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Dear David... emails to the Editor

From John Dowdle, President, Watford Area Humanists

Firstly, a sincere appreciation to you and the other hard-working members of the editorial team for producing 30 editions of Humanistically Speaking – long may it continue!

Regarding the front cover of the December edition ("I look down on him" starring John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett), I can recall viewing the original 1966 TV sketch. It is just as evergreen as it was back when it was first performed, even on black and white TV!

I wonder if many remember John Prescott saying “We are all middle-class now” in 1997? At the time, it did not seem as ridiculous as it would now if it were to be repeated again today.

"I was not at all surprised by the behaviour of Lady Hussey at a recent royal reception, when she kept asking a black woman CEO of a charity 'Where are you really from?'"

At the start of the 1980s, I was a personal vintner to a number of clients. When I mentioned to an old friend of many years standing in the wine trade that I had a wine-tasting appointment with a very senior royal staffer in St James’s Palace, he urged me to be very careful, stating “with those people, there is them – and all the rest of us are just like so many flies on a wall”. I was, therefore, not at all surprised by the behaviour of Lady Hussey at a recent royal reception, when she kept asking a black woman CEO of a charity “Where are you really from?”.

A few years back, I had a friend (now deceased) who worked as a personal financial adviser to a very senior royal person. We were in his home drawing room at about the same time as Harry and Meghan were married and he started talking about Edward having abdicated as monarch in 1936, thereby forcing his younger brother to take on the role. He said that in the event of a similar event occurring with regard to William, it could mean that one or more of the next monarch’s children could “have a touch of the tar brush” about them. I assumed this was probably some royal palace gossip he had picked up.

I collaborated some time ago with a Guardian journalist by pointing out the UK monarch and heir have a private prerogative to scrutinise any and all proposed legislation that may affect their personal fortunes and circumstances. I provided him with the evidence too. What is still not widely known is that the royal household is exempted by law from all provisions of UK equalities legislation and the provisions of the equal pay acts.

I hope Starmer does win the next general election and goes further than he has promised by scrapping the second legislative chamber altogether. The usual excuse that the second chamber helps to refine and improve legislation is nonsense and just allows departmental lawyers and constituency parliamentary members to swan-off and not do a proper job of scrutinising and improving all proposed and enacted legislation.

Finally, may I wish you and all your readers a happy and peaceful 2023 which, I think, ought to start the day after Winter Solstice (21 December 2022), which, in truth, is THE truly natural event that underpins all the seasonal activities at this time of year!

From Mike Flood, who chairs Milton Keynes Humanists and the Future of Humanism Group. He is writing here in a private capacity.

Barry Newman (in your December issue) writes that Humanists UK’s core remit is 'principally the promotion of Humanism as a worldview alternative to religion'. Maybe. But what does it say about that 'worldview' when Humanists UK chooses to all but ignore the unprecedented challenges humanity now faces as a result of rapid technological advance, the degradation or destruction of important global ecosystems, and the climate emergency? There’s no mention of these issues (or ‘volunteer led’ Humanist Climate Action) in the latest 5 Year Plan.

"I struggle to see how a 'worldview' that says nothing about these unprecedented and truly life-changing developments helps humanists make better decisions about how they live their lives... it shows humanism in rather a poor light."

The Future of Humanism Group would like to see organised humanism articulate a coherent position on the threat that these developments pose to democracy and truth, and indeed to the viability of sentient life on Earth. We see this as implicit in the 2022 Declaration of Modern Humanism and the 2019 Reykjavik Declaration. The former contends that humanists ‘feel a duty of care to all of humanity, including future generations, and beyond this to all sentient beings’; the latter calls for ‘urgent action’ on the climate change crisis. We don’t want to think of this as mere rhetoric or virtue signalling.

One of our objectives in setting up the Future of Humanism Group is to stimulate debate within the humanist community about how, exactly, people of goodwill can live ‘happier, more confident, and more ethical lives’ and endeavour to be ‘good ancestors’ to future generations in today’s increasingly polarised and turbulent world. No one is suggesting that Humanists UK’s current priorities — legal recognition for humanist marriage (in England & Wales), abolishing blasphemy laws (in Northern Ireland), etc. etc. — are not important, nor that they be abandoned. Rather that priorities should be reviewed and new partnerships sought with issue specialists so that a coherent humanist position can be formulated on the growing challenges we face. (We suggest how this might be done in our forthcoming ‘Manifesto’.)

So the question we should be asking is this: are the current campaign priorities really of more interest / concern to Humanists UK’s 100,000+ members and supporters than:

  • misinformation (which undermines reason and truth, two pillars of humanism); or

  • the rollout of artificial intelligence (which has huge implications for jobs, human rights, social justice and democracy — AI might have a ‘negative overall impact’ but we haven’t made that assumption); or

  • speaking out about climate justice and intergenerational fairness?

Indeed, I struggle to see how a 'worldview' that says nothing about these unprecedented and truly life-changing developments helps humanists and other ‘nones’ make better decisions about how they live their lives and stave off ‘reality apathy’ or ‘doomism’. And I think it shows humanism in rather a poor light.

Note: On December 14th, Humanists UK published a major article on artificial intelligence (AI) which included the following comment: '...the recent period of exponential advancement in AI technology throws up a great number of ethical challenges and questions which will fall to policymakers and citizens to get to grips with... if we want a positive transition to a bountiful new future, rather than a violent rupture in our lives, we as individuals need to take a proactive interest in making sure that the benefits of AI are realised equitably, productively, and positively. We should be prepared to ask bold questions we never dared ask in previous generations about the nature of work and the best pursuit of true human happiness and fulfilment. Humanists need to take an active role in helping publicly articulate the values and principles that will shape that process of stewardship, both in the UK and internationally (emphasis added). These are, after all, technologies that will touch the lives of every human being on Earth for generations to come... In 2023, Humanists UK will be publishing more articles and stories of this nature spotlighting humanist views on contemporary issues, challenges, and ideas'.

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