Last month I mentioned a radio interview with Margaret Heffernan where she discussed her book A Bigger Prize, Why competition isn’t everything and how we do better (2014) Recently The Guardian published a review of this book which is included on the third page of this newsletter.
Monthly Meeting: Monday 28 April 2014
Open to the public – All interested people are welcome – bring a friend
A Year in Kathmandu
Eleanor Middleton has recently returned from Kathmandu, Nepal, where she has spent the past year volunteering with SOCH, the Nepalese Humanist Society and helping with activities at their Humanist school, Ambience International School.
At the school Eleanor helped with teaching science and supported a young class in their desire to establish a school library. Eleanor will share with us the vision of SOCH to provide secular, rational, and science based schooling in a society where Hinduism is entwined in all areas of daily life. Eleanor has previously taught in Himachal Pradesh in North India.
All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend..
We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.30 pm
Tararua Tramping Club, 4 Moncrieff Street, Wellington.
Moncrieff Street is off Elizabeth Street, which is off Kent Terrace, Wellington – a short distance from Courtney Place on bus routes 1 & 3.
Meetings this year will be on the 4th Monday of the month at the Tararua Tramping Club rooms, 4 Moncrieff Street.
Thank you from Ambience International School:
The Humanist Council has forwarded funds to Ambience International School to cover the sponsorship of three students and to upgrade staff facilities. Two sponsorships have been provided by Humanist Society members and the third is being shared by Humanist Society Council members. Kuldip Aryal from the Ambience School Management Team has written to us confirming that the money sent has been received. Kuldip has written to us: ‘A heartfelt thanks to HSNZ family from Ambience family as well as SOCH family for your help and support. I have no word to appreciate you for your willingness to help us.’.
*** Pickering Lecture: ‘To Mars and Beyond’ Dr Charles Elachi ***
Scores of people in Wellington were turned away from this lecture, as the venue was not large enough. I hope people attending in other centres had better luck? Dr Elachi’s lecture can be viewed at: youtube
Last Months Meeting Unfortunately, due to sudden family illness, Ryan McLane was unable to present his discussion on the 1918 Flu Pandemic. Ryan will now present his talk at the May meeting on Monday 26 May.
In place of Ryan’s talk we watched and discussed several short videos including the new animated videos narated by Stephen Fry under the title of thats humanism recently produced by the British Humanist Association on matters of interest to Humanists. The new videos were well recived and enjoyed by those present and provoked good discussion. These short videos are all under five minutes in length and cover the questions: How can I be Happy, How do I know what is True, What makes Something Right or Wrong, and What should we think about Death. The videos can be found on the British Humanist Association website: humanism.org.uk .
Thirty Years of Humanist Outlook on Access Radio 783Khz
In the early eighties, Des Vize, an active member of the Wellington committee of the Humanist Society of New Zealand and a keen listener to Access Radio, took the idea to the Wellington committee that we should have our own Access Radio presence. There was an enthusiastic response and auditions were held. The Society boasted Rosalie Carey a professional actor and speech teacher as well as several secondary teachers including Eileen Bone, Jean van Gorkom and Maureen Hoy. This group wrote and presented the early programmes. Des says, ‘But when we auditioned for some voices it was felt that I did not have a radio voice, so I was relegated to a sort of producer. However people fell by the wayside and I ended up having to fill in, which I did for 8 years, for which I received a certificate from the Minister of Broadcasting. The episode which I always remember was a short play written for Humanist Outlook by the late Rosalie Carey who with her husband founded the Globe Theatre in Dunedin.
The early programmes were recorded at Broadcasting House in Bowen Street. When that was demolished we recorded in studios on the Terrace. Eventually the drive to make Access Radio more independent of state broadcasting lead to separate premises in Marion Street and later in Ghuznee Street where Access Radio is now in 2014. When Des Vize moved away, Mark Vendelbosch became the mainstay for a number of years. Following Mark, Jeff Hunt, often ably co-hosted by Joan McCracken, continued the programme from the early 90s until the present with guests including Gaylene and Iain Middleton, and Carrick Lewis. Kent Stevens joined the society and became very active in national committee work. For the last ten years he has alternately co-hosted the show with Jeff using guests, Peter Clemerson and alternate hosts whenever they were available. Current president, Mark Fletcher, another secondary teacher with presentation experience gave some excellent programmes during school holidays when it was practical to spare the time. Throughout its long life, Humanist Outlook, as it was always called, was a four-weekly quarter-hour slot. For most of its history it was broadcast on a Sunday at 10am, but for the last several years on Saturday at 10.30am. Content was at the whim of the presenter and ranged across Humanist news of the day, ethics and morals, literature and meetings and some broader news items that impacted on the Humanist lifestyle. The nature of communication has changed a lot in thirty years. Costs, time, and prioritisation of skills have all conspired to cause the Humanist Committee to end the show in March of 2014. And so a very long and rather proud period of New Zealand Humanism has drawn to a close. Podcasts of the most recent programmes were available at Access Radio and we expect to hold some on our own revised website in the near future.
Humanist Outlook was broadcast at 10:30 am on Access Radio, Wellington, 783 kHz, every fourth Saturday.
IHEU World Humanist Congress Oxford 2014 The Congress has now sold out, however the British Humanist Association are planning to expand the Congress and a waiting list has been set up.
The waiting list can be found here.
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Margaret Heffernan’s A Bigger Prize,
Why competition isn’t everything and how we do better (2014)
A Review by Iain Morris
Printed in the Guardian 4 April 2014Margaret Heffernan’s brave study shows how the competitive instinct can be bad for us in all walks of life, from sport to finance.
While studying natural selection, William Muir, a geneticist at Purdue University, ran an experiment measuring the egg-laying productivity of two flocks of chickens. The first group was a so-called free flock, in which animals could roam and mingle as they pleased, while the second comprised only the most productive birds. After several generations, the free flock was cranking out eggs at a furious pace. But for the descendants of the high achievers, it was a different story. Most had been killed by hens that saw them as rivals, and the few survivors were in a sorry state, harrying and pecking at one another unforgivingly. “That describes my department,” said one of Muir’s colleagues shown evidence of the damage.
One of many scientific studies referenced in Margaret Heffernan’s new book, the parable of the chickens is intended to show what can happen when a group of over-competitive individuals is brought together. Economists have taught us that competitive self-interest ultimately benefits everyone and makes society more productive, but Heffernan believes the opposite. In her view, the ascendancy of competition in all walks of life has impoverished people and the planet in countless ways.
This is a brave exercise. The idea that competition is a necessary force for good is deeply ingrained in our collective psyche. Many ridicule the adage that taking part matters more than winning, regarding this as an excuse for mediocrity and underachievement. Others will see the spectre of communism in any anti-competition diatribe. Realising her challenge, Heffernan makes clear from the outset she is no apologist for the Soviet Union, which actually prioritised competition in many areas, and that she is not against competition per se. “We are all competitive but we are not only competitive,” she says.
What follows is a meticulously researched and engagingly written argument that even the most strident proponents of competition will find hard to refute. Tackling subjects as diverse as family life, sports and education, the early chapters show how an obsession with competing has stripped so many activities of their true value – the only goal being to come first at any cost – and benefited the few at the expense of the many. Increasingly eager to assess students and schools through tests and rankings, Britain and America still lag behind egalitarian, exams-averse Finland on educational proficiency, according to one high-profile study. Competition has also spawned an epidemic of cheating and illicit behaviour, writes Heffernan. For an indication of that, look no further than the Olympic Games – “full of corruption, cover-up, performance-enhancing drug use”, in the words of Victor Conte, who was convicted in 2005 of supplying steroids to athletes.
Just as revelatory, are the sections dealing with the various misdemeanours and missteps of the business world: stultifying hierarchies that pit colleagues against one another; a short-sighted focus on share price over sustainable growth; and a relentless march towards greater efficiency, whatever that means for the safety of employees. All are cleverly shown to be the products of a system for which competition is the singular concern.
Heffernan seems a part of the zeitgeist that has emerged in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, taking aim at socio-economic principles that have long appeared sacrosanct. But while some authors are content just to pick flaws in the current set-up, Heffernan’s narrative is replete with examples of individuals and organisations that have found alternatives, from the bosses that have turned their companies into co-operatives to Nobel-prizewinning economist Elinor Ostrom, who demonstrated there are practical ways to overcome the problem of resource allocation. Universally relevant and hard to fault, this is an important contribution to an expanding genre.
Up Coming Lectures
Allan Wilson Centre ‘The Evolution of Goodness’
Professor Lee Dugatkin, Professor of Biology at the University of Louisville USA
Nelson Monday 28 April: 6.00pm, Old St John’s, 320 Hardy St
Christchurch Tuesday 29 April: 6.00pm University of Canterbury, Central Lecture Theatre 1
Dunedin Thursday 1 May: 6.30pm St David’s Lecture Theatre University of Otago
Wellington Friday 2 May: 6.00pm Te Papa Soundings Theatre
Tauranga Monday 5 May: 6.00pm Yacht and Power Boat Club, 90 Keith Allan Drive
Auckland Tuesday 6 May 6.15pm Auckland Museum Events Centre $15 entry
Professor Dugatkin was interviewed by Kim Hill on Saturday morning 19 April and his talk focuses on the issue of what drives humans and other animals to help each other out, through acts of kindness, generosity and protection, even when these altruistic behaviours can be detrimental to themselves. After watching the behaviour of honeybees, Darwin realised that selection also acts at a family level, as altruistic behaviour of a members of a group was beneficial to the member as it increased the likelihood of survival and reproduction of other closely related members. He has written three books on the evolution of goodness. In ‘The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness(2006) Professor Dugatkin follows the history of evolutionary explanations of altruistic behaviours from Charles Darwin through to the mathematical equation for kinship-selection formulated by William Hamilton in the 1960s.
Valedictory lecture by Professor Lloyd Geering ‘The Evolving City’
Wellington Tuesday 8 May: 12.15pm–1.00pm at St Andrews on the Terrace
In 1984, the first series of lectures by Lloyd Geering for St Andrew’s Trust for the Study of religion and Society was titled ‘Images of the City’. Thirty years on, Professor Geering will recall those biblical images and add a post-biblical image in ‘The Evolving City’. In his final lecture for the Trust, Professor Geering will explore the living, changing nature of the city along with the unseen spirit of community that motivates and comes to expression in it.At this time the Humanist Society of NZ would like to thank Professor Geering for the many occasions when he has addressed our society. In 2008 Professor Geering contributed to our annual seminar ‘New Zealand and Australia’s Secular Heritage and its Future’ where he spoke on New Zealand’s Contribution to a Secular Global World. In this talk he discussed how the secular process has turned our attention from ‘other worlds’ to ‘our world’. We no longer have a mental picture of a three tiered universe, we now view the universe as a space-time continuum of astronomical proportions. We have incorporated heaven into ‘this’ world. His recent book published last year ‘From the Big Bang to God,’ and less than 200 pages, is a panoramic overview of the evolution of the physical world and the evolution of the human thought world.