Human Rights Are Bigger Than We Think

For Human Rights Day 2023 and the values it portrays.

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few… or the one.” – Spock.

Today, on Human Rights Day, the newspapers here are full of news that the Australian government announces cuts in migration, in apparent response to polls that suggest Australians think we are importing too many foreigners. This is the same population that recently told our indigenous people that they did NOT deserve the human right to have a voice in the democratic process; the same population that wants the government to shackle and detain black people who have arrived by boat, even after the High Court declares that indefinite detention is illegal.

Meanwhile, wars in the Ukraine and Gaza and Sudan and Yemen continue unabated. The USA votes against ceasefire in Gaza, and the UK abstains. Sorry, there will be no peace on Earth for millions of human beings this Christmas.

It is now 75 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed, and we seem to be much further away from achieving its goals than at any time since it was written. Affluent, entitled white folk bewail the “woke” lefties who promote social justice; conspiracy theorists demand their “rights” not to wear a mask or have innoculations, spreading a potentially fatal virus to the most vulnerable.

Therein lies a basic problem: many people think of human rights as an individual, ie. “my rights”. They need to think of humanity as a collective, a family, a genus.

Image by Cheryl Holt from Pixabay

Human rights do not begin and end with us, or with our immediate biological family, nor with our extended friendship grouping. Nor do they end within the limitations of our personal philosophies. I like to remind some people of a good comparison between being “pro-life” and being “pro human rights”:

Someone who says they are pro-life needs to understand that being “pro-life” does not begin and end with the question surrounding abortion. Being pro-life also means supporting women’s autonomy, and the right to make choices both at the start and the end of life. Being pro-life means opposing unrestricted gun ownership, the death penalty, and religious rights to discriminate against minorities. Pro-life means supporting universal health care and a universal basic income, endorsing school lunch programs and women’s shelters and social housing. It means demanding welfare programs, increased spending on science and medicine, and less spending on war. Being genuinely pro-life means upping our refugee intake, it means free public education, and employment programs to increase self-reliance and self-esteem, and to reduce crime and poverty. It means encouraging trans folk and gender variant people and everyone who encompasses diversity and difference to live freely and happily and joyfully. Pro-life means improving the quality of life for everyone around us – and around the whole world – especially for those with disadvantage, disempowerment or disability. It means higher taxes and adopting “trickle up” economics instead of “trickle down”. It means abolishing the developing world by engaging in a cultural war for true human equality. It means encouraging people to think critically and become educated and empowered and autonomous, resisting the religious or political or cultural systems that oppress them. Pro-life means working for social evolution and cultural revolution.

And so it is with human rights: anyone who claims to respect and uphold human rights must see the bigger picture. Until they are enjoyed by the person deemed to be least worthy or least likely or most overlooked and forgotten, then human rights mean nothing.

Today, on Human Rights Day, over one hundred million people are refugees or displaced due to wars, starvation, despots, genocide and injustice. Do we care?

Along with human rights come human responsibilities: and we have a duty to care – and to act. We need to extend the concept of human rights to our human family, and beyond that, to other sentient species, and to the environment, and to the biosphere – because these are all married to our rights and our survival. As creatures formed from stardust, we are all intimately connected. Human rights are life rights. Perhaps a quote from Carl Sagan would help us to gain some perspective:

“Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us – then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers.” – Sagan, The Demon Haunted World.

In the modern world, we see democratic nations electing fools and unqualified charlatans. We see populist movements of people who are ignorant of science trying to drag us backwards to the era of flat earth and oppression of minorities. It’s easy to dismiss the problem as being too big: we cannot save the world, so it’s too hard to try doing anything. But I think that we must recognise our human duty to spread hope: our world, for all its ugliness, is still a place where war and famine and injustice and cruelty are slowly being eliminated. Beauty and idealism and youthful enthusiasm must be nurtured.

Our ultimate human right is to spread hope and life; everything else is incidental and will come as a consequence. So the next time you think of giving life-saving food to a starving refugee, or another act of selfless human humanity, remember that not only are you right to do so, but it is your human right to do so – saving the world, saving the ethical core of your own humanity.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

©2023 Geoff Allshorn

There Is No Plan(et) B

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” — Albert Einstein

Image by r1g00 from Pixabay

Sci fi and cli fi (climate fiction) need to help us prepare for the future.

Part of that future was foreshadowed over a century ago by Jules Verne, Mark Twain and others, who wrote about the dangers of unchecked human hubris and greed irrevocably damaging the environment. Over fifty years ago, movies like Silent Running and books like The Drowned World warned us of climate change and/or environmental catastrophe. These were early incarnations of what is now widely called cli fi, or climate fiction, which can be written or media-based.

Zoe Saylor points out that sci fi has the potential to both warn and inspire us about creating a better world for the future. As the cli fi movie Soylent Green warned us (no spoilers please), people can be both victims and the agents of change. Even Pokémon and NASA have warned us that climatic zombie apocalypses lie ahead, so we must prepare for trouble and make it double. Cli fi and science activism must combine to change the world — today and every day.

“In your time, humanity’s busy arguing over the washing up while the house burns down. Unless people face facts and change, catastrophe is coming.” — Doctor Who, Orphan 55.

©2023 Geoff Allshorn

Kalam’s Cosmological Claptrap

I am often astounded at the level of ignorance and scientific illiteracy among many theists. This surprises me because I attended university as an undergraduate with many intelligent Christians who thought somewhat critically and evaluated evidence. Sadly, they do not appear to be the norm.

Many theists – particularly those who can be found on YouTube debating Chris Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Tracie Harris, Matt Dillahunty and others – often seem to fall back upon their holy scriptures and religious privilege as an insulation against having to do the ‘hard yards’: reading, research, evidence-based analysis and nuanced critical thinking. My own conversations are further evidence to me of this common laziness borne of religious privilege and an undeserved veneer of respectability often afforded religious ideas by default.

Using Kalam’s Cosmological Argument is one example. Arguing that things exist, therefore they must have been designed – because you can think of no better explanation – is lazy and intellectually dishonest. It is akin to those who once argued that witches must exist because the world is clearly designed by magic.

Sorry theists, but arguing a faith-based assertion appears to leave your arguments open to lack of evidence or deep reasoning. If you want to proselytise and debate people, then at least have good reasoning behind your arguments.

Below is one example of a ‘discussion’ that I shared earlier this year with some theists who bore academic religious qualifications, and yet appeared unable to think outside of very narrow mindset parameters. I include their comments here (somewhat modified for ethical reasons though the content/intent remains unchanged) because the moderator of the discussion thread appeared to become annoyed with me and suddenly deleted the whole thread – although luckily, I had backed up samples of these discussions.

This portion of the conversation centered around the book ‘God is Not Great’, written by Christopher Hitchens. GA.

= = = =

From Thomas* (*not real name):

Hitchens was very intelligent, but he ignored the obvious evidence of God before his eyes. Looking around, you can see evidence that all furniture, buildings and things were made/designed by a mind. More obviously, all the living things/systems that you can observe (plants, animals, man) are infinitely more complex than these lesser objects – and so if all the lesser things were designed by a mind, the greater systems (living things) must have also required a mind to design them. This Mind we call God. When I read Hitchens’ book as an example of fine literature, I sought to understand the mind of its creator. To think what I read was chance lettering would have been insanely [sic]. I advise you to do the same when looking at the world around you, seek the grand designer. May the good Lord bless your research as you seek the truth.

Response by Geoff:

With respect, what a load of non sequitur baloney. If you propose that increasingly complex things always require a creator, then who created your creator? Was your god created? Who is your god’s god? Was he also in turn created? And does this mean that there is a long ladder of deities, each one complex enough to create everything else further down the ladder? And does your god worship his god, or is he an atheist?

If you want to argue that your god does not need a creator because he is god, then you present a case of special pleading to cover the inherent fatal flaw in your own argument.

You suggest that evidence of some intelligent designer is before our very eyes – if it was that obvious, everyone would see it and believe, in which case faith would be obsolete (faith only exists to prop up a lack of evidence).

It’s time to stop lazy, superstitious thinking – cherry picking false analogies that appear to confirm your own pre-determined ‘facts’ – and to start thinking logically and critically. Physical and biological complexity are explainable through the processes of natural laws: physics, cosmology, biology, etc. If you argue that complexity debunks natural laws, then you don’t understand science.

In using fine literature as an analogy to suggest that the Universe must have been designed by an intelligent designer, you ignore the reality that 99.99999999999999999999999% (repeating decimal) of the Universe is hostile, dangerous and lethal to life as we know it. Your intelligent designer must be lazy, incompetent, incredibly wasteful and negligent, or malicious. Furthermore, your inference that planet Earth is somehow just right for us actually inverts the reality: life evolved on Earth to fit its physical parameters, not the other way around. Another purveyor of fine literature, Doug Adams, wrote the analogy of an intelligent rainwater puddle sitting in a pothole and thinking to itself that the pothole must have been intelligently designed because it was just right for the puddle.

You imply that your imaginary god is the only thing that enables your reading of Hitchens’ book to differentiate between intelligent communication or chance lettering. I submit that science and natural laws are the only thing that differentiate my reading of your writing between the same parameters.

May the ultimate reality of science bless your research and temper your worship of the god of the gaps.

From George* (*not real name):

Like Hitchens, your god is science. You have an arrogant mind to dismiss God. If you truly believe that your ancestors were apes, it’s no wonder that you have tried to rationalize God away. One day, you will stand before God. Are you ready to face your creator?

Response by Geoff:

@George, you are a great ape. Get a Grade 8 science education.

Maybe also do some middle-school debating and learn about false equivalence, straw manning, and other fallacies. Science is a methodology that is predicated upon evidence and rational conclusions; whereas religion is a mindset that is based upon wishful thinking (faith) and ignores its own lack of evidence. The two approaches are not equal, and science is not a religion that requires a deity. Science does not require worship nor veneration; it revels in scepticism and exploration. Your superstitious claim to have ultimate answers is not equal to my attempt at open questioning. We are not the same. Please stop playing the game: “I know I am, but what are you?”

As for your theological threat, I quake no more pondering your imaginary god’s wrath than you do worrying about Zeus or Thor or Quetzelcoatl or Allah or Vishnu or Ra.

Besides, if there were a Judgement Day, I would love the opportunity to castigate a god who (according to your Bible) endorses slavery, the subjugation of women, the murder of adulterers and LGBT people, and for whom people with eyeglasses or disability or tattoos are unfit to be in his presence. What a disgusting, stone age monster.

But on Judgement Day, perhaps you can ask him why he invented COVID, Black Plague, childhood cancer, smallpox, HIV/AIDS, earthquakes, the 2004 Asian tsunami, botfly and Cancrum Oris. Not to mention his genocide of the world in the Noah’s Ark story. Some perfect designer he turned out to be. I could never worship a deity who has killed more people than Hitler and Atilla the Hun combined. Cheers.

©2023 Geoff Allshorn

We Are The World

“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.” – Sir David Attenborough.

Image by r1g00 from Pixabay

Dear Jasmine,

Today, we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World Environment Day.

I know that many young people, including you and your friends, are greatly concerned about the future of this planet – particularly as that is where you will spend the rest of your lives. I understand that some 80 per cent of young people over 16 years of age are very concerned about climate change, and that many, like you, have been moved to personal activism, frustrated or outraged at the neglect of the issue from older people, corporations and governments.

Yes, Earth is home to ourselves and millions of other species, and while – like a beached whale that writhes and shudders a silent scream – segments of our home world are collapsing and dying under the weight of our populations and our possessions, and I hope that ways can be found to motivate more people towards enacting long-term change.

Yes, we should get angry and do something to stop the pending catastrophe. But on World Environment Day, it may be helpful to consider nuance as well as clear-cut black-and-white.

Many people are thoughtless or lazy – but we are all constructed in a way that makes us inclined to relate most closely to the micro rather than the macro. When approaching a jigsaw-sized problem, we tend to get enlightenment and understanding (and emotional connection) more readily from the individual jigsaw pieces rather than the big picture. In the real world, we can see one photo – of a crying baby in a famine, a Ugandan family killed in an unseasonably large mudslide, or a mother polar bear and her cub struggling to survive amidst the melting of Arctic ice – and such a photo can convey more emotional meaning and personal connection to us than all of the world’s websites and scientific lectures about climate catastrophe.

So I hope that your generation – and the older adults that you are trying to educate – come to see possibly the most important reason why it is important to save the Earth: because of its beauty.

Scientifically, it is beautiful. Our planet is a shelter from cosmic dangers, built from stardust and gas, meticulously crafted according to the natural laws of cosmology and stellar evolution and gravity. It is a natural laboratory sculpted by weather and geology, gravity and tidal forces, wherein chemistry and rock and water and wind and life intermix to form a glorious testament to the power of eclectic abiogenesis and evolution.

Biologically, it is beautiful. It is a cathedral in which a chorus of life chirps and tweets, bleats and barks. A choir of diverse voices is dressed in a patchwork quilt of colours and camouflages. Combined, they form a rich tapestry that has (so far, at least) been found nowhere else in the Universe.

Therein lies its arguably greatest ethical value: philosophically, it is beautiful because it is unique and indescribably precious. In a Universe that is so big that our mammalian minds cannot truly comprehend, our small planet Earth is the only known place where life exists, and multiplies in rich diversity.

Hosted this year by Côte d’Ivoire and supported by the Netherland, World Environment Day 2023 encourages us to beat plastic pollution. I hope this succeeds – but that they don’t stop there.

It is encouraging to see your generation taking a stand – and we can understand that this is a form of evolution. Survival of the fittest indeed – those best suited to adapt (and respond) to change will indeed survive the longest. But I also see a form of social evolution underway: your parents’ generation was raised in a culture that proclaimed Greed is Good; your generation proclaims that Green is Good.

Perhaps we should all be mindful of an early recollection in my own life:

In an old photo album belonging to my parents, one photo features me as a babe in arms, being held by my mother in the front garden of our home. With a mix of determination and curiosity on my face, I am reaching up to touch the leaf of an overhanging tree – using my infantile senses to timidly explore the touch, texture, shape and colour of this alien item in my young world.

Let us all rediscover anew this sense of awe and potential to be found in the world around us. Let us cherish our home, and do whatever we must, in order to preserve and conserve it for future generations.

Love from your Uncle.

©2023 Geoff Allshorn