#HumanistBecause…

Why am I a Humanist?

I look up at the sky, at the complexity and wonder of our natural Universe – so much more than we currently understand – and I marvel that I am a part of it.

Photograph: Moon from Mansfield (c) 2020 by Kirsten Trecento.

What does Humanism mean to you? A #hashtag campaign being run by Humanists UK encourages people to publicise what Humanism means to them: “share and celebrate the values and convictions that underpin [your] approach to life.”

For me, I see Humanism reflected in people and events from my past, present and future – even those who may not self-identify as Humanist, because their attitudes and actions reflect the basic philosophy of respect for common humanity and other Humanist precepts.

For a start, Humanism allows us to balance our scientific curiosity with our sense of wonder and transcendence:

I recall one woman whose children were students of mine. She was a friendly, happy woman who instilled in her kids a happy countenance and a keen desire for learning and knowledge. Sadly, she passed away from cancer, and I attended her funeral as a mark of respect. Her teenage son greeted me with a pleased smile, a warm handshake and a friendly chat. Even in his grief, he was facing reality with a cheerful disposition. We talked about his studies and his hobbies in Science. He told me that the night his mother had died, he had gone outside to study the stars and to marvel at the Universe. I wished that I was half the educator his mother had been.

Our perspective as humans should not blind us to the present-day accusation of speciesism. Humanism should demonstrate our humane respect for the interconnected web of life across this planet:

An elephant or a dolphin or a chimpanzee isn’t worthy of respect because it embodies some normative form of the “human” plus or minus a handful of relevant moral characteristics. It’s worthy of respect for reasons that call upon us to come up with another moral vocabulary, a vocabulary that starts by acknowledging that whatever it is we value ethically and morally in various forms of life, it has nothing to do with the biological designation of “human” or “animal” (Natasha Lennard and Cary Wolfe, The New York Times, 2017.)

Humanism can be found in a future for which we must strive:

Whether it is #MeToo or #BlackLivesMatter, the Global Climate Strike or Marriage Equality; whether it is peaceful protests and call for political change in Hong Kong or Nigeria or Thailand or USA; we see progressives – especially younger people – demanding change. They want to live in a better future, and they are prepared to make it happen. I see the same in the ongoing saga of local Humanists as they seek to expand beyond their traditions, and in the imminent birth of Humanists Australia, a (hopefully) twenty-first century form of activism that focuses on common humanity. I find inspiration in popular literature that optimistically conflates science with the human condition. Our future visions are perhaps best encapsulated by Star Trek creator, humanist Gene Roddenberry, who proclaimed: “We are a young species. I think if we allow ourselves a little development, understanding what we’ve done already, we’ll be surprised what a cherishable, lovely group that humans can evolve into.” For Roddenberry, and for millions of us who look to the future, the human adventure is just beginning.

For me, Humanism is greater than a faith-based philosophy. It reflects the evidenced reality that humanity is evolving into a better species due to the rise of Humanist thought and values. I am proud to add my own small, humble contribution to that quest.

And perhaps most exciting of all – we are all on that journey together.

© 2020 Geoff Allshorn

The Reason for the Season…

There are many reasons to commemorate this time of year, including many events which usually occur between November – February as a demonstration of the fact that humans love to invent excuses for celebration and solemnity. During this season of impending holiday greetings, I invite people to commemorate whichever of the following holidays or other events are most special for them. Or please add one of your own. Enjoy!


Evolution Day
Samhain (Celtic New Year’s Day)
World Vegan Day
All Saints Day/All Souls Day/All Hallows’ Day (Christian)
Culture Day (Japan)
Armistice/Remembrance Day
National Independence Day (Poland)
Universal Children’s Day
International Migrant’s Day
World Television Day
Diwali (UK – Hindu Festival of Lights)
World Soil Day
Al-Hijira (Islamic New Year)
Thanksgiving Day (USA)
Hanukkah (Jewish Festival of Lights)
World Diabetes Day
Bodhi Day (Buddhist)
White Ribbon Day (Australia)
Armed Forces Day (Bangladesh)
Day of the Dead (Latin America – syncrectic Christian)
National Day (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Mauritania, Central African Republic, Romania, Laos, United Arab Emirates, Burkina Faso, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Bhutan, Niger, Sudan)
Independence Day (Suriname, Barbados, Finland, Haiti, Burma)
Proclamation of Independence Day (Timor-Leste)
St Andrew’s Day (Scotland)
The King’s Birthday Anniversary (Thailand)
Jamhuri Day (Kenya)
Guy Fawkes Night (UK)
National Youth Day (Albania, India)
World AIDS Day
The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery
Kwansolhaneidmas (Facebook)
Marie Curie’s birthday
International Day of People with Disability
Karen New Year Celebration (Burma)
World Fisheries Day
Human Rights Day
Las Posadas (Mexico – Christian)
Black Awareness Day/Black Consciousness Day (Brazil)
Makar Sankranti (Hindu)
World Pneumonia Day
Feast Day – Our Lady of Guadalupe (Catholic Christian)
Day of Reconciliation (South Africa)
Pongal (Tamil)
Calan Gaeaf (Welsh)
Koliada (Slavik)
Lupercalia (Ancient Roman)
Christmas and Boxing Day (Eastern/Western Christian)
Christmas and Boxing Day (secular holidays)
Christmas and Boxing Day (Coptic Orthodox Christian)
Indigenous Christmas (Australia)
Kwanzaa (African American)
Yule (Wicca-northern hemisphere, Pagan)
Litha (Wicca-southern hemisphere)
Humanlight (Humanist, secular, atheist)
Chalica (Unitarian Universalist)
Montol Festival (Cornwall)
Yalda (Persian Winter Solstice)
Rosa Parks Day (USA)
Darwin Day
National Day of the Horse (USA)
Anti-Bullying Week (UK)
Luci d’Artista (Italy)
Id el Maulud (Muslim)
World Kindness Day
National Blood Donor Month (USA)
Zamenhof Day (Esperantist)
Festivus (Seinfeld secular)
Newtonmas/Isaac Newton’s birthday (secular/scientific)
Quaid-e-Azam’s Day (Pakistan)
Lohri (Hindu)
Martin Luther King Jr Day (USA)
International Human Solidarity Day
National Sorry Day (Australia)
Intersex Day of Remembrance
Hogmanay (Scotland)
Laba Festival (China)
Solstice, or Midwinter (various cultures)
St Stephen’s Day /the Feast of Stephen (Catholic Christian)
International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation
Wren Day (Ireland)
Puyuma New Year Ritual (Thailand)
Movember (Australia)
Transgender Day of Remembrance
New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day (secular holidays)
Berchtoldsta (Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the Alsace )
Gantan Sai or Shogatu (Japan – Shinto)
Mahayana (Buddhist)
World Cancer Day
New Year (Russian Orthodox)
International Polar Bear Day
Bikarami Sankrant (South India – Hindu)
Liberation Day (Cuba)
Feast of St Basil (Orthodox Christian)
Heart Research Day (Australia)
Imbolc/Brigid’s Day (Gaelic)
Lantern Festival (China – variable date)
Armenian Christmas (Armenia)
Nativity of Christ (Orthodox Christian)
Spring Festival (Chinese New Year)
World Radio Day
Seasonal school holidays (varied nations)
World Religion Day (Baha’i)
Blessings of the Animals Day (Hispanic Christian)
Australia Day/Invasion Day
Birth of Guru Gobind Singh (Sikh)
Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year)
Tu Bishvat (Jewish New Year of the Trees)
World Wildlife Conservation Day
International Holocaust Remembrance Day
Ramadan (Islamic) – variable date
Losar (Tibetan New Year) – variable date
Hmong New Year Festival – variable date
Saturnalia (pagan)
International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
Sesame Street Day
Republic Day (India)
Midsumma (LGBTI festival, Melbourne, Australia)
International Day for Tolerance
World Choral Day
Antarctica Day
National Science Fiction Day/Isaac Asimov’s birthday (USA)
Valentine’s Day (Christian/religious/commercial)
Groundhog Day (North American)
Hogswatchday (Discworld)
Life Day (Kashyyyk – Wookiee)

© 2020 Geoff Allshorn

Vegetarian Food For Thought

“The notion that human life is sacred just because it is human life is medieval.”
Peter Singer

Photo by Max Stromfeld on Unsplash

Recent controversy has raged over the destruction or removal of public statues which honoured people who had been slave owners. Similar discussion has also taken place over the recent removal of some television content that has been similarly judged as being racially insensitive or inappropriate. In response, one comment in my Facebook feed cynically suggested that in maybe a few years’ time, protesters might remove all statues or other cultural reminders of everyone who was not vegetarian.

Wow, what a brilliant idea. Societies change; cultures change. Even children’s books are rewritten and updated – sometimes controversially.

Of course, banning statues or cultural relics of every meat eater in history would certainly exclude a lot of people, but I think the question of relegating carnivores to the same status as other retrospectively-diagnosed villains would not be inconsistent with our changing recognition of ourselves as animals in a natural and limited biosphere. Recent discoveries, such as anthropological evidence which challenges our long-held understandings of meat-eating human forebears, also challenges our cultural meat worship. UK actor, comedian and writer David Mitchell points out: “It’s not uncommon, in the history of human societies, for things once deemed normal to start being deemed wrong.… Maybe all these vegans are harbingers of such a change.” New Zealand certainly seems to think so – having passed animal welfare legislation in 2015.

As someone who is not vegetarian myself (at least not yet) I think that evolution towards a vegetarian society would be a natural and logical progression. Why? Because I believe, as a humanist, that if we are to continue to progress as a species, we must forever expand our circle of empathy and altriusm, continuing our evolution away from violence.

Some propose that humanism is an inadequate philosophy for such radical change, because it focuses primarily on human values and intellect, and appears to promote speciesism by excluding the welfare of other life forms. Others suggest that humanism does not exclude other perspectives but simply focuses upon the human experience and intellect because that is our primary means of deduction. Humanism, in this instance, is more a rejection of supernatural theism and an implicit endorsement of sentientism, which includes the welfare of other living things.

While some humanists may propose that veganism is consistent – indeed, arguably mandatory – for people who follow humanist principles or who are concerned for agricultural or environmental sustainability; others may argue for a less stringent ethical stance such as vegetarianism.

“Peace is not just the absence of war. It is the presence of Justice.
Justice must be blind to race, colour, religion or species.”
Philip Wollen

I recently attended a Humanists Victoria virtual meeting at which the speaker was Philip Wollen, an Australian whose name should be known in every household. A former merchant banker, he has spent many years promoting philanthropy and supporting NGOs. It is most likely his work for animal rights for which he may deservedly be best known. He has delivered powerful presentations in favour of vegetarianism and an affirmation of life rights:  “In their capacity to suffer, a dog is a pig is a bear … is a boy.”

Wollen has previously argued that vegetarianism is a moral issue that also impacts upon humanity’s ability to feed itself due to the appalling waste of resources it takes to cultivate animals for slaughter: ‘Make no mistake about it. Every morsel of meat we eat is slapping the tear-stained face of a hungry child.’

‘Animals Should Be Off The Menu’, Philip Wollen addresses the St James Ethics and the Wheeler Centre debate, Kindness Trust channel, YouTube.

I find Wollen’s arguments, his eloquence and his convictions to be somewhat compelling. I offer no final conclusions here, just a discussion in progress. Continued food for thought is welcomed.

© 2020 Geoff Allshorn

It’s Life, Jim, But Not As We Know it.

It may not have the elegance and beauty of the artwork in the Lascaux cave complex in France, but sometimes I wonder if such items as this might one day be seen as archaeologically significant artefacts which document primitive communications between ourselves and evolving new species of Artificial Intelligence.

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Computer punch card, Australia, circa early 1970s. From my personal collection.

On the other hand, early computer punch cards might ultimately be seen a vestigial remnant of our own evolution: in line with Transhumanist ideas, emerging AI technology may combine with us to create distinctive new transbiological phenotype-genotype variations.

Will Artificial Intelligence evolve as a separate species, or will we co-evolve to become a mix of something that is as conjoined as we are with Neanderthals and Denisovans? Will we face Colossus the Forbin Project or HAL9000 as our overlords, or will we simply evolve into variations of bionic people, cybermen, or the Borg? Either way, resistance will not only be futile, it may be as retrograde as those who, today, deny the reality of evolution or vaccines or other scientific discoveries in our modern world.

Despite our cultural fears of everything from Frankenstein’s Monster to the Terminator, I do not fear whatever lies ahead. Indeed, when I glimpse at my old souvenir computer punch cards, I am reminded of Miranda’s utterance from Shakespeare’s The Tempest:
O brave new world,
That has such people in ’t!
Our future beckons, full of strange and wondrous things. Let’s make it glorious and embrace it.

© 2020 Geoff Allshorn