Kia ora: The Napier Conference ‘Future Directions of Rationalism and Humanism’ was a resounding success. In our presentation, in the opening segment with NZARH and the Skeptics, on Saturday morning we covered with brevity, Humanism from the early beginnings with Buddhism, Confucius and Classical Greek philosophy, to its burial under Western Monotheism and re-emergence with the Enlightenment and to the pivotal writings of Feuerbach who came to the understanding that it has been Humankind who created God. From the past we moved to the present where we remembered activities that have been worked on since the Society’s inception in 1967-including supporting Marriage Law reform, Homosexual law reform, Atheist Billboard Campaign with NZARH and most recently beginning to look at repeal of NZ’s Blasphemy Law and our sponsorship programme with the Humanist School in Nepal. Then we moved to contemplation of the future where though Steven Pinker in his book The Better Angels of our Nature argues that violence is declining in our world, we cannot be complacent, for there is no guarantee that things will continue to get better. The Humanist Society’s sponsorship of Guy Standing enabled two other NZ organisations to listen to his bold analysis and vision for a more equitable society.

Monthly Meeting: Monday 23rd March
This month’s meeting will be at the Tararua Tramping Club, 4 Moncrieff St, off Elizabeth St, off Kent Tce

Humanist Activism

Humanism is more than reflection from an armchair. We will look at Humanist Activism both overseas and here in NZ. Current projects are working towards the repeal of the NZ Blasphemy Law, our support for the Humanist School in Kathmandu and supporting the growing interest in how to introduce a Universal Basic Income to replace the present Neo-Liberal Economic system that currently determines how we live our lives.
We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.30 pm
All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.
Venue: Tararua Tramping Club, 4 Moncrieff St, off Elizabeth St, off Kent Tce, Wellington

Harsh Sentencing for Philip Blackwood: Ideas and beliefs do not need protecting. People have rights not beliefs. This sentence of 2 ½ years hard labour, handed down by the Myanmar Courts is unwarranted.

News from Ambience International School Kathmandu, Nepal: The school year is coming to an end and senior students are preparing for their final external school examinations. At the end of March the school will hold a Parents Day with performances by students and the awarding of school prizes, quite similar to a NZ School Prize Giving. The new school year will begin later in April. In 2014 we supported 6 students and in 2015, we will support 1 more student making a total of 7 students. We also have contributions for a Special Education Fund to help with programmes or purchase equipment to use throughout the school.

2015 NZARH Hawke Bay conference with the Humanist Society of NZ and the NZ Skeptics Society13 – 15 February 2015

A report on:
Future Directions of Rationalism and Humanism
Duart House, 51 Duart Road, Havelock North

Contributed by Mary-Ellen Warren who was on the Napier organising committee

“Best conference I have attended in 43 years” – fulsome praise from one of the 55 attendees.

Outcomes:

Cross pollination: The 3 organizations shared information on current work. Q and A sessions provided opportunities to question and foster each others’ work.

Good will: 3 organizations expressed interest in future dialogue but saw no need to merge.

Raising the bar: focus on global issues: climate change, the Precariat and child poverty

Demonstrated integrity of 3 organizations, by attracting “world class” speakers.

Bridges built with press: Dominion Post and HB Today contained articles.

Public awareness increase: Guy Standing interviewed on Radio NZ http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/sunday/audio/20168199/guy-standing-the-precariat-charter, plus 3 interviews on local Napier television ‘Chatroom’.

Online presence boosted: videos (by volunteer pro photographer) available for organization web sites.

Political interest: attendance by sitting MP and local Mayor.

New people: interested in future meetings

Empowered the local branch, we aren’t just in the wings, but we can be at the core of future directions (raised by the Children’s Commissioner who pointed to the importance of empowerment at the local level which can lead to national change).

Background organization

The conference was the idea of John Timpson of the Hawke’s Bay branch of the NZARH, who sought to establish a forum for dialogue between three organizations with generally common objectives, with thoughts on possible common positive ‘future directions’. The conference was 10 months in planning by a local committee of 5, led by John Warren.

While it was hoped the $190 fee would substantially cover conference costs, support by NZARH funding was key to cover advertising costs and main speaker’s travel costs.

Fundamental was the financial support by Humanist Society of NZ who attracted and funded the honorarium and travel costs for speaker Professor Guy Standing coming from Switzerland.

Also key in the conference’s success was the Skeptics brilliant website “Future Directions” which provided for early conference registration and the spark for publicity.

Special thanks to Duart House, our caterer Anna, and the ‘Exes from Texas’ our evening’s entertainment.

Programme Overview:

The 3 day programme was moderated by Sara Passmore of the Humanist Society of New Zealand

Martin Manning, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Professor Guy Standing, professor and author, Dr Russell Wills New Zealand’s Children’s Commissioner were our key speakers.

Ngaire McCarthy, of NZARH acted as Master of Ceremonies and provided an excellent summary of the speakers’ four presentations as follows:

The voices of the Denialists, on Climate Change Science are starting to fade, and the voices of men like Professor Martin Manning are now louder and are being heard. Where once governments of the world had their heads in the sand, they are now meeting and at least trying to find a solution

Professor Guy Standing economist and sociologist, is stalking the corridors of political power demanding social reforms which guarantee the right to financial security. The Precariat are recognizing themselves and are becoming a political force of their own. Governments can no longer dive for cover or plead ignorance.

Until now NZ has never had a national strategy to combat child poverty, Dr Russell Wills and his team have analysed and found solutions that are being successfully implemented, across NZ and are engaging with Government and other relevant organizations strategizing a better future for our children.

Presentations included: Current Activities of NZARH by Chris Cavanaugh, The Secular Education Network by Peter Harrison, The Wealth of Churches by Toby Ricketts which included a draft of a video on tax avoidance, The Creation and Evolution of Scepticism in New Zealand by Keith Garratt, and Comments on Education and the Promotion of Humanism by Sara Passmore.

A panel discussion on “A Vision for the Future” by representatives of the NZARH, Humanist Society of NZ, and Skeptics provided a key start to the conference and was augmented by speakers Martin Manning and Guy Standing for a though provoking ending to the ‘Future Directions’ conference.

Importantly attendees were assigned to facilitated groups of 6 or 7 members. Attendees were invited to express their thoughts on the talks and focus their questions and conclusions. The dialogue continued informally over dinner where attendees were pleased to find they had many things to chew over, lubricated by excellent red wine.

Speakers were thanked with token gifts of Elephant Hill wine and Arataki honey, which will hopefully evoke pleasant memories of Hawke’s Bay.

From the Guardian January 25 2015: The following article by Guy Standing links in with Professor Standing’s two talks at the February 2015 Napier Conference. Michael Gold, Professor of Comparative Employment Relations, Royal Holloway University of London has the following comment: ‘We should all welcome Guy Standing’s call for a Great Charter for the 21st cent Indeed, to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta we need to deal with the unfinished business at the core of our democracy – that is, to address corporate irresponsibility by demanding genuine accountability at work too. Corporate power and greed, demonstrated by tax evasion and soaring executive remuneration, are a major source of social inequality and anxiety as senior managers come to lead lives ever more remote from those of countless workers and their families facing austerity and pay cuts.’

From the Guardian January 23 2015

Guy Standing: Magna Carta: 800 years on we need a new people’s charter

There’s fanfare over the anniversary but the rights enshrined in the Great Charter are, for society’s most vulnerable, being trodden on daily.

A good TV quiz question this year would be: “2015 is the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. True or false?” Contrary to what all children are taught, the answer is false.

First, King John signed nothing; he merely put his seal to it. Second, what was agreed on 15 June 1215 in the field at Runnymede by the Thames was a peace treaty between the king and rebellious barons. Within weeks, both sides had repudiated this Charter of Liberties. The treaty was not agreed until 1216, by which time John was dead and nine-year-old King Henry III accepted it, probably not understanding what he was doing.

Magna Carta only came into being in 1217 when the wording had been changed and parts of the original were extended in the Charter of the Forests. This complementary charter covered liberties granted to the common man, including rights to the commons, grazing, fishing, water and firewood, and was perhaps the first ecological charter in history. Only then did the original become the Great Charter. To complicate matters, a new version came out in 1225. However, let us celebrate the breakthrough that Runnymede represented. This was the first class-based set of demands made against the state. It is regarded as the foundation document of the unwritten British constitution. Of the original 63 clauses only four are still operational. But the principles have filtered through the ages.

The anniversary will be marked this year with much fanfare and chest-thumping. Already David Cameron, although admitting on a US TV show that he did not know the English for Magna Carta, has tried to take ownership of its heritage with jingoistic talk of British values. He should be careful. There is much in the Charter of Liberties and Charter of the Forests that the left can and should use, particularly those of a green disposition.

Last year Owen Jones claimed in the Guardian that Magna Carta “means diddly-squat to average English subjects.””. To coin a phrase, that is diddly-squat. It set a precedent to be followed by the Bill of Rights in 1689, the Chartists of the 1830’s and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, in the process inspiring the French Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789 and even the US constitution.

Each agitation was class-based, containing a manifesto for the rising class of the time. That is why we need a new charter, demanding rights and liberties for the growing class who lead increasingly insecure lives: the “precariat”. That must include a campaign to revive the commons, public space and amenities, rolling back the privatisation schemes that successive governments have introduced, often surreptitiously and with minimal opposition. It must also include a campaign to restore due process.

Magna Carta enshrined a principle of British justice that recent Labour and Conservative governments have treated with disdain and abused with impunity. Consider article 20, replacing the ancient word “amerce” with the modern “sanction”: “A free man shall not be [sanctioned] for a trivial offence except in accordance with the degree of the offence … but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood … and none of the aforesaid [sanctions] shall be imposed save by the oath of reputable men”.

For anyone facing a sanction, articles 38-40 are a firm commitment to due process, asserting the right to legal representation, to know charges in advance, to be able to contest them before equals, and then only to be sanctioned if found guilty by independent procedures by independent equals. Yet today we have numerous sanctions without due process, and the principle of proportionality has been lost. Successive governments have multiplied the number of acts that can be deemed criminal or misdemeanours, constructing a regime of unaccountable discretionary decisions that blight people’s lives. Rights to legal aid have been cut, and the social, cultural and economic rights of migrants and asylum seekers have been whittled away.

We should use the anniversary to campaign to overthrow the tactics used by Iain Duncan Smith, and accepted by his Labour shadows, to cut the number receiving benefits. Politicians are building an edifice of sanctions against the most vulnerable members of society without any respect for due process.

Every day, cases of abuse by authority come to light, and there are new reports of government agencies denying claimants benefits that would just about enable them to hold their lives together.

How dare a government cover itself with the cloak of Magna Carta when it is doing such things? This government has constructed a vicious, arbitrary regime of benefit sanctions against the precariat and underclass. Hundreds of thousands have lost the minimum benefits needed for dignity and bare survival without due process. Similarly, steered by populist prejudice, migrants and asylum seekers have been hounded and penalised without any semblance of due process. Many have been driven to a suicidal despair that only those devoid of human empathy can fail to understand.

Since my books on the precariat were published, I have received numerous emails, most in confidence, from people who have been sanctioned without understanding what they have done wrong or without being able to contest charges made by bureaucrats.

Some have incorrectly answered awkward questions put to them by what should be called the claimant police. Is there any reader who has never answered questions incorrectly? No doubt some supplicants feel so humiliated or intimidated that they “lose it”, only to be sanctioned for their outburst.

Another source of disquiet is disdain for Magna Carta’s article 14, which enshrines the principle of no taxation without representation. The wording is class-based, citing earls, barons and bishops. But now that most of us are taxpayers, except plutocrats and plutocratic corporations, we should demand “no representation without taxation”. Nobody should be allowed to fund political parties unless they pay at least 30% tax on all income above the median wage. If that rule applied, the Tory party would be bankrupted overnight.

Is an 800th anniversary not a moment for wishful thinking? A chance to write a new Great Charter for the 21st century, one that limits the liberties of tax dodgers and puts the precariat at its heart by reasserting their right to protection from state-authorised insecurity?

Let us also have some subversive fun. Every time a government minister or spokesman lauds Magna Carta let us boo or hiss. Shame them. And let us celebrate what it really means to our history: the ability of an emerging class to make demands against the state for new liberties and rights.

Those will not come about without struggle. Collective action remains the best way of renewing the march towards the great trinity of liberty, equality and solidarity. Magna Carta sets a wonderful precedent. Gaylene Middleton