms of religious apartheid and discrimination, especially against LGBT people.

Over recent weeks, this fight has been vicious and unrelenting. During that time, I have been largely absent from blogging, primarily because of the consequent intellectual and emotional exhaustion arising from the stress and tension of fighting this legislation that sought to diminish my human rights and the rights of millions of other Australians.

Ubuntu – We Are Family

The fight against discrimination in Africa is strengthened by what has been defined as the South African humanist principle of Ubuntu, a philosophy that acknowledges our common humanity. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who popularised the Zulu and Xhosa term, translated it as meaning “I participate, I share”. Wikipedia (citing the Official Ubuntu Documentation website and the Guardian newspaper) offers a broader definition:

Ubuntu (Zulu pronunciation: [ùɓúntʼù]) is a Nguni Bantu term meaning “humanity”. It is sometimes translated as “I am because we are” (also “I am because you are”), or “humanity towards others” (in Zulu, umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu). In Xhosa, the latter term is used, but is often meant in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.

Such common humanity, humility, and a compassionate, communal identity is the stated ideal behind many of the world’s religions and philosophies. I would personally see this as not the monopoly of religion, but the common humanity of all people being manifested in a variety of facets across diverse cultures and societies. In Africa, where colonialism has left great social, economic and moral poverty, the idea of Ubuntu challenges both their behaviours and our own. I have previously written: “When considering that, ‘charity begins at home’, we need to remember that the whole world is our home.” Expanding on that idea, when considering our primal instinct for protecting our family, we should also ponder the reality that we are all human, we are all family.

And despite his claims of Christian compassion and human empathy, it appears that our Prime Minister has yet to understand and demonstrate Ubuntu.

The Religious Discrimination Bills

The name says it all – whereas most legislation regarding discrimination is contextualised within titles and frameworks highlighting the intent to promote “anti discrimination”, this Australian legislation was unashamedly titled “Religious Discrimination”.

It is exhausting to simply read the title – let alone the contents – of this proposed legislation: “The Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 [Provisions]; Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021 [Provisions] and Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 [Provisions]”. Yet this mouthful of bluster and blarney was the latest attempt by the conservative Australian Parliament to legalise discrimination under the pretense of protecting religious freedoms. A previous Parliamentary inquiry in 2018 recommended that further protections might be needed, but acknowledged that this was a nuanced and complex issue that needed input from diverse stakeholders, many of whom called for a more sophisticated Bill of Rights. The Australian Human Rights Commission summarises both the problem and the solution: “Inclusion begins with respect.”

In Australia, there are already many protections for people of faith, and the right to freedom of conscience, thought and belief is restricted – as are all human rights – predominantly by restraints that are deemed necessary to protect the human rights of others. For example, religious people in Australia cannot burn witches, stone adulterers, genitally mutilate their daughters, or throw LGBT people off rooftops. But the spirit behind the proposed legislation is to make it easier for those with more narrow and potentially harmful interpretations of morality to practice their beliefs in ways that might harm others (such as Citipointe Christian College). In proposing such unbalanced, divisive and harmful legislation, the government’s overreach is a violation of equality and universal human rights:

“If a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission.” ― Flemming Rose.

Image by Brigitte make custom works from your photos, thanks a lot from Pixabay

Pride and Prejudice

The Australian Parliament recently ran two inquiries on these Bills, as a demonstration of how much the government wanted to push them through: a Senate inquiry and one run by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. These were the latest in a long line of attempts by the LNP to legislate a form of elitism in Australia: ensuring that religious bigots have special rights to discriminate against anyone who offends their religious sensibilities, including (but not limited to) women (especially single mothers), Muslims, Jews, atheists, divorcees or remarried couples, LGBT students or teachers, people with disability, and those who do not share their religious views.

The widespread public response to the proposed legislation was opposition from across society: churches and religious communities, LGBT communities, people with disability, multicultural networks. In attempting to divide the nation, the government inadvertently united it.

For my own efforts, my submission was accepted (#206) for the Joint Parliamentary Inquiry and my local MP, Kate Twaites, read aloud into Hansard a portion of my representation to her to please oppose the legislation.

Interestingly, her comments about Australia needing a Bill of Rights received an interjection from a conservative MP who implied that the Magna Carta already defined our national human rights – a typical response from a reactionary who evidently believes that an 800 year-old document that enshrines the rights of the English Church (Clause 1) and predominantly defines the rights of king and barons to oversee the running of a feudal society, might have something generically relevant to say today about human rights for those who were not divinely ordained to rule (indeed, one might see how seriously Australian MPs who espouse the Magna Carta are today when considering how they fail to apply its Clause 40 to the human rights of refugees: “To no man will we sell, or deny, or delay, right or justice”).

Double Dealing and Doublespeak

Wrangling over the problems within the Religious Discrimination Bills brought about proposed amendments aimed to protect gay students but not trans students, the latter being a proposed change that aroused concern from Christian Schools Australia. However, the failure to also protect trans students caused five Liberal MPs to cross the floor of Parliament. Ultimately the protecton of trans students was too much for the government and its Christian overlords, who urged the government to abandon the legislation rather than remove their Christian facility to discriminate – thus demonstrating that the legislation was really about discrimination and exclusion rather than religious freedom. One hopes that those who seek to discriminate will instead learn from this experience and join the 21st century.

Meanwhile, Scott Morrison has suggested that the failure of this legislation demonstrates that Christianity is being persecuted in Australia. Such an astonishing hijacking of the language of human rights by a human rights abuser, echoes schoolyards across my 25-year tenure as a school teacher – where every time a bully had his or her bullying behaviour confronted, they immediately complained that they were being bullied. Far from Morrison being oppressed, the reality of his behaviour is far more dangerous: his legislation aimed to divide and conquer, opposing the principles of Zero Discrimination Day.

And perhaps worst of all – any legislation that aims to divide our human family is as obscene as it is ideologically corrupt. While Scott Morrison sees himself in Biblical terms as Samson, strong in heart but under attack from ungodly enemies, I see him more as the Biblical prodigal son, profligate and indulging in narcissistic fancies; someone who is yet to mature into a responsible human being and grasp an enriched understanding of Ubuntu. On the day that he actually learns human empathy and compassion, in line with the allegedly Christian values which he proclaims but ignores, I for one would welcome him back into the wider, compassionate, inclusive human family. Ubuntu.

©2022 Geoff Allshorn

It’s Time

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

This letter was recently sent to the Australian government for an inquiry on ending indefinite and arbitrary detention of refugees. They published my submission (#398) and I await the outcome of the inquiry – but I will not hold my breath waiting for humanitarian action from this government.

Committee Secretary
Joint Standing Committee on Migration
PO Box 6021
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600.
migration@aph.gov.au

Dear Secretary,

Re: Ending Indefinite and Arbitrary Immigration Detention Bill 2021.

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission to this inquiry, which I believe to be the most important and historic human rights inquiry by the Australian Parliament in over twenty years, because it focuses upon an area of human rights that has needed redress for many years.

This inquiry is an opportunity for Australians to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. As someone who has been a human rights activist for many years, I thank Andrew Wilkie for having the integrity to propose this Bill and I thank the Committee for their willingness to consider submissions such as mine which call upon the Australian government to live up to the principles of egalitarianism and giving a fair go to the underdog.

I support the passing of this Bill in order to ensure that Australia upholds the principles and practices of human rights, human decency, and international law.

Background of this Bill:

Australia was one of the original architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The Declaration enshrines the universal and inviolate nature of human rights.

I note that on World Human Rights Day (10 December) last year, to mark the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Marise Payne, publicly upheld the ‘equality… indivisibility and universality’ of human rights, and stated that:

“As one of the eight drafters, Australia remains as committed today to the values and ambition of the Declaration as we were at its inception…
“Australia will continue to advocate for equal human rights for women and girls, people with disabilities, LGBTI people, indigenous peoples, and others who may be in vulnerable situations…
“Australia will continue to defend human rights and encourage the international community to hold itself accountable to the Declaration’s principles.”

The passage of this Bill will bring Australia into line with these noble principles. Refugees are among the world’s most vulnerable people, and their equality must be respected alongside other human beings within our national responsibility. Indefinite and arbitrary detention violate basic human rights and diminish our national accountability and credibility in the world community.

Compliance with World Standards:

This Bill upholds the principles and laws found within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Refugee Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention against Torture.

In preventing human rights abuses including arbitrary and indefinite detention, lack of transparency, and the neglect of those asylum seekers who were recently abandoned in PNG, this Bill brings Australia into line with world class standards of human rights, and restores Australia’s reputation in the world arena.

Why this Bill is vital for Australia’s ethical, cultural and economic best interests:

Ethical:

The Bill reinforces the notion that our national strength lies in our diversity.

“The Australian nation is woven together of people from many ancestries and arrivals…
“In every generation immigrants have brought great enrichment to our nation’s life….
“We value excellence as well as fairness, independence as dearly as mateship.”
(Prime Minister John Howard and poet Les Murray’s Draft Constitutional Preamble, 23 March 1999, as documented by Mark McKenna, Australian Parliament House website.)

This Bill implicitly acknowledges that “border security” should not be used as an excuse to inflict hurt or harm on innocent refugees who simply seek protection.

Our ethics compel us to “roll up our sleeves” and take action:

“The protection of human rights to promote the dignity of the individual is too important a matter for symbolic gestures alone. It is only through the pursuit of practical and effective efforts to promote human rights that we show our real commitment to the welfare of individuals and society.” (Alexander Downer).

Cultural:

This Bill exemplifies the positive aspects of Australian culture including mateship, common humanity and ‘a fair go’:

“For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.”(from the Australian National Anthem.)

This Bill also upholds the principles of those Australians who subscribe to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as all three religions are predicated upon honouring refugees as a central tenet of each faith (Moses, Jesus and Mohammed were all refugees).

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has upheld the common humanist ethics within these religions by acknowledging within his faith the “dignity and value of each and every human being and the responsibilities that they have one to another” (Sarah Martin, Scott Morrison tells Christian conference he was called to do God’s work as prime minister, The Guardian, 26 April 2021).

Scott Morrison’s maiden speech in Australian Parliament set the noble standard against which his government, and all others, should be judged:

“From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others; to fight for a fair go for everyone to fulfil their human potential and to remove whatever unjust obstacles stand in their way and to do what is right, to respect the rule of law, the sanctity of human life… We must recognise an unchanging and absolute standard of what is good and what is evil…
“These are my principles. My vision for Australia is for a nation that is strong, prosperous and generous… above all, generous in spirit, to share our good fortune with others, both at home and overseas, out of compassion and a desire for justice.”(Scott Morrison, speech in Parliament House, 14 February 2008).

This Bill also upholds Australian tradition by enshrining the human rights and freedoms for which our military services have fought. Minister for Home Affairs, Karen Andrews, states on her personal website that she supports veterans. This upholds our culture of honouring the ANZACs and others who paid a heavy price to serve our country in theatres of conflict or war.

Economic:

The Bill eliminates the economic burden that is currently paid by taxpayers for the current refugee policies. Offshore detention and related onshore procedures currently waste billions of dollars upon a system that lacks transparency, accountability and independent oversight, and which fails to deliver humane and protective shelter for those seeking asylum and refuge. The Guardian reports that $1.4 billion has been paid to run the offshore processing regime for five years on Nauru alone (Ben Doherty, ‘Budget Immigration costs: Australia will spend almost $3.4m for each person in offshore detention’, The Guardian, 11 May 2021) and the Refugee Council of Australia reports that offshore processing costs to Australia have likely exceeded $9.03 billion (Offshore Processing Statistics, Refugee Council of Australia, 8 January 2022).

Onshore detention and welfare systems would cost much less, be more humane, and more in line with the cultural and ethical underpinnings of Australian society. They would provide opportunities for quicker, streamlined processing, ensuring that human beings are not detained any longer than necessary. They would ensure a professional approach to assimilation of new migrants in ways that provide mutual benefits for both the individuals concerned and for the Australian community within which they are already placed. Furthermore, they would also provide opportunities for independent oversight to ensure legal, humane and just processes and treatment.

National Credibility in the Context of Recent Events:

January 2020 brought Australia to the fore of public world attention with the arrival of a tennis player whose vaccination status brought him into conflict with our immigration regime. For part of his time in Australia before deportation, he was housed in the same hotel in Melbourne that also housed a number of refugees who had been detained there and elsewhere for up to nine years without prompt and due processing of their claims or adequate attention to their medical needs. The tennis player’s prompt processing, while those others remained detained and neglected by Australia, was on display for the world.

This Bill would remove those current practices which shame our nation in the eyes of all Australians of good conscience, and in the eyes of the world. It also ensures that future judgements of world history will define Australia as a nation that practices the lovingkindness that Holocaust survivor, Australian Halina Wagowska, writes about in her autobiography, a lovingkindness that illuminates the best of humanity:

“Love lights this place up. Without love it would be dark and cold here.”

Conclusion:

I ask this committee to endorse this Bill.

It will return Australia to its proud heritage of being a human rights leader in the world community.

It will uphold international law and the principles within Australian law regarding the inviolate and universal nature of human rights.

It also prepares Australia for further steps towards endorsing human rights through possible actions such as writing and adopting a National Bill of Rights.

I believe that all Members of Parliament enter this career because of a genuine desire to help improve Australia and the world. Rarely, however, does a Bill come along which so clearly provides an opportunity to unambiguously improve the country. This Bill is one such opportunity and I respectfully ask you to take it.

History will express respect for this Bill and those who adopt it.

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this inquiry.

Yours most respectfully.

©2022 Geoff Allshorn

The Prime Defective?

Image by p2722754 from Pixabay

“The idea of leaving any species to die in its own filth when you have the ability to help them… it’s a bunch of fascist crap,”
– Robert Beltran, C│NET, 2016.

Starting in 1780, an estimated 350 to 400 massacres of indigenous Australians are committed by colonists. These Killing Times continue until about 1930. Exact numbers of victims are unknown, but it is estimated that 65,180 people are killed in Queensland alone.

In 1939, the SS St Louis arrives in Cuba and then Miami, carrying hundreds of Jewish refugees who are fleeing the Holocaust. They are sent back to Europe, where many of them die. Just over 60 years later, in 2001, the MV Tampa arrives in Australian waters, carrying hundreds of (mainly) Afghan asylum seekers. The Australian government refuses to take them.

In 2019, a 26 year-old US missionary approaches an isolated group of indigenous people whom he is seeking to convert to Christianity, and they kill him in order to protect their culture, their privacy, and – although they may not realise it – their vulnerability to attack from microbes beyond their isolated island.

In August 2021, the US-led military forces in Afghanistan withdraw, leaving behind an inadequately trained defence force and a human rights catastrophe facing tens of millions of civilians who have been abandoned by the western nations. Critics of the US-led occupation argue that Afghanistan should be left to sort out its own problems.

Such examples – out of myriads in our recent and collective human history – demonstrate a principle that was examined in modern science fiction pop culture – within the Star Trek TV series.

To Boldly Go?

Elizabeth Welch provides a succinct summary of the principle within the Star Trek franchise:

“The Prime Directive, or Starfleet General Order 1, states that members of Starfleet are prohibited from interfering with the internal and natural development of alien civilizations. In other words, colonization of inhabited worlds is a no-go.”

Various episodes of various Star Trek series have explored the Prime Directive,often pitting Enterprise crew members against indigenous laws or customs that they consider to be barbaric or ethically unsupportable.

YouTuber Steve Shives points out the problem with this principle, even within the context of the Star Trek series: “At some point, one of the writers or producers must have noticed that pledging to uphold a non-interference principle is kind of an odd thing for people to do when their primary mission is to seek out new life and new civilisations…” (Shives, 2018b, @4:10). He also asks whether it is ethical to prevent saving a civilisation that faces extinction from a natural disaster.

Outside of Star Trek, its Prime Directive has inspired varied philosophical ponderings and posturings, ranging from the question on whether aliens are avoiding us because they are following the Prime Directive, to whether or not God is following the Prime Directive. (I find such unsupportable musings to be somewhat silly; one might just as easily ask whether unicorns or Klingons are hiding from us for similar reasons.)

All in all, the Prime Directive might seem to be an interesting intellectual exercise, except…

Falling Back to Earth

Star Trek’s Prime Directive was problematic from the start. The original series forbade the Enterprise crew from interfering with the ‘natural’ development of any indigenous world – undoubtedly as a response to US involvement in the real-life Vietnam War. The original series treated the Prime Directive with ambiguity, as Eric Greene (2006, 60) points out:

“…in the course of the series, the Prime Directive was often debated, occasionally derided, but rarely obeyed. The Prime Directive was not a directive as much as it was the Prime Question: how much power should a superpower use when dealing with other peoples?”

Exceptions to the rule of non-interference were permitted (and frequently carried out by Kirk) if deemed necessary to reset a cultural aberration back onto ‘healthy’ development or to rescue victims of injustice. One commentator summed up Kirk’s frequent violation of this policy: “The Prime Directive was instituted to protect people. When the directive gets in the way of protecting people, ignore it … People will be more important than rules.” (Marinaccio, 1994, 50.)

This was a humanitarian principle that the sequel series Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) conceded in the 1989 episode, Justice, the very first time its characters clashed with alien laws:

There can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”
“When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?”
Picard and Riker

And yet in this episode, there was a problem with this outcome – Riker and Picard seemed to be making excuses on why their own people should be singled out for special treatment, implying that Federation citizens were entitled to human rights whereas citizens of other (or indigenous) planets were not – a form of apartheid. Here we see a fundamental change. The Prime Directive had been written into the original Star Trek series as a means to challenge the 1960s Vietnam War and thereby confront cultural imperialism that was being enacted by a superpower. Two decades later, the same Directive was reinterpreted in the era of the Gulf War (and wars in Rwanda and Bosnia and Iraq and other places, US aggression in Paraguay and Libya and Panama etc) to reinforce the entitlement of superpower citizens – the metaphoric Federation – with human rights that were denied to those living on subordinate worlds.

In 2021, we see the real-life outcome of such a disgusting policy – the withdrawal of western military troops from Afghanistan, and the abandonment of tens of millions of human lives on the implicit justification that these lives are somehow of lesser value than those of people in western nations.

On the whole, TNG prohibited virtually all interaction between the Enterprise crew and indigenous worlds which might allow for the transfer of technology, morality or life saving necessities. Needy planets were denied technology until their civilisations collapsed (“The Last Outpost”), drug traffickers were allowed free travel (“Symbiosis”), and even planetary genocide was allowed (“Homeward”). In this allegorical future, ethnic cleansing would be dismissed as a localised problem, a Christian theocracy would be free to persecute gays, and honour killings would be permitted across the galaxy wherever women were oppressed under some interplanetary version of Sharia law. This dystopia is far removed from the humanist utopia envisaged within the original Star Trek series.

Episode 164: Ethics of the Prime Directive

Possibly the worst offender of Prime Defectiveness can be found in the first season of the series Star Trek: Enterprise in 2002 (just after the real-life ‘War on Terror’ had commenced), where the captain and doctor debate the ethics of their eventual collusion to conduct planetary genocide (by neglect) upon a sentient species in the episode, Dear Doctor. One wonders whether the Jewish staff working within the Star Trek offices had ever heard of the Holocaust.

In 2003, under a pen name, I criticised the ethics presented in this episode:

“… Captain Archer alludes to the Prime Directive, which [in his timeline] is not yet written. He decides that until any such set of rules is in place, he will not “play God” – but then he does exactly that – plays God – by genociding a whole race. We would suggest that Archer’s humanitarian attitude for most of the episode should have led to his proclamation that until the Prime Directive was written, he would always err on the side of compassion” (Gaetano, 2003, 6).

Nearly twenty years later, I agree with Edward Clint, who in a cogent written piece, argues that the Prime Directive is an example of Star Trek’s Doctrine of Moral Laziness:

“The utopian future of Star Trek (most specifically, that of The Next Generation [TNG]) is sometimes described as an idealized liberal world… Unfortunately, TNG also encodes some of the utter failures of 20th century liberal thought. The consequences of adopting them, whether in fiction or real life, can be pretty horrifying, not to mention morally disgusting.”

Star Trek was originally born during the era of hippies, civil rights, and baby boomers at the height of their idealism. Decades later, younger generations have rebooted the franchise to be less optimistic, more nuanced and sadly much more cynical. Let’s use that nuance to correct and reboot the Prime Directive so it becomes an inspirational philosophy rather that a source of nihilism and human rights abuse. Star Trek has the power to inspire and educate; let’s make it so.

Sources:

Adrian Gaetano, 2003. ‘Review: Enterprise: Bad Science, Bad Fiction’, in Geoff Allshorn and Miriam English (eds.), Diverse Universe: Newsletter for the club ‘Spaced Out’, Melbourne: Spaced Out, #16, June, 4 – 6.

Eric Greene, 2006. ‘The prime question’, in David Gerrold & Robert J Sawyer (eds.), Boarding the Enterprise: transporters, tribbles and the Vulcan death grip in Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, Dallas: BenBella Books, 57 – 86.

Dave Marinaccio, 1994. All I really needed to know I learned from watching Star Trek, London: Titan Books.

Ian Sherr, 2016. Star Trek’s Robert Beltran: The Prime Directive is ‘fascist crap’, C│NET, 7 Sept.

Steve Shives, 2018a. Did Captain Archer Actually Commit Genocide?, YouTube, 18 April.
– – – – – – -, 2018b. Why the Prime Directive Might Actually Be a Terrible Rule, YouTube, 23 May.

© 2021 Geoff Allshorn.

Onward, Happy Humanists

A secular filk song to be sung to the tune of Onward Christian Soldiers (with acknowledgement to Sabine Baring-Gould and Arthur Sullivan).

With thanks to Humanist Rod Bower for starting this project by writing Verse #1.

Onward, Happy Humanists,
Dancing ‘cross the floor
Evidence and Reason
Proudly to the fore.
Dignity for all who live,
is the way to go,
Love and help each other and
true happiness you’ll know!

Refrain: Onward, Happy Humanists,
Dancing ‘cross the floor
Evidence and Reason
Proudly to the fore.

Like a mighty army
Science marches on;
Humans, we’re still learning
Knowledge found and won.
We are not divided;
All in clarity:
One in hope and science
And in one humanity.

Refrain: Onward, Happy Humanists,
Dancing ‘cross the floor
Evidence and Reason
Proudly to the fore.

Dedicated activists,
Pride and strength unfurled;
Lend to us your talents
Let’s go change the world:
In this one life that we have,
Part of nature’s reign;
We can make a difference
And a legacy we gain.

Refrain: Onward, Happy Humanists,
Dancing ‘cross the floor
Evidence and Reason
Proudly to the fore.

© 2022 Rod Bower and Geoff Allshorn

Australian Human Rights Abuse

REFUGEES HAVE HUMAN RIGHTS TOO

HUMANISTS VICTORIA MEDIA RELEASE

23 December 2021

In her comments on International Human Rights Day, 10 December, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said, “This year’s theme of equality is a timely reminder of the indivisibility and universality of human rights” and “Australia is deeply concerned by instances around the world of arbitrary detention.”

Yet, on 31 December, Australia’s contract with Papua New Guinea (PNG) to process refugees will conclude.

More than 100 refugees will no longer be supported by Australia, with dire consequences expected for their safety and welfare. Father Giorgio Licini, the general secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, described the situation this way:

“A sad celebration of Christmas also again awaits about one hundred asylum seekers and refugees in Port Moresby. They are the remnants of the more than one thousand men housed first in Manus Island since 2013 by the Australian government. By 1st January 2022 they will be under the full responsibility of the cashless PNG government until a solution is found, at least for some of them. Expect the others to be in the streets of Port Moresby rather soon, including the fifteen or so in a special list by humanitarian organizations as being too mentally ill now to ever be able to fend for themselves.”

As well, there are still about 70 people in detention in Australia, having been transferred from PNG and Nauru for medical treatment. The great majority have been granted refugee status under the Refugee Convention, but for unexplained and apparently arbitrary reasons, some have been released into the community and some have not. Humanists Victoria endorse the call from the Refugee Council of Australia and Father Licini in PNG, for Australia to honour its obligations under the Refugee Convention.

Humanists contend that refugees are deserving of the same liberties and respect as the rest of us, and that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an ethical document of high order. We ask the Minister to take urgent steps to reconcile the aspirations she stated on Human Rights Day with government policy and practice.

Jennie Stuart
Humanists Victoria
president@vichumanist.org.au

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn

Footprints on the Moon

Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean prepares to set foot on the Moon, 19 Nov. 1969.
Credits: NASA

To be sung to the tune of Jingle Bells (With acknowledgement to James Lord Pierpont).

Launching into space
In a shiny spaceship pod,
Leave the clouds behind,
Still no sign of god.

Stars shine steadily
In the cosmos and its call,
Live in microgravity,
Radiation and freefall.

Oh decompress! Then egress,
Space walk and have fun.
Count the stars and wave at Mars
And approach aphelion.

Fly, explore! Then seek more!
Heading into space.
Working hard to stay alive
And establish a Moonbase.

Apollo 17 spacewalk on 17 Dec. 1972.
Image Credit: NASA

Knowledge costs a lot
Of resources, time and lives,
The quest for science and for space
Is what compels and drives.

We climbed out of the trees,
And emerged out of the cave,
But our gaze has been the skies
Our destiny we crave.

Oh decompress! Then egress,
Space walk and have fun.
Count the stars and wave at Mars
And approach aphelion.

Alarm bells, lightning swells,
SCE to AUX
Aiming high, see how we fly
In our capsules and airlocks.

Apollo 11 lunar footprint (NASA photo)

Footprints on the Moon
And then heading onto Mars,
We explore deep into space
Aiming for the stars.

From stardust we came,
To the stars we shall return.
Forging our own future
We have so much to learn.

Oh decompress! Then egress,
Space walk and have fun.
Count the stars and wave at Mars
And approach aphelion.

Fly, explore! Then seek more!
Heading into space.
Oh what fun to lead the world
And inspire the human race.

‘Earthrise’ photo, Apollo 8, Christmas Eve 1968. NASA photo.

Once upon a time
All the astronauts were men,
All white and full of right stuff,
Let’s not go there again.

We seek equality,
Humanity is core.
A better species reaches out
Into future life we soar.

Oh decompress! Then egress,
Space walk and have fun.
Count the stars and wave at Mars
And approach aphelion.

Fly, explore! Then seek more!
Heading into space.
Oh what fun to lead the world
And inspire the human race.

Sally Ride. By Unknown author or not provided – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain.

© 2021 Geoff Allshorn

Using Science, Men of Old

Based on the old Christian hymn, “As With Gladness Men of Old”
(public domain) by William Chatterton Dix

Image by Norbert Pietsch from Pixabay

Using science, men of old
Did the stars and skies behold.
Curiously they sought its light
Leading onward, beaming bright.
So with utmost confidence
Do we now seek evidence.

Using wisdom, women too
Sought guidance from knowledge new.
And with determination
They fought discrimination.
An enlightened world their goal,
Equity for every soul.

Their progress was hard not swift,
Our improving world their gift.
So may we use common sense,
Cast aside our ignorance.
All our greatest knowledge share,
Claim their legacy we dare.

So humanity at last
Leaves behind its narrow past.
Gender and sexuality,
Rights and self-autonomy.
New critical thinking thrives
And compassion in our lives.

In our scientific age
Need we no dogmatic rage.
Learning from both the sea and sky
We evolve when’er we try.
So forever may we strive
Give our world a better life.

© 2021 Geoff Allshorn

Human Rights Day 2021

“Women everywhere are faced with discrimination. They have fewer opportunities for economic participation, less political representation, are refused access to education, face greater health and safety risks, and are confronted with violence and abuse.” – UN Women Australia.

On 10 December 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the world community, and over seventy years later, its secular humanist ideals permeate our world and our cultures. Today, even those who misunderstand and misrepresent human rights adopt the vocabulary of human rights in their claims for advancement.

10 December each year now marks Human Rights Day, to commemorate the UDHR and its principles. Eleanor Roosevelt – a woman – helped to author and launch the UDHR, and the birth of modern understandings of human rights will be her greatest bequest to humanity. Two generations later, how do human rights stand for women in particular?

After the abandonment of Afghanistan by western nations earlier this year, millions of women and other human beings face oppression, murder, and devolution of their human rights. From Mozambique to Kazakhstan, women’s rights are under attack.

In Islamic nations,women are still oppressed, although there are some advancements at glacial pace. Across Africa, there is equally slow progress, but social evolution is taking place. In western nations, women’s rights are facing opposition and kickback. From Algeria to Australia, there are many issues facing women, and I could not presume to write an authoritative list within the limited confines of this humble blog entry.

Nevertheless, I see three young women who give me hope for the world.

Malala Yousafzai is a young woman who has faced terrorism and gained the world’s admiration. She continues to advocate for girls and women around the world.

X González (born Emma González) is a young woman who became famous after a the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings. She led March For Our Lives and other activism that confronts the culture of violence and death in the USA, spearheaded by disproportionate gun rights. She and her young compatriots promote a less violent, more compassionate world.

Greta Thunberg has led the world in fighting for the future of humanity and the entire planet. Her ‘school strike for climate‘ became an international movement that has triggered the activism of millions, and challenged purveyors of unfettered capitalism to stop destroying our biosphere.

Such young women are the latest heroes in a long line, stretching back through Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Emmaline Pankhurst, Boudicca, Madame Cissé Hadja Mariama Sow and other African women, and many others around the world. We have hope.

©2021 Geoff Allshorn

We Must Return To The Moon

Commemorating the 49th anniversary of Apollo 17 (7-19 December 1972), the last human journey to the Moon so far.

Apollo 17 launch. This was the only night launch done during Apollo. 7 December 1972. (NASA photo – scan by Kipp Teague).

We must return to the Moon. Humans walked on its surface in July 1969 in order to prove that it could be done – and then Moonwalkers returned another five times. We went there for curiosity, for political glory, for vanity, for scientific knowledge, and simply because it’s there. A generation later, we must return to the Moon – and then go on to Mars.

We must return to the Moon in order to survive. If humanity lives on the Moon and Mars as well as Earth, we will no longer have all our cosmic “eggs in one basket”. This protects our species against the finality of World War Three, or a global pandemic that is fifty times more lethal than COVID, or a terrorist outbreak of smallpox, or the next time Earth is struck by a planet-killer sized asteroid.

We must return to the Moon because of our quest for knowledge – the same urge that caused us to climb out of the trees and walk upright; the same drive which motivates people to explore and create and make a better world for posterity; the same ideals which give artists and authors their dreams, and all of us a reason to live with hope – that is the same instinct which drives us onto the Moon. We must continue to seek new dreams and challenges in order to evolve.

We must return to the Moon because the Earth still has big problems – and outer space may hold the answers. The last moon missions, a generation ago, were the focus of history’s biggest ever boost to non-military sciences. Today, we enjoy a changed world because of the inventions and innovations that were developed for the Apollo program. We can do this again: a Moon or Mars colony would serve as a focus for a new, civilian “Manhattan Project”.

The Big Blue Marble as seen by Apollo 17 (NASA photo)

We must return to the Moon because our time in outer space helps us to focus on Earth. Apollo gave humanity its first-ever cosmic view of the Earth in space – and thus gave birth to a generation of environmentalists. Furthermore, Apollo did not uselessly launch rockets full of money into outer space – the money was paid to employ scientists and engineers and others who built a new world. A future space program could teach us new knowledge and skills. While developing new ways to shelter the environment of a fragile lunar base, humanity could learn valuable lessons on how to repair our damaged home planet. While learning to live outside the Van Allen Belts, we would gain new medical knowledge. While developing new agricultural processes to feed hungry Mars colonists, we could use the same skills to feed those facing famine on Earth.

We must return to the Moon because it will help our species to mature. From space, it is impossible to see the national, religious or racial boundaries which divide our world. From a distance, the Earth appears as a tranquil, united world – our hatreds and prejudices are invisible. Similarly, lunar colonists would have to learn to live with their partners: whether American or Russian, Israeli or Palestinian, Hutu or Tutsi, male or female, Christian or atheist or Muslim, gay or straight. In the cramped confines of a space station, there is no room for bigotry. In learning to depend on each other for daily survival, these future astronauts could teach the world a valuable (symbolic and practical) lesson.

We must return to the Moon because the planet currently lacks leadership and vision. Religious extremists crash planes into skyscrapers, promote science denialism as a virtue, and seek to diminish equality for women and LGBT people. Wars and malnutrition. HIV/AIDS and COVID, injustice and poverty collectively plague most of the human population. Our current politicians are so vision-impoverished that many Americans actually disbelieve that their country ever went to the Moon in the first place! Where are our heroes; our visionaries; our scientists and dreamers and pioneers?

We must return to the Moon because the task is too big for one nation alone. A permanent Moonbase or Mars colony would not – could not! – be the child of just one nation. A real space program could only result if all nations gave of their resources, finances and expertise. Such a mission could bring about the birth of a truly United Nations, forcing petty politicians and corrupt despots to turn from waging war to waging peace. It could give our whole planet a common goal – bigger and better than sports, wars, money, glory, oil or greed.

We must return to outer space because our atoms were born in stars. We are made of stardust and we must return to the stars to seek our origins – and our future.

©2021 Geoff Allshorn