Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Humour and Humanism

Hastings Humanists first meeting was on Darwin Day 2009. So our February meeting this year, on Darwin's 206th birth anniversary, will be our Sixth anniversary.


The Group Secretary George Jelliss will introduce the subject, to be followed by a general discussion. Since this is our Darwin Day event we will naturally consider whether a Sense of Humour has any evolutionary ramifications. In view of recent events in France we may well consider how far satirical treatment of religions is justified. Is there any truth in the idea of English humour?

From a more personal approach, do you know a good Humanist joke? What are your favourite humorous books or films. What sort of humour appeals to you most? Puns? Slapstick? Can you recognise Irony? Does modern humour have to be scatological?

Remember our start time is now 7:30 pm.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Summary of January Meeting


At the outset, the Chair, Stephen Milton, made the significant point that Quakers and Humanist values have much in common, although Humanists are Non-Deist. General Assessment of the Presentation The technical aspect worked well, with the help of Stephen Milton who dealt with my bemusement at the electronic screen.

The following summary tries to include everything that members said, although not necessarily in the same order.  It is divided into sub-sections containing similar material.  I have sometimes included explanatory links and these became more difficult to retrieve as time ran out towards the end.  We did not show the last section at all. However, you can see it as a Youtube on Remember you have to forward through the Discussion point sections to get to the following session.
Members felt constrained by the limitations that seemed to be imposed by the suggested Discussion Points and our need to take notes.  They preferred a more wide ranging discussion.  The Summary therefore reflects the general topics covered rather than the suggested discussion points.

The Causes of the Great War.
The murder of Archduke Ferdinand was certainly an action of terrorism by the Black Hand Gang supported by Serbia.  Should we list it as one of the causes of the Great War? Or was war inevitable in any case? It is tempting to play with “counter-factuals” but not really productive.  It was certainly a precipitating cause but there were underlying causes which some commentators were aware of at the time. These include:
Germany was a growing and increasingly competitive power.  This is illustrated by her respect for engineers.
advance of Education;
Britain was investing in such areas as South American Railways and the profit were not flowing back into British industry.
Germany had a minimal empire whereas Britain’s was enormous and France also had considerable possessions. Germany believed it deserved “a place in the sun”
The build-up of British and German fleets
Incidents of “Sabre Rattling” by Germany
The creation of opposing, but interlinked alliances.

International Law
The Crime of Aggression developed during the 20th century.  In the 19th century many states just walked into other territories and took them over by force - although they usually tried to find a Casus Belli for this.  There were attempts to convict the Kaiser of something like a Crime of Aggression after 1918 but these fell through. After 1945 the Crime of Aggression became more sharply defined at the Nuremberg Tribunals and confirmed by the UN.  A state may only invade another Sovereign state if it is threatened by imminent attack or under a UN Resolution. Many legal experts have counted the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a Crime of Aggression because it did not meet these criteria. However, states can always find lawyers to justify their actions. Does the International Rule of Law override National Law? The Nuremberg Tribunals gave a resounding “yes” It is culpable to obey orders permissible under a country’s laws if they grossly violate the International Rule of Law. War between states has not been common in recent decades.  International Law has not caught up with conflict involving terrorist, ethnic and race groups often stirred up by charismatic politicians and rooted in a “them and us” mentality. Examples are Rwanda and Former Yugoslavia. This is often complicated by divisions between and within dissident groups. Even ISIS is not a monolithic block. How far can we strive to be citizens of our nation, Europe and the world? State terrorism, such as we have seen in Iraq and Syria, is not easily dealt with under International Law. This is nothing new. In the Middle Ages the Forest Laws oppressed the poor in the name of good hunting for the privileged and there was the harrowing of whole regions for punishment and pillage. Under the Versailles Treaty much hope was invested in the League of Nations to halt aggression.  There were partial successes such as the Corfu incident which prevented Italian aggression against Greece.  These, however, were overshadowed by the failure of the League to act effectively against Italy over their invasion of Abyssinia.  The United Nations has endorsed military action firmly, for example in Korea and in the First Gulf War against Iraq. However, there has been reluctance to take decisive action of this sort in recent years.

Propaganda, changing attitudes and the “Pity of War”
There was hostility in the in the public mind before 1914 and certainly before the Belgian atrocities. The build-up of the German fleet aroused suspicion and popular books emphasised fear of German invasion. The war was popular and exciting immediately it broke out. There was an appeal to the emotions and the liberating effects of war. We are reminded of the almost universal enthusiasm for the Falklands War as opposed to the considerable opposition to the 2003 Iraq war.  
As with all wars there were benefits as well as malign effects in Britain. There was terror caused by bombing, grief at the mass casualties, and deprivation through rationing. However, the cessation of Suffragette activity and the prominent part played by women in the war effort, played a role in gaining votes for women. Repressive and ancient empires - Austria and Turkish -broke up although this soon lead to more turmoil. The nostalgia provoked by the solemn and dignified poetry and music of Remembrance might help to account for its growing prominence over recent years. There is also the sense of yearning for Britain’s positive wartime achievements in comparison with her gradual loss of global significance since 1945. Perhaps there has been too much concentration on “The Pity of War” with Wilfred Owen taught widely in schools.  Oh What a lovely War and Blackadder” make much of what is seen as pointless suffering as well as on a “Lions” led by Donkeys” characterisation of the Generals. In some ways this reflects the spirit of 1960s Flower Power, love and peace. Much of this approach can now be questioned.  The mass slaughter of the trenches is no longer possible.  We do not need mass conscription because the armed forces need far more skill and specialisation and there are far fewer of them.  Modern weapons, such as drones, do not have the same effect as barbed wire and machine guns in the trenches.

Germany and Europe
The post 1945 emergence of Germany as a central pillar of the EU has been an important element in banishing the millennium-old threat of war in Western Europe. Her willingness to sacrifice the beloved and trusted Deutsche Mark in favour of the Euro illustrates this.  There are other key factors in this rapprochement including the Cold War, the emergence of NATO, the fear of “Mutual Assured Destructive (MAD)” the EU, and the Marshall Plan.

Sleepwalking into War
The phrase derives from the pre 1914 mutual obligations of the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance linked to Russia’s sense of obligation to Serbia.  Once Austria-Hungary faced Serbia with impossible demands after the murder of the Archduke it set off the fall of all the other dominoes. We could imagine something like this over Russia and Ukraine.  The Kiev Government’s drive to seek EU membership has certainly provoked Russia.  NATO membership for Ukraine would be very dangerous indeed as all NATO members are pledged to come to each other’s aid in the case of aggression against any one of them.  Russian threat or action against the Baltic states or Poland would certainly provoke a crisis. China is undergoing military development and is building up diplomatic influence in its region where “The West” already has power and influence. It is already an economic threat and could pose a military one.  

Real Security
At present “Security” is prefaced on the security of nation-states and the interests of its ruling elites.  This is not set in stone.  It is not the only way that security has been sought in the past.  In addition, states are by no means stable.  They regularly shift their borders.  England is an exceptional enduring entity but “Britain’s” territory has increased and diminished over recent centuries. All too often states concentrate on prestige projects such as power-projecting aircraft carriers which do little for its citizens. They also guard their sovereignty, and are suspicious of sacrificing it to international bodies.  The current dispute over EU membership is an example.  We could develop the concept of “Human Security” which puts the real threats to human beings at the centre of our aims.  These include climate change, floods and easily preventable diseases, hunger, threats to resources and war - especially nuclear war.  The problem is to find a mechanism to realise this. Existing international forums such as the UN, with its split Security Council, often represent corrupt, brutal and power-hungry cliques.  Democracies are prone to short-term political thinking to please the electorate at the expense of longer-term, but unpopular, policies. Perhaps the answer lies in a piecemeal approach such as the Ottawa Process which banned anti-personnel mines and was led by committed citizen groups advised by experts and sympathetic states.

Humanists believe in rationality.  But war is illogical, costly, and a collective madness,  After World War 2 we re-wrote the history book.

George Farebrother (Herstmonceaux Quakers)