The Meaning of It All
Discussion Group Report
What Freedom is Found in the Local Culture?
By Richard Layton
In preparing himself for the talk, he said, he, who had been born and raised a Mormon and had left the church, had asked himself the question, “Why should I have the effrontery to talk to my own people about their bondage?” Then he on one occasion heard the sound of the Nauvoo (Illinois) bell and heard the announcer declare that this bell had special significance. It rings for freedom? But his own reflections had led him to this conclusion: In Utah we enjoy the political and civil liberties that are characteristic of America as a whole. “In themselves,” he states, “they scarcely justify the distinctive claim made for the Nauvoo Bell. Such justification would seem to require that this culture and its people have a greater than usual appreciation of these freedoms, and a greater than usual zeal for their protection, preservation, and enhancement. It has been my impression that such has not been the case”
During the rise of Nazism, Utahns were neither distinctively clairvoyant nor concerned about the nature and seriousness of its threat to freedom. Almost boasting reports came from missionaries in Germany and their mission president that, though the Catholic and Protestant clergies were having difficulties with Hitler, the Nazis saw nothing in the activities of the Mormon missionaries to alarm them. Perhaps the claim that the Nauvoo Bell tolled for freedom had an eschatological (i.e., an otherworldly) reference and had nothing to do with the political freedoms and civil liberties of the here and now, Read suggested.
In his opinion, McCarthyism had been the most serious internal threat to freedom to which Americans had been exposed, at least during the previous half-century. Local leadership, in both church and press, had been woefully silent on this subject.
Reid put forth a definition of human freedom as freedom of the mind. The ability to pursue one’s desires is a condition of freedom. Increase in the ability to do increases freedom. Therefore, the literate man is more free than the illiterate. All increase in mental powers is an increase in freedom. Other conditions being equal, the individual who can think new thoughts–thoughts that no one before has thought–is freer than those who cannot; and the society whose membership includes individuals who can think new thoughts is free–to a degree which varies directly with the proportion of its membership having this capacity. Excessive stability in the degree of channelization, stabilization of the patterns of imagination, of conception, and of judgment and belief is the foe of creativity and “the friend of the status quo, of sameness, monotony, and death,” Read said. He quoted A. P. Ushenko: “Perpetual endurance of the actual status quo degenerates into stagnation.”
William F. Allbright observes, “A group may be so completely integrated that it exhibits little internal friction, a high degree of efficiency in accomplishing its purposes, together with self-sufficiency and smugness–but it will accomplish little of value for the world.” And Bertrand Russell adds, “…those who believe that the voice of the people is the voice of God may infer that an unusual opinion or peculiar taste is almost a form of impiety, and is to be viewed as culpable rebellion against the legitimate authority of the herd. This will be avoided if liberty is as much valued as democracy, and it is realized that a society in which each is a slave of all is only a little better than one in which each is the slave of a despot.” John Stuart Mill made an eloquent appeal for freedom of thought and speech, freedom of action, taste and pursuit as essential conditions for freshness, vigor, vitality, and the continued enrichment of the life of the human spirit. Von Humboldt supported the idea of individuality “as one of the elements of well-being.”
Also vital to our well-being, said Read, is independence of judgment and belief. We can discern truth from falsehood only if we have an adequate sense of evidence, i.e., a sense for what sorts of consideration should guide the attempt to identify the true. It is not clearly recognized that belief is not in itself an indication of truth, that subjective certainty is of no evidential significance. Faith is no substitute for evidence. Nor is the comfort that an idea gives a mark of its truth. Only two sorts of considerations are legitimate for the identification of true propositions: considerations of empirical fact and of logical relation.
Human beings can be controlled through control of their minds–thought control. The more sophisticated of us have known that since the beginning of human society men and women have been committed to beliefs, policies and practices without knowing why they were committed. Logic texts have pointed out a group of fallacies that often lead people off-track in the search for truth. These fallacies are generated when by the arousal of the emotions the critical faculties are thrown off guard, the attention is diverted, and the idea being advanced gets past the censor without being examined for its credentials–and once accepted by the mind will be defended by the mind. A process of “conditioned response” has occurred, which is logically invalid though psychologically effective. It is what is back of tenacious beliefs that cannot be intellectually justified. It is often used as a means of manipulation, an instrument of control of people. Individuals become members of society, not through reasoning, but by conditioning. Through conditioning, every family and church group recruits and controls its members. This is not necessarily bad. It is good up to a point, for we are institutional animals; but beyond that point it is deadening. Institutional control is good if the institution is open at the top so that the individual may transcend the very forms that lifted him. But, if the institution is closed, then the control is bad. It shields him but limits him and uses him as one of the elements in the truss which holds him up. Institutions of the first sort liberate the human spirit; those of the latter kind imprison it.
Read made two points about the local culture: 1) that the controls in this culture are excessive; and 2) that they are unfortunately so. There is a stifling uniformity of belief. Imagination is not stimulated and judgments are not challenged by conflicting opinions. Rather the belief of each reinforces and sustains the belief of others. A condition that is requisite for the cultivation of freedom is diversity of opinion, making possible habituation in the search for and examination of possible alternatives. In Mormonism the beliefs tend to reinforce the uniformity. They tend to insure that no discussion will get out of hand, that no heretic will run away with the argument that The Truth will always prevail. Three such beliefs are: 1) belief in the absolute certainty of the doctrine (the dogmatic attitude); 2) belief in the wickedness of doubt; and 3) belief in the authoritative hierarchy–all three conditioned responses. Dogmatism is inimical to freedom of thought. It denies the need of inquiry–for further research. On the adoration of faith and the distrust of doubt, Read says, “The free mind recognizes that the question of truth…is prior to the obligation to believe. The insistence upon faith begs the question of truth. The local culture penalizes the reluctant believer by holding him suspect as to character.” The virtue of deference to authority is thought to be one of the strongest assurances of salvation, but it is an abnegation of individual responsibility in thought. Another factor of control is the highly articulated ideology. One begins with acceptance of the scriptures as authoritatively interpreted, and from there on all is clear sailing. Not many members are fully aware of the extent to which their conclusions rest ultimately upon psychological grounds rather than logical grounds. Finally, a feature of the culture that makes for excessive control is the monopolistic nature of the program. The home is a conditioning agency for the church. Meetings, suppers, socials, lessons, dances, celebrations, testimonials, fellowship, fireside meetings, seminaries and church institutes, and the church basketball league, are conditioning agents dedicated to the psychological sale of the central beliefs. There is a persistent attempt to get every individual involved for as many of the waking hours of his life as possible in church activity, even often at the expense of other legitimate individual interests. As in all cultures the cords that bind the minds of people do not chafe or gall like the chains in the ancient dungeon. Rather they warm and comfort. The sweetness of the bondage is its greatest strength. As Rousseau said, “They love their servitude.”
If the people, then, love this control, why, then, is it unfortunate? For one thing, there is the monotony resulting from a successful perpetuation of the status quo. We would seem to be headed for Russell’s “new prison, just, perhaps, since none will be outside it, but dreary and joyless and spiritually dead.” However, whether we like it or not, tomorrow things will be different. “There never was a time when the world, and, particularly the United States, had greater need for new ideas,” says Read. What is to be regretted is …that the local culture is so geared to preserve its theology that it is incapacitated to contribute or support needed new insights and conceptions bearing upon national policy and action. The people under the local culture are saddled with the following ideological hindrances which make it unlikely they will contribute anything of significance to the solution of the problems that confront this nation and the world: 1) an antiquated doctrinaire economic conservatism with business-corporation mindedness which incapacitates people for solving the problems of human well-being; 2) a built-in isolationism which prevents enthusiastic participation in efforts to establish world peace; 3) an “exclusivism”–the “we are right and you are wrong” attitude requiring that the world be made over in their own image instead of a vision of peaceful coexistence, preserving and protecting the distinctive values of each culture; and 4) a built-in racial prejudice. This last item has been somewhat ameliorated since this speech was given, but I would suggest adding in to the list of hindrances a built-in sexism.
One might wish that Utah’s contribution to solving the great problems could be more than foot-dragging, Read says; “…but such would require a quality of inner freedom that we do not have, and that we are not about to develop.”
Ethics vs. Making a Living
Tonight I am going to talk about the choices open to an employee who finds herself in an ethical dilemma in the workplace, and the possible consequences of exercising those options.
I am also going to present a framework for THINKING about the problem of what to do if asked to do something unethical or illegal and deciding what to do.
I am NOT going to tell you how to decide if you are being faced with an ethical dilemma–that is different for each person, as you will see when you hear about the framework for thinking about this problem.
Gandhi included in his SEVEN BLUNDERS OF THE WORLD THAT LEAD TO VIOLENCE one about “Commerce Without Morality.” His words were:
“Commerce Without Morality: As in wealth without work we indulge in commerce without morality to make more money by any means possible. Price gouging, palming off inferior products, cheating and making false claims are a few of the obvious ways in which we indulge in commerce without morality. There are also thousands of other ways in which we do immoral or unethical business. When profit making becomes the most important aspect of business, morals and ethics usually go overboard. We cut benefits and even salaries of employees. If possible we employ “slave” labor, like the sweat shops and migrant farm workers in New York and California where workers are thoroughly exploited. Profit supersedes the needs of people. When business is unable to deal with labor it begins to mechanize. Mechanization, it is claimed, increases efficiency, but in reality it is instituted simply to make more money. Alternate jobs may be created for a few. Others will fall by the wayside and languish. Who cares? People don’t matter, profits do. In more sophisticated language what we are really saying is that those who cannot keep up with the technological changes and exigencies of the times do not deserve to live–a concept on which Hitler built the Nazi Party. If society does not care for such people, can we blame them if they become criminals?”
Gandhi was speaking at an earlier time, and from the point of view of the greedy entrepreneur. Little did he know that matters were going to get a whole lot worse–that many ordinary employees, with no stake in ill-gotten profits, would be expected to carry out unethical or illegal activities in the routine course of their duties if they wanted to go on feeding their families. Unethical acts that endanger public health and safety or defraud are widespread. This ranges from falsifying time cards for projects, or fudging test results for buildings or equipment that might subsequently fail and kill people, to bypassing safety rules in nuclear power plants with the possible result of wiping out life in large parts of the planet.
The trend is for more and more Americans to be employees. Professions that formerly offered the opportunity for private practice and greater freedoms are increasingly being brought into large organizations. Eighty percent of all engineers are employees, and more and more physicians and architects are being pressured to become employees. As employees, we pretty much have to do what we are told. That’s part of the deal. But what if we are told (or expected) to do something that is illegal or that may cause serious harm to others? Consider the plight of a physician in a managed-care setting. It is one thing to be told to “keep costs down” and quite another to be forbidden, upon pain of dismissal, to even discuss with patients treatment options that the employer deems too costly.
DEFINITIONS AND DISTINCTIONS
In this talk, I draw a distinction between ethical issues, which are based on broadly accepted standards of right and wrong as laid out in codes of ethics, and issues of personal morality pertaining to individual conduct. Aspects of one’s job may offend one’s PERSONAL moral sense without being unethical or illegal. For example, a Muslim might find it offensive that female coworkers do not cover their heads. Or, an employee may think that the goods and services provided by his organization are offensive. In such cases, the employee can either put up with it or leave.
Instead, I am going to talk about cases in which an employee is asked or expected to perform illegal or unethical acts, or in which an employee becomes aware that illegal or unethical activities are being carried out, where “unethical activities” are those that might cause damage to the public, the environment, or fellow employees.
If the determination that an act is unethical derives from established codes of ethics, there is more societal support than if it is simply derived from a personal ethical sense. There is little enough societal support in any event, but if an employee is damaged and seeks recourse through the courts, reliance on an established code of ethics makes a much stronger case than reliance on a personal sense of ethics.
I am also not going to talk about specific codes of ethics, except to say that they exist. There are THOUSANDS of ethics codes for various professions and employment categories. Teaching ethics is also a big business–engineers, business students, and others are trained to split ethical hairs to a precise degree. However, enforcing these codes is like belling the cat. Enforcement is VERY difficult. Courts, though, do sometimes look at whether ethical objections are based on established codes of ethics for a profession or field. If a dismissed employees? ethical objections are NOT based on an established code, the courts often throw the case out as being simply a personal matter. In other words, you may know that it is wrong to kill people, but you had better find a code of ethics that specifically mentions not taking actions that harm human beings!
Standards of ethics should also be distinguished from laws. The fact that an action is legally permissible does not establish that it is morally and ethically permissible. Similarly, illegality does not imply immorality. We can all construct examples, based on our own experience and on common sense.
Moral statements are statements that something is right or wrong. There can, of course, be disagreement over moral statements. For example, employees may disagree about the morality of killing civilians, so that one engineer could work on a particular defense contract in good conscience and another could not. A code of ethics might simply mention not doing harm to human beings–leaving the interpretation up to the individual employee.
CHOICES AND OPTIONS FOR HANDLING ETHICAL PROBLEMS AS AN EMPLOYEE
Instead of discussing the ins and outs of developing and debating ethics standards, what I AM going to talk about is the various choices an employee has when faced with an ethical dilemma and the possible outcomes from those choices. In other words, I cannot tell other people what constitutes an ethical workplace problem–this is different for each person–but when you get into that situation, you will KNOW it and what I am providing is a taxonomy of options and the possible outcomes from exercising those choices.
I am also going to present a framework for THINKING about ethical problems in the workplace–hopefully BEFORE one is faced with a serious ethical problem. “Ethics” is often a gray area, so I am going to restrict my comments to cases where there is an established code of ethics for a profession or field and one is being asked to violate it.
The best course of action is to AVOID being put into a situation where one would have to perform illegal or unethical acts, but what about KNOWLEDGE of such acts if you think the consequences are dire? Can one in good conscience remain silent?
Being expected to perform actions that are illegal or unethical is usually a no-win situation. If we refuse, we get fired and possibly “black-listed” as “troublemakers” or–the ultimate sin these days–“not team players.”. If we go along and do what we are told to do, we risk not only the bad conscience of doing harm but the very real consequences of getting blamed if the illegal acts are discovered. That usually results in loss of career or employment, and in some cases personal legal liability. The Nuremberg Defense (“I was just following orders”) doesn’t even work very well in the aftermath of real wars, during which ethics and morals had been abandoned in the interest of winning the war.
Consider the unfortunate engineer who had to sign off on the flight of the Challenger shuttle in 1986. He had not designed those O rings, nor been responsible for the range of tests performed, but he was in a position where the shuttle could not take off without his approval and his best engineering judgement was that the flight would be unsafe at the very cold temperatures that day. He hesitated, and had a code of engineering ethics to back him up, but both his own management and government managers brought a lot of pressure to bear. There were serious political considerations, both for his company and for the U.S. Government. This was toward the end of the Cold War, and President Reagan had made a major point of the shuttle flight with the school teacher aboard. He was told to “Take off your engineer’s hat and put on your manager’s hat.” He did so, with results that we all know about. Who can ever forget the television coverage of that vapor trail dividing into two separate arms?
What would have happened to this man had he stood his ground as an engineer and refused to sign? He would no doubt have been fired. As it was, his career was essentially over after the shuttle exploded. That’s what I mean by a “no-win” situation. This is a famous case, taught in many university courses on ethics. The question for the student–what should he have done?–is usually qualified by the caution to remember the age of this man and think about his chances of finding another job. Students are also urged to consider the latitude in making a technical prediction that the O-rings WOULD fail.
So, if the random workings of the business world place you in such a position, what are your choices?
The Option of Doing Nothing or Delaying
There are lots of ways to carry out this option, depending on the circumstances. An example will be provided later.
The Option of Negotiation Through Internal Channels
If we go through internal channels, the result is very often dismissal. While we dislike beginning with the assumption that everybody is crooked, the truth is that nobody in authority wants to HEAR about such problems. The rules of war–when customary moral and ethical considerations are suspended in the name of winning the war and thus preserving one’s society–seem to have drifted downward into the organizational world. Increasingly, the competitive world of capitalism is viewed as war. The attitude is that preserving the organization is so important that customary moral and ethical considerations are suspended. Firms are merging and buying each other and getting larger and larger. The faceless corporation–which must be protected with the same fervor as are nations at war–prevails.
The Option of Voicing One’s Concerns Higher in the Organization
Sometimes this works and higher management agrees with the employee. However, that does not protect the employee’s job from retaliation by the people in between.
For example, in one instance, an engineer successfully convinced a vice-president, after having been brushed off by his immediate superiors, that one of the procedures being carried out was illegal and harmful. The procedure was then modified. This man had been with the company for 14 years. Immediately after his complaints were listened to and acted on, he was fired for insubordination. His subsequent lawsuit was dismissed on the grounds that the allegation of insubordination ruled and the ethical complain had not been material. (Essay #6, “Loyalty and Professional Responsibility”, part of work done by Dr. Mike Rabins, Dr Charles Harris, Dr. Michael Pritchard and others on an NSF grant at Texas A & M University.)
The Option of Blowing the Whistle Outside The Organization
There is always the option of reporting wrongdoing through external channels–to government agencies or to the press. However, one had better resign first, since firing is sure to follow, and one may find oneself blacklisted and unable to get another job.
Anonymous whistle-blowing is an option, but this lacks credibility and often the identity of the whistle-blower can be determined anyway.
The contemporary culture is so complex that it is often difficult to foresee or even understand the eventual possible consequences of actions taken as an employee. One frequently has to accept on faith that health and safety rules have a reason–for example that a “cold pour” of concrete (freshly-mixed concrete poured on top of concrete that has already begun to set) may cause a structure to collapse at some future time–or that mixing outdated hamburger with fresh hamburger in a fast-food restaurant may make customers sick.
Taking actions that are harmful to society is not limited to architects, engineers, physicians, those with professional credentials whose seal or signature has legal impact. Ordinary workers in food stores or restaurants or repair shops can also be placed in the position of going along with illegal activities or being unemployed. For example, a mechanic may be told to use refurbished parts and certify them as new, or to skip maintenance steps and certify that they have been performed. The head of maintenance for Alaskan Airlines, in recent testimony shown on television, said that “You have to make mistakes if you are going to make a business grow.” He apparently believed that “making the business grow” justified risking the lives of airline crews and passengers.
To make the point even more vividly, consider that any of you might have been a passenger on the aircraft that crashed and burned in Florida because spent oxygen containers had been illegally shipped as cargo. SOMEBODY had to sign-off on the falsified paperwork–“pencil-whipping”, as it is called–and whether or not the person who did so understood the possible consequences of this action is murky. However, had the person refused, he or she would have probably been fired.
Worrying about the consequences of illegal or unethical actions is what drives some people to make the hard choice to be a whistleblower. I say this is a “hard choice” because what usually happens to whistleblowers in our society is not pleasant.
WHY IS THE PROBLEM OF ETHICAL DILEMMAS FOR EMPLOYEES GETTING WORSE?
What I have said so far does not paint a pretty picture of life in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The personal problem of what to do when asked to perform illegal acts in the course of one’s employment is becoming more severe–not just because more people ARE employees these days–but because here in the richest country in the world there is so little in the way of a social safety net that many essentials–such as health insurance–come from one’s employment. What to do in this situation if one is an employee with family members who have pre-existing medical conditions that preclude private health insurance? Where is the balance between one’s personal and immediate responsibilities and one’s responsibility to the society at large, to one’s profession, or to one’s own career?
In the 1980’s, the fashion in ethics circles was that organizations should be restructured to provide alternate channels for reporting wrongdoing so that “whistleblowing” was not necessary. Ethicist Michael Davis summarized this viewpoint in a wonderful paper called “Avoiding the Tragedy of Whistleblowing” in the Business and Professional Ethics Journal (Vol. 8, No. 4, pp 3 – 19). He made the point that even when the whistleblower is protected by law or policy, that employee is essentially lost as an organizational resource because trust has been destroyed and the employee can never again be a contributing part of the organization.
During the 1990’s, as globalization or just plain greed caused organizations to downsize, to restructure, and to try in every way to squeeze every last penny out of every resource, we stopped hearing about arranging alternate channels to prevent whistleblowing. Tight labor market or not, employees are now much more expendable and it is easier to just get rid of the troublesome ones than to worry very much about spending resources on organizational structures to make whistleblowing unnecessary.
A hard fact to accept is that some problems have no solution. This is one of them. What I am going to talk about is not a solution, but rather a framework for THINKING about this problem and formulating one’s own personal viewpoint.
A FRAMEWORK FOR DECIDING WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE FACED WITH AN ETHICAL DILEMMA
Several years ago, I attended a national seminar on professional ethics put on by a reputable and respected national science organization. One talk has stayed in my mind. Unfortunately, the notes from that seminar have disappeared during the course of many moves, and I cannot give proper credit to the presenter. He was a professor at a school in one of the Carolinas, I think, and I regret that I cannot give him the credit that is his due. At any rate, I want to make it clear that the framework I am going to present here is not original–I got it from that wonderful lecture.
The presenter began by emphasizing that ours is NOT a society that likes whistleblowers, no matter how right their actions or how serious the actions they are reporting. So, he said, the first thing to do is to attempt to negotiate a solution based on the interests of the organization. The assumption is that illegal and harmful activities are not in the long-range interests of any organization. As I said, this was a viewpoint common in the 1980’s, but by the 1990’s began to suffer from a much shorter planning horizon and from the increasing knowledge that in business, crime frequently DOES pay.
Failing that, he said, one should evaluate a matrix of one’s responsibilities. That is different for every person. The factors to be considered are:
For each factor, one should try to estimate the worst case and the probability of its occurring. Then, the worst case results are prioritized. The talk was for engineers and scientists, so the presenter used a decision tree with probability branches and outcomes at the end of each branch. If statistics are not your cup of tea, simply list the worst-case outcomes and prioritize them in their order of significance in your life and conscience.
For example, the parent of a child with a chronic illness that would preclude obtaining private health insurance would weigh the loss of a job or career more heavily than would an employee with only him or herself to consider. A duty to the society at large might outweigh considerations of personal responsibility to family members if the consequences are grave–a nuclear meltdown, for example, in which many people could be expected to be killed.
Negotiation should be attempted, but carefully. The superiors with whom one is attempting to negotiate may know perfectly well that what they are asking the employee to do is illegal, and may not want to discuss this or continue the employment of anyone who has mentioned it.
Another option is to quietly circumvent the illegal directive, if at all possible. As an example, I offer one of my own experiences. When I was a quite junior consultant at one of the Big Ten firms, I collected, for a government contract, proprietary data from private firms with the clear understanding that these data were to be used for no other purpose. Not too long afterwards, one of the officers of the firm decided to use the data for another contract, one in the private sector. I knew there was no point in discussing this ethical–and possibly legal–violation. Instead, I went into the office in the middle of the night, removed the data from the files, and put it into the burn bag for classified waste. When the data turned up missing, nothing much was thought about it. The place was ALWAYS disorganized, and the assumption was that the data had simply been lost or misfiled.
If one has evaluated one’s own personal matrix and decided that she cannot live with the ethical violation, and options within the organization have been exhausted or believed to be ineffective, the next step is to “blow the whistle” by reporting the violations outside the organization. Whether or not this is combined with a resignation depends on the degree of statutory protection one enjoys. This is MUCH greater in the public than in the private sector. For private sector employees, the best choice is to find another job FIRST, and then blow the whistle on the violations at the previous job.
The framework discussed above is a simplistic application of Utilitarian Analysis, but a powerful one. Issues of ethics are usually not black-and-white. They are many shades of gray. Even questions about the legality or illegality of various actions are usually not simple. A structured analysis of one’s duties and responsibilities, with probabilistic estimates of the likelihood of outcomes and of their consequences, is helpful.
OURS IS NOT A SOCIETY THAT LIKES WHISTLEBLOWERS
Let me get back to the assertion that ours is not a society that likes whistleblowers. Most employment is “at-will”, meaning that an employee can be dismissed at any time for any reason.
Three major “exceptions” to the at-will doctrine are:
You will notice that one of these is “wrongful discharge in violation of public policy.” However, employees who are dismissed because they brought illegal practices to light do not have an easy time of it in court. As has often been said, “The business of America is business” and courts have been known to issue judgements NOT favorable to whistleblowers, even those who only blew the whistle INSIDE their organization. For example, a woman who reported wrongdoing through channels in her firm and was then fired was not protected because she did not report the wrongdoing OUTSIDE the firm and a court found that her dismissal fell under the category of internal company reasons rather than the violation of public policy rubric.
Even when there is a whistleblower statute, enforcing it is long, expensive, and difficult. I was president of the board of the ACLU in Washington, D.C. when we took on the famous whistleblower case of Ernie Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, a cost analyst for the Air Force, had told a Senate hearing about the true, and astronomical, cost of the C-5A airplane. For this action, he was trashed all over the government and fired. A Washington law firm with a partner on our board was representing him pro bono for the ACLU, and as I recall, the pro bono time totaled a couple of million dollars before the case was successfully concluded. It took four years for Fitzgerald to get his job back. He was then demoted, denied a pay raise, and banished to some Pentagon attic. When he was proposed for a special award from the Institute of Industrial Engineers for outstanding service, the prize was canceled. Corporate members on the board of directors included officers from Lockheed, manufacturer of the C-5A. “They’ll be after me as long as I live,” says Fitzgerald, as reported in the WASHINGTON POST.
Following is a taxonomy of things that organizations do to discredit whistleblowers and even those who try to express their ethical concerns through internal channels. This is from a summary of the Government Accountability Project’s handbook for whistleblowers, The Whistleblower’s Survival Guide: Courage without Martyrdom.
Spotlight the Whistleblowers
This common retaliatory strategy seeks to make the whistleblower, instead of his or her message, the issue: employers will try to create smokescreens by attacking the sources motives, credibility, professional competence or virtually anything else that will work to cloud the issues s/he raised.
Manufacture a Poor Record
Employers occasionally spend months or years building a record to brand a whistleblower as a chronic problem employee. To lay the groundwork for termination, employers may begin to compile memoranda about any incident real or contrived, that conveys inadequate or problematic performance; whistleblowers who formerly received sterling performance evaluations may begin to receive poor ratings from supervisors.
Threaten Them into Silence
This tactic is commonly reflected in statements such as, “You’ll never work again in this town/industry/agency?” Threats can also be indirect: employers may issue gag orders, for example, forbidding the whistleblower from speaking out under the threat of termination.
Isolate or Humiliate Them
Another retaliation technique is to make an example of the whistleblower by separating him or her from colleagues. This may remove him or her from access to information necessary to effectively blow the whistle.
Employers may also exercise the bureaucratic equivalent of placing a whistleblower in the public stocks: a top manager may be reassigned to tasks such as sweeping the floors or counting the rolls of toilet paper in the bathroom. Often this tactic is combined with measures to strip the whistleblower of his or her duties, sometimes to facilitate subsequent termination.
Set Them Up for Failure
Perhaps as common as the retaliatory tactic of isolating or humiliating whistleblowers by stripping them of their duties is its converse-overloading them with unmanageable work. This involves assigning a whistleblower responsibilities and then making it impossible to fulfill them.
The longstanding threat to attack whistleblowers for “stealing” the evidence used to expose the misconduct is becoming more serious, particularly for private property that is evidence of illegality. Having to sign waivers about the confidentiality of ALL workplace information as a condition of employment is becoming commonplace.
Eliminate Their Jobs or Paralyze Their Careers
A common tactic is to lay off whistleblowers even as the company or agency is hiring new staff. Employers may “reorganize” whistleblowers out of jobs or into marginalized positions. Another retaliation technique is to deep-freeze the careers of those who manage to thwart termination and hold onto their jobs: employers may simply deny all requests for promotion or transfer. Sometimes it is not enough merely to fire or make the whistleblowers rot in jobs. The goal is to make sure they ” will never work again” in their field by blacklisting them: bad references for future job prospects are common.
GUIDE FOR WHISTLEBLOWERS
As for whistleblowing in general, there is an excellent guide on the web for how to go about this and what to consider ( BLOWING THE WHISTLE WISELY – 12 SURVIVAL STRATEGIES http://www.whistleblower.org/www/Tips.htm). Key issues covered are
Many states have whistleblowing laws, and these can be effective if one is fully prepared beforehand and learns from the errors of those who have gone before and had their cases thrown out (see URL above). Utah’s whistelblowing law covers only public employees, not those in the private sector. (See Section 67-21-1 et seq.)From time to time there are murmurings that the Congress may pass federal whistleblowing legislation to protect employees in the private sector (public employees already have a law for this). However, the trend is not to disturb the mighty economic engine, so that is not likely to happen any time soon.
Employees in the private sector are pretty much on their own. What CAN they do? Here are some suggestions, things that I have seen used successfully.
I have painted a dismal picture of the American workplace, and I think that matters are going to get a lot worse before they get any better. The pendulum always swings, but it may take a while for THIS one to turn around. In the long waves of Capital vs. Labor, labor is not currently on the winning side. And we are ALL labor–no matter how highly compensated–unless we control capital of our own. Some of us may even be slaves–if our indebtedness is high enough.
So how can we live with ourselves, and more importantly, what do we tell our children about the work world? Do the right thing and you will be rewarded and prosper? They probably know better. I should mention at this point that I am an Atheist speaking to a Humanist gathering, and rule out divine intervention as a solution. To those who say that if they are put in an impossible work situation–break the law and harm others or see their families on the street–God or Jesus or a guardian angel or whatever will rescue them–my reply is “How did God or Jesus or your guardian angel let you get into the situation in the first place?” Better to look to human society, human structures, and one’s own intelligent planning for help.
—Marilyn T. Welles
Ten Thousand Villages Store
In addition to your purchases, the local store would welcome financial donations to offset startup costs as well as your volunteer time on an ongoing basis to handle sales, restock shelves, tidy up, etc. Here is a venture we can all heartily support. Do stop by the store soon to see the amazing array of beautiful and fair-traded items from around the world.
Discussion Group Report
Some Observations On Manifesto 2000
By Richard Layton
There are many desirable ideas in Manifesto 2000, but it may be too large, detailed and abstract. A shorter document expressing the humanist viewpoint more succinctly might attract the interest of more people. Perhaps a Manifesto should address the question of how first and third world countries could get together to work on environmental problems.
The publication of Manifesto 2000 came as a surprise to the leaders of the American Humanist Association (AHA). Four major Humanist Manifestos and Declarations had already been published in the twentieth century: Humanist Manifesto I, Humanist Manifesto II, A Secular Humanist Declaration, and a Declaration of Interdependence. The AHA had announced it was planning to organize leading thinkers representing all the humanist organizations to write a new updated Manifesto. Kurtz’ document appeared possibly to be an attempted preemption of the AHA effort, which had intended to involve the CSH. Concern was expressed over what appears to be attempts by Kurtz in recent decades to set himself up as the spokesman for humanism. While it is recognized that he has been a most eminent humanist, it is being asked: Is there a power play going on here? The CSH has an authoritarian power structure and has been secretive about releasing membership data, while the AHA has been more open and democratic. The AHA has a committee developing a Humanist Manifesto III with instructions to make it short and declarative.
It is unfortunate that there is so much divisiveness among humanists. The various humanist organizations agree on the most substantive issues and ought to be working together more than they are to promote humanism, although there have been some attempts at cooperative efforts. The differences among the groups have perhaps been given too much emphasis. There is a need for an umbrella organization that could embrace the various orientations within humanism, such as religious humanism, secular humanism, etc. Yet humanists are very individualistic and may sometimes over-emphasize the importance of differences. Perhaps too much ego is involved. “Personality” or even power-seeking seem to be important factors in the divisiveness.
A similar schism has also existed among American Atheists in recent decades. There have been strong differences between the followers of Madeline Murray O’Hare and others, with O’Hare taking a quite authoritarian posture. Unfortunately, however, now she and two other family members have been murdered by criminal extortionists. That tragedy had nothing to do with any in-fighting within the organization.
Membership in humanist organizations has been declining in recent years. Currently there are about 65 chapters in the AHA. Humanists of Utah is one of the most active and has one of the largest memberships. The AHA headquarters will soon be moved to Washington, D.C.
On a more positive note, under the stimulus of AHA Board member Herb Silverman of South Carolina, a cooperative project involving the American Humanist Association, the Council for Secular Humanism, and the Atheist Alliance International was recently launched to explore new avenues of cooperation. Other organizations representing free thinkers will be invited to join and to support a joint publicity program to “Promote, Attract, and defend the Community of Reason.”
Humanism has a great deal of difficulty getting its views publicized. Although Manifesto 2000 received some media attention, it was not much. Perhaps a point of attack for humanists could be to get more attention called to Thomas Paine-a great champion of the American revolution. He deserves a monument, or perhaps his face could be put on a stamp. Some effort is already being made by the AHA Board to create more public awareness of his accomplishments.
Historically, some revolutions, such as the American and French Revolutions, have served to bring attention to humanist ideas. The Declaration of Independence is humanistic and the U.S. Constitution is totally secular. However, after a revolution, once a government takes over, it tends to forget the original values that sparked it. We need to articulate more clearly the ideas of the Enlightenment.
Discussion Group Report
Socrates Changes the Lives of Present-Day Prison Inmates
By Richard Layton
Jablecki believes an introduction to the gadfly of Athens is a highly potent crime-prevention initiative that should be made available to a multitude of prisoners. As an undergraduate student who had not allowed any serious reflection and study to engage his mind or interfere with fun and who was thinking seriously of dropping out of college, one afternoon Jablecki encountered a campus intellectual who, when greeted with the words, “Hello, what do you know?” stopped in front of him and said, “Mr. Jablecki, I do not know anything. I am simply attempting to understand.” Later on Jablecki asked a senior philosophy major to explain the difference between knowing and understanding. The latter encouraged him to enroll in philosophy. Jablecki did, and learned the answer to his question. He was introduced to the life and teachings of Socrates. In a very brief period a Socratic “conversion” changed the entire course of his life. This autobiographical snapshot evidences the view that it is impossible to exaggerate the power of ideas and concepts–for example, justice, truth, goodness, virtue, and beauty–to grab a human mind and redirect a person’s life in the manner advocated by Socrates.
In 1986-87 Jablecki introduced Socrates to 30 prison inmates in two classes at Brazosport Junior College in Lake Jackson, Texas. They had been convicted of a range of serious felonies and incarcerated for a number of years. He told them he had decided to teach this class because of his firm commitment to the views of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant concerning “respect” for all persons as moral agents capable of choices and because of his own firm belief that the class members could change the direction of their lives if they chose to do so. This experience of teaching philosophy to prison inmates has convinced him that, if the prisoners perceive that he really means what he says, the way is opened up for some existentially meaningful discussions and insights.
Perhaps surprisingly, except for a mere few, these prisoners do not blame society or others for their criminal behavior. Many vented their resentment about how they believed they were treated unfairly at one or more steps in our system of criminal justice, and any seasoned practitioner in the system is obliged to acknowledge the truth of some of their claims. Yet they did accept the facts that they made real choices to commit crimes and that society has a right to protect itself by incarcerating malefactors. They recognized that none of them were compelled or forced to commit their crimes and they were free to do otherwise. None claimed, or even implied, that he did not deserve to be punished. They said they knew exactly what they were doing when they committed a murder, robbed a store at gunpoint, etc. They also spent several hours discussing the meaning of concepts such as knowledge, wisdom, ignorance, self-interest, mistake, voluntary, involuntary, happiness, and virtue.
In 1988 Jablecki began teaching philosophy to various graduate and undergraduate student prisoners in Rosharon, Texas, in the already established prison program of the University of Houston at Clear Lake. The profound relevance of Socrates’ teaching that the “unexamined life is not worth living” are evidenced in comments made by the researchers in the program after a five-year revue:
“These students find that courses in history, literature, and philosophy profoundly deepen their sensitivities and expand their horizons. TDCJ students may come from pockets of economic poverty from which they have never escaped–they have literally no knowledge of other ways of living. Humanities courses open new realities to them, wholly changing their perspectives about who they are and what the world is about…Such courses are truly revelations, showing ways of living and thinking that they have not encountered before.”
The university’s most current report in 1995 showed that between 1990 and 1995, of the 39 inmates who earned a bachelor’s degree, 17 were released on parole and two were returned to prison–a recidivism rate of 11%. Of the 45 who earned a master’s degree during the same period, 19 were released on parole and one was returned to prison–a recidivism rate of 5%. Studies conducted recently in Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and other states have all reported significantly low recidivism rates for inmates in correctional higher education programs, ranging from 1% to 15.5%. In Texas between 45% and 50% of parolees from the general prison population are re-incarcerated within three years of the date of their release. They then are convicted of new felony offenses, many of which involve victims who suffer the loss of property, physical injuries, and death. The author’s own contact with students in the program, including some now on parole, confirms a determination to change and make contributions to society totally unmatched by the majority of inmates who spend their idle time playing dominoes, watching television, and reflecting on their perceptions that they are the oppressed victims of society.
Some of these former students are now paying taxes. Some short-sighted politicians in Washington have in recent years made prison inmates ineligible for Pell Grant tuition assistance for higher education, a move that has saved only a tiny amount of money, 35 million dollars of the six billion awarded to all recipients. “The policy these politicians approved,” says Jablecki, “places them in the category of unmerciful retributivists who sincerely believe in the moral imperative of severe punishment for all criminal offenders–that is, they have no mercy for the wicked…they really believe that the construction of new prisons is not a necessary evil but a necessary good.”
“As was the case when I was introduced to Socrates, he can shake unexamined beliefs and faiths. However, unlike any of their other academic classes, it is important that most of my courses contain opportunities for prison inmates to reflect on the most important and enduring questions of human existence. And I can confidently claim that many of them are surprised by the joy of facing the unfathomed depth of Socrates’ message to live an examined life.”
Successful Summer Social
I joined Humanists of Utah in early 1992. That year some members of the group decided to try a summer social so that we could meet less formally than our regular meetings. We had a pot-luck picnic at a park somewhere in the avenues. As I recall there were eight of us who attended. The other seven brought salads of some sort. I brought a cake. You see it was my birthday, so I felt obliged to bring dessert.
Kurt Vonnegut had recently been named the honorary president of the AHA and I was then, as I am now, much enamored with his writing, so I brought a special cake. It said, “Happy Birthday Wanda June” in frosting. My first exposure to Mr. Vonnegut’s work was a performance of the play Happy Birthday Wanda June at Arrow Press Square. After the show I stopped by a local pub that I then frequented and waxed about the quality of the work. The bartender, a friend of mine, told me that Kurt Vonnegut had published numerous stories and books. I was hooked.
This past week’s celebration also fell on my birthday, my fiftieth. I must admit that the Prime Rib and Salmon were huge leaps forward from the salads of ’92. The company of 52 thinking people was tremendous, and the music was incomparable.
We have come a long way from our beginnings. I am proud of our accomplishments in promoting humanistic ideals and confident that in another 8-10 years we will have progressed even more!
Discussion Group Report
Should Science and Religion Stay Out of Each Other’s Domain?
By Richard Layton
Gould goes on: “Creationism does not raise any unsettled intellectual issues about the nature of biology or the history of life. Creationism is a local and parochial movement, powerful only in the United States among Western nations, and prevalent only among the few sectors of American Protestantism that choose to read the Bible as an inerrant document, literally true in every jot and tittle.” Creationism based on biblical literalism makes little sense to either Catholics or Jews, he says, because neither religion maintains any extensive tradition for reading the Bible as literal truth. It is illuminating literature based partly on metaphor and allegory, and demanding interpretation for proper understanding. Most Protestant groups other than the fundamentalists take the same position.
Pope Pius XII in a 1950 encyclical, Humani Generis, said that Catholics could believe whatever science determined about the evolution of the human body as long as they accepted that at some time of his choosing God had infused the soul into such a creature. But Pius regarded evolution as only tentatively supported and potentially untrue. Yet Pope John Paul II, considering the growing data in support of evolution acquired in the past half-century, placed the factuality of it beyond reasonable doubt. Sincere Christians must now accept it as effectively proven fact.
“The lack of conflict between science and religion arises from a lack of overlap between their respective domains of professional expertise–science in the empirical constitution of the universe, and religion in the search for proper ethical values and the spiritual meanings of our lives,” Gould continues. This principle he calls “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA), and he says Pius accepted it. “Science and religion are not in conflict, for their teachings occupy distinctively different domains…I believe, with all my heart, in a respectful, even loving concordat.”
Richard Dawkins firmly disagrees. In “You Can’t have It Both Ways,” he says, “There is something dishonestly self-serving, in the tactic of claiming that all religious beliefs are outside the domain of science. On the one hand miracle stories and the promise of life after death are used to impress simple people, win converts, and swell congregations. It is precisely their scientific power that gives these stories their popular appeal. But at the same time it is considered below the belt to subject the same stories to the ordinary rigors of scientific criticism: These are religious matters and therefore outside the domain of science. But you cannot have it both ways. At least, religious theorists and apologists should not be allowed to get away with having it both ways. Unfortunately all too many of us…are unaccountably ready to let them get away with it…Given a choice between honest-to goodness fundamentalism on the one hand, and the obscurantist, disingenuous doublethink of the Roman Catholic church on the other, I know which I prefer.”
Ernst Mayr in “The Concerns of Science” demarks between science and religion as follows: Scientists do not invoke the supernatural to explain how the natural world works. Nor do they rely on divine revelation to understand it. Science shows an openness to new facts and hypotheses. Religions are characterized by their relative inviolability; in revealed religion a difference in the interpretation of even a single word in the revealed founding document may lead to the origin of a new religion. In contrast, in science one finds different versions of almost any theory. Scientists bring a set of “first principles” to the study of the natural world: 1) that there is a real world independent of human perceptions, 2) that this world is not chaotic but is structured in some way and that most, if not all, aspects of this structure will yield to the tools of scientific investigation, and 3) that there is historical and causal continuity among all phenomena in the material universe and included within the domain of legitimate scientific study is everything known to exist or to happen in this universe. But they do not go beyond the material world to a metaphysical or supernatural realm inhabited by souls, spirits, angels or gods, a heaven or nirvana which is often believed to be the future resting place of all believers after death. Such constructions are beyond the realm of science.
Discussion Group Report
The Politics of Sanctimony
By Richard Layton
The above paragraph opens Wendy Kaminer’s article in The American Prospect, November 23,1999, with the same title as the present article. She further observes that a lack of faith in the intelligence of the American people inspires educated candidates like Gore, Bush, Steve Forbes, and Elizabeth Dole to waffle on evolution. All of them responded sympathetically to recent efforts by the Kansas Board of Education to purge the science curriculum of evolution. A perceived lack of faith in the morality of the American people has inspired a crusade in Congress against popular culture. Congressional moralists leave us no choice but virtue.
What do they mean by virtue? “Godliness in the form of allegiance to an established, mainstream religion (New Age will not do)…we cannot be good without God–a Judeo-Christian God, or maybe an Islamic one,” Kaminer says. Virtue is supposedly attendant on respectable religions as shown by the conviction that America is in a state of moral decline grounded in the 1960’s and evidenced largely by sexual permissiveness in real life and the media. Only lately has violence in the media become a focus for conservatives.
It could be argued that America made significant moral progress in the ’60’s. The Civil Rights Movement, feminism, and the Supreme Court’s imposition of constitutional restrictions on the prosecutorial power of the state challenged us to turn ideals of freedom and equality into realities for all Americans. The emphasis on the losses associated with the 1960’s, such as chastity and traditional religiosity, instead of the gains, dominates the anti-vice campaigns today. The drive to sanctify life by imposing new restrictions on speech and lifting old restrictions on state sponsoring of religions has been evident throughout the 1990’s and would have dominated the 2000 campaign if it hadn’t gained political momentum from recent mass shootings. These shootings have provided social-issue conservatives with unexpected opportunities for culture control, which Clinton Democrats seem afraid to oppose.
The juvenile justice bill pending in Congress includes amendments aimed at introducing sectarianism into the public schools. It mandates posting the Ten Commandments in the schools and denies attorneys’ fees to people who successfully sue a school that has violated rules against establishing religion by conducting sectarian services or erecting sectarian memorials. A majority of House members also voted for a resolution exhorting all Americans to engage in “prayer, fasting, and humiliation before God.” It failed on a vote of 275 for and 140 against (less than the two-thirds needed for passage). Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback introduced a resolution to create a Special Committee on American Culture “to study the causes and reasons for social and cultural regression,” to determine the impact of unspecified “negative cultural trends” on “the broader society” and on “child well-being,” and to “explore means of cultural renewal.” This agenda “represents one of the periodic campaigns against popular entertainments and the people who enjoy them…Congress has been tenacious in its efforts to censor images of sex and violence it doesn’t like,” says Kaminer. She points out that in 1996 Congress also passed the Communications Decency Act, prohibiting “indecency” on the Internet. When CDA was invalidated by the Supreme Court, Congress passed The Children On-Line Protection Act, prohibiting speech that a federal prosecutor might consider “harmful to minors.” In 1996 Congress also passed a law requiring cable operators either to scramble fully or consign to limited late-night hours sexually explicit programs in order to prevent the “signal bleed” that accompanies partial scrambling and exposes fleeting images and sounds of sex. A challenge to the signal bleed prohibition, brought by the Playboy Entertainment Group, will be argued before the Supreme Court. Another proposal currently before the Senate would classify violent “audio and visual media products” with cigarettes and subject them to federal labeling requirements.
All these laws take it as an article of faith that children are harmed by any exposure to virtual sex. Like God’s love it needn’t be proved empirically. In an evidentiary hearing, Playboy Entertainment Group’s experts testified that there is no empirical evidence that sexually explicit videos harm minors psychologically, a point the government’s witness did not dispute. Kaminer asks, “If this law is enacted, will film adaptations like Shakespearean tragedies or movies like the Thin Red Line or Bonnie and Clyde be treated like toxic wastes, which must be labeled to the satisfaction of federal bureaucrats?
“Liberals repelled and frightened by hate speech or anxious to restore ill-defined spiritual values to society, as well as centrists and conservatives, need to be reminded of the moral illegitimacy of censorship,” says Kaminer. “Liberals troubled by congressional visions of culture control need to address its political implications unapologetically.”
Until that time I encourage reasonable people to resist forcing school children to recite the pledge of allegiance and to urge congress to delete the phrase “under God” and restore the pledge to its secular role recognizing the United States as “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Discussion Group Report
Is Science Just A Synonym For Rationality?
By Richard Layton
Is scientific inquiry in a nearly mythological context the golden path to truth? Look in the newspaper, and you will see that science can be used to define as true many incompatible statements. One day red wine is good for your health. The next day alcohol use may lead to liver disease. No wonder some lost school board in Kansas has declared creation to be a true scientific theory. Perhaps Winnie the Pooh could be put forth as a theory of small bears. Uncertain and vague statements about science seem to be due to an unnecessary broadening of the definition of scientific inquiry.
In defining scientific inquiry, we first have to identify its goals. If we read texts in physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, and psychology, we find that the goal is always the same: 1) A precise description of the external world with us a part of it, and 2) A description in terms of observations made.
Scientific vocabulary does not contain statements like, “good for you.” Thus stories about the usefulness of red wine or the dangers of alcohol have nothing to do with science.
Scientific inquiry is based on two premises, says Rosenberg: 1) There is an external world common to us all-a world existing independent of our observing it. Thus if the human race were obliterated by an intergalactic construction company, the record players booming out Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony would continue to play although there are no humans to hear it. Observers from other planets would find ruins of lost cities and all our toys as real as they once were to us. The world exists even without us. We call it the common reality premise. 2) Events in the external world are related to each other by causal connections. Our observations of them are logically related. We call this the causality premise. Science as an art of describing the world around us cannot function if either of these two premises is violated. Are they ever challenged? Yes, the Christian dogma of God’s omnipotence and the possibility of his intervention in our time negate the causality premise. The French postmodernists and deconstructionists challenge the common reality premise. “Anytime you hear somebody describing science as a white male power structure and touting the advantages of female science,” says the author, “you know the common reality premise has been violated. The structure of the world we observe as scientists is observer-neutral and common to us all. You cannot deconstruct it to different pieces depending on who you are.”
Rosenberg summarizes: “Provided common reality exists independent of us and the events show reproducible causality, we can proceed to paint a picture of the world. The process of doing it is scientific inquiry. This inquiry is based solely on past or present observations.”
The inquiry itself is practical and takes place in seven consecutive steps: 1) Record observations, 2) Compare observations and convert observations to quantitative measurements (as height or length on a scale-high, higher, highest), 3) Introduce common reference (a standard for weight or using sea level as a base for height measurements), 4) Identify and separate variables ( a variable is some measurable property, conforming to some reasonable scale on which its variation can be defined, 5) Formulate a hypothesis, 6) Convert the hypothesis to a theory, 7) Elevate the theory to the status of a law.
How well is the external world described by the laws derived by the seven-point method? In our assumptions, we assume that all our theories have become laws, and we get dangerously close to describing a totally determined universe that no one believes in any more. What about the presence of randomness, supported by quantum mechanical theory? The author posits, “…what we call randomness and probability are factors introduced to account for the inadequacy of the human senses to deal with a wide variety of observations. There are too many variables for us to observe with necessary precision; due to the limited nature of our senses, we inevitably influence events in measuring them.” Many scientists, including Einstein, refused to believe in inherent randomness and preferred to look at apparent randomness as a product of hidden variables. The problem of uncertainty is closely linked to the effect of measurements. We have to visualize events so our senses will allow us to make an observation. This is the major limitation of science.
Scientific inquiry will lead to a true picture of the world surrounding us, but the picture is never complete and has to be continuously amended when and if new observations are made. Can something be true if it has to be amended? Yes, all scientific laws are approximations, and what we mean by amendment is that we have isolated new variables and can work with higher precision than before so that the picture of the world becomes clearer and shows more details. This does not mean that the previous picture was wrong, only that it was true at that level of detail and precision.
The behavioral sciences-sociology, psychology, economics, etc., are currently at a low level of development. There has been plenty of hard work done in them and brilliant insights gained, but their level is simply a function of the complexity of the systems at issue. “The extension of science,” Rosenberg states, “to art, poetry, and religion has not contributed much to science or to the arena of human emotions and feelings. Finally, the verbal extension of science into the realm of spirituality…may contribute to literature and poetry, but not to science.”
Prison Inmates Meet Socrates
Since 1986, as an adjunct professor on the faculty of a college and a university in the state of Texas, I have had direct contact with hundreds of prison inmates enrolled in academic programs for the purpose of completing the associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees. I am persuaded that this experience permits the following assertions: the overwhelming majority of prison inmates in this country, both state and federal, are not incorrigibly mean or evil, and a correct understanding of the “public interest” dictates that they should be given the opportunity to participate in state and federally funded higher-education programs designed to change their thinking and conduct.
If any reader is tempted to brand me with the pejorative label of a liberal weenie who doesn’t believe in the hard coinage of punishment, the following brief comments should suffice to assuage that suspicion. Criminal offenders are in conflict with the norms of society; they are not suffering from psychological disorders that both explain and excuse their conduct. They have consciously and deliberately chosen to commit a crime or, in numerous cases, they consciously and deliberately set themselves up for committing a crime by altering their normal mental and physical capacities. They were free to do otherwise and should be held responsible. Violent predators and many career criminals deserve to be incarcerated for many years, and some should be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. I have no philosophical objection to capital punishment, but I am opposed to it because innocent persons are convicted and executed.
Now that I have exposed most of the philosophical guts of my position on crime and punishment, the specific purpose of this essay is to elucidate the reasons why I believe that an introduction to the gadfly of Athens is a highly potent crime-prevention initiative that should be made available to a multitude of prisoners.
I graduated from high school in 1958 and the thought of pursuing higher education was almost totally foreign to my mind. Primarily to maintain my association with buddies in my graduating class, I enrolled in a local junior college and unceremoniously flunked out after less than a full semester due to a total lack of interest. I went to work full time and made some very foolish choices that brought me dangerously close to becoming a felonious hoodlum. When not working, I was in the neighborhood bowling alley, where I achieved some local notoriety as the kid with a 200-plus average. In the fall of 1959, motivated mainly by the desire for an adventure away from parental oversight, I enrolled in the four-year college in Oklahoma where my mother had been a student.
Although I was not failing any of my classes during my first semester, I refused to allow any serious reflection and study to engage my mind or interfere with fun, so by January 1960 I was determined to drop out and pursue the career of a professional bowler. The passage of very close to forty years has not significantly dimmed the memory of an event during the same month that marks the beginning of a radical transformation in my thinking and conduct.
Walking to class one afternoon I encountered one of the recognized campus intellectuals. In response to my greeting of “Hello, what do you know?” he made an abrupt stop in front of me and said, “Mr. Jablecki, I do not know anything. I am simply attempting to understand.” He then marched past me. Not having a clue as to the meaning of his curt remark, I articulated a response in very unscholarly language. Several days later I asked a senior who was majoring in something called philosophy to explain to me the distinction between knowing and understanding. After his learned discourse, most of which I failed to comprehend, he urged me to remain in school and suggested that in the spring semester I sign up for “Introduction to Philosophy.”
Inspired by his apparent wisdom I remained in college and enrolled in “Introduction to Philosophy.” In that class the instructor explained the perennial problems of philosophy: I was able to grasp the difference between knowledge and understanding, and I was introduced to the life and teachings of Socrates. During the semester my ambitions, my thinking, and even my behavior changed. I sold my prized black-beauty bowling ball and purchased some philosophical works, which are still in my library. In a very brief period of time a Socratic “conversion” changed the entire course of my life. To the teacher, Dr. Mel-Thomas Rothwell (deceased), I owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude for his patient mentoring until my graduation in 1964.
The relevance of this autobiographical snapshot is that it evidences the view that it is impossible to exaggerate the power of ideas and concepts–for example, justice, truth, goodness, virtue, and beauty–to grab a human mind and redirect a person’s life in the manner advocated by Socrates. And, at the risk of making a generalization to which I acknowledge numerous exceptions, a Socratic conversion usually requires the inspired communication of a teacher or mentor who has experienced the transformative power of ideas and concepts.
In the 1986-1987 academic year I was given my first opportunity to introduce Socrates to prison inmates under the auspices of what was at the time Brazosport Junior College in Lake Jackson, Texas. This institution, now known as Brazosport College, continues to provide a two-year course of instruction leading to an associate of arts degree. I taught two courses of “Introduction to Philosophy” to approximately thirty male inmates at the Clemens Unit of the Texas Department of Corrections. I possess no knowledge of the success or failure of any of these men, but I do have some vivid recollections of some of the classes, including our lively discussions of Socrates.
The first session of the first class has left a permanent mark in my bank of memories. Standing in front of a group of men convicted of a range of serious felonies and incarcerated for a substantial number of years can be terrifying, to say the least. I told them that I had agreed to teach this class because of my firm commitment to the views of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant concerning “respect” for all persons as moral agents capable of choices and my equally firm belief that they can change the direction of the remainder of their lives if they choose to do so. This is essentially how I introduce myself to all new classes of prison inmates. And if they perceive that I really mean what I say, the path is clear for some existentially meaningful discussions and insights.
Perhaps the most important fact I can report about these men–inclusive of the inmates I have taught to date–is that, except for a mere few, they do not blame society or others for their criminal behavior. This acceptance of guilt and responsibility is probably at odds with the belief of most people about the supposed rationalizations of criminals. Not unexpectedly, many of the inmates vented their resentment about how they believe they were unfairly treated at one or more steps in our system of criminal justice, and any seasoned practitioner in the system is obliged to acknowledge the truth of some of their claims. The pertinent and critical point, however, is their acceptance of the facts that they made real choices to commit crimes and that society has a right to protect itself by incarcerating malefactors.
These intuitive or pre-philosophical beliefs are fertile ground for introducing the free-will-versus-determinism debate and the arguments employed to justify the institution of punishment. And these issues lead straight to what is usually a hotly contested debate of the Socratic view that persons do not voluntarily or knowingly commit evil or unlawful acts because knowledge and wisdom are the most powerful elements in human life.
When the above issues are examined in philosophy classes in what the inmates refer to as the “free world,” they do not convey the same sense of urgency and importance as they do for students confined behind steel bars. One version of determinism is that all so-called free choices are illusory because no human actions or decisions are exempt from an unbroken chain of “causes.” Realizing that, if true, this theory could exonerate him from blame and punishment, a convicted murderer eagerly stated, “I would like to think that it was determinism” rather than a choice, and the room was filled with soft laughter. Another student, convicted of aggravated robbery, attempted to articulate the centuries-old view that all persons are born with an innate knowledge of right and wrong–that is, a moral compass called the conscience. Confessing much confusion about how it works, he said, “Now, I done something and I know it was wrong.” Following a Socratic unpacking of the words cause and compel, the unanimous decision was that none of them were compelled or forced to commit their crime and they were free to do otherwise.
It should come as no surprise that a discussion of the purpose and justification of punishment with prison inmates, many of whom have been incarcerated for a major portion of their lives, reaches a high level of emotional intensity. No student, in either class, claimed or even implied that he did not deserve to be punished. A chorus of voices, however, condemned the enormous disparity in sentences characteristic of an indeterminate sentencing system and the wide range in which judicial discretion is free to roam.
With no hesitation, one of the men expressed the belief that if he stole a car and Dr. Jablecki stole a car the latter would undoubtedly be gently treated with probation and the former would be sentenced to prison. This, he exclaimed, is not justice or equality, as both committed the same crime and deserved the same punishment. Heads nodded in agreement and several voiced the caustic remark that the lovely lady of justice wearing the blindfold of impartiality and equality is never blind to the influences of money and status in the community. Anyone, therefore, who plays the role of a Socratic midwife in a similar situation needs to be prepared to maneuver through an emotional minefield in which they will be made aware of all the ugly warts and blemishes in our system of criminal justice.
Now, as implied earlier, I can still almost hear the initial outbursts of disbelief expressed in response to Socrates’ belief that no person voluntarily or knowingly commits an evil or wrong act. Socrates, according to the first consensus, had been drinking too much wine or he was an insane old man. The inmates said they knew exactly what they were doing when they committed a murder, robbed a store at gunpoint, sexually assaulted a woman, or cut a drug deal. Assuming the role of Socrates, I called them a collection of ignorant fools incapable of recognizing their best and permanent interests as human beings.
Needless to say, this enlivened the tone of the discussion and set the stage to unpack the meaning of a cluster of relevant words: knowledge, wisdom, ignorance, self-interest mistake, voluntary, involuntary, happiness, and virtue. After several hours of defining and analyzing them, the new consensus was a defense of Socrates’ sobriety and the belief that he was a very smart old man. Although I don’t have current information on any of the inmates, I believe that most of them made some progress in the ascent from the cave of ignorance and have not forgotten their meeting with Socrates.
In 1988 a fortuitous meeting with George Trabing, the director of the prison program for the University of Houston at Clear Lake, resulted in an invitation for me to join the adjunct faculty of the university. My assignment was to teach a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses in philosophy to prison inmates housed in the Ramsey I prison unit in Rosharon, Texas. During the past ten years, missing only one or two semesters, I have taught a number of classes–including “Metaphysics,” “Epistemology,” “Philosophy and the Law,” “Philosophy and Religion,” “Political Philosophy,” “Ethics,” and “Human Rights and the Justification of Punishment”-in which I inject the life and teachings of Socrates.
The university’s bachelor’s program was established in 1974; the master’s program began in 1988. Four degrees are currently offered to inmates: a B.A. in behavioral sciences, a B.A. in the humanities, an M.A. in literature, and an M.A. in the humanities. As Trabing, Jerry Fryre, and Craig White describe in their 1995 report Five Year Review: Texas Department of Criminal Justice Outreach Component Human Sciences and Humanities, the degree in behavioral science contributes to the development of the
undergraduate student’s skills in analytical thinking, written communication, and research; to provide understanding of the customs, languages, values and behaviors of culturally diverse populations, and to educate students to participate as informed, critical citizens of society…. The primary mission of the undergraduate and graduate plans in Humanities and literature is to promote cultural literacy and interdisciplinary skills through the study of the liberal arts. The most important dimension of the mission of all of these educational programs, however, is to promote positive changes in the thinking and conduct of inmates and to reduce the recidivism rate of those who are released on parole. The profound relevance of Socrates’ teaching that the “unexamined life is not worth living” and his identification of knowledge and virtue are captured in the five-year review’s comments regarding the men who earned their degree in the humanities: These students find that courses in history, literature, and philosophy profoundly deepen their sensitivities and expand their horizons. TDCJ students may come from pockets of economic and intellectual poverty from which they have never escaped–they have literally no knowledge of other ways of living. Humanities courses open new realities to them, wholly changing their perspectives about who they are and what the world is about…. Such courses are truly revelations, showing ways of living and thinking that they have not encountered before. Now, as every practitioner in the field of criminal justice should know, the verification of an indisputable causal connection between offenders’ completion of any crime-prevention strategy and their subsequent conduct is a tricky enterprise. At the outset, the creators of these academic programs for prison inmates were cognizant of the paramount importance of documenting a bank of data from which they could quantify the apparent successes and failures. The university’s most current report was released in January 1995 as a twenty-year history of the program. The report found that more than 200 inmates earned a bachelor’s degree, while forty-five earned a master’s degree. From 1990 to 1995, of the thirty-nine inmates who earned a bachelor’s degree, seventeen were released on parole and two were returned to prison–a recidivism rate of II percent. During the same period, of the forty-five who earned a master’s degree, nineteen were released on parole and one was returned to prison–a recidivism rate of 5 percent.
To argue that their academic accomplishment is the only factor capable of explaining their successful reintegration into society would be a mistake. The only near definitive answer to this issue is to track a control group of parolees in the same age range and duration of incarceration who have not completed a similar academic program. Although the U.S. Department of Justice did not fund a recent grant proposal from the university to conduct such research, studies conducted in Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and other states have all reported significantly low recidivism rates for inmates in correctional higher-education programs, ranging from 1 percent to 15.5 percent. In addition, my contact with the students in the Texas program–some of whom are now on parole confirms a determination to change and make contributions to society totally unmatched by the majority of inmates who spend their idle time playing dominos, watching television, and reflecting on their perceptions that they are the oppressed victims of society.
Fortunately, I experienced my Socratic “conversion” when I was twenty years old and would not entertain benevolent thoughts toward any person casting doubts on the reality and meaning of that experience. Similarly, five of the former inmates who achieved academic success deserve to be heard. Their comments include:
The latter reference to the payment of taxes by a former inmate exposes the shortsighted and factually incorrect arguments of the politicians in Washington, D.C., who have seen to it that prison inmates are ineligible for federal Pell Grant tuition assistance for higher education. In his July 10, 1995, New Yorker article “Teaching Prisoners a Lesson,” James S. Kunen draws attention to the critical factual misrepresentations involved in the demise of inmates’ eligibility for Pell Grants: When Bart Gordon, a Democratic representative from Tennessee, sponsored the 1994 crime-bill amendment that barred prisoners from receiving Pell Grants, his aim was to trim the fat in federal education spending. He was under the impression that prisoners were using up something like seventy million dollars a year in Pell Grants that could have gone to more deserving students–those on the outside. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, a Republican who led the fight in the Senate against Pell Grants for prisoners, argued that inmates siphoned off two hundred million dollars and displaced a hundred thousand law-abiding students. In fact, all applicants who meet the grants’ need-based eligibility requirements receive Pell Grants, regardless of how many qualifying recipients there are. As a General Accounting Office report explains, “If incarcerated students received no Pell Grants, no student currently denied a Pell award would have received one and no award amount would have been increased.” And the amount of money saved by cutting off grants to prisoners is tiny: according to the General Accounting Office, of approximately four million Pell Grant recipients in the 1993-94 academic year, twenty-three thousand were in prison, and they received thirty-five million dollars of the six billion dollars awarded, or about six cents of every ten program dollars. It would probably be incorrect to suggest that Hutchison and the other members of Congress who helped her destroy hope for thousands of inmates in this country are in the philosophical camp of the ancient Cynics, who were contemptuous of bodily pleasures, sneering fault-finders, and incredulous of human goodness and the capacity to change from vice to virtue. I am persuaded, however, that the policy these politicians approved places them in the category of unmerciful retributivists who sincerely believe in the moral imperative of severe punishment for all criminal offenders–that is, they have no mercy for the wicked. They are not hypocrites, because they really believe that the construction of new prisons is not a necessary evil but a necessary good. Some of the extremists in this camp probably believe that it would be good policy to literally brand the scarlet letter C (for convict) on the forehead of every prison inmate.
Contrary to the philosophy of unmerciful retributivism, Pell Grants for inmates had the long-range potential of saving billions of tax dollars that will now be spent on the construction and maintenance of prisons and the annual costs of warehousing multitudes of federal and state inmates in what can best be described as toxic waste dumps inhabited by persons with little or no hope for a future that can make life worth living. And equally, if not more important, the advocates of unmerciful retributivism have crafted a policy that unintentionally results in a multitude of new victims of crime perpetrated by parolees who have changed from bad to worse.
Recognizing the existence of an unknown number of contingencies–all of which can influence the success or failure of a parolee armed with a university degree the university’s statistics stand in sharp contrast to the fact that, in Texas, between 45 percent and 50 percent of parolees are reincarcerated within three years of the date of their release. Most of them are convicted of new felony offenses, many of which involve victims who suffer (among numerous things) the loss of property, physical injuries, and death. Although it is an expansion of the normal usage of the word, this is an obscenity that in addition to all of the accompanying human suffering is costing taxpayers many millions of dollars every year. In Texas, the annual cost for one prison inmate is close to $20,000–very close to the amount my wife and I pay for our son to attend the prestigious Rice University in Houston–and this cost does not include the maintenance of existing prisons and the construction of new ones.
After ten years of almost weekly contact with students in the University of Houston prison program, it has become abundantly clear that if I did not believe in the inmates’ capacity to change their totally selfish habits of thought and conduct I would not waste my time on an academic exercise destined to fail. Inmates do not have a “right” to a free university education, nor do they “deserve” it. However, there is an urgent and compelling public interest at stake, justifying the use of tax dollars to create and sustain academic programs for them. Once they grasp the Socratic definition of knowledge and its vast distance from opinions and beliefs, most of my current students articulate the hindsight observation that, had they met Socrates at the age of twenty or earlier, it is not unrealistic to suggest they might not be meeting him now clothed in prison garb. While not willing to fully embrace the contention that during their life of crime they were totally ignorant and really did not “know” what they were doing, most of my students “see,” for the first time, the profound truth of Socrates’ doctrine that the possession of knowledge and wisdom can lead to a radical and positive change in both thinking and behavior.
Despite the occasional bitterness aimed at the alleged disparities in the system of criminal justice, during these discussions many of the inmates feel at ease to lay bare their souls and express genuine remorse about the impact of their conduct on parents, spouses, children, and victims. It would be foolhardy to claim or even imply that an encounter with Socrates is a necessary prerequisite to bring the majority of them to a profound existential consciousness of the negative consequences of their crimes. In fact, many of them have previously read several books of Plato’s Republic, and some have read his Apology and Crito. But none of them have participated in a methodical unpacking of the content, the profound truth, and the errors in Socratic doctrine and instead have had their emotions shaped by traumatic events in their lives–the death of one or both parents, a divorce decree from a former spouse, children who commit crimes, and a denial of parole. The important claim can be made, however, that the Socratic method of philosophical reflection provides a coherent conceptual framework in which many of these men, for the first time, are “awakened” to a totally new perspective on life.
Prior to my career in criminal justice, when I discovered Great Visions of Philosophy by W. P. Montague, a notation of “good” was made by the following passage:
My Socratic conversion justified the use of the word good in response to the above claims. Today, however, I can confidently proclaim the truth of Montague’s call for a Socratic revolution in the philosophy of punishment.
According to the most recent estimates released by the U.S. Department of Justice, at the close of 1998 there were 1,232,900 federal and state prison inmates. To advocate the belief that the majority of them could be reformed by a strong dose of Socrates appears to be an incredulous form of idealism completely out of touch with reality. Given the facts that the opinion of the public is that prison inmates should be “better” people when released on parole and that high-school equivalency classes and vocational training programs provided to the majority of them are not designed to foster moral reform, the suggestion that a multitude of inmates should be introduced to Socrates is not a fantasy of an unearthly idealism.
More specifically, I am absolutely convinced that the recidivism rate of former prison inmates can be reduced significantly if, while incarcerated, they are skillfully guided through a systematic discussion of the life and teachings of Socrates as presented by Plate in the Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Protagaras, and the analysis of the concept of justice in the Republic. This is the largely uncultivated and fertile soil in which federal and state authorities should plant the seeds of carefully designed and well-funded programs capable of tracking the lives of the participants (male and female) and those in control groups for three to five years in order to establish some incontrovertible data regarding the power of education to change the thinking and conduct of former criminal offenders.
So I tell all of my students that the only way to silence the voices of the cynics committed to the view that providing a university or college education to prison inmates is flushing clean dollars down a dirty toilet is to remain crime-free following release on parole. I tell them that the continuation of the program is contingent upon years of cumulative success stories and that their moral obligation to succeed is grounded in the lives of the students who remain behind bars. They are encouraged to contact me after their release, as I may be able to assist them in their search for employment. However, if they call me for help after committing another felony offense, I will volunteer to testify against them. As I said on May 13, 1998, in the conclusion of the commencement address I gave to a group of inmates who had earned either an associate’s degree from Alvin Community College in Alvin, Texas, or a bachelor’s or master’s degree from the University of Houston at Clear Lake:
The profound sense in which Socrates was correct is precisely why we are here this evening. Collectively, your teachers have guided you on the ascent from the cave of ignorance as articulated by Plate in his Republic. You have been led out of the abyss of intellectual and moral darkness and our hope is that you have experienced a genuine Socratic “conversion”–that is, that you have accepted total responsibility for the rottenness of your past conduct and are morally prepared to fulfill your obligations as a member of the human community…. However I am obliged to tell you that, if you have not or do not experience a Socratic conversion prior to your release, you will be nothing more than a hypocritical, educated crook. Socrates does not hold all the answers. For example, I readily admit to my students that, although he was committed to the view that humankind is essentially good, Socrates failed to recognize what philosopher David Hume called the incurable weakness in human nature. In his essay Of the Origin of Government, Hume comments on the nature of humanity and why it was necessary to invent a system of rules to protect lives and property: It is impossible to keep men faithfully and unerringly in the paths of justice. Some extraordinary circumstances may happen, in which a man finds his interests to be more promoted by fraud or rapine than hurt by the breach which his injustice makes in the social union. But much more frequently he is seduced from this great and important but distant interest by the allurement of present, though often very frivolous, temptations. This great weakness is incurable in human nature.
Men must, therefore, endeavor to palliate what they cannot cure. They must institute some persons under the appellation of magistrates, whose peculiar office it is to point out the decrees of equity, to punish transgressors, to correct fraud and violence, and to oblige men, however reluctant, to consult their own real and permanent interests. In a word, obedience is a new duty which must be invented to support that of justice, and the ties of equity must be corroborated by those of allegiance.
Hume’s view of humanity is consistent with Montague’s claim that whether we call it “sin” or “selfishness,” wrong conduct is due “not to lack of wisdom, but to lack of will…. Insight into the nature of the good … may be termed a ‘necessary,’ but not a ‘sufficient,’ cause of virtue. Wisdom by itself is not enough and great Socrates was wrong in thinking that it was.” Also, almost invariably during our discussions one or more students realize that Socrates’ doctrines of humankind and knowledge and virtue are diametrically opposed to the orthodox Christian belief that humans are sinners whose salvation from evil inclinations requires a supernatural infusion of divine grace. The majority of my students, in widely diverse environments, were nurtured in the tradition of Christian theism, and, not surprisingly, a significant number of them are unwilling to concede that Socratic doctrines inflict any serious damage on their religious commitments.
As was the case when I was introduced to Socrates, he can shake unexamined beliefs and faiths. However, unlike any of their other academic classes, it is important that most of my courses contain opportunities for prison inmates to reflect on the most important and enduring questions of human existence. And I can confidently claim that many of them are surprised by the joy of facing the unfathomed depth of Socrates’ message to live an examined life.
Discussion Group Report
Humanism Against Itself: The Religious Debate
By Richard Layton
In 1980 some humanists led by Paul Kurtz issued A Secular Humanist Declaration, which explicitly rejected the idea of a “religious humanism.” They accused those who retained the adjective of intellectual confusion, sentimentality and even opportunism. The Declaration identified religion with: “The reappearance of dogmatic authoritarian religions; fundamentalist, literalist, and doctrinaire Christianity; a rapidly growing and uncompromising Moslem clericalism in the Middle East in Asia; the re-assertion of orthodox authority by the Roman Catholic papal hierarchy; nationalistic, religious Judaism; and the reversion to obscurantist religions in Asia.”
“Religion was the enemy and humanist flirtation with it ensured confusion at best and surrender at worst,” laments Radest. “Clearly the climate of the humanist neighborhood had changed…The polemic and the anger…were addressed to the enemy within. Humanism seemed intent on destroying itself.”
He says that the 1980s found humanists as antagonistic toward their fellow humanists as to Fundamentalists and right-wing Christians. Since then another manifestation of fragmentation in the humanist movement has been the attempts by other groups to distinguish themselves from the American Humanist Association. These have included Ethical Culture, the Fellowship of Religious Humanists, the Society for Humanistic Judaism, and the Committee for Democratic and Secular Humanism (organized by Kurtz). Rationalism, free thought, and atheism went their separate ways. Countervailing attempts to bring humanists together were the Conference on Science and Democracy and the North American Committee for Humanism, which had only minor success. Manifesto II, published in 1973, Radest argues, was a long and puzzling essay, lacking the clarity, directness, and assurance of the 1933 document and was symptomatic of the unresolved issues.
Meanwhile America was pushing toward secularization. Religion on the left had developed a moralistic tone and center. The pulpit addressed itself to social criticism as much as it did to salvation. Its efforts were often in the secular world and its energies devoted to social reform. Biblical scholarship, the “higher criticism” and archaeology revealed the worldly sources of cult and text; and science held sway in the academy and the marketplace. There was a widely felt need to bring religion into the modern world.
This cultural pattern was an appropriate home for the appearance of humanism. Edwin Wilson, an important leader in organizing the humanist movement, recalled that it first came to self-awareness as a movement among Unitarians. In a meeting of the Western Unitarian Conference in Des Moines in 1917, The Reverends John Dietrich and Curtis W. Reese found that they both had been presenting ” a revolution from theocracy to humanism, from autocracy to democracy.” “The humanist movement was born at that moment,” said Wilson.
Radest opines that the reason humanists are polarized is that “we avoid working on the question, ‘What is humanism up to,’ and instead play a game of ‘either/or…our thinking is distorted by the fact that we like to choose sides. Humanists, more than most, are given to an argumentative game by temperament and by history…we lose ourselves in the joys of argument and forget that it is only argument. In the heat of argument it is easy to turn ‘faith’ into a caricature of itself and then identify all faith with superstition. When such a mood seizes us, we embrace its complement, a simple-minded secularism that denies any value to a move beyond the immediate…it is all too human to invest ourselves in our arguments and then to be unable to retreat. Losing the argument comes to feel like a loss of self…we are given to the game of ‘either-or’ precisely because the ambiguities of experience have become nearly intolerable. The authors of Manifesto I could speak with confidence about the world to come. They had not yet seen science perverted into holocaust and nuclear destruction. They had not yet seen democracy turned into populist conformism…In the midst of chaos, it is much more satisfying to separate into sheep and goat, saved and damned.”
Like everyone else, humanists, he continues, tend to revert to a mythic past where matters were simpler, clearer, and more assured. So it is that when humanism meets Fundamentalism, it responds in Fundamentalist style with a “raucous humanism.” The angers of Fundamentalism and the confusion of sects confess to a widely shared anxiety of spirit…both Fundamentalism and raucous humanism are only symptomatic, and the game of either-or attends only to the symptoms. When we are lost…we seek out a villain…within the debates is hidden the question: How shall human life be purposeful and joyful in a universe where human life seems only a chemical and biological incident? Humanism is not yet. This arises from the fact that the game of either-or and not the accidents of history blocks the reconstruction the signers of Manifesto I proposed.
Radist suggests that, although humanism is worldly and secular, the qualities of experience to which humanism must address itself are those that have legitimately been called religious. He says humanism is “where the action is, all of the action, including that which has historically been religious action.” For the humanist the “sacred,” the name given to that which is untouchably precious, departs from its separate universe to inform this one, the only one we have. Thus both sacred and secular are transformed under the aegis of a humanist naturalism.
Whether the reader agrees with Radist’s analysis or not, he broaches an important question for humanism.
Thoughts from Eric Hoffer
There is a powerful craving in most of us to see ourselves as instruments in the hands of others and thus free ourselves from the responsibility for acts which are prompted by our own questionable inclinations and impulses. Both the strong and the weak grasp at this alibi. The latter hide their malevolence under the virtue of obedience: they acted dishonorably because they had to obey orders. The strong, too, claim absolution by proclaiming themselves the chosen instrument of a higher power–God, history, fate, nation or humanity.
Retiring the Gods From Politics
Centennial Speech by Robert Ingersoll
THE Declaration of Independence is the grandest, the bravest, and the profoundest political document that was ever signed by the representatives of a people. It is the embodiment of physical and moral courage and of political wisdom.
I say of physical courage, because it was a declaration of war against the most powerful nation then on the globe; a declaration of war by thirteen weak, unorganized colonies; a declaration of war by a few people, without military stores, without wealth, without strength, against the most powerful kingdom on the earth; a declaration of war made when the British navy, at that day the mistress of every sea, was hovering along the coast of America, looking after defenseless towns and villages to ravage and destroy. It was made when thousands of English soldiers were upon our soil, and when the principal cities of America were in the substantial possession of the enemy. And so, I say, all things considered, it was the bravest political document ever signed by man. And if it was physically brave, the moral courage of the document is almost infinitely beyond the physical. They had the courage not only, but they had the almost infinite wisdom, to declare that all men are created equal.
Such things had occasionally been said by some political enthusiast in the olden time, but, for the first time in the history of the world, the representatives of a nation, the representatives of a real, living, breathing, hoping people, declared that all men are created equal. With one blow, with one stroke of the pen, they struck down all the cruel, heartless barriers that aristocracy, that priestcraft, that king-craft had raised between man and man. They struck down with one immortal blow that infamous spirit of caste that makes a God almost a beast, and a beast almost a god. With one word, with one blow, they wiped away and utterly destroyed, all that had been done by centuries of war–centuries of hypocrisy–centuries of injustice.
What more did they do? They then declared that each man has a right to live. And what does that mean? It means that he has the right to make his living. It means that he has the right to breathe the air, to work the land, that he stands the equal of every other human being beneath the shining stars; entitled to the product of his labor–the labor of his hand and of his brain.
What more? That every man has the right to pursue his own happiness in his own way. Grander words than. these have never been spoken by man.
And what more did these men say? They laid down the doctrine that governments were instituted among men for the purpose of preserving the rights of the people. The old idea was that people existed solely for the benefit of the state–that is to say, for kings and nobles.
The old idea was that the people were the wards of king and priest–that their bodies belonged to one and their souls to the other.
And what more? That the people are the source of political power. That was not only a revelation, but it was a revolution. It changed the ideas of people with regard to the source of political power. For the first time it made human beings men. What was the old idea? The old idea was that no political power came from, or in any manner belonged to, the people. The old idea was that the political power came from the clouds; that the political power came in some miraculous way from heaven; that it came down to kings, and queens, and robbers. That was the old idea. The nobles lived upon the labor of the people; the people had no rights; the nobles stole what they had and divided with the kings, and the kings pretended to divide what they stole with God Almighty. The source, then, of political power was from above. The people were responsible to the nobles, the nobles to the king, and the people had no political rights whatever, no more than the wild beasts of the forest. The kings were responsible to God; not to the people. The kings were responsible to the clouds; not to the toiling millions they robbed and plundered.
And our forefathers, in this Declaration of Independence, reversed this thing, and said: No; the people, they are the source of political power, and their rulers, these presidents, these kings are but the agents and servants of the great sublime people. For the first time, really, in the history of the world, the king was made to get off the throne and the people were royally seated thereon. The people became the sovereigns, and the old sovereigns became the servants and the agents of the people. It is hard for you and me now to even imagine the immense results of that change. It is hard for you and for me, at this day, to understand how thoroughly it had been ingrained in the brain of almost every man that the king had some wonderful right over him that in some strange way the king owned him; that in some miraculous manner he belonged, body and soul, to somebody who rode on a horse–to somebody with epaulets on his shoulders and a tinsel crown upon his brainless head.
Our forefathers had been educated in that idea, and when they first landed on American shores they believed it. They thought they belonged to somebody, and that they must be loyal to some thief who could trace his pedigree back to antiquity’s most successful robber.
It took a long time for them to get that idea out of their heads and hearts. They were three thousand miles away from the despotisms of the old world, and every wave of the sea was an assistant to them. The distance helped to disenchant their minds of that infamous belief, and every mile between them and the pomp and glory of monarchy helped to put republican ideas and thoughts into their minds. Besides that, when they came to this country, when the savage was in the forest and three thousand miles of waves on the other side, menaced by barbarians on the one hand and famine on the other, they learned that a man who had courage, a man who had thought, was as good as any other man in the world, and they built up, as it were, in spite of themselves, little republics. And the man that had the most nerve and heart was the best man, whether he had any noble blood in his veins or not.
It has been a favorite idea with me that our fore-fathers were educated by Nature, that they grew grand as the continent upon which they landed; that the great rivers–the wide plains–the splendid lakes–the lonely forests–the sublime mountains–that all these things stole into and became a part of their being, and they grew great as the country in which they lived. They began to hate the narrow, contracted views of Europe. They were educated by their surroundings, and every little colony had to be to a certain extent a republic. The kings of the old world endeavored to parcel out this land to their favorites. But there were too many Indians. There was too much courage required for them to take and keep it, and so men had to come here who were dissatisfied with the old country–who were dissatisfied with England, dissatisfied with France, with Germany, with Ireland and Holland. The kings’ favorites stayed at home. Men came here for liberty, and on account of certain principles they entertained and held dearer than life. And they were willing to work, willing to fell the forests, to fight the savages, willing to go through all the hardships, perils and dangers of a new country, of a new land; and the consequence was that our country was settled by brave and adventurous spirits, by men who had opinions of their own and were willing to live in the wild forests for the sake of expressing those opinions, even if they expressed them only to trees, rocks, and savage men. The best blood of the old world came to the new.
When they first came over they did not have a great deal of political philosophy, nor the best ideas of liberty. We might as well tell the truth. When the Puritans first came, they were narrow. They did not understand what liberty meant–what religious liberty, what political liberty, was; but they found out in a few years. There was one feeling among them that rises to their eternal honor like a white shaft to the clouds–they were in favor of universal education. Wherever they went they built schoolhouses, introduced books and ideas of literature. They believed that every man should know how to read and how to write, and should find out all that his capacity allowed him to comprehend. That is the glory of the Puritan fathers.
They forgot in a little while what they had suffered, and they forgot to apply the principle of universal liberty–of toleration. Some of the colonies did not forget it, and I want to give credit where credit should be given. The Catholics of Maryland were the first people on the new continent to declare universal religious toleration. Let this be remembered to their eternal honor. Let it be remembered to the disgrace of the Protestant government of England, that it caused this grand law to be repealed. And to the honor and credit of the Catholics of Maryland let it be remembered that the moment they got back into power they re-enacted the old law. The Baptists of Rhode Island also, led by Roger Williams, were in favor of universal religious liberty.
No American should fail to honor Roger Williams. He was the first grand advocate of the liberty of the soul. He was in favor of the eternal divorce of church and state. So far as I know, he was the only man at that time in this country who was in favor of real religious liberty. While the Catholics of Maryland declared in favor of religious toleration, they had no idea of religious liberty, They would not allow anyone to call in question the doctrine of the Trinity, or the inspiration of the Scriptures. They stood ready with branding-iron and gallows to burn and choke out of man the idea that, he had a fight to think and to express his thoughts.
So many religions met in our country–so many theories and dogmas came in contact–so many follies, mistakes, and stupidities became acquainted with each other, that religion began to fall somewhat into disrepute. Besides this, the question of a new nation began to take precedence of all others.
The people were too much interested in this world to quarrel about the next. The preacher was lost in the patriot. The Bible was read to find passages against kings.
Everybody was discussing the rights of man. Farmers and mechanics suddenly became statesmen, and in every shop and cabin nearly every question was asked and answered.
During these years of political excitement the interest in religion abated to that degree that a common purpose animated men of all sects and creeds.
At last our fathers became tired of being colonists–tired of writing and reading and signing petitions, and presenting them on their bended knees to an idiot king. They began to have an aspiration to form a new nation, to be citizens of a new republic instead of subjects of an old monarchy. They had the idea–the Puritans, the Catholics, the Episcopalians, the Baptists, the Quakers, and a few Freethinkers, all had the idea–that they would like to form a new nation.
Now, do not understand that all of our fathers were in favor of independence. Do not understand that they were all like Jefferson; that they were all like Adams or Lee; that they were all like Thomas Paine or John Hancock. There were thousands and thousands of them who were opposed to American independence. There were thousands and thousands who said: “When you say men are created equal, it is a lie when you say the political power resides in the great body of the people, it is false.” Thousands and thousands of them said: “We prefer Great Britain.” But the men who were in favor of independence, the men who knew that a new nation must be born, went on full of hope and courage, and nothing could daunt or stop or stay the heroic, fearless few.
They met in Philadelphia; and the resolution was moved by Lee of Virginia, that the colonies ought to be independent states, and ought to dissolve their political connection with Great Britain.
They made up their minds that a new nation must be formed. All nations had been, so to speak, the wards of some church. The religious idea as to the source of power had been at the foundation of all governments, and had been the bane and curse of man.
Happily for us, there was no church strong enough to dictate to the rest. Fortunately for us, the colonists not only, but the colonies differed widely in their religious views. There were the Puritans who hated the Episcopalians, and Episcopalians who hated the Catholics, and the Catholics who hated both, while the Quakers held them all in contempt. There they were, of every sort, and color and kind, and how was it that they came together? They had a common aspiration. They wanted to form a new nation. More than that, most of them cordially hated Great Britain; and they pledged each other to forget these religious prejudices, for a time at least, and agreed that there should be only one religion until they got through, and that was the religion of patriotism. They solemnly agreed that the new nation should not belong to any particular church, but that it should secure the rights of all.
Our fathers founded the first secular government that was ever founded in this world. Recollect that. The first secular government; the first government that said every church has exactly the same rights and no more; every religion has the same rights, and no more. In other words, our fathers were the first men who had the sense, had the genius, to know that no church should be allowed to have a sword; thai it should be allowed only to exert its moral influence.
You might as well have a government united by force with Art, or with Poetry, or with Oratory, as with Religion. Religion should have the influence upon mankind that its goodness, that its morality, its justice, its charity, its reason, and its argument give it, and no more. Religion should have the effect upon mankind that it necessarily has, and no more. The religion that has to be supported by law is. without value, not only, but a fraud and curse. The religious argument that has to be supported by a musket, is hardly worth making. A prayer that must have a cannon behind it, better never be uttered. Forgiveness ought not to go in partnership with shot and shell. Love need not carry knives and revolvers.
So our fathers said: “We will form a secular government, and under the flag with which we are going to enrich the air, we will allow every man to worship God as he thinks best.” They said: “Religion is an individual thing between each man and his creator, and he can worship as he pleases and as he desires.” And why did they do this? The history of the world warned them that the liberty of man was not safe in the clutch and grasp of any church. They had read of and seen the thumb-screws, the racks, and the dungeons of the Inquisition. They knew all about the hypocrisy of the olden time. They knew that the church had stood side by side with the throne; that the high priests were hypocrites, and that the kings were robbers. They also knew that if they gave power to any church, it would corrupt the best church in the world. And so they said that power must not reside in a church, or in a sect, but power must be wherever humanity is–in the great body of the people. And the officers and servants of the people must be responsible to them. And so I say again, as I said in the commencement, this is the wisest, the profoundest, the bravest political document that ever was written and signed by man.
They turned, as I tell you, everything squarely about. They derived all their authority from the people. They did away forever with the theological idea of government.
And what more did they say? They said that whenever the rulers abused this authority, this power, incapable of destruction, returned to the people. How did they come to say this? I will tell you. They were pushed into it. How? They felt that they were oppressed; and whenever a man feels that he is the subject of injustice, his perception of right and wrong is wonderfully quickened.
Nobody was ever in prison wrongfully who did not believe in the writ of habeas corpus. Nobody ever suffered wrongfully without instantly having ideas of justice.
And they began to inquire what rights the king of Great Britain had. They began to search for the charter of his authority. They began to investigate and dig down to the bed-rock upon which, society must be founded, and when the got down there, forced there, too, by their oppressors, forced against their own prejudices and education, they found at the bottom of things, not lords, not nobles, not pulpits, not thrones, but humanity and the rights of men.
And so they said, We are men; we are men. They found out they were men. And the next thing they said, was, “We will be free men; we are weary of being colonists; we are tired of being subjects; we are men; and these colonies ought to be states; and these states ought to be a nation and that nation ought to drive the last British soldier into the sea.” And so they signed that brave Declaration of Independence.
I thank every one of them from the bottom of my heart for signing that sublime declaration. I thank them for their courage–for their patriotism–for their wisdom–for the splendid confidence in themselves and in the human race. I thank them for what they were, and for what we are–for what they did, and for what we have received–for what they suffered, and for what we enjoy.
What would we have been if we had remained colonists and subjects? What would we have been to-day? Nobodies–ready to get down on our knees and crawl in the very dust at the sight of somebody that was supposed to have in him some drop of blood that flowed in the veins of that mailed marauder–that royal robber, William the Conqueror.
They signed that Declaration of Independence, although they knew that it would produce a long, terrible, and bloody war. They looked forward and saw poverty, deprivation, gloom, and death. But they also saw, on the wrecked clouds of war, the beautiful bow of freedom.
These grand men were enthusiasts; and the world has been raised only by enthusiasts. In every country there have been a few who have given a national aspiration to the people. The enthusiasts of 1776 were the builders and framers of this great and splendid Government; and they were the men who saw, although others did not, the golden fringe of the mantle of glory that will finally cover this world. They knew, they felt, they believed that they would give a new constellation to the political heavens–that they would make the Americans a grand people–grand as the continent upon which they lived.
The war commenced. There was little money, and less credit. The new nation had but few friends. To a great extent each soldier of freedom had to clothe and feed himself. He was poor and pure, brave and good, and so he went to the fields of death to fight for the rights of man.
What did the soldier leave when he went?
He left his wife and children,
Did he leave them in a beautiful home, surrounded by civilization, in the repose of law, in the security of a great and powerful republic?
No. He left his wife and children on the edge, on the fringe of the boundless forest, in which crouched and crept the red savage, who was at that time the ally of the still more savage Briton. He left his wife to defend herself, and he left the prattling babes to be defended by their mother and by nature. The mother made the living; she planted the corn and the potatoes, and hoed them in the sun, raised the children, and, in the darkness of night, told them about their brave father and the “sacred cause” She told them that in a little while the war would be over and father would come back covered with honor and glory.
Think of the women, of the sweet children who listened for the footsteps of the dead–who waited through the sad and desolate years for the dear ones I who never came.
The soldiers of 1776 did not march away with music and banners. They went in silence, looked at and gazed after by eyes filled with tears. They went to meet, not an equal, but a superior–to fight five times their number–to make a desperate stand to stop the advance of the enemy, and then, when their ammunition gave out, seek the protection of rocks, of rivers, and of hills.
Let me say here: The greatest test of courage on the earth is to bear defeat without losing heart. That army is the bravest that can be whipped the greatest number of times and fight again.
Over the entire territory, so to speak, then settled by our forefathers, they were driven again and again. Now and then they would meet the English with something like equal numbers, and then the eagle of victory would proudly perch upon the stripes and stars. And so they went on as best they could, hoping and fighting until they came to the dark and somber gloom of Valley Forge.
There were very few hearts then beneath that flag that did not bean to think that the struggle was useless; that all the blood and treasure had been shed and spent in vain. But there were some men gifted with that wonderful prophecy that fulfills itself, and with that wonderful magnetic power that makes heroes of everybody they come in contact with.
And so our fathers went through the gloom of that terrible time, and still fought on. Brave men wrote grand words, cheering the despondent; brave men did brave deeds, the rich man gave his wealth, the poor man gave his life, until at last, by the victory of Yorktown, the old banner won its place in the air, and became glorious forever.
Seven long years of war–fighting for what? For the principle that all men are created equal–a truth that nobody ever disputed except a scoundrel; nobody, nobody in the entire history of this world. No man ever denied that truth who was not a rascal, and at heart a thief; never, never, and never will. What else were they fighting for? Simply that in America every man should have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nobody ever denied that except a villain; never, never. It has been denied by kings–they were thieves. It has been denied by statesmen–they were liars. It has been denied by priests, by clergymen, by cardinals, by bishops, and by popes–they were hypocrites.
What else were they fighting for? For the idea that all political power is vested in the great body of the people. The great body of the people make all the money; do all the work. They plow the land, cut down the forests; they produce everything that is produced. Then who shall say what shall be done with what is produced except the producer?
Is it the non-producing thief, sitting on a throne, surrounded by vermin?
Those were the things they were fighting for; and that is all they were fighting for. They fought to build up a new, a great nation to establish an asylum for the oppressed of the world everywhere. They knew the history of this world. They knew the history of human slavery.
The history of civilization is the history of the slow and painful enfranchisement of the human race. In the olden times the family was a monarchy, the father being the monarch. The mother and children were the veriest slaves. The will of the father was the supreme law. He had the power of life and death. It took thousands of years to civilize this father, thousands of years to make the condition of wife and mother and child even tolerable. A few families constituted a tribe; the tribe had a chief; the chief was a tyrant; a few tribes formed a nation; the nation was governed by a king, who was also a tyrant. A strong nation robbed, plundered, and took captive the weaker ones. This was the commencement of human slavery.
It is not possible for the human imagination to conceive of the horrors of slavery. It has left no possible crime uncommitted, no possible cruelty un-perpetrated. It has been practiced and defended by all nations in some form. It has been upheld by all religions. It has been defended by nearly every pulpit. From the profits derived from the slave trade churches have been built, cathedrals reared and priests paid. Slavery has been blessed by bishop, by cardinal, and by pope. It has received the sanction of statesmen, of kings, and of queens. It has been defended by the throne, the pulpit and the bench. “Monarchs have shared in the profits. Clergymen have taken their part of the spoils, reciting passages of Scripture in its defence at the same time, and judges have taken their portion in the name of equity and law.
Only a few years ago our ancestors were slaves. Only a few years ago they passed with and belonged to the soil, like the coal under it and rocks on it.
Only a few years ago they were treated like beasts of burden, worse far than we treat our animals at the present day. Only a few years ago it was a crime in England for a man to have a Bible in his house, a crime for which men were hanged, and their bodies afterward burned. Only a few years ago fathers could and did sell their children. Only few years ago our ancestors were not allowed to write their thoughts–that being a crime. Only a few years ago to be honest, at least in the expression of your ideas, was a felony. To do right was a capital offence; and in those days chains and whips were the incentives to labor, and the preventives of thought. Honesty was a vagrant, justice a fugitive, and liberty in chains. Only a few years ago men were denounced because they doubted the inspiration of the Bible–because they denied miracles, and laughed at the wonders recounted by the ancient Jews.
Only a few years ago a man had to believe in the total depravity of the human heart in order to be respectable. Only a few years ago, people who thought God too good to punish in eternal flames an unbaptized child were considered infamous.
As soon as our ancestors began to get free they began to enslave others. With an inconsistency that defies explanation, they practiced upon others the same outrages that had been perpetrated upon them. As soon as white slavery began to be abolished, black slavery commenced. In this infamous traffic nearly every nation of Europe embarked. Fortunes were quickly realized; the avarice and cupidity of Europe were excited; all ideas of justice were discarded; pity fled from the human breast a few good, brave men recited the horrors of the trade; avarice was deaf; religion refused to hear; the trade went on; the governments of Europe upheld it in the name of commerce–in the name of civilization and religion.
Our fathers knew the history of caste. They knew that in the despotisms of the Old World it a was disgrace to be useful. They knew that a mechanic was esteemed as hardly the equal of a hound, and far below a blooded horse. They knew that a nobleman held a son of labor in contempt–that he had no rights the royal loafers were bound to respect.
The world has changed.
The other day there came shoemakers, potters, workers in wood and iron, from Europe, and they were received in the city of New York as though they had been princes. They had been sent by the great republic of France to examine into the arts and manufactures of the great republic of America. They looked a thousand times better to me than the Edward Alberts and Albert Edwards–the royal vermin, that live on the body politic. And I would think much more of our Government if it would fete and feast them, instead of wining and dining the imbeciles of a royal line.
Our fathers devoted their lives and fortunes to the grand work of founding a government for the protection of the rights of man. The theological idea as to the source of political power had poisoned the web and woof of every government in the world, and our fathers banished it from this continent forever.
What we want to-day is what our fathers wrote down. They did not attain to their ideal; we approach it nearer, but have not reached it yet. We want, not only the independence of a State, not only the independence of a nation, but something far more glorious–the absolute independence of the individual. That is what we want. I want it so that I, one of the children of Nature, can stand on an equality with the rest; that I can say this is MY air, MY sunshine, MY earth, and I have a right to live, and hope and aspire, and labor, and enjoy the fruit of that labor, as much as any individual or any nation on the face of the globe.
We want every American to make to-day, on this hundredth anniversary, a declaration of individual independence. Let each man enjoy his liberty to the utmost enjoy all he can; but be sure it is not at the expense of another. The French Convention gave the best definition of liberty I have ever read: “The liberty of one citizen ceases only where the liberty of another citizen commences.” I know of no better definition. I ask you to-day to make a declaration of individual independence. And if you are independent be just. Allow everybody else to make his declaration of individual independence Allow your wife, allow your husband, allow your children to make theirs. Let everybody be absolutely free and independent, knowing only the sacred obligations of honesty and affection. Let us be independent of party, independent of everybody and everything except our own consciences and our own brains. Do not belong to any clique. Have clear title-deeds in fee simple to yourselves, without any mortgages on the premises to anybody in the world.
It is a grand thing to be the owner of yourself. It is a grand thing to protect the rights of others. It is a sublime thing to be free and just.
Only a few days ago I stood in Independence Hall–in that little room where was signed the immortal paper. A little room, like any other; and it did not seem possible that from that room went forth ideas, like cherubim and seraphim, spreading heir wings over a continent, and touching, as with holy fire, the hearts of men.
In a few moments I was in the park, where are gathered the accomplishment of a century. Our fathers never dreamed of the things I saw. There were hundreds of locomotives, with their nerves of steel and breath of flame–every kind of machine, with whirling wheels and curious cogs and cranks, and the myriad thoughts of men that have been wrought in iron, brass and steel. And going out from one little building were wires in the air, stretching to every civilized nation, and they could send a shining messenger in a moment to any part of the world, and it would go sweeping under the waves of the sea with thoughts and words within its glowing heart. I saw all that had been achieved by this nation, and I wished that the signers of the Declaration–the soldiers of the Revolution–could see what a century of freedom has produced. I wished they could see the fields we cultivate–the rivers we navigate–the railroads running over the Alleghanies, far into what was then the unknown forest–on over the broad prairies–on over the vast plains–away over the mountains of the West, to the Golden Gate of the Pacific. All this is the result of a hundred years of freedom.
Are you not more than glad that in 1776 was announced the sublime principle that political power resides with the people? That our fathers then made up their minds nevermore to be colonists and subjects, but that they would be free and independent citizens of America?
I will not name any of the grand men who fought for liberty. All should be named, or none. I feel that the unknown soldier who was shot down without even his name being remembered–who was included only in a report of “a hundred killed,” or “a hundred missing,” nobody knowing even the number that attached to his august corpse–is entitled to as deep and heartfelt thanks as the titled leader who fell at the head of the host.
Standing here amid the sacred memories of the first, on the golden threshold of the second, I ask, Will the second century be as grand as the first? I believe it will, because we are growing more and humane. I believe there is more human kindness, more real, sweet human sympathy, a greater desire to help one another, in the United States, than in all the world besides.
We must progress. We are just at the commencement of invention. The steam engine–the telegraph–these are but the toys with which science has been amused. Wait; there will be grander things, there will be wider and higher culture–a grander standard of character, of literature and art. We have now half as many millions of people as we have years, and many of us will live until a hundred millions stand beneath the flag. We are getting more real solid sense. The schoolhouse is the finest building in the village. We are writing and reading more books; we are painting and buying more pictures; we are struggling more and more to get at the philosophy of life, of things–trying more and more to answer the questions of the eternal Sphinx. We are looking in every direction–investigating; in short, we are thinking and working. Besides all this, I believe the people are nearer honest than ever before. A few rears ago we were willing to live upon the labor of four million slaves. Was that honest? At last, we have a national conscience. At last, we have carried out the Declaration of Independence. Our fathers wrote it–we have accomplished it. The black man was a slave–we made him a citizen. We found four million human beings in manacles, and now the hands of a race are held up in the free air without a chain.
I have had the supreme pleasure of seeing a man–once a slave–sitting in the seat of his former master in the Congress of the United States. I have had that pleasure, and when I saw it my eyes were filled with tears. I felt that we had carried out the Declaration of Independence–that we had given reality to it, and breathed the breath of life into its every word. I felt that our flag would float over and protect the colored man and his little children, standing straight in the sun, just the same as though he were white and worth a million. I would protect him more, because the rich white man could protect himself.
All who stand beneath our banner are free. Ours is the only flag that has in reality written upon it: Liberty, Fraternity, Equality–the three grandest words in all the languages of men.
Liberty: Give to every man the fruit of his own labor–the labor of his hands and of his brain.
Fraternity: Every man in the right is my brother.
Equality: The rights of all are equal: justice, poised and balanced in eternal calm, will shake from the golden scales in which are weighed the acts of men, the very dust of prejudice and caste: No race, no color, no previous condition, can change the rights of men.
The Declaration of Independence has at last been carried out in letter and in spirit.
The second century will be grander than the first.
Fifty millions of people are celebrating this day. To-day, the black man looks upon his child and says: The avenues to distinction are open to you–upon your brow may fall the civic wreath–this day belongs to you.
We are celebrating the courage and wisdom of our fathers, and the glad shout of a free people the anthem of a grand nation, commencing at the Atlantic, is following the sun to the Pacific, across a continent of happy homes.
We are a great people. Three millions have increased to fifty–thirteen States to thirty-eight. We have better homes, better clothes, better food and more of it, and more of the conveniences of life, than any other people upon the globe.
The farmers of our country live better than did the kings and princes two hundred years ago–and they have twice as much sense and heart. Liberty and labor have given us all. I want every person here to believe in the dignity of labor–to know that the respectable man is the useful man–the man who produces or helps others to produce something of value, whether thought of the brain or work of the hand.
I want you to go away with an eternal hatred in your breast of injustice, of aristocracy, of caste, of the idea that one man has more rights than another because he has better clothes, more land, more money, because he owns a railroad, or is famous and in high position. Remember that all men have equal rights. Remember that the man who acts best his part–who loves his friends the best–is most willing to help others–truest to the discharge of obligation–who has the best heart–the most feeling–the deepest sympathies–and who freely gives to others the rights that he claims for himself is the best man. I am willing to swear to this.
What has made this country? I say again, liberty and labor. What would we be without labor? I want every farmer when plowing the rustling corn of June–while mowing in the perfumed fields–to feel that he is adding to the wealth and glory of the United States. I want every mechanic–every man of toil, to know and feel that he is keeping the cars running, the telegraph wires in the air; that he is making the statues and painting the pictures; that he is writing and printing the books; that he is helping to fill the world with honor, with happiness, with love and law.
Our country is founded upon the dignity of labor–upon the equality of man. Ours is the first real Republic in the history of the world. Beneath our flag the people are free. We have retired the gods from politics. We have found that man is the only source of political power, and that the governed should govern. We have disfranchised the aristocrats of the air and have given one country to mankind.
Living and Dying
Politics 2000: Who Cares?
This is not to say that either of our major choices at a national level is pristine or clear-cut. Al Gore’s reputation is badly stained with the illegal fund-raising he did with the Chinese for the DNC. George W. Bush, who was born with an oil stick in his mouth, presides over a state with a terrible record in maternal and child care and the most capital punishments carried out in the country.
Does anyone really care about the elections this year? Should anyone care? Who Cares?
There should be enough CARING to carry over to November 7th!
Professor Williams encouraged all of us to get involved with the election. Support the candidates and causes of your individual choice by volunteering, putting up lawn signs, and most importantly: voting!
From The Devil and Secular Humanism:
Discussion Group Report
Dealing With Superstition
By Richard Layton
Carl Sagan’s book, The Demon-Haunted World, is an outstanding work that describes practically every known form of superstitious belief in today’s world and tells us how to distinguish between authentic science on the one hand and pseudoscience and anti-science on the other. These latter have become a favorite lure used by present-day peddlers of superstition.
Sagan asks the crucial question, “If we teach only the findings and products of science–no matter how useful and even inspiring they may be–without communicating its critical method, how can the average person possibly distinguish science from pseudoscience? Both are then presented as unsupported assertion.”
He points out the importance of democracy, with its attendant freedom of expression and separation of powers, for the advancement of science. Thomas Jefferson, himself a scientist, explained, “In every government on earth is some trace of human weakness, some germ of corruption and degeneracy, which cunning will discover and wickedness insensibly open, cultivate and improve. Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved…”
Sagan says part of the duty of citizenship is not to be intimidated into conformity. He advocates that the oath of citizenship taken by recent immigrants and the pledge that students recite include something like, “I promise to question everything my leaders tell me,” and “I promise to use my critical faculties. I promise to develop my independence of thought. I promise to educate myself so I can make my own judgments.” The pledge, he says, should be directed at the Constitution and the Bill of Rights rather than to the flag and the nation.
The founders of our nation, he adds, were well-educated products of the European Enlightenment and students of history. At that time there were only 2.5 million American citizens. Today there are 100 times more. If there were 10 people of Jefferson’s caliber then, there ought to be 10 x 100 = 1,000 Tom Jeffersons today. Where are they?
Most of us are for freedom of expression when there’s a danger our own views will be suppressed. We’re not all that upset, though, when views we despise encounter a little censorship here and there. The system founded by Jefferson, Madison, and their colleagues offers means of expression to those who do not understand its origins and wish to replace it by something very different. Jefferson proffered, “If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” He continued, “A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both and deserve neither.”
Science, or its delicate mix of openness and skepticism, and its encouragement of diversity and debate, is a prerequisite for continuing the delicate experiment of freedom in an industrial and highly technological society. The Bill of Rights de-coupled religion from the state, in part because so many religions were steeped in an absolutist frame of mind–each convinced that it alone had a monopoly on the truth and therefore eager to impose this truth on others. The Framers of the Bill of Rights had before them the example of England, where the ecclesiastical crime of heresy and the secular crime of treason had become nearly indistinguishable.
Sagan concludes, “Education on the value of free speech and the other freedoms reserved by the Bill of Rights, about what happens when you don’t have them, and about how to exercise and protect them, should be an essential prerequisite for being an American citizen–or indeed a citizen of any nation, the more so to the degree that such rights remain unprotected. If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility, and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.”
Carl Sagan died 29 December 1996. His role as a voice of reason, a researcher, a defender of the scientific method, a skeptic, a storyteller, and an inspiration is greatly missed.
Render Unto Caesar
Two distinguished authors have recently published books concerning the deterioration of morality in our nation and both suggest the need for dramatic changes of individual attitudes to create improvements in our personal and community relations. They express a great deal of agreement as they write about their observations regarding human greed, alienation, dishonesty and lack of civility but the solutions they offer exemplify the basic differences between humanism and religion.
Robert Grant, humanist lawyer and former judge, author of American Ethics and the Virtuous Citizen, views the human being as an evolved rational animal who has developed the capacity to think, to reason and to discover truths. Gordon B. Hinckley, LDS Church president, author of Standing for Something, views human beings as creations of God who gave them the capacity to think, to reason and to accept revealed truths.
Grant cites the writings of secular philosophers who say the source of power is people who give governments limited authority to impose rules. Hinckley cites God as the source of power with humans having the obligation to obey divine commandments.
Grant concludes the virtuous citizen will choose the right course of action for their own enlightened self-interest and the common good. Hinckley says the virtuous citizen will choose the right course because of reverence to God. Both authors agree that humans must take responsibility for their decisions and accept the consequences of their actions. Both authors agree that civility is a core value of a virtuous society. After reading both books and meditating on the contrasting solutions to our nations moral dilemmas I have a greater appreciation for the wisdom our nations founders displayed in creating a democratic republic rather than a theocratic republic.
Are Souls Real?
Are Souls Real? by Jerome W. Elbert, Ph.D., publisher Prometheus Books.
There are three excellent reasons for putting this book on your must read list. First, the author presents a readable survey of the ancient religious myths modified and adopted by the founders of the Christian religion. Second, he is a distinguished scientist who explains basic science understandably for those of us with very little scientific knowledge. Third, he rewards the reader with a good understanding of why individual identity ends with death.
The author was a physics research professor at the University of Utah for 25 years.
The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power
Three Book Reviews
Three new books will add interesting information to any humanist conversation. The first two are fast reads; the details in the third one will require more time and concentration.
Papal Sin by Garry Wills summarizes the blatant historical abuses of power by Catholic popes, nepotism, murders, and wars of conquest but concentrates on the historical distortions and evasions of the modern papacy. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author is an adjunct professor of history at Northwestern University.
The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong details how and why the fundamentalists of Christianity, Judaism and Islam came into existence and what they yearn to accomplish. She examines the way these movements arose through the common fear of modernity, the dominance of secular values around the world. Fundamentalists have no tolerance for democracy, pluralism, free speech or the separation of church and state. The author took her degree at Oxford and is one of the foremost commentators on religious affairs in both Britain and the United States.
From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun details the 500 years of western cultural life since 1500, from the Renaissance and Reformation through the Enlightenment to the present. The hours you spend reading this book will reward you with a more clear understanding of the great division between Modernity and Post-Modernism. The 93-year old author was Seth Low Professor of History at Columbia, Dean of Faculties and Provost and twice president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I have been feeling a little frustrated recently and I’m appealing to you for some inspiration and guidance. Our membership numbers seem to have reached a plateau and I would like to see the growth renewed. Two areas are important to the health of our chapter:
To give you an example, during the past two years I’ve had the opportunity to speak to several hundred students in classes at the University of Utah. The student evaluation papers regarding my presentation indicate that about 95% of them had never heard of humanism before I spoke to them. The most frequent comment regarding humanism was surprise that people who do not fear godly judgment can have such a positive attitude about life and high moral values. A few of the students have requested more information or attended our meetings but most of them are now aware of humanism and many respect our view points as legitimate even though they disagree.
I would appreciate your comments on how we may expand public knowledge of humanism and your thoughts on programs and activities that would enhance your personal involvement in our chapter. No comment or suggestion is too ridiculous to consider.
Wouldn’t An Atheist Or Humanist Cheat If There Was No One Watching To Hold Them Accountable?
Michael Medved, a talk show host, posed this question on his show. He assumed that if there was no omnipotent, everywhere present, score-keeping God, we would cheat on our spouse or neighbor if we thought we could get away without penalty. He informed his audience that he went to Yale Law School with Bill Clinton. Consequently, it seemed ironic that he would ask the question because no matter what one thinks of Bill Clinton as President, his God beliefs did not appear to inhibit his many infidelities. Neither did it stop John Kennedy.
One could construct an experiment to discern whether a God believer, an atheist, or a humanist would be more likely to cheat. A clerk at a grocery store could pretend to not know that she had returned too much change to each of these categories of believers and then ascertain who would be most likely to return the misbegotten change. The results could then be compared.
The evidence we have from history doesn’t suggest that the rewards of heaven or the fear of hell have been very effective social controls. The institution that holds the largest percent of God believers is our prisons. Children in parochial schools cheat more often than children in public schools. Religious Crusades and ethnic cleansing have been the handiwork of dogmatic believers as well as dogmatic nonbelievers.
Ethical humanists internalize their values. They do the right thing because it befits their character. People of character honor their commitments, keep their promises, treat others fairly, and do service for their community because it is consistent with their valuing themselves. Being honorable has its own rewards, as people in the community respect honorable people, and they serve as good role models for their children. On the other hand, people who make public pronouncements about their self righteousness are often suspect. Jimmy Baker, Jimmy Swaggert, and Newt Gingrich are examples of public hypocrites who use religion as a cover.
We can leave it to others to determine whether people are more likely not to cheat because it is inconsistent with their character or because an invisible superpower may punish them after they die.
God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian
The Elegant Universe
One of Albert Einstein’s greatest hopes was to find a unified theory to explain the ultimate constituent particles or forces of the universe. Ironically much of his work in describing gravity was at odds with what was known about electromagnetism. When I studied physics as part of my university protocol the lessons were divided into two separate and mutually exclusive sections. For the grandiose, macro-universe one used Einstein’s theories. For the micro world of the atom the whole new set of formulae of quantum mechanics had to be learned.
Since my days in a formal education setting many new particles beyond electrons, protons, and neutrons have been predicted and discovered. Now there are muons, neutrinos, quarks (with interesting names like up, down, charm, strange, top, and bottom), etc.
Brian Greene, in his book The Elegant Universe, Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory, (Vintage Books, 1999) argues that physicists may be close to TOE-The Theory of Everything.
Most of this book was written for the lay person with an interest in science but without needing a strong mathematical background. There are a few chapters devoted to those better equipped for the math, but they are marked and can be skipped without losing out on the important concepts in the book.
Superstring theory not only resolves the differences between relativity and quantum mechanics, it requires both lines of thinking. It is also the first concept to fully explain gravity.
If you are like me and are interested in a refresher on physical theory I think that you will find this book fascinating.
Discussion Group Report
Are Mormons Creationists?
By Richard Layton
There are many versions of creationists, points out Duane E. Jeffery, BYU professor of zoology, in an April 1985 Sunstone magazine article, “Are Mormons Creationists?” In common American non-LDS usage, the term “creationists” refers to “persons of very ?fundamental? Christian persuasion who have banded together to promulgate certain views pertaining to the origin of the universe, earth, man, and so on. These include the tenets that God is omniscient, sovereign, absolute, and omnipotent; that he created all time, space, and matter instantaneously and out of nothing (ex nihilo) roughly 6,000-10,000 years ago. From such matter (dust), he then molded a body for man and created Eve from a rib thereof…over a period of six literal 24-hour days and …spoke, and things came instantaneously into existence, fully developed and functioning.” He is responsible to no power or laws other than his own and works by supernatural processes. Natural laws are seen as ungodly, the results of sin and wickedness. “Such concepts,” says Jeffery, “are demonstrably foreign to the philosophical underpinnings of Mormon theology.” He does not believe that Mormons should jump on the bandwagon with creationists, since there are important theological differences between Mormonism and creationism.
Mormon prophet Brigham Young responded directly to creationist concepts; “When you tell me that father Adam was made as we make adobies [sic] from the earth, you tell me what I deem an idle tale…There is no such thing in all the eternities where the Gods dwell.” Other statements from top Mormon authorities are: John A Widtsoe, General Authority: “The statement that man was made from the dust of the earth is merely figurative…Likewise the statement that God breathed into man the breath of life is figurative.” Church President Spencer W. Kimball: “The story of the rib, of course, is figurative.” President Joseph F. Smith: “The Church itself has no philosophy about the modus operandi employed by the Lord in His creation of the world, and much of the talk therefore about the philosophy of Mormonism is altogether misleading.” The First Presidency in 1860 and the first presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve in 1865 denounced Apostle Orson Pratt’s views on this but declined to establish any Church view for exactly what method the “Creator” had employed. In 1909 the First Presidency published a treatise entitled “The Origin of Man,” arguing that man’s spirit derives from divine parentage but paying little attention to the origin of man’s body. Curious LDS readers were answered in the church magazine, The Era, that the Lord had not revealed his methods. Readers were given three possibilities to consider: divinely directed evolution, transplantation from another sphere, or “born here in mortality, as other mortals have been.” None of these agrees with the creationists. Although various views have been expressed on this subject by apostles and presidents of the Church and some of these views have conflicted with each other, through it all the First Presidency, which includes the president of the church, who is considered by Mormons to be the only one who can receive divine revelation for the whole church, has made it clear that the church as yet possesses no precise revealed information on how man’s body was produced by God. In 1931 they ruled against continued discussion of the topic, silencing a running debate on the matter: “Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the people of the world. Leave Geology, Biology, Archaeology and Anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church.” More recently President Kimball echoed such sentiments, “We don’t know exactly how their [man’s and woman’s] coming into this world happened, and when we’re able to understand it the Lord will tell us.”
Finally, although Jeffery could not have known this when he wrote his article, just a few months ago the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the LDS Church public relations department had told it that the church supports the teaching of evolution in the public schools.
However, LDS spokesmen have overwhelmingly agreed that Adam and Eve were historical people, yet that their bodies were produced by some sort of biological procreation. Jeffery states, “This latter idea is thoroughly repugnant to modern creationists and serves to underscore my final point: that beyond generalities, Mormonism and modern creation are completely incompatible on issues relating to the origin of man. For Mormons it seems clear: believing in creation does not make one a creationist. Indeed Mormons would have to reject their entire philosophical framework to become such. This conclusion becomes even more vivid when one examines concepts of the nature of God, of physical law, and of ex nihilo creation.”
Discussion Group Report
Are Human Rights Inherent in Our Nature
By Richard Layton
“Human Rights are not legal fictions conferred by governments but are inherent features of our nature as human beings,” argues Robert Grant in his article, “The Social Contract and Human Rights,” in the January-February issue of The Humanist.
He says all societies have rules or laws and require their members to obey them for the peace and good order of that society. He cites John Rawls’ assumption in his book, A Theory of Justice, that a society is defined by its rules. There are two sources for the duty to obey such laws: authority and mutual consent. In Europe the authoritarian doctrine of the divine right of kings until the eighteenth century asserted that kingly authority was derived from the higher authority of God and therefore could not be called into question by either parliament or people. In many other cultures rulers were seen as gods themselves or as direct descendents of gods. Obedience to such figures of authority or to their duly ordained subordinates was seen as a basic duty. But mere obedience is not an ethical act. When it is enforced through conquest or slavery, or is simply the result of blind and unthinking compliance with the law, there is no free, intelligent, and conscious choice involved; there is no consent. “To yield to the strong is an act of prudence, not of respect for the law, asserts Grant. “Only when submission to the authority of a society is learned and accepted as a thoughtful, deliberate choice does acceptance of this duty become an ethical act.”
John Locke’s concept of the mutual consent of the governed as the basis of the social contract, enunciated in 1690, moved Western civilization from authority to agreement as the basis of civic duty to obey society’s rules. It was one of the greatest paradigm shifts in human history.
In our time John Rawls has transformed the conception of the social contract into a parable. In his scenario we imagine a gathering of human beings who have been stripped of their accidental characteristics: sex, age, race, nationality or tribe, social status. wealth or poverty, good health or disability. They are left with only the essential characteristics of their human nature. These humans can make free choices about what is in their own self-interest-and they understand that their enlightened self-interest values long-term goals over short-term satisfactions. They are social animals that know how to cooperate with each other. Each of these human beings becomes what the law refers to as “the reasonable person,” a hypothetical or abstract person who will act reasonably under any circumstance. These people come together and make rules for the commonwealth behind the “veil of ignorance”-that is without knowledge of who or what they will become when they return to society. Being completely equal in bargaining power and absolutely impartial, they will make rules that are both reasonable and just-that is, that burden and benefit each person equally. This becomes the ideal social contract.
In real life no such ideal gathering of people has ever taken place and no such ideal social contract has been drafted. We must then turn to the concept of an assumed consent, which takes it as granted or true that every reasonable person in a state of perfect equality and impartiality, if asked, would give such consent to the contract. Therefore, every member of a society is automatically bound by the social contract. Only when people explicitly acknowledge and accept the duties imposed by the social contract, with knowledge and forethought, do they perform an ethical act. Such explicit consent internalizes a person’s obligation to obey the law.
Basic duties are natural duties, since they arise from our nature as human beings. However, these natural duties are not perfected until we form ourselves into social groups, since duties are relationships. For example, the duty not to kill each other becomes a duty only with the formation of a social contract. In a disarmament negotiation, no party to the proposed compact would surrender weapons unless and until all others in the group had laid their arms on the table. So the consent must be unanimous and the duty imposed universal. Using the reasonable person test, the same analysis can be made of every basic duty. These will be very few.
“The social compact,” says Grant, “is the fundamental compact that consists of the rules imposing basic duties, assigning rights, and distributing the benefits of political, social, and economic cooperation, unanimously agreed to by reasonable people in a state of perfect equality and absolute impartiality.” It is the fundamental compact that is assumed to exist in every society.
A right is one side of a relationship; your right is the duty of another. A human right is a relationship arising from our nature as human beings that entitles an individual to certain conduct from another. It is a contractual right flowing from the social contract. A human right is not to be confused with a possession, like an apple or a house. Nor should it be equated with a human power, like the power to think or see or live. It is a relationship between an individual and all others that entitles a person to certain conduct from every other person and from society. Human or natural rights are only those that arise from the acceptance of natural duties. The denial or abridgement of human rights constitutes a breach of the social contract. These rights are universal, unalienable-they cannot be taken away or even abridged-indivisible and interdependent. There are very few human rights-life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness-but they are basic to our ability to live as human beings.
Self-government ultimately boils down to government by the majority of those voting except that human rights are not subject to majority vote. Unalienable means unalienable. “Governments become just, says Grant, “when they enforce the basic natural duties and protect the human rights flowing therefrom that constitute the social contract. And individuals become ethical when they freely acknowledge and affirm obedience to these basic duties as a personal obligation and give their informed consent to respect and honor the human rights of all other human beings.”
The Nature of Scientific Inquiry
In the November-December 1999 issue of The World magazine, UUA President John Buehrens wrote eloquently about spirituality and science. His treatment of the topic fits nicely with my theme. Dr. Buehrens’ conclusions are quite wide-reaching. Citing scientific philosopher Freeman Dyson, President Buehrens states: “…a God who is not self involved or fearful but creative and therefore always giving away being and power. A God who is not static but growing and changing, who is hurt or given joy by what we do or leave undone in our relations with others. Dyson speaks of a God inherent in the Universe and growing in power and knowledge as the universe unfolds.” In this citation, Buehrens presents a number of concepts: 1) Creative God, 2) Generous God, 3) Growing God, 4) Unfolding of universe, 5) God is the Universe: weighty theological innovations arising from science and spirituality. How has a simple discipline of measuring triangles and dissecting frogs reached such lofty mythological levels?
We see in president Buehren’s philosophy a tendency common to most humans to create abstract concepts such as justice, freedom, love, spirituality, and now, science, and animate them all, appearing as antique Gods with arrows, swords, or balances in hands. This completes the move of such concepts into the realm of mythology. This move changes how we look at science. Read the old mission statement of the Minneapolis Society and you can see the lofty position to which we have elevated science and the scientific method.
Science is in this way often tied to rational thought, giving the impression that if you are a rational being, you must use the scientific method in every possible situation. At that point, it becomes quite unclear whether science is the preferred universal tool for a rational being or whether science is just a synonym for rationality. If scientific inquiry–the operational definition of science–is just a tool, it becomes very difficult to define when it’s appropriate to use it as a label. If a Swedish scientist claims to have constructed the best possible mattress, has he used our tool? Has science, as a tool, been used to produce a BMW 500 ? Is astrology a product of science as a tool? It certainly is logical in its arguments and based on observations.
On the other hand, is science not a universal tool but only another name for rationality? If we agree that this is the case, then the most primitive aborigines practice science because their behavior within their surroundings is quite. rational.
It is clear from the above reasoning that it is not useful either to consider scientific inquiry as a universal tool or science as a synonym for rationality.
Looking at the problem, maybe we could justify the use of science in a nearly mythological context by considering scientific inquiry as the golden path to truth. The role of scientific inquiry is primarily the establishment of truth, but we need only read the scientific sections in our newspapers to realize that science can be used to define as true many incompatible statements. One day red wine is good for your health. True! The next day, alcohol use may lead to liver disease. True! No wonder that some lost school board in Kansas has declared creation to be a true scientific theory. Arguing along the mythological interpretation of science in president Buehrens’ article, I see no problem in declaring the story of Winnie the Pooh as a theory of small bears.
Uncertain and vague statements about science thus seem to be due to an unnecessary broadening of the definition of scientific inquiry. Let us try to examine its functioning and try to redefine the meaning of the words scientific inquiry.
We have to start from the beginning and try to find the goals for scientific inquiry and the foundational assumptions that such inquiry is based on. You can find the goals quite easily. Read a number of text books in physics ,astronomy, chemistry, biology and psychology, and it becomes immediately clear that the goal is always the same:
A precise description of the external world with us a part of it. A description in terms of observations made, using our senses.
Scientific vocabulary does not contain statements like, “good for you.” Thus, stories about the usefulness of red wine or the dangers of alcohol have nothing to do with science. Nor is the mattress design by Swedes classifiable as scientific inquiry. If the goal of scientific inquiry is to paint a picture, make a model of the physical world, then the two premises that such inquiry is based on become immediately evident.
Science as an art of describing the world around us cannot function if any of these two premises is violated.
We can ask if these two premises are ever challenged. Of course they are. The causality premise is challenged by the Christian dogma of God’s omnipotence and the possibility of his intervention in our time. The beautiful stories about the compatibility of Christianity and science are just stories. As long as it accepts miracles and response to prayers, Christian dogma cannot be compatible with science because as dogma it negates science’s causality premise,
Let me illustrate with a story: I work for Jimmy the Greek in Las Vegas and my quite well- paid role is to determine the handicaps for college football teams so that the public can bet on them. I work hard on developing the odds through researching statistics, health reports, previous records, etc. All is going pretty well. We don’t worry that most teams with their coaches pray before the game. Let us now assume that one day these prayers are answered and miracles happen here and there. The college games become unpredictable. Very soon, Jimmy the Creek and I decide to throw in the towel. Miracles do the same thing for scientists. Who can predict weather if in the wink of an eye the Red Sea parts on order of a local prophet?
The common reality premise has been challenged by many schools of thought, the latest being the French postmodernists and deconstructionists (Foucault;Lyotard). Anytime you hear somebody describing science as a white male power structure and touting the advantages of female science, you know the common reality premise has been violated. The structure of the world we observe as scientists is observer-neutral and common to us all. You cannot deconstruct it to different pieces depending on who you are. If you can do it, science is not possible. Dogmatic religious people at least are honest to the extent that they often bet their fate on the outcome of their prayer. Postmodern thinkers, however, negate the common reality premise only in a verbal sense in the academic and intellectual world. In their private lives, they act as if this premise were true; they do not doubt that reality for the 10,000 air traffic-controllers is precisely the same anywhere in the world, so they can collect their frequent flier miles in safety.
Let us summarize:
Provided common reality exists independent of us and the events observed show reproducible causality, we can proceed to paint a picture of the world. The process of doing it is defined as scientific inquiry. This inquiry is based solely on past or present observations.
The first development of scientific inquiry by humans started after they accepted the common reality and causality premises. Humans discovered the reproducibility and common basis of observations, maybe 10,000 years ago. We believe that they started with observations of the positions of heavenly bodies and such natural phenomena as the rise and fall of the level of the Nile.
The premises for scientific inquiry so far presented are a more abstract part of the process of inquiry. The inquiry itself is an eminently practical process that takes place in seven consecutive steps. We come now to the first three steps of inquiry, common to all branches of science. The steps follow each other both historically and logically. Thus, every new branch of science goes through these steps sequentially.
These are the seven practical steps that fully describe the process of scientific inquiry: a practical, simple but often arduous task. We can now recognize at which stage of development different popular problems are to be found.
We find that the study of human intelligence is in the pre-hypothesis stage where we are looking for variables. Darwin’s hypothesis of 1859 has become a theory of evolution still being amended. The inheritance of genes is based on Mendel’s research which has since become law (Mendel’s problems were simpler than Darwin’s as the number of variables for a gene is far less than for an organism).
The last question about science we are going to explore briefly is the question of the value of the product of scientific inquiry. We assume that all our theories have become laws. How well is the external world described by the laws derived by the seven-point method?
An immediate response to this question will doubtless be put forth by some erudite listeners. They will point out that I am getting dangerously close to describing a totally determined Universe which nobody believes in anymore. Furthermore, in my lecture, I am neglecting indeterminism. Many well-known scientists can be quoted as claiming there is no absolute certainty in science, that science deals only with probabilities.
Some listeners will stretch it somewhat further and claim that the Universe is characterized by the presence of randomness. They point to quantum mechanical theory as support. However, I am trying, in a very short time and quite crudely, to point out that what we call randomness and probability are factors introduced to account for the inadequacy of the human senses to deal with a wide variety of observations. There are too many variables for us to observe with necessary precision; due to the limited nature of our senses, we inevitably influence events in measuring them.
Let us now tackle the concept of probability and its role in scientific inquiry.
We are rolling dice and we keep book, recording all outcomes. It turns out that after a large number of rolls, each of the faces comes up with equal frequency, a very precise number. However, we can never predict what the outcome of an individual roll will be. Despite the best bookkeeping, you cannot find deviations from the results for the large numbers. Thousands of gamblers have learned this bitter truth. Thus, there is a very precise outcome for large numbers; we can certainly consider it to be the law for large numbers. However, there is randomness in the outcome for a single cast. Is this a mystery or a paradox?
Is randomness inherent in the design of the dice? Let us put the dice flat on the table with the face with one up and administer a push to the dice with a very precise machine–a machine that hits the dice in the middle, a little bit above the point of gravity. The dice rolls, maybe three times, with the face showing 2 turning up all the time. We can repeat this as many times as we want. If we place the dice precisely, and the force and direction of the push are constant, the distribution of the face turning up is quite different from the previous rolling where we used our hand. The face showing 2 turns up in most cases. There may be a few other faces when we were sloppy in positioning the dice. Well, there is certainly no randomness in the frequency of faces of dice turning up. (in stark contrast to the series where we used the hand). Consequently, there is no randomness in the dice (the cube itself).
The randomness is evidently in our roll. If we study the human hand casting the die, we discover it’s nearly impossible to isolate all the variables that go in the throw: our muscle coordination has an inherent tremor in it. We cannot put forward a theory for the trajectory of the dice. This doesn’t mean it’s not possible in principle to calculate it. In principle it is the same problem as a chess playing robot. We have always said that the game is too complex with too many variables, even the best computer cannot calculate them. Well, Deep Blue is very near to being the best chess player in the world.
What does science do if the calculations are too overwhelming? It observes a number of test throws and draws a list of outcomes and determines the frequency with which any of the faces comes up. The inverse of the frequency gives you the probability of the outcome. There is, therefore, no mystery about the frequency or the apparent randomness.
The most celebrated tables of probability are those for life expectancy. I am sure that soon with completion of the human genome project, we may calculate biological life expectancy for anybody. Still, the tables will do better because they will include such variables as traffic accidents, which are not mirrored in our genes. Thus, frequencies and probabilities reflect our limitations when dealing with very complex systems. They represent a useful approximation that nonetheless has very high predictive power.
What we have done now is to compensate for the inadequacy of our senses in dealing with large numbers, using statistics, which is the science of dealing with large numbers. Again, probabilities and frequencies represent efforts to deal with the inherent limitations of our human senses.
At this point somebody will assert that what I say may be true in macrocosmos, but when we go to atoms, the quantum chemistry enshrines both randomness and the probability present in very simple units of matter.
First of all, the story is not as clear as many would like it to be. Many scientists, Einstein among them, refused to believe in inherent randomness and preferred to look at apparent randomness as a product of hidden variables. The problem of uncertainty is closely linked to the effect of measurements. We have to visualize events so our senses will allow us to make an observation. This is the major limitation of science.
Yes, scientific inquiry will lead to a true picture of the world surrounding us. The picture, however, is never’ complete and has Ito be continuously amended when and if new observations are made. One can ask how can something be true if it has to be amended. The answer is that all scientific laws are approximations, and what we mean by amendment is that we have isolated new variables and can work with higher precision then before so that the picture of the world becomes clearer and shows more details. This does not mean that the previous picture was wrong, only that it was true at that level of detail and precision. One can compare science to photography that works with the same negative but with the use of increasing magnification.
Scientific inquiry leads to a neutral product. Good, bad, useful, harmful are adjectives outside the realm of scientific discourse. Human beings can look at any picture of nature and exclaim, “This is horrible; I do not like it.” Such valuation of neutral facts has nothing to do with science.
To be sure, the behavior of human beings, their beliefs and motivation for their acts, is itself a field for scientific inquiry. It is, however, on the first, most primitive level. We observe human behavior and try to identify variables that seem to influence it although we have not even succeeded in finding suitable measures. Sociology, psychology, economy, etc, are sciences of a sort, but sciences at their lowest level of development. The level is not determined by dearth of hard work and brilliant insight but is simply a function of the complexity of the systems at issue.
The main point remains: we have constructed our present picture of our world entirely on knowledge gathered by use of the 7-point method of scientific inquiry. The extension of science to art, poetry, and religion has not contributed much to science or to the arena of human emotions and feelings. Finally, the verbal extension of science into the realm of spirituality, as in the Buehren’s article, may contribute to literature and poetry, but not to science.
With a Ph.D. and a Doctor of Science from The University of Uppsala, Sweden, Andreas Rosenberg has been professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of Minnesota since 1964. He retired in 1999 but is still consultant at the Laboratory for Diagnostic Allergy in the Department of Lab. Med, and Path. He is also on the adjunct faculty of the Humanist Institute in New York. This address was delivered last December al the Forum of the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis.
Published in the 2000 Issue 1 of Occasional Newsletter of the Friends of Religious Humanism
Discussion Group Report
America’s Declining Social Capital
By Richard Layton
According to a Roper Report study, the number of Americans who report that “in the past year” they have “attended a public meeting on town or school affairs” fell by more than a third between 1973 and 1993. Similar (or even greater) relative declines are evident in responses to questions about attending a political rally or speech, serving on a committee of some local organization, and working for a political party. By almost every measure, Americans’ direct engagement in politics and government has fallen steadily and sharply over the last generation, despite the fact that average levels of education-the best individual-level predictor of political participation-have risen sharply throughout this period. “Every year over the last decade or two, millions more have withdrawn from the affairs of their communities,” says Robert D. Putnam in his article, “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital, “in the 1995 publication of The National Endowment for Democracy, by The Johns Hopkins University Press. He says Americans have also disengaged psychologically from politics and government over this era. The proportion of Americans who reply that they “trust the government in Washington” only” some of the time” or “almost never” has risen steadily from 30% in 1966to 75% in 1992.
Similar reductions have taken place in the numbers of volunteers for mainline civic organizations such as Boy Scouts (off 60% since 1970)) and the Red cross (off 61% since1970). Serious volunteering declined by roughly one-sixth between 1974and 1989, according to the Labor Department’s Current Population surveys. Fraternal major civic organizations have already seen a substantial drop in membership during the 1980s and 1990s. Although America is an astonishingly “churched” society (The U.S has more houses of worship per capita than any other nation on Earth), religious sentiment seems to be becoming somewhat less tied to institutions and more self-defined. Net participation by Americans in religious services and in church-related groups has declined modestly(perhaps by a sixth). For many years labor unions provided one of the most common organizational affiliations among workers. Since the mid-1950s,the unionized portion of the nonagricultural work force has dropped by more than half. The solidarity of union halls is now mostly a fading memory of aging men. Participation in parent-teacher organizations has declined drastically from more than 12 million in 1964 to 7 million now. Membership in traditional women’s groups and civic and fraternal organizations has fallen since the mid-1960s. Whimsical yet discomfiting evidence is the fact that more Americans are bowling than ever before, but bowling in organized leagues has plummeted in the last decade or so. These facts evidence as ignificant decline in “social capital,” a social science concept which refers to features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.
But perhaps the traditional forms of civic organization have been replaced by vibrant new organizations. There have been dramatic increases in national environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, feminist groups like the National Organization for Women, and the American Association of Retired Persons (now the largest private organization in the world except the Catholic Church). Although these new mass-membership organizations are of great political importance, for the vast majority of their members, the only act of membership consists of writing a check for dues or perhaps occasionally reading a newsletter. Few ever attend the meetings of such organizations, and most are not likely to encounter knowingly another member. And there is a growing prominence of nonprofit organizations, especially service agencies like Oxfam, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Ford foundation, and the Mayo Clinic. But it would be a mistake to assume that these necessarily promote social connectedness. There has been a rapid expansion of “support groups,” in which fully 40%of Americans claim to be currently involved on a regular basis. Although such groups unquestionably represent an important form of social capital, they do not typically play the same role as traditional civic associations. Robert Wuthnow opines that small groups may not be fostering community very effectively. Some “merely provide occasions for individuals to focus on themselves in the presence of others. The social contract binding members together asserts only the weakest of obligations. Come if you have time. Talk if you feel like it. Respect everybody’s opinion. Never criticize. Leave quietly if you become dissatisfied.”
These potential countertrends need to be weighed against the erosion of civic organizations. The General Social Survey shows that the average number of associational memberships has fallen by about a fourth over the last quarter-century. Putnam observes, “More Americans than ever before are in social circumstances that foster associational involvement, but nevertheless aggregate associational membership appears to be stagnant or declining.”
He offers these possible explanations for the situation: 1) The movement of women into the labor force; 2) Increased mobility (it takes time for an uprooted individual to put down new roots); 3) fewer marriages, more divorces, fewer children, lower real wages; 4) changes in scale (replacement of the corner grocery store by the supermarket and electronic shopping at home); 5) the replacement of community-based enterprises by outposts of distant multinational firms; and 6) the technological transformation of leisure, which “privatizes” or “individualizes” our use of leisure time (television, movies, VCRs, “virtual reality” helmets) and thus disrupts opportunities for social-capital formation.
Putnam suggests attacking the problem of declining social capital through research 1) to determine what types of organizations and networks most effectively embody-or generate-social capital in the sense of mutual reciprocity, the resolution of dilemmas of collective action, and the broadening of social identities; 2) to identify the macro-sociological crosscurrents that might intersect with the trends described here, (What will be the impact of electronic networks on social capital? What about the development of social capital in the workplace?); 3) to count the costs as well as the benefits of community engagement (with declining social capital has also come a substantial decline in intolerance and discrimination); and 4) to explore creatively how public policy impinges on social-capital formation.
Putnam concludes, “In America…there is reason to suspect that this democratic disarray may be linked to a broad and continuing erosion of civic engagement at that began a quarter-century ago…High on America’s agenda should be the question of how to reverse these adverse trends in social connectedness, thus restoring civic engagement and civic trust.”
AHA Conference Report
The Executive Director of AHA, Tony Hileman, told the board of directors one of his primary projects for the coming year is to improve the association’s relations with local chapters and individual members. Hileman said the transfer of membership records and chapter records from the Amherst, NY office to the new Washington DC office will soon be completed. A program to make members and chapters more aware of the value of belonging to the American Humanist Association will be evident in the near future. The success of this project is vital to fulfilling the new AHA Mission Statement approved by the board and members attending the June conference in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. The adopted mission statement defines AHA as a democratic voice for humanism whose aim is to increase public awareness and understanding of humanism and to serve the needs of its members in their pursuit of living meaningful lives.
As Hileman begins his second year as Executive Director his predecessor, Fred Edwords, will devote his time and energy as Executive Editor to revising and modernizing The Humanist magazine with the goal of making it more relevant to humanism.
The board also adopted a resolution calling for the United States of America to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; a resolution opposing Capital Punishment; a resolution Opposing the Use of Corporal Punishment and a resolution calling upon the U.S. Congress and all political leaders to make protecting children from gun violence a top priority.
The following is the mission statement adopted by the board of directors:
The MISSION of the American Humanist Association is to be a clear, democratic voice for humanism in the United States, to increase public awareness and acceptance of humanism, to establish, protect and promote the position of humanists in our society, and to develop and advance humanist thought and action. Guided by reason and our rapidly growing knowledge of the world, by ethics and by compassion, the American Humanist Association is dedicated to serving the needs of its members in their pursuit of fuller, more meaningful lives that add to the greater good of our society and all humanity.