Kia ora: We are approaching DAY 550 that Mubarak Bala has been detained in prison in Kano, Northern Nigeria. Humanists International continues their advocacy for Mubarak. Humanists in Nigeria and throughout Africa continue their Vigil noting the passing of the days of Mubarak’s incarceration. We have received a thank you ‘on behalf of Mubarak Bala & all his supporters & friends in Nigeria & the rest of Africa’ for our monthly mention and tribute to Mubarak. Nigerian Humanists know that international concern has influence. Our support has been posted and it has helped morale. African humanists know that their pages are watched and news is filtered back to Mubarak’s captors alerting them that the outside world is aware of this situation. The authorities who hold Mubarak are pleased that he is silenced and no longer “brainwashing the Nigerian people with lies from the West.” Mubarak’s friends think that though Mubarak has been silenced there are others who can use their voices in Mubarak’s place. Supporters have begun posting a series ‘In the words of Mubarak’ with excerpts, from when he was free, of his writings and interviews. Mubarak is denied reading or writing material. He is denied access to medical care; and Court hearings have been subjected to repeated adjournments. A hearing earlier this month before the Kano State High Court was postponed, because of the ill-health of the judge presiding and a new court date has been set for December.
“In the words of Mubarak Bala” – when asked what he had thought once leaving religion and knowing that there was no afterlife- “I wanted to live my life, the best I could- morally, ethically as well”
Monday 1 November 6.30 pm until 9.00pm
Peter Ellis & The Posthumous Appeal against his Unjust 1993 Conviction
Jonathon Harper, a Humanist NZ member, will update us on this Appeal presently before the Supreme Court. Humanist NZ has always supported Peter Ellis against the dubious 1993 conviction of sexual offending at the Christchurch Civic Creche. Peter Ellis was caught up in what is now termed ‘day care sexual abuse hysteria’ which originated out of California in 1982. In 2001 Lynley Hood defended Peter’s innocence in her book A City Possessed an account of this high-profile case explaining how such a case could happen, and why it did. At our November 2017 monthly meeting Jonathon spoke to us about Peter’s case and in the August 2019 Newsletter we supported Peter in his decision to ask the Supreme Court of NZ to hear his appeal to overturn his conviction for the sexual abuse of children at the Civic Crèche. Sadly, Peter died in September 2019, but the Supreme Court has allowed the appeal to proceed on grounds based on tikanga (Māori customary law).
If Wellington is still at Level 2 we will follow the Covid Level 2 protocols at Thistle Inn
All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.
Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St, Wellington
Humanism Radio Programme on Arrow 92.7FM
Tim Wright, the Humanist NZ President, is hosting a Humanist Radio programme on the first Wednesday of the month at 9pm. The next Radio show is 9pm 3rd November. 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 may be contacted at email@example.com.
Become an Individual supporter of Humanists International: Humanist NZ is a full member of HI and you may add your individual support as a monthly, annual or life supporter. More information at https://humanists.international/support-gbp/ and explore the HI website at https://humanists.international/
Start-up – Palmerston North chapter of Humanist NZ – are you interested?
Keith Butler and Levi Ensing met for coffee with an intent- the formation of a Palmerston North Humanist Chapter.
Why? Keith explains: “Being a Humanist in Palmerston North is a bone-dry experience. My companions are books. My conversations are with myself. Participation in a Humanistic community is largely virtual, some Facebook notifications of meetings here and there, but always too far away. Telling anyone I’m a Humanist can be a brief conversation. There’s the initial polite interest, then; ‘Excuse me, I need to freshen my drink…’ It’s not that I don’t have other productive networks; social and professional but that which most defines me is without company. Wellington and Auckland as the epicentres of Humanism are too far away.
There isn’t a Humanist organisation in Palmerston North and the establishment of one will cater for local Humanists. We don’t want to reinvent Humanistic philosophy but we seek the dialogue and company of like-minded people. A local branch will become a collection point for meetings, guest lectures, discussions, companionship, public worthy projects and a point of contact for visiting Humanists. This will generally raise the profile of Humanism in the region.”
The consensus of what we do, how and when shall emerge from discussions with the members.
Levi Ensing had much to offer by way of thoughts and strategies to the start-up. Keen to democratise the process and promote ownership of the project Levi has had been thinking over start up strategies and issues and he shares his dynamic approach:
“Establish what demographic we aim for; adult, whole family? Let that emerge naturally from the respondents? Then consider appropriate activities such as guest speakers, community building games, monthly themed presentation/discussion on humanism, both in terms of worldview and humanitarian opportunities that would be voluntary for participants, and socialising”
If we want a similar dynamic to Wellington we could book a community centre, advertise on the Palmy facebook page, potentially advertise around Massey and other community noticeboards (Pak’n’save, the Square, other community centers). At the first meeting we would need to gauge interest and hopes of local humanists. We could continue to meet in a community centre or move to a local bar/restaurant/cafe. If we decided to hit a broader demographic, we would probably better be served by a community centre. We would need to have either activities that catered to a broad range of ages, or split activities (probably both) Ultimately, focus is on giving everyone a community and place to safely and openly live as a humanist. Anything else would be a happy and natural extension. Funding issues. Transparency vital.
Interested parties from Palmerston North and surrounds are invited to contact:
Keith St-Clair firstname.lastname@example.org and Levi Ensing email@example.com
Survey on the Amsterdam Declaration’s Review Commission (for Members and Associates)
In 1952, at the first World Humanist Congress, the founders of Humanists International HI, agreed on a statement of the fundamental principles of modern Humanism. They called it “The Amsterdam Declaration”. The Amsterdam Declaration, in keeping with the non-dogmatic, and pro-democratic attitudes of humanism, was revised on its 50th anniversary in 2002 and is now translated into more than 35 languages. HI now proposes to revise it again, for a launch at the 70th anniversary in August 2022.
The ideas for revision include: inclusion of sport or physical activity, the environment, non-human intelligence and the inclusion of non-western sources of humanist tradition.
The Board discussed the merits of making amendments to the Amsterdam Declaration on one hand, and the benefits of maintaining the historic document and links to the past on the other. The international humanist movement began in the 19th century as the World Union of Freethinkers but, after its London assembly of 1938, it was enervated and nearly wiped out by war and social crisis. In the late 1940s, the leaders of humanist organisations from India, the Netherlands, the UK, Austria, and the US determined to re-form a global alliance. In 1952 they created the organisation now known as Humanists International to encourage “all humanist and ethical groups to extend their activities on an international level”, launching it with a declaration of modern humanism in Amsterdam, attended by humanists from every continent.
· The Amsterdam Declaration has come to be known as the defining document of modern humanism and the Board of Humanists International has resolved that the 2022 Declaration must:
· Respect the timeless nature of humanist thought, and compliment the Declarations of 1952 and 2002;
· Be relevant to the times we live in, and show an appreciation of the increased understanding of the ancient humanist traditions in Africa, the Americas, and Asia;
· Appreciate the richness of the humanist life-stance, not just its philosophical nature;
· Be inspirational and motivational.
Humanist Societies, members of HI, were asked for their input into the revision. Below are thoughts from Humanist NZ.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Question: What are the values which guide the development of AI systems? (Is it acceptable to delegate decision-making to AI systems?)
Answer: This can be a complex issue. The problem starts with the definition of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI usually refers these days to very minor systems that we already have in abundance with limited intelligence and ability, with no consciousness, no self-awareness, no autobiographical memory, and no ethical control systems. AI may also refer to an Artificial Intelligence with consciousness, self-awareness, autobiographical memory, and with an intelligence matching or exceeding that of humans. Present practice usually restricts the definition of AI to mean relatively simple systems with no consciousness or self-awareness. For such relatively simple systems, of which there are many in existence and enhancing our lives, there is no need to consider AI in the Amsterdam Declaration. When AI is used to increase productivity, humans will benefit if there is a means to ensure an equitable distribution of the extra wealth generated. There is concern that AI should be used positively and responsibly, to enhance our lives, and not negatively where the use of AI may cause more harm than good. There may be good reason to limit decision making by AI systems when there are safety issues, such as occur with driverless cars, or when there are ethical issues. With such systems, there is a need to ensure that safety or ethics are enhanced rather than degraded. There needs to be responsible and sound ethical guidance used in the design and training of AI systems and in the use of AI. Badly designed training can enhance and intensify existing biases and AI can be used for very unethical purposes. If a use of AI is likely to cause more harm than good, or when AI is used for military reasons, in weapons, or in such a way that the AI automates the killing of humans, or in weapons that may find their way to terrorist organisations, there is good reason to limit the design, manufacture and sale of such AI, and a mention in the Amsterdam Declaration is appropriate.
The current wording of Article 2, “Humanism is rational”, may be adequate when it says “Humanists believe that the application of science and technology must be tempered by human values”, or this wording could be upgraded to say something like, “Humanists believe that the application of science and technology must be used ethically to enhance the wellbeing of humans”, or, “Humanists believe that the application of science and technology must be used responsibly and ethically to enhance wellbeing”. When, at some future date, AI develops to the level where there are sophisticated artificial brains that are self-aware and conscious, with autobiographical memories, and with intelligence levels matching or exceeding that of humans, the situation will change. Humans are a product of evolution and consequently have some instinctive ethical values shaped by evolution that limit behaviour. Equivalent AI brains that are self-aware, and conscious, will only have the limits on behaviour that are built into them by their creators. Some, with appropriate inbuilt ethical standards, could or should be given the same status and rights as humans. Others that are self-aware, intelligent, and conscious, might have been created to destroy humans and it may be necessary to destroy them on sight order to protect human life. However, such highly intelligent artificial beings do not exist at present and are unlikely to appear overnight so the need to specifically include them in the Amsterdam Declaration is not necessary now but may be in the future.
More work is needed in the future. Consider the possibility of extra-terrestrial beings. To date, there is no evidence of the existence of extra- terrestrial beings and science indicates that it will be very difficult for them to reach earth, but consideration needs to be given to the remote possibility that some might find their way to the earth at some future date. For the present, we could disregard this possibility and leave it to a future revision of the Amsterdam Declaration.
Question: What is the impact of AI systems on human beings? (including transhumanism, gene editing technology)
Answer: There should be no problems with AI systems, transhumanism, gene editing and so on if they are benign or are used for the benefit and wellbeing of humans. When AI is used to increase productivity, AI will, as automation has done in the past, increase the general wealth and wellbeing of all provided systems exist to ensure an equitable distribution of wealth. Otherwise, if the AI is harmful or could cause harm to humans there may be reasons to limit the existence and use of such AI. There may also be some justification for limits if AI increases inequalities amongst humans, but, in general, it is better to have systems to ensure equitable wealth distribution rather than to limit AI that could increase general wealth and wellbeing.
Question: To what extent do we recognise AI systems as people? And to what extent do we accord them human rights?
Answer: When an AI is equivalent to a human person, with consciousness, self-awareness, autobiographical memory, equivalent intelligence, and with an equivalent inbuilt ethical control system, then we should recognise the AI as equivalent to a person in all respects. AI’s that have lower levels of intelligence, perhaps equivalent to that of some animals, should be given the same or similar rights to the animals of equivalent intelligence. An AI that is otherwise equivalent to a human but sociopathic could or should be given the same rights as a sociopathic human. An AI designed only to kill humans should be given very restricted rights or no rights, as is the case with mass murderers.
Environment and Climate Change
Question: What do you think about our obligations to non-human animals?
Answer: We have an obligation to non-human animals to ensure that they are treated with respect and dignity commensurate with their mental development and other factors. We need to protect them from cruelty and to protect many species from extinction. However, there is a need to avoid laws that might unintentionally provide protection when it should not be given, such as protection to mosquitoes that spread dangerous diseases.
Question: What are important considerations for a humanist view on climate change?
Answer: There is a great deal of caution required here. The Amsterdam Declaration deals with general principles rather than specifics. Climate change is a specific issue and subset of the environment and environment a subset of sustainability. The exact extent and impact of climate change is still under investigation. There are various other environmental issues that the Amsterdam Declaration could recognise, such as the depletion and pollution of aquifers that is occurring on all continents as a result of population pressures and intensive farming to meet the increasing need for food as population increases.
The UN General assembly in 2015 endorsed 17 sustainable development goals to be achieved by 2030. It would be a good idea for the Amsterdam Declaration to recognise this.
A section on sustainability dealing with environmental issues and drawing on the 17 sustainable development goals could read something like this with other sustainable development goals included under question 13:
Humanism endorses sustainability. Humanism recognises that the planet and it resources are finite and that life must continue to exist well into the future. Environmental protection, including the protection of life on land and in water; climate stability; clean air, water, and sanitation; sustainable and affordable energy supplies; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production, and consideration of population issues are essential
for sustainable life on earth.
Sport and physical activity
Question: Sport can embody the enjoyment of comradeship and team spirit, communal endeavour, and being on a team. What do you think about the inclusion of these values and principles?
Answer: There is a need for caution here: while sport may embody the enjoyment of comradeship and team spirit, communal endeavour, and being on a team, so do other things like being in an army and killing people, or being in a gang and committing crimes and killing people. The world also benefits from individuals, the introverted, and the autistic who often populate universities and produce a large portion of the developments that benefit humanity. Sport is often elitist, unduly competitive, and commercialised. Many people find they are excluded from sport from a young age because they are not good enough. High-level sport has become so competitive that competitors often experience mental health problems that sometimes lead to suicide. There are other alternatives to competitive sports that are rewarding such as surfing and others that encourage comradeship, team spirit, communal endeavour, and being part of a team such as hiking in the mountains, and mountain climbing. Competitive team sports are often associated with excessive alcohol consumption and sometimes criminal activities. Sport tends to be a subset of physical activity and physical activity as a subset of wellbeing. It may be better to have an article on Equality and Wellbeing that also draws on the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals. It might read something like this:
Humanism values equality and wellbeing. Humanism seeks equality and wellbeing for all through the elimination of poverty and hunger, good quality education, available and rewarding work, peace and justice, good health and wellbeing, with adequate leisure and access to recreational activities and sport.
Question: Many people find sport and physical activity to be rewarding, especially being close to nature from an aesthetic point of view. What are your thoughts on this?
Answer: People benefit from physical activity and it should be encouraged because it is good for health and wellbeing. The rewarding feelings, feelings of being close to nature and aesthetic feelings, are due to the release of endorphins and endocannabinoids which can be rewarding but can also become addictive. This is OK if it encourages a healthy level of physical activity but can, in some cases, lead to addiction and unnecessarily high levels of physical activity which can have various negative outcomes. Others might achieve the same rewards from the release of endorphins and endocannabinoids through the appreciation of good art or from activities such as painting a work of art, playing
music, solving maths or other problems, writing a book, or through other areas of thought.
Non-Western sources of humanism
Question: What do you think about the inclusion of non-western humanist traditions?
Answer: The Amsterdam Declarations 1952 and 2002 were never intended to exclude non-western humanist traditions. Many of the world’s philosophies and religions have at least some humanist elements to them. To list some but not others will risk the exclusion of some that should perhaps be included. To make it clear that non-western humanist traditions are included the simplest thing might be to modify the introductory sentence to the Amsterdam Declaration 2002 so that it refers to traditions rather than tradition. It would then read: Humanism is the outcome of long traditions of free thought that have inspired many of the world’s great thinkers and creative artists and gave rise to science itself.
Question: Are there any non-western humanist traditions that you think should be included?
Answer: The preamble to this questionnaire mentions the increased understanding of the ancient humanist traditions in Africa, the Americas, and Asia, but fails to include the Pacific. Many of the pacific cultures have humanistic elements. As an example, a well-known proverb of the Maori of Aotearoa New Zealand says: He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. In English it translates as: What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.
Many of the world’s religions also have humanistic treads in them and modern western secular humanism was preceded by Christian humanism that moved away from a god centred religion to a human centred religion. It may be best to just amend the introductory sentence as indicated in the answer to question 17 so that it refers to “traditions” rather than “tradition”.
Question: Are there any final points or questions that you wish to share with the Amsterdam Commission?
Answer: Article 5 of the Amsterdam Declaration 2002 is of concern. It defines Humanism as a negative reaction to religion. It would be better to define it as a positive by using words such as this: Humanism is open to change. Humanism recognises that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises through a continuing process of observation, evaluation, and revision. Open to question, Humanism stands apart from dogmatic religions, political ideologies, and philosophies that claim to be based on revelations, infallible texts, or unquestionable rhetoric, fixed for all time, with many seeking to impose their world-views on all of humanity.