Kia ora: And so 2021 ends as did 2020, with the question with no easy answer- ‘When will this Covid-19 Pandemic fade into a distant memory? The pandemic effects have raised many issues to be thought about. The effects have laid bare the inequalities within society. Inequalities of housing, employment, race, immigration, travel, have exacerbated the experience of Lockdown for different members of society. We have seen too the madness of conspiracy theories surrounding Covid vaccinations aided and abetted by social media. 2021 ends with the continued unlawful incarceration of Mubarak Bala, Humanist, in Kano, Northern Nigeria. His friends continue their daily vigil counting the days and supporting his wife and child in the grief of this barbaric family separation. By New Year the days held hostage will number 582. In the words of Mubarak Bala
“Doubts about my faith had always remained in my mind however. I asked too many questions and got unsatisfactory answers or was warned off with phrases like ‘there are things which you just don’t ask. I intensified study of religion to increase my faith and prove my doubts wrong.” (‘My Journey from Islamist to Free Thinker’) “I questioned religion all my life, but did I get the right answers? No. I asked the wrong people, read the wrong books, mirrored on the wrong society. I was never satisfied with all the murderous hateful literature, but I lived it” (‘This is Africa’ Interview by Atane Ofiaja)
Monday 6 December 6.30 pm until 9.00pm
On Monday 6 December Wellington will be at Traffic Light Setting ORANGE. Thistle Inn is a ‘Vaccination Passport Required’, hospitality venue. Meeting attendees will be required to show either a paper or digital Vaccination Passport.
The Working Stiffs: Forensics and Fiction from the US to New Zealand
Dr Judy Melinek, Forensic Pathologist, & T.J. Mitchell, Writer
We are most fortunate – straight from Skepticon the 2021 online Sceptics Conference of New Zealand and Australia – two superb speakers who most fortunately reside in Wellington.
Dr Judy Melinek had practiced forensic pathology in the San Francisco Bay Area for nearly 20 years as a medical examiner in San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland when she got a job pitch to perform coronial autopsy investigation in New Zealand. She and her husband, writer T.J. Mitchell, got off the plane in July 2020 with their two high-school aged daughters, and have settled happily in Wellington. Melinek and Mitchell work together as a writing team, publishing both nonfiction—the New York Times-bestselling memoir Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner—and fiction—the mystery novels First Cut and Aftershock in the Jessie Teska forensic thriller series. Working Stiff chronicled Dr. Melinek’s experiences training as a New York City medical examiner during and after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on that city. First Cut and Aftershock are detective novels in the American noir tradition, set in contemporary San Francisco. Follow their family from New York to California to New Zealand as they highlight the successful Kiwi response to COVID-19, and how and why it brought them to these shores to live and work and study and write.
All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.
Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St, Wellington
Peter Ellis & Posthumous Appeal against 1993 Unjust Conviction: At our November meeting Jonathon Harper gave us a comprehensive talk about this controversial case. The appeal judgement will be released early in 2022. We wait the decision with interest as the case against Peter Ellis demonstrates elements of ‘witch-hunting’.
Humanism Radio Programme on Arrow 92.7FM
Tim Wright, a Humanist NZ President is hosting a Humanist Radio programme on the first Wednesday of the month at 9pm. The next Radio show is 9pm 1st December. It is available as a podcast. https://www.arrowfm.co.nz/programmes/show/186/humanism/. Tim will compile a programme of humanist interest with news, views, interviews and music. Your feedback is welcome. Tim maybe contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Darwin Day Gathering – Saturday 12 February 2022: A social gathering/ BBG/ shared lunch will be held at our President Tim’s home in Carterton, Wairarapa. Darwin Day is a good time in our calendar to focus on the year ahead after the relaxing of our summer shut-down. There is a thought to book some accommodation and meet again for breakfast on Sunday. We welcome humanists from near and far. If in the vicinity, maybe Napier and Palmerston along with Wellington we will love to see you. For details of location and to make accommodation arrangements for overnight stay email email@example.com
Humanists NZ – Palmerston North/Papaioea: Keith and Levi held their inaugural meeting Monday 22 November. Visit their FB page to keep up to date with activities https://www.facebook.com/PalmyHumanists or email Keith St-Clair firstname.lastname@example.org and Levi Ensing email@example.com
Book Recommendation: Humanist NZ committee member Peter Clemerson recommends ‘The Scout Mindset’ April 2021. Below is a review by Razib Khan a geneticist who has written for the New York Times. There are reflections here that are pertinent to the debates around Covid 19 pandemic management.
Julia Galef’s The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t is a brisk introduction to a particular way of thinking about the world and our place within it. In another era, those habits of mind might have been called “critical rationalism.” Given how often the Star Trek character Spock features in the narrative, you could be forgiven for wondering if the book is promoting the “Spock mindset”; after all the Vulcan’s adherence to logic is world-famous. But The Scout Mindset actually shows that Spock’s logical deductions led him into error more often than not. Galef arrived at this conclusion by actually watching the television show, and comparing Spock’s predictions to outcomes. In other words, she went out and collected evidence. Galef was an empirical scout tabulating and tracking across the seasons, rather than simply a passive observer absorbing each episode in a standalone fashion. Throughout the book, she outlines methods that enable critical rationalism, while avoiding excessive anchoring to “logical deductions” derived from faulty premises, like Spock. Rather than a prescribed and specific way of thinking, The Scout Mindset articulates the importance of attitude, a default stance founded on humility and provisionality not often associated with some of the more naive and overly enthusiastic exponents of rationality.
Galef is a 38-year old Columbia University-trained statistician, and she is well-positioned to write a book instructing others how to think, reason, and derive conclusions. She was the first president of the Center for Applied Rationality, and to this day hosts the popular Rationally Speaking podcast. A long-time resident of the Bay Area (until recently), Galef is someone I’ve known socially in a casual manner for nearly a decade, and two years ago she invited me onto her podcast to discuss various things I’d got wrong. If there is one thing I’d want readers of The Scout Mindset to understand, it is that Galef and her social milieu of Bay-Area rationalists prize epistemic humility as a means of distinguishing right from wrong. It is not uncommon for me to witness an exchange between two rationalists that hinges on the sentence “You are wrong and I am right, and here is why.” Whereas awkwardness and conflict might ensue in most milieus, among rationalists, this is an earnest opening to a deep investigation of how and why two individuals differed. By the end, one interlocutor will often have cheerfully revised their opinion.
If this sounds bizarre, it is because most human behavior is the outcome of a default state that Galef terms the “soldier mindset,” according to which a person is deeply attached to their views and will defend them against all comers. In the soldier mindset, being wrong is not an opportunity to learn and refine one’s positions, but an emotionally traumatic admission to be avoided at all costs. For my money, the soldier mindset actually deserves a more banal and inclusive label: the human mindset. If the scout mindset turns the human brain into an idealized information-processing device, computing inferences and absorbing new data, the soldier mindset comes preloaded with a few useful programs that are used over and over again. Though Galef pushes gently against the proposition that humans are “naturally” irrational, it is hard to deny the universality of the soldier mindset. That it’s the default human state indicates that it has not always been beneficial for humans to utilize the scout mindset in the past.
This is not to say that our forager ancestors did not find aspects of the scout mindset useful. Otherwise, it wouldn’t exist among modern humans. Our lineage of Homo sapiens was the first to push into Australia and the New World, indicating a certain flexibility and openness lacking in our Neanderthal cousins. But the ubiquity of the soldier mindset across all societies shows that extreme openness and flexibility were the exceptions rather than the rule. From the viewpoint of cultural evolution, this may actually be optimal. In a world where technology changed very slowly, and the seasonal cycle repeated endlessly, it was logical that humans would assimilate traditional wisdom by rote, rather than attempting to learn everything anew, risking grave errors. The challenges an individual faced would be the same as those faced by their grandparents and their great-great-great-grandparents. In our present time, it is sometimes hard to remember just how slowly our societies once evolved. The Magdalenian culture, famous for its glorious cave art during the Ice Age, flourished between 17,000 and 12,000 years ago. The 5,000 years of this culture’s existence would be the equivalent of a society spanning Predynastic Egypt to the present day. For the vast majority of Homo sapiens’ existence over the last 300,000 years, we were soldiers marching to the tune of our ancestors, because their ways had earned them descendants that survived into the next generation. Right or wrong, their instincts were adaptive.
The problem in 2021 is that technological and cultural change is now so rapid that these instincts seem totally inadequate to the moment. Contemporary tweens don’t even remember an era before the smartphone. The wisdom of the elders—by which I mean older Zoomers—is lost on them. It may seem like a whimsical example, but this problem characterizes the whole modern era, as technological and cultural revolutions have roiled societies, transforming them from generation to generation. The wisdom of our elders is far less valuable than it was in the past, because our grandparents’ experience of courting during school dances seems quaint and irrelevant in the world of Tinder.
Nevertheless, the default settings of the soldier mindset remain with us. This means that in a world of protean change and surprising disruptions we don’t adapt in a critically rational manner, but simply reinterpret the sensory input with our naive intuitions and impulses. If the soldier mindset was adaptive on the timescale of millennia, the scout mindset is necessary for us to constantly pivot and update in an age when young people don’t even remember what “Netscape time” meant in the 1990s, as new startups increased the metabolic rate of cultural change by orders of magnitude.
Galef is perfectly aware of the cultural currents of our age and makes the case for her form of rationality as an antidote to some of the panics and manias she sees around us. The last section of The Scout Mindset is titled “Rethinking Identity,” and here she contends that strong racial, religious, and ideological affinities are a barrier to clear thinking. The massive cultural changes of the last generation have resulted in a resurgence of human tribalism on a scale that would have left our ancestors aghast. Whereas Pleistocene humans likely had clans that persisted for generations and tribes that lasted for hundreds of years, today the identities of young people can change by gender (and even species) within just a few years. And while this may seem farcical, many Americans now take such fluidity very seriously. In contrast to the scout mindset, these cultural innovations are invested with deep emotional attachment and brook no rational inquiry. They are matters of pure feeling, defended with the psychological armamentarium of the Paleolithic soldier mindset. To question someone’s identity is akin to psychic violence.
In contrast, The Scout Mindset is trying to resurrect a spirit of inquiry and a set of aspirations that flourished more than a decade ago, instantiated in the New Atheism, which gave rise to the skeptic movement, and the rationalist community that still coalesces online around figures like Scott Alexander and Eliezer Yudkowsky. But in the process, Galef is updating rationalism, and smoothing out some of its rougher edges. The scout mindset means replacing militant atheism with a more cautious and non-judgemental initial stance on matters of religion, epitomized in an example Galef recounts of a close friendship between the atheist journalist Kelsey Piper of Vox and Jen, a Roman Catholic woman. Piper is pro-choice on the question of abortion, but her openness to differing views means that she now understands the pro-life position far better than she did, to the point of having sympathy for some of its arguments. Where much of the New Atheist movement has been absorbed into the culturally Left social-justice rubric, The Scout Mindset highlights individuals and groups with similar origins who have now moved to idiosyncratic positions like “effective altruism,” which synthesizes a commitment to human wellbeing and flourishing with a rational thought process aimed at achieving hard results rather than stopping at emotional rallying cries.
The scout mindset, however, does not set aside emotion. Galef offers an unflattering portrayal of Spock because he doesn’t seem to have used logic very well—he was overconfident and refused to re-evaluate the reliability of his powers of deduction. A passion for human wellbeing has to be paired with a rich and vibrant emotional life, the sort of life that Spock dismissed as without value. David Hume’s dictum that reason is a slave to the passions seems to be empirically correct, and Galef doesn’t dispute this reality. Rather, she outlines how best to understand the world as it is, rather than how we wish it to be, and argues that this allows us to achieve our goals and dreams more fully.
And yet, The Scout Mindset is destined to find only a small audience because of the constraints of human nature. Chapters focusing on self-deception, learning to be wrong, and escaping echo chambers find Galef taking aim at “cognitive biases” which muddle and cloud our thinking. It is clear that her prescriptions would result in greater epistemological hygiene and a world in which humans are typified by clearer thinking and an ability to achieve their aims more fully. But just like children who have better things to do than eat their vegetables, I do wonder how many will opt to receive her message of self-improvement.
Despite its clarity and the sensitivity of Galef’s manner, it is hard for me to imagine the average person walking away from her book reformed. The readers upon whom Galef’s work is likely to have the greatest impact are those who already aspire toward rationality, and have some familiarity with topics such as the heuristics and biases program of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The Scout Mindset is an excellent exposition of a clear and rational way of thinking, reshaped and improved by wisdom accumulated in the wake of the early 2010s’ replication crisis. But the empirical reality is that any given army will have only a few intrepid scouts—the vast majority will always be plodding soldiers.
Freedom of Thought Report: The 2021 edition of the Freedom of Thought Report, which was launched on 16 November, includes an update for Tonga. Tonga is a neighbouring Pacific country and there are over 82,000 Tongans resident in New Zealand compared with 106,000 in Tonga. Humanists New Zealand assisted with the research for this report.
Tonga is a constitutional monarchy that prides itself on having never being colonised, although it has relied on the protection of Great Britain to ensure its independence. In 1875, King George Tupou I enacted the Tongan Constitution with some advanced provisions making Tonga one of the first countries in the world to have a written constitution. However, the constitution entrenched the monarchy and made Tonga a Christian country while holding back the development of real democracy and human rights. In recent decades, Tonga has not kept up with international Human Rights.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed under the constitution but, this means the right to choose a Christian denomination and does not include the right to freedom of thought conscience and religion, which includes no-religion, as is required by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1976 is the international agreement that puts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into force. Tonga is now one of just 15 United Nation member countries that are not parties to the ICCPR. With this failure it is in dubious company. In addition, Tonga has only joined two of the United Nations Human Rights conventions, the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). New Zealand is a party to eleven conventions. A recent United Nations review found that Tonga was in breach of many of its obligations under the CRC.
When the Tongan government announced in 2015 that it intended to join the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Tongan churches of various denominations organised mass protests and falsely claimed that the convention required the government to legalise same sex marriages and abortion. The convention mentions neither. The government shelved the proposal and no other advances in Human Rights have occurred since. In the November 2021 election, no women were elected to parliament and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community has increased.
A very high degree of religious adherence in Tonga indicates that while Tonga has escaped colonisation by a foreign power, the Tongan mind has been colonised by foreign religions.
The full report with references can be read at https://fot.humanists.international/countries/oceania-polynesia/tonga/ .
Tonga is a Constitutional monarchy, however, in a partial democratization of the system, a Prime Minister backed by a parliament was appointed in 2010. Tonga is an archipelago, spanning 800 kilometres and made up of 176 islands in the Pacific Ocean. The population is estimated to be 106,000 as of mid-2020. According to 2016 estimates, while most of the population belonged to different Christian churches, approximately 600 individuals reported no religious affiliation. Other minority religious groups include Muslims, Bahá’í and Buddhists.
Constitution and government
The king retains the Constitutional power to veto legislation according to Article 68, dissolve the parliament according to Article 38, and appoint judicial officials according to Article 31A. King ’Aho’eitu Tupou VI came to power in 2012 and is known to be more conservative than his late brother and predecessor. The unicameral Legislative Assembly consists of 17 members elected by the general public, nine noble members elected by their peers, and up to four additional members whom the prime minister may appoint to the cabinet from outside the parliament.
The monarchy, nobility, and the country’s churches exert considerable political influence, but this has not prevented majority support for pro-democracy candidates in recent elections.
The Constitution has been criticized to be in contradiction with democratic principles, mainly in regard to the independence of the judiciary. The Constitution was amended in 2020 by adding on Clause 89A to allow unwritten Tongan customary practices or “tradition” to be used in the power of courts and tribunals without applying rules of evidence. The amendment was made without public consultation and is concerning due to the Tongan tradition being unwritten or sufficiently defined, and allowing harmful practices to be protected as customs.
Clause 89 “The judges shall have power to direct the form of indictments to control the procedure of the lower Courts, and to make rules of procedure.”
The amendments add 89a:
“Customs in Tonga comprises all reasonable and sufficiently certain customs, traditions, practices, values and usages of Tongans: and every court or tribunal in the kingdom, where relevant, shall have regard thereto when deciding any matter before them for decision. Custom requires to be established in evidence but in so doing a court or tribunal shall not apply technical rules of evidence but shall admit and consider such information as available. Tongan custom shall not be lost by reason of lack of recent usage.”
Article 89a is reported to be awaiting the assent of the King before passing into law.
The Constitution in Article 5 protects the freedom of religion and worshiping god without expanding that protection and recognizing the freedom of nontheistic or non-religious beliefs.
Article 5 of the Constitution:
“All men are free to practise their religion and to worship God as they may deem fit in accordance with the dictates of their own consciences and to assemble for religious service in such places as they may appoint. But it shall not be lawful to use this freedom to commit evil and licentious acts or under the name of worship to do what is contrary to the law and peace of the land.”
There is no state religion. However, the Constitution states in Article 6 that Sunday, as the Sabbath Day, is to be “kept holy” and that no business can be conducted “except according to law.” The government makes an exception for hotels and certain restaurants and retail stores but there are no exceptions for any other businesses, regardless of a business owner’s religion. Tonga does not require religious or faith groups to register but groups need to register to receive benefits such as tax exemptions.
The Forum of Church Leaders is a forum for Christian leaders only. The forum meets to discuss social issues such as suicide, crime, drugs, healthy lifestyles, deportees, climate change issues, and teenage pregnancy. The forum’s government-run secretariat submitted reports to the government, which demonstrates undue influence.
In a United Nations report by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the following issues were pointed out to be of concern:
“(a) Section 118 of the Criminal Offences Act, which recognizes only women and girls as potential victims of rape and related offences, and that the protection afforded under the section does not extend to boys
(b) Discriminatory provisions excluding girls from landownership and inheritance rights
(c) Discrimination against children born to unmarried parents, who are referred to by the stigmatizing adjective “illegitimate” and who cannot inherit land or title
(d) Discrimination against children with disabilities”.
Education and children’s rights
Tonga has both public schools and schools run by Christian groups. Students in public schools are required to attend the program led by the representative of their belief group. The education ministry allows two private Christian organizations to provide Bible study and other activities for students of different faiths throughout the year for one hour per week. Students who did not wish to participate or whose belief group didn’t send a representative are allowed to study independently in school libraries.
Family, community and society
Tonga is yet to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979.
According to the law, only marriage ceremonies carried out by Christian clergy members are legally recognized, no other marriage is valid. Non-Christians unwilling to be married by a Christian minister have no legal options to marry.
Domestic violence and child marriages
Despite efforts by the state and civil society organizations, domestic violence remains a problem. The legal minimum age for marriage with parent permission is 15 years old. Girls of this age are sometimes compelled and pressured by their parents to marry, especially related to incidents of teenage pregnancy, rape or girls being seen with boys. A report by the UN states that Tonga had a very high rate of teenage pregnancy and a high rate of infant and child mortality.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern regarding:
“(a) The rate of teenage pregnancies is high and pregnant girls and young mothers are stigmatized
(b) Teenage girls have limited access to safe reproductive and sexual health services and education, especially in rural areas and on the outer islands, and to methods of birth control, also due to fear of stigmatization
(c) Abortion is a criminal offence, without any exceptions for cases of rape or incest, and that the prohibition leads teenage girls to have recourse to unsafe abortions, with consequent risks for their life and health”.
Abortion and reproductive health
Abortion in Tonga is illegal, Sections 103-105 of the Criminal Offences Act criminalizes administering an abortion, individuals may face up to seven years in prison. Women or girls who choose to terminate their pregnancies can be punished with up to three years in prison.
“-103 Procuring miscarriage of woman or girl. Every person who with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman or girl — (a) administers to or causes to be taken by her any drug or other noxious thing; or (b) unlawfully uses any instrument or other means whatever, shall be liable to imprisonment for any period not exceeding 7 years.
-104 Woman or girl procuring her own miscarriage. Every woman or girl who whether with child or not administers to herself or permits to be administered to her any drug or other noxious thing or uses on herself or permits to be unlawfully used on her any instrument or other means whatsoever with intent to procure miscarriage shall be liable to imprisonment for any period not exceeding 3 years.
-105 Supplying means of miscarriage. Every person who supplies or procures any drug or other noxious thing or any instrument knowing that the same is to be unlawfully used for the purpose of procuring miscarriage of any woman or girl shall be liable to imprisonment for any period not exceeding 4 years.”
Reports show a lack of reproductive health or sex education. Schools do not provide sex education, and neither is the home a place for teenagers to learn about reproductive health. Strong social, cultural, and religious barriers and stigma contribute to unplanned teenage pregnancies.
Reports indicate increasing concerns of bullying of LGBTI+ children in schools and within their own families. The Ministry of Education was reportedly hesitant to implement any policy or measures to protect the human rights of LGBTI+ students.
Same-sex relationships are illegal in the country: Section 136 of the Criminal Offense Act states that “Whoever shall be convicted of the crime of sodomy with another person or bestiality with any animal shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any period not exceeding 10 years.”
There was no record of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults being punished in recent years. However, there is no legal safeguard to specifically prohibit discrimination against the LGBTI+ community.
According to Phylesha Brown-Acton, executive director of F’ine Pasifika, Pacific Island nations were known for acceptance of the diversity of sexual identities present in the Pacific before Christian missionaries arrived in the South Pacific in the 18th century. Brown-Acton stated that religious institutions are today a fundamental cornerstone of life in the Pacific Islands.
“We need to win the battle in front of the church before we can win in front of the law reformers, because if we win it in front of the clergy, they will stand in front of us. They will actually argue for us, for our inclusion.”
Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values
The threat of legal action forces journalists to self-censor due to potential financial liabilities. The government created new laws in 2015 that allow it to block websites without a judicial review or order. The 2017 election brought growing tension between the government and journalists.
In early 2020, three journalists from the Tonga Broadcasting Commission were suspended over allegations they attempted to incite distrust in the government. The suspension was seen as a message to journalists at the public broadcasting institution that criticism of the government will not be tolerated.
The Ministry of Communication introduced regulations in May 2020 that imposed fines for publishing or broadcasting “sensitive information,” without defining the term. Journalists criticized the government’s move to pressure and prevent media outlets and social media users from raising sensitive political issues and criticizing the government, noting that the newly introduced regulations would infringe on Article 7 of the Constitution which guarantees media freedom. King Tupou VI has a history of supporting media censorship, dating back to his time as prime minister.
The government-owned Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC) maintains policy guidelines regarding the broadcast of religious programming on TV Tonga and Radio Tonga. The TBC guidelines state that in view of “the character of the listening public,” those who preach on TV Tonga and Radio Tonga must confine their preaching “within the limits of the mainstream Christian tradition.”
Tonga has three higher education institutions. A regional campus of the University of the South Pacific as well as the ‘Atenisi Institute, founded by late Tongan scholar Futa Helu in 1975. The third is Christ’s University, which is owned by the Tokaikolo Church opened in 2015.
The ‘Atenisi Institute has promoted democracy, secularism, and human rights, including the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and the LGBTI+ community. With a curriculum promoting freedom of thought based on critical analysis and a classical education – philosophy, mathematics, history, literature, and music, the ‘Atenisi Institute has achieved a high level of academic achievement and international recognition.
Following the death of the university founder in 2010, the ‘Atenisi Institute has struggled to secure the necessary registration from the Tongan National Qualifications and Accreditations Board (NQAB) on several occasions affecting the institution’s ability to recruit new students and withdrawing recognition of ‘Atenisi qualifications. Decisions denying the registration of the ‘Atenisi institute have been struck down in the courts, but have led to financial challenges and a weakening of the position of the university as a whole.
Tensions between the ‘Atenisi Institute and the government are thought to have a religious component as the university has, since its establishment, sought to promote democracy and secularism in a highly religious monarchical state.