By Design & Layout Editor Aaron the Humanist
Aaron, our design and layout editor, is part of the tech team which has delivered our new online format. Also a columnist, and author of the Aaron Explores articles, he enjoys delving into our theme for the month from his own unique perspective.
Our theme this month is 'The Common Good' but I'd like to broaden this out to explore the concept of the 'Global Citizen', and how we all fit together as people. My automatic reflex would be to reject the idea of being a 'Global Citizen'. But looking at the graphic below (image from UnitedWorldSchools.org) I have to say that, yes, I would be happy to tick those boxes.
My default position, however, is to describe myself as a 'Starfleet Humanist'. This is where my journey to humanism started, right from day one. My teenage years, philosophy, ideals and values were driven by Star Trek: consideration for others, compassion for those weaker than or different to yourself, asking questions about (rather than seeking to destroy) that which you do not yet understand, seeking out the unexplained and unexplored, and making friends, allies and associates from a wide field. If only Vladimir Putin could do the same.
The ideals of humanism run though Star Trek like the words in a stick of rock. But does this mean that a Starfleet Humanist is, by implication, a 'Global Citizen' or a 'Citizen of the World'? Well, Star Trek does endorse the idea of a planetwide government with shared values, an end to hunger, money, greed, poverty, war and crime, and then a United Federation of Planets once we go beyond the limitations of the Earth.
Sadly, we are not there yet. Whether you agree with them or not, we continue to have borders. But they're just lines on a map aren't they? What we have, in reality, is large groups of people (i.e., citizens of a particular nation or country) who contribute to a shared pool to bring about their goals. People outside of that nation or country are, indeed, outside. So the moral question which I would like to explore is this: how far should the citizens of a particular country share everything they have worked hard for in order to provide for those outside?
The values and ideals of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets is all-embracing. All races and technologies work together as one to make the interplanetary environment a better place. Racism and sexism do not exist in Star Trek. Every person is born equal. We can embody these values but we still have to take into account the reality that, as citizens, we pay into a shared pool, and any given pool has limits to it. We are limited by money, land, and by other people's opinions and desires, including those of the so-called NIMBYs.
I like to use the lifeboat analogy. Imagine you have 100 people in a lifeboat designed for 100 people. It will be cramped and uncomfortable but you can get by… for a short while. If you put 110 people into the lifeboat it will be even more cramped and uncomfortable and the rations, water and supplies intended to provide for 100 people now have to stretch to 110.
Let's look at a specific example. When I was part of the Royal Observer Corps I had a keen interest in nuclear war survival. Designing nuclear bunkers was never a problem. You can put twelve bunks into a buried chamber and accommodating human bodies in their physical form was never an issue. The real challenge was providing food, water and sustenance for up to two years for each person. One person occupying two square meters of space now becomes a huge problem. If you've ever seen the 2009 American science fiction disaster film 2012, you may appreciate it when I tell you that the ending always has me screaming at the TV screen: "Don’t let them in!" The world is ending, a few large ships have been created to save humanity, and everything has been catered for. Accommodation numbers were carefully worked out, and the ships were designed to hold as many as they did. But then several thousand people rush forward at the end and they are let on board. It isn’t a question of how many beds you have. It's how long you can sustain things with all those extra mouths to feed.
Coming back to my main point, when people who haven't paid into the pool want to enjoy all the benefits and advantages of that pool, at what point does it become overloaded and fail those who have paid in? Do you keep filling the lifeboat until it sinks, at which point everyone will be lost? Or is there a cut-off number?
Thinking now about refugees and other migrants, surely there is a finite number that Lifeboat UK (my term) can charitably take in each year. We already have over a million people on homeless registers, and another million plus who are in bad or overpriced housing and wanting to get into affordable homes. It's a major slap in the face to these people when people from abroad come in and are given hotel spaces and then homes, jumping the queue. I’ve been homeless, I’ve lived this experience.
Continuing the lifeboat analogy, homes are not the only issue. Accommodating extra people depletes the money available for other things. We can’t simultaneously build one million homes, and then also build extra hospitals, schools, GP surgeries, dentists, extra roads and create jobs for everyone. This is not a party-political point. No party can fix this, and if they can they have kept it secret for the whole of my lifetime! At the current rate of population expansion, we need a new ‘Birmingham’ built every four years, not just in homes, but in total infrastructure. Not only do we have no space to build to that extent, we also don’t have the funding to build a city in that time. It would cost a trillion pounds just to build each new city required.
Infrastructure growth to meet this level of demand is not feasible, achievable, or doable with current means and technology, let alone space. Therefore, we must surely reduce demand.
The term 'Citizen of the World' implies open borders to me, being charitable to anyone and everyone, and embracing the world in every way possible. This is all fine, until we realise that we only have a finite amount of money to build with. Even if you could find a trillion pounds on the magic money tree to build a second Birmingham, there would be a massive environmental problems with all the concrete, infrastructure, oil and glass needed that will provoke protesters to glue themselves to anything stationary to prevent you from doing this.
And by the time our second Birmingham is built (let's say by 2032, to be optimistic) you will have an additional two million people in tents, waiting to fill two more cities on the very day King Charles, or Queen Camilla, opens the new city. And so the cycle continues. Do we concrete over every piece of greenspace until the UK can then not feed or water itself? We are already pushing limits in every town and city in the land, building on flood plains and arable land in order to meet growing need. We can't help everyone.
I’m sorry to say it, but that’s the bottom line. So if you can't help everyone, calculations have to be made as to how many you can help and how many you do not. Who makes those choices? Government? It seems to me that some humanists want to be all things to all people, and never say no to anybody… but at what cost? The UK can only independently feed a proportion of its population. Everything else has to be imported, currently using fossil fuel. At some point this will become unsustainable, either because of the cost of oil or because of net zero commitments. We are going to have to become to self-sufficient, unless technology in the future changes course.
You are, aren’t you? I know, I can feel it! I’ve been judged before. Have you lumped me in a box with Nigel Farage yet, with an “I hate foreigners” label on the lid. Well, I would say that, ultimately, maths is maths. For example, if every living Brit who has ever emigrated returned to live in the UK we couldn’t have them back. We have a national shortage of EVERYTHING in this country, and no money to build everything simultaneously to provide for everyone's needs.
Should I hand in my 'Citizen of the World' badge now?
Image: World citizens badge - wikipedia