Kia ora: This month brought the terrible news of the collapse of the factory building in Dhaka, Bangladesh and the reporting of the escape of three young women held captive and hidden in a house in Cleveland, USA. International protest action in support of the arrested Bangladeshi bloggers was planned for April 25th but some overseas groups postponed their action until the May 2nd in respect of the tragedy unfolding with the building collapse on April 24th and many hundreds of deaths in Bangladesh where April 25th was declared a day of mourning. Here, in New Zealand, decision was made to continue with the planned protest in Auckland and Wellington on April 26th as time was too short to change arrangements. We thank Peter Clemerson and others who responded to this action.
The recent Listener May 18-24 2013 has taken up the important issue of employment in NZ. Karl du Fresne asks ‘Are you in the Precariat? The ‘precariat’ is a name given to a new social class. The word is an abbreviation of ‘precarious proletariat’. Karl’s article refers to a book by British economist Guy Standing – The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (2011). Of this book, Richard Hyman from the London School of Economics writes ‘Guy Standing provides an incisive account of how precariousness is becoming the new normality in globalised labour markets, and offers important guidelines for all concerned to build a more just society.’ Young graduates in NZ and overseas are filling this new class niche. I would like to quote the complete book in this newsletter but will content myself with some extracts over the page.
Monthly Meeting: Monday 27 May
Open to the public – All interested people are welcome – bring a friend
‘We’re all in this together’
call for Secular Action
John Hutcheson thinks that the current, rather jocular, perception that working with rationalist, atheistic and humanist groupings is akin to herding cats, needs an overhaul. Instead of scattering in all directions, like our furry felines John suggests we see ourselves as a lion pride or wolf pack, working together with a common directive.
Sean Faircloth in his recent talks in NZ stressed that we get behind local groups and support each other.
John has interesting observations and suggestions for us to consider and discuss.
*** Please note the day and venue ***
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 trolley bus routes 1 & 3.
Meetings for 2013 will be held on the 4th Monday of the month at the Tararua Tramping Club rooms, 4 Moncrieff Street.
Radio Access Humanist Outlook, 10.30 am, 783 kHz Wellington, on Saturday 25 May, 22 June, 20 July and 17 August.
Humanist Outlook is broadcast at 10:30 am on Access Radio, Wellington, 783 kHz, every fourth Saturday.
If you are outside the Wellington area, go to www.accessradio.org.nz to listen or to download as a pod cast after the event.
Thank you to those conscientious members who have paid their subscriptions for the August 2012- August 2013 year. If you have not paid, subscriptions for the 2012-2013 year are now due. A hard copy of the newsletter with a subscription renewal form was posted to all members last year. A renewal form is also attached to this newsletter.
Subscription rates for 2012-2013 are the same as for 2011-2012 year. Please check your records and if you have not paid for this year please pay now.
If you have not paid for previous year, please pay arrears. Please return the form with your name and address on it with your payment.
An email giving details of how to renew your subscription using internet banking will be sent to all members with an email address shortly.
This year our monthly meetings will be on the fourth Monday of the month. Please mark your diaries now. We will hold a winter-solstice gathering at a time and date to be announced near the time of the winter solstice.
At last month’s meeting we heard a little about James Randi before watching a video recording of an address he gave to the New Zealand Skeptics some years ago. We also heard a little about the visit to parliament with Sean Faircloth to discuss our concerns regarding Charter Schools with representatives of the ACT and Labour parties.
Sean Faircloth New Zealand Tour – 2013
Sean Faircloth was welcomed with style by Hawke’s Bay Humanists, Rationalists, Skeptics, and Freethinkers: Karl Matthys from Napier describes for us Sean Faircloth’s visit to Hawke Bay – 7 April 2013.
‘We were proud ‘The Bay’ was included in the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science sponsored tour of Australia and New Zealand by its Director of Strategy and Policy, Sean Faircloth. The NZ part of this tour was organised by the NZ Association of Rationalists and Humanists, based in Auckland who delegated the task of organising local meetings to the Humanist Society of NZ for the Wellington event and to the Hawke Bay Branch of NZARH for the Havelock North meeting. Sean Faircloth was picked up Sunday morning from Hawke’s Bay Airport by a small group of locals dressed for the occasion in their best Art Deco costumes. He was then given a short tour of Napier City in a 1930’s Bugatti sports car. The meeting that evening attracted some 130 people and Sean’s speech, which was, at 30 minutes, short, professional and ‘to the point’, was well received. Question time took another hour which made the total meeting time 90 minutes. A small group including Sean then relocated to the nearby Tavern where the evening was rounded off with supper and liquid refreshments. A great day! John Timpson, with the assistance of John and Mary-Ellen Warren, must be given a huge 10 out of 10 for the great job he did organising newspaper publicity, advertising, radio and TV interviews, posters and pamphlets, venue, accommodation, meals, the many things that make an event successful.’
Sean’s book, Attack of the Theocrats! How the Religious Right Harms us All – And What We Can Do About It 2012 sold out in Wellington but is available from Amazon.com.
Volunteering with the Society of Humanism in Nepal (SOCH ):
Eleanor Middleton, after briefly visiting Kathmandu in 2012 and meeting Uttam Niraula from SOCH Nepal (Society for Humanism Nepal), recently returned to Nepal. Here is an excerpt from her blog Eleanor and the Elephants:
‘I started teaching in the Humanist school in Kathmandu last week, or Ambience International School. I’m working as the science teacher for the senior students (aged 13-16). The science teacher who used to work at the school left at the end of last year, and so I’m filling in while they find a replacement. Naturally, I’ve started teaching them biology as it’s my field. One of the major obstacles teaching in the school is the Nepali syllabus. It’s so heavy in facts and memorization it’s hard for the teachers to find time to take a breath and encourage the students to think, rather than memorize and regurgitate. But of course, because the syllabus is so focused on recalling facts, I also have to bear in mind that in their exams the students will need to have examples in detail of the characteristics of every phylum of invertebrates, regardless of if I feel that this is something that will be useful for the students to learn or not. When I’m not working, teaching and preparing lessons I do other work for SOCH. Mainly, I’ve been proof reading reports prepared by SOCH in English. This has been really interesting and given me an opportunity to understand their work. They have two major projects, one focusing on sustainable development and the establishment of a “model sustainable village”, and the other on improper religious and cultural practices in the country (basically practices that are harming human rights). In Nepali these practices are known as “kuriti” and mainly harm women and children.’
The Ambience International School receives some support from the Norwegian Humanist Society, to whom the reports Eleanor proof reads are sent. Read more of Eleanor’s experiences on her blog: “Eleanor and the Elephants”.
Following on from the Constitution Conversations (see www.ourconstitution.org.nz/Events) that are being held at present there will be an ‘alternative’ conversation ‘Separation of Church and State in NZ’ to be held in Wellington in early July, probably 13 or 14 July, 1.00pm-4.00pm at Victoria University. Planning is still being finalised, however speakers will include Dr Carolyn Sawyer, Senior Lecturer, School of Law, Victoria University, Gay Morgan, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Waikato and Dr Meg Wallace, a barrister and solicitor and former legal academic from Australia. More information will be in the June newsletter.
2013 Skeptics Conference:
This year the conference will be held at Victoria University, Wellington from Friday 6 September-Sunday 8 September. The conference will begin on Friday with a social meet and greet from 5pm. Saturday and Sunday will have a line up of interesting speakers. The conference will close around 3pm on Sunday.
We wish to thank the New Zealand Charitable Trust for granting our application for the 2013 Eileen Bone Scholarship of $1000 to help a Naenae College Year 13 student attend Victoria University in 2014. This scholarship will be awarded in November this year. We also thank the Trust for a grant supporting the Sean Faircloth Tour.
Matariki & the Winter Solstice:
To celebrate these yearly cycles we will have a social get together and shared meal at Lachman Prasad’s home:
50 Kanpur Rd, Broadmeadows, Wellington, Saturday 22 June from 5.30pm.
All are welcome, and please bring your favourite dish to share and liquid refreshment of your choice.
Please RSVP to Lachman at 04 477 3590.
Matariki is the Maori name for the star cluster known as the Pleiades. Traditionally for Maori when it appeared just before dawn in late May or early June, it signalled the start of the Maori New Year This year, 2013, Matariki will take place on 10 June. The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year and we can begin to look forward to spring.
The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class Guy Standing 2011:
The themes in this book have been presented to students and activists in 16 countries visited during its preparation.
From the Preface: ‘This book is about a new group in the world, a class-in –the-making….There is a danger that, unless the precariat is understood, its emergence could lead society towards a politics of inferno….The global market economy may eventually raise living standards everywhere, but it is surely only ideologues who can deny that it has brought economic insecurity to many, many millions. The precariat is in the front ranks, but it has yet to find the Voice to bring its agenda to the fore. It is not ‘the squeezed middle’ or ‘an underclass’ or ‘the lower working class’ It has a distinctive bundle of insecurities and will have an equally distinctive set of demands.
Precarious unemployment: (page 45) Unemployment is part of life in the precariart….In the pre-globalisation era, unemployment was seen as due to economic and structural factors. The unemployed were unfortunate, in the wrong at the wrong time. Unemployment benefit systems were built on the principle of social insurance, everybody contributed, so that those with a low probability of becoming unemployed subsidised those with a higher probability…..This model has collapsed.
Commodification of education: (page 67) The neo-liberal state has been transforming school systems to make them a consistent part of the market society, pushing education in the direction on ‘human capital’ formation and job preparation. It has been one of the ugliest aspects of globalisation. Through the ages, education has been regarded as a liberating, questioning, subversive process by which the mind is helped to develop nascent capacities. The essence of the Enlightenment was that the human being could shape the world and refine himself or herself through learning and deliberation. In a market society, that role is pushed into the margins. The education system is being globalised. It is brashly depicted as an industry, as a source of profits and export earnings, a zone of competiveness, with countries , universities, and schools ranked by performance indicators…. Symbolising the loss of Enlightenment values, in the United Kingdom in 2009, responsibility for universities was transferred from the education department to the department for business.
Youth precarity traps: (page 73) There are two precarity traps for youths emerging from tertiary schooling. One is a debt trap…. Many find the jobs that they can obtain are temporary and the wages are too low to pay off those debts….One thing leads to another. In general, youths are torn between their aspirations , backed by their certificates and years of study, and their need for income. This is the second precarity trap. They may take a temporary job because they need the income to live and pay down debt. They may not because it may dampen their prospects of a career building alternative. If they turn down the temporary dead-end job, they may be branded as lazy and a scrounger. If they take it, they may be on a losing track.
Labour, Work and the Time Squeeze: (page 115). We cannot grasp the Global Transformation crisis, and the pressure building up on the precariat, without appreciating what the global market society is doing to our sense of time. Historically, every system of production has operated with a particular conception of time as its guiding structure. In agrarian society, labour and work were adapted to the rhythm of the seasons and weather conditions…. However with industrialisation came time regimentation…. A national industrial market society emerged, based on enforced respect for the time, the calendar and the clock… With the transition to a global market system two changes in time have occurred. The first was the growing disrespect for the 24-hour body clock… The global market is a 24/7 machine… The second change relates to how we treat time itself…What has emerged is a set of informal norms which are in tension with the industrial time norms that still permeate social analysis, legislation and policymaking…. We must develop a concept of ‘tertiary time’, a way of looking at how we allocate time that is suitable for a tertiary society, not an industrial or an agrarian one. (Purchase this book for more analysis of our present society and suggestions for rescuing education, a basic income, redistributing financial capital, gaining control of time, and much more)
NZ Humanist Society Subscriptions for 2012/2013: Subscription rates for this year remain unchanged.
1. Invoices were posted to members and an email sent to members and email subscribers giving details of how to pay for the August 2012 to August 2013 year.
A reminder notice was also included with the New Zealand Humanist magazine for those who have not paid.
2. If you have not yet paid for the previous year, 2011-12 year, your payment will be appreciated.
3. If you have already paid for the 2012-13 year, please do not pay again.
4. If you have not paid yet, your payment will be appreciated.
There are three ways to pay:
1. Internet banking: is available for those who wish to use it. Details were provided in an email on 27th January 2012.
Please ensure that you include your name and other required details as outlined in the email.
2. Direct Credit: direct credit the bank account detailed in the email of 27th January 2012.
Please ensure that you include your name and other required details as outlined in the email.
3. Mail: post a cheque with the return slip – be certain to provide us with relevant details.
Book News – Sam Harris – Free Will
Free Press, New York, 2012 (83 pp., index, ISBN 978-1-4516-8340-0)
Reviewer: Stephen Stuart
Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and The Moral Landscape, came to Melbourne in April 2012 for the Global Atheist Convention, where he paid a moving tribute to the late Christopher Kitchens. In this brilliant essay he explains why free will is an absurd illusion and explores the consequences.
The idea of free will emerges from our subjectively felt experience. Science represents consciousness as governed by neurophysiological processes that operate in accordance with implacable physical law (not yet fully understood). In Harris’s account, a thought or intention to act appears in consciousness only after its origin in the unconscious brain, whereupon the conscious mind assumes by default that it is the author of the thought or action. The reaction time for a movement is cited as being one-third of a second or more.
Determinists hold that Our behaviour is fully determined by causes outside our conscious control, while libertarians hold that human agency transcends physical causation. Compatibilists admit we are determined by unconscious neural events but claim that we feel free when we can follow our desires—as if, says Harris, a marionette were free when he loves his strings. Compatibilists have produced a pile of literature on the problem of personal responsibility for one’s actions. Daniel Dennett for example claims that we own our actions, conscious or not, and are responsible for them even if we don’t feel so. Harris retorts, ‘How can we be “free” as conscious agents if everything that we consciously intend is caused by events in our brain that we do not intend and of which we are entirely unaware?’ He scoffs that we are not responsible for the vagaries of our intestinal flora or (presumably) for contracting infections, but to some extent, with modern knowledge, we are.
The distinction between deliberate action and unintended action, which is socially so important, is independent of determinism. The author says, curiously, that we ‘seem to choose’ where to direct our attention, to focus and reflect on certain thoughts which arise and culminate in conscious motivation. Hence determinism does not mean fatalism. Harris says, ‘You can do what you decide to do—but you cannot decide what you will decide to do.’ Creative thinkers, presumably, wait for inspiration like a cat at a mouse-hole.
Free will is no necessary illusion: its abandonment engenders sympathy with others and allows us ‘to steer a more intelligent course through our lives (while knowing, of course, that we are ultimately being steered).’ Dangerous criminals are not responsible for their bad genes or bad upbringing but are to be pitied while they are incarcerated for the general good. Conversely, those in happy circumstances deserve no personal credit, since intelligence and diligence are inherited with the luck of the draw.
An alternative which the author does not explore is to regard the will as constrained to a number of choices as they present themselves to the conscious mind; that is, freedom of will within deterministic limits. In claiming that our conscious control over what we are going to do next is not complete, he goes beyond the common sense of what it means to exercise willpower. But it is still a very stimulating read.
Reproduced from Australian Humanist No. 110 Winter 2013