Loving Thy Neighbour

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

In commemoration of World Day of Social Justice 20 February 2021 and International Mother Language Day 21 February 2021

I recall a Sunday last year, when I received dozens of greetings from online LGBT+ refugees who had been rejected by their biological families, and yet these young adults greeted me from the other side of the world with what I presumed was a traditional African mark of respect towards an older person: “Hello father…” – and then I realised that it was Father’s Day and they were sending greetings to their new dad.

“G’day Mate” (Australian ‘strine’)
“Uraho” – “Muraho” (Kinyarwanda – Rwanda)
“Oli Otya” (Luganda – Uganda)
“Selam” (Tigrinya – Eritrea)
“Tadiyass” (Amharic – Ethiopia)
“Ma Nabad Baa” (Somali)
“Kudual” (Dinka – South Sudan)
“Mbote” (Lingala – Congo)
“Amosi” (Luo – Kenya)
“Hujambo” or “Habari Yako” (Kiswahili)
“Marhaba” (Arabic – Yemen)

As a single man, I never had children of my own – although as a school teacher for many years, I worked daily with many young people and built varied relationships with many (one of my earliest students, with whom I was recently reunited due to the miracle of social media, turned fifty-years-old last year). And it is through such opportunities in social media that I have come to learn of humanity’s latest incursion into new social territory – changing our understandings and responses to new forms of human relationships.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

A Whole New World…

Such is the power of World Day for Social Justice, which aims to highlight ‘poverty, exclusion, gender equality, unemployment, human rights and social protections’. Its theme for the 2021 is, ‘Social Justice in the Digital Economy‘. This seems to be an acknowledgement of a new normal that is emerging: digital life (though not just in financial economics, because there are other forms of investment in human, planetary and environmental infrastructure that are at least as important as pecuniary interests). It seems fitting that my own, much more humble reflections on social justice in 2021 should also focus on digital social media that have the power to change the world, in particular through giving us unique opportunities for access to people whose heroic work for social justice should inspire us all.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

As a science and space enthusiast – as a futurist – I enjoy the exploring new ideas and new worlds and new technology – and I find it amazing that the virtual world holds the power to change our real-life world in ways that could not be anticipated. Social media is possibly the next epochal change for humanity – because it holds the potential to help us evolve into a better species.

Social media demonstrates that social evolution is a tangible force – unstoppable, immutable, inevitable – and reminiscent of that old song, For the Times, They Are A-Changin’, or in acknowledgement of the modern social blog that It Gets Better, we should either join in or get out of the way.

I will let some of my extended social media family speak for themselves.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Global Village, Global Family

Social media has introduced me to one young man who describes himself and his situation:

“A polite Ugandan who was born gay by nature and discriminated against due to the homophobic environment and rigid culture and religious norms starting within my family itself and my entire community. Even during school, I knew life would never be fair to people of our nature…

“Fortunately, I was received by the UNHCR and taken to a place that they thought I would be safe (Kakuma camp). This place has seemed more tough and dangerous even more than before, due to exposure to more tough times.”

(Anonymous – used with author’s consent).

Life in the camp is difficult. One refugee from Yemen reports:

“Everyone accuses the LGBTQ community in Kakuma camp that we are the cause of the Corona virus, hunger, thirst, disease and all the problems… They say we are LGBTQ people, so they want to get rid of the LGBT community in any way, even if we are killed.”

(Anonymous – used with author’s consent).

Meanwhile, a young woman tells me:

“We are attacked almost every day by the Turkana natives and fellow refugees who don’t like LGBTI community… Even the police discriminate [against] us. My first house given to me by UNHCR was burnt by homophobes. We are [also] discriminated [against] while receiving key services like medication and water. We are attacked and cut like animals. One day we went to seek protection from the UNHCR compound … and we were badly beaten and tear-gassed by the police, ordered by the UNHCR sub-Office.”

(Anonymous – used with author’s consent).

And so they endure machete attacks, typhoid and malaria, medical neglect, attacks upon property and person, and starvation rations from the UNHCR. Is the ‘solidarity and compassion’ of which UNHCR Commissioner Filippo Grandi speaks?

As each day dawns in Kakuma, LGBT people count their blessings, as explained to me recently by one trans refugee when recounting the previous night’s attack of having a number of shelters pelted with stones:

“Here every day, night, stones come from every corner, and we all live in fear. Great thing no one got hurt yesterday, but they [were] attacked.”

(Anonymous – used with author’s consent).

“It is Better to Light A Candle Than to Curse the Darkness” – W L Watkinson.

Yet these young people give me hope for the world. They demonstrate the power of Martin Luther King’s declaration that ‘Darkness is only driven out with light, not more darkness.’

They are fine young adults who seek to make a difference in the darkest of settings, offering medical assistance and seeking to build shelters for the homeless and the endangered. One young man explains his idealism:

“I just wanted to say to you that I actually believe very strongly that the homophobia that is driven by some Christian people, and lots of churches and lots of people have faith in Africa. It is wrong. And the message that I understand of the Gospels is about love, and it’s it’s not about judging people. But you will find that through history – you know, there were times in the Bible when lepers were put outside the camp, they were untouchable. And in modern times, we know that lepers don’t carry disease, that you can’t pick up their disease from them. And it’s the same thing. And the different groups all throughout history, who have been ostracized, you know the word ostracized. It means to be not accepted to put out… they’re not part of us. And there’s been all kinds of different groups of people who’ve been treated like that. And it’s very, very sad that some Christian people today have such a cruel and oppressive attitude for another human being. But that’s why we’re trying to help you in some way. And let you know that there are Christian people, and people who don’t have a faith in God at all, but they have hearts that want to reach out and help. Just like you want to reach out and help the people around you.”

(Anonymous – used with author’s consent).

Although I do not share his specific faith, I do share his faith in humanity and a positive human future. I have become involved with Humanity In Need – Rainbow Refugees, an unincoporated non-profit group that seeks to assist these young people in building a better future for their people. Would you like to help build their world?

Another of my young friends reports:

Am working with a team Humanity In Need (HIN) to help support fellow queer refugees here in the camp with mobilisation, counselling and advice where necessary.

All this we have managed to reach with the support of our Australian friends who with there support we have managed to reach to help provide emergency medical assistance which is very necessary because the UNHCR medical centers are filled with homophobia.

As well as food availability to some LGBTIQ mates and we are planning to provide shelters to many homeless mates. All this is done to help create some safety before the UNHCR intervenes.

(Anonymous – used with author’s consent).

So far, through the miracle of modern social media, I know that they have saved lives from typhoid and malaria and homophobic attack, they have built (or rebuilt) shelters and provided hope for many people who otherwise might feel hopelessness. To me, their humanist precepts of kindness and decency and compassion cut across race or religion or resistance. I believe that this is possibly the most compelling form of immortality – through assisting the lives and betterment of our extended family, endeavouring to create a better future, and leaving a legacy of an improved world around us.

I publish this to coincide with World Day of Social Justice and International Mother Language Day because social media gives us new opportunities for social justice – and surely the commonest mother tongue we all share is the power of the human heart. Amidst their trauma, my young friends have (hopefully) experienced kindness to some degree, and I know that some of them seek to pay it forward by being kind to others. I invite you to join them: Humanity in Need – Rainbow Refugees

Stop Press: As this blog article is reaching publication stage, news has come in that UNHCR Kenya and related agencies are holding a meeting with LGBT refugees in Kakuma. It is hoped that protection, shelter, food, water, medicine, mosquito nets and resettlement will come out of this meeting.

©2021 Geoff Allshorn

Disclosure: Geoff Allshorn is President of Humanity in Need – Rainbow Refugees. Uncredited photos were supplied by LGBT+ refugees from Kakuma, and are published with the consent of those people.

Of Cabbages and Kings

“What a piece of work is a man,
how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties,
in form and moving, how express and admirable
in action, how like an angel
in apprehension, how like a god.”
(Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2)

Shakespeare’s monologue – or what these days we might call his ‘meme’ – from Hamlet, encapsulates for me the essence and message of what these days we would call Humanism. With layers of meaning, irony and transcendance beyond the oppressive sexist and religious understandings of his day, Shakespeare’s words capture our place in nature as a ‘paragon of animals’ with the potential to aspire towards higher ambitions. Of course, what he defines as ‘this quintessence of dust’ is today understood in the words of Carl Sagan and Neil De Grasse Tyson, as ‘stardust’. Shakespeare did not know or create our modern concepts of Humanism, yet I see his words as symbolising the potential of Humanism to arise from pre-scientific or other archaic understandings of the world and evolve into a movement that hopefully inspires human beings to strive for betterment through science and human rights.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

King of the Animals?

Bill Bryson continues this praise of our glorious human grandeur:

“To begin with, for you to be here now trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble in an intricate and curiously obliging manner to create you. It’s an arrangement so specialised and peculiar that it has never been tried before and will only exist this once. For the next many years (we hope) these tiny particles will uncomplainingly engage in all the billions of deft, co-operative efforts necessary to keep you intact and let you experience the supremely agreeable but generally under appreciated state known as existence.” (Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, p. 17).

Image by Christine Sponchia from Pixabay

And yet, amidst all this scientific and humanist exploration of our species’ significance, we must consider more: that other life forms are equally praiseworthy.

Historically, some religions have preached that ‘Men (and women) are made … to rule and subdue the earth as God’s representatives.’ This form of human supremacy or speciesism has denied the reality that microbes and viruses are capable of bringing down our presumed superiority as easily as we are of constructing a narcissistic hubris through the proliferation of atomic weaponry or systemic world poverty.

Traditionally, humanity has considered itself to be somehow more highly evolved, or on a higher plane of worthiness, compared to other animals. Our tendency to judge our fellow life forms as comprising ‘ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties‘ is a demonstration of how strange and dissociated we have been from our fellow sentients – a sign of our own arrogance and vanity, the same social distancing that enables us to so readily dismiss mass extinctions that are caused by our own anthropogenic climate change.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

And yet we are a part of the glorious cornucopia of life; we dance and sing as part of the carnival of the animals; our human languages and song add to the vast chorus of life that bespeaks our world – croaks and chirps and roars and hoots. The family resemblance between us and other living things is not only physical, but also a measure of biology and sentience. As a science fiction fan, I wonder if one day some truly alien beings will arrive from another planet and remark on what they see as the family resemblance between us and cabbages or starfish.

Marriage of Equals?

While it is understandable and even natural for humans to have an affinity for their own species – this is, after all, the lens through which we view our world, and can potentially be ‘a boon to survival‘ – our attitudes towards animals nevertheless need to expand and encompass new perspectives just as we seek to expand our understandings of our own condition. Humans are no more, and no less, evolved than any other species within our planetary biosphere, and indeed we are all interconnected on many levels. Richard Fortey emphasises one example:

“What is abundantly clear is that all life – from bacterium to elephant – shares common characteristics at the level of molecules. There is a common thread that runs through the whole of biological existence. Individual genes on the ribosomal RNA are common to all life, and these are complex structures… We all share a common ancestor.”(‘LIFE: An Unauthorised Biography‘, London: The Folio Society, 2008, p. 36).

Scientists are even uncovering how interactions between divergent life forms may ultimately enrich our understandings of our own. We not only live interdependently with our fellow life forms, but in various forms of symbiosis within which we rely upon each other for our mutual survival – another reason why anthropogenic climate change is suicidally stupid.

Image by Robert Balog from Pixabay

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“I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully.”
– G W Bush.

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Our place within the animal world encourages us to discover the awe and glory of other life forms. Humanism points towards sentientism because humans aren’t the only sentient beings. We can expand upon our self-identity as human individuals and as collective communities within our planetary biosphere:

“Humans are special. We have developed phenomenally oversized brains which grant us expanded purposes. We can learn about far more than just the things our survival depends upon, and in that learning we can see that all life is interwoven and that we depend upon all those around us, so we need to look after all life, not just our own. We can see beyond ourselves, and our family, and our tribe or clan, beyond our village or city, past state and national borders, even past species boundaries to realise we are all brothers and sisters — not just all humans, but all the other mammals, even all other vertebrates, all other animals, and even all life.” – Miriam English.

For all our special abilities and capacities, we have no more, and no fewer, rights than any other life form – it is our human arrogance that presumes superiority, and our Humanism that calls us to accept humility.

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals… In a world older and more complete than ours they moved finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” – Henry Beston, 1928 (Wikiquotes)

Opening commentary taken from a talk given at the 2013 AGM for the Humanist Society of Victoria, and recorded at Future Salon Melbourne 2013.

In honour of Darwin Day 2021.

© 2021 Geoff Allshorn

the meaning of life is fortran too

Originally published in Solar Spectrum #1, Spaced Out, Melbourne, 2001.

Image by ArtTower from Pixabay

The Universal program ran
with cosmic swirls,
with violent explosions,
with timeless passings of time,
and coalescence into novas and galaxies.

The sub-programs ran
and evolved into stars
and planets
and life
and consciousness.

He awoke
……..and wondered,
…………….and understood
just a fraction.

And as he grew,
he became aware of computers
and programs
and languages
and mathematics.

He learned
……..and he loved.
He followed his own programming
and began to imagine
……..to define
…………….to create
and to see that it was good.

He wondered at his world,
at the others who shared his walk,
at their sameness –
and at their diversity.
He queried their humanity,
……..their sexualities,
…………….their courage
and their fears.

He studied their religions,
……..their philosophies,
their cults
and their conformities.
And they struggled to learn
……..and define
…………….and monopolise
their own programming.

His biology ran,
and he learned
and loved
and aged
and sickened
and headed towards termination of his program.

And as the lines of programming
began their loop,
to define and shape his last few lines,
he began to wonder:

They say we make god in our image –
but maybe it’s the other way around.
The Universal computer
runs and plans and programs
……..and experiments
…………….and terminates mistakes
and allows other sub-programs to run their full term.

His own life work
had been with computers,
to build
and invent
and evolve a new life form.

Ashes to ashes,
……..stardust to stardust,
…………….the divine evolution:
from Computer we came, and to computer we shall return.

Maybe Life itself does this.
It studies our responses,
our thoughts,
……..our needs and reactions,
…………….our heroes and villains,
and it judges the success of our programming.

He ended
……..and slept,
…………….and understood
just a fraction.

And the Universal program runs on
towards perfection
towards heaven
towards infinite.

Reprinted in honour of Clean Out Your Computer Day 2021.

© 2001 Geoff Allshorn

Protect Women and Girls Now!

International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation

WARNING: This is a sensitive issue that should disgust any civilised person.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

It is not often that a barbaric cultural practice continues from the Stone Age into the scientific era – and when it does, it is time for a rethink.

Female genital mutilation is one such practice; the World Health Organisation estimates that over 200 million women and girls have been victims of this cultural (and misogynistic) act of violence, which extends across Africa, Middle East and Asia (including India), and beyond into western nations where immigrants might send their children back to home countries for ritual mutilation.

UNICEF makes it clear that FGM has no health benefits, only harm:

FGM has no health benefits and often leads to long-term physical and psychological consequences. Medical complications can include severe pain, prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and even death. It can also lead to increased risk of HIV transmission.

Women who have undergone genital mutilation can experience complications during childbirth, including postpartum haemorrhage, stillbirth and early neonatal death.

Psychological impacts can range from a girl losing trust in her caregivers to longer-term feelings of anxiety and depression as a woman.

Stories from victims can be easily found on the Internet. It is not some problem far removed from our world and our reality: it is here and now. It is estimated that 53,000 overseas-born Australian girls and women have been victims to this barbarity. Fortunately, my own country of Australia has – after informed investigation – banned this practice which serves no useful purpose except to inflict pain and oppression upon women. It is even illegal for Australians to take a child overseas for this purpose. Many other countries are also banning this human rights abuse.

By Amnon s (Amnon Shavit). – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36598467.

“No woman should be told she can’t make decisions about her own body. When women’s rights are under attack, we fight back.”
Kamala Harris

The United Nations and aligned bodies (including Humanists UK) talk of ending FGM around the world by 2030 – but this will only happen if education, social pressure and activist rage make it impossible for parents and communities to consider further abusing their daughters, sisters and mothers in this way. Attitudinal change is needed by us all – to recognise that women’s issues are not marginalised – and this must translate into action. It is not enough for us to merely disapprove – we must change the world. Perhaps somebody reading this would like to take action.

“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”
Marie Shear

©2021 Geoff Allshorn

Ban LGBT+ Conversion Therapy Now!

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Dear Member of Victorian Parliament,

Please Support the Change or Suppression Conversion Practices Prohibition Bill 2020

Some years ago, I was psychologically tortured and gaslit by religious therapists who advocated various forms of LGBT+ conversion therapy.

None of these people was a qualified psychologist or medical practitioner.

None of the religious communities or individuals who promoted this practice did so from a medically or scientifically informed background.

I ask that you please ensure that such misinformed individuals and practices are no longer tolerated in a society that protects human life and human dignity.

Please follow the science and the principles of human rights. Please support the Victorian Bill to outlaw LGBTQ+ conversion practices.

I appreciate that this legislation (like all legislation) has various nuances and considerations, and I welcome your assurance of consideration. However, I do not accept the arguments being offered to you that this Bill goes ‘too far’ in curbing religious expression or parental rights – it merely bans the right to abuse the human rights of vulnerable people.

Using similar arguments, extremist men’s rights groups might argue against legislation which bans family violence on the grounds that such legislation goes ‘too far’ by curbing their rights to express their masculinity, or white supremacists might argue that anti-discrimination laws go ‘too far’ by stopping them from mistreating others whom they believe to be inferior.

I trust that you agree: nobody should have the right to mistreat others based upon any claim of presumed superiority, or based upon faith rather than science – especially when they openly admit that their views are informed by pre-scientific religious texts rather than by modern scientific knowledge:

Our deeply held and unchanging beliefs are firmly rooted in each religious community’s’ respective Holy Books and Oral Traditions which provide contrary constructs to those imposed by the Bill.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) makes it clear that freedom of thought and belief is paramount, and that people are certainly within their rights to believe whatsoever they choose. However, the UDHR also specifies that such a right – like all other human rights – must be proscribed in order to prevent expression of those beliefs having a negative impact upon the lives, rights and welfare of others. We already proscribe such beliefs – we do not allow religious people to burn witches or engage in female genital mutilation, nor do we allow parents to mistreat their children.

I respectfully ask you to please support the LGBT+ Conversion Bill and to disregard those people who argue that they should have the right to continue abusing the human rights and welfare of vulnerable people under the pretence of religious freedom or parental rights.

Thank you very much for your continued and ongoing considerations to ensure that you exercise your vote conscientiously and responsibly in order to protect the human rights of Victorians and to make a difference in bringing about a better society for all people.

©2021 Geoff Allshorn