Toward a Humanist Foreign Policy
Richard Layton’s Discussion Group
by Craig Wilkinson, MD
Carl Coon is the Vice President of the American Humanist Association and a former ambassador to Nepal. In this article he outlines what he feels is a humanist foreign policy that should be adopted by the United States. He starts by declaring that the foreign policy of President Bush is a disaster. On many issues, not just Iraq, he has been wrong. These include global warming, missile defense, population growth, and now Iran. He has had a narrow world view combined with a desire to seek advice only from people who will fortify his prejudices, rather than from the ones who know and understand the issues, and this is a dangerous combination.
He quotes Henry Kissinger who once observed that absolute security for any one country meant absolute insecurity for its neighbors. This point is critical and is least understood by Bush and his accomplices, but by many, if not most, Americans. The fact of the matter is that we can’t have it both ways. We cannot insist on total security for us and us alone, and expect full cooperation from everyone else. Cooperation requires some sacrifices, some concessions, from each of the partners.
There has to be a better way, and of course there is. We need to lead by example, not threats. We need to listen to others, learn what their problems are, and exercise our talents and ingenuity toward finding solutions that help everyone to the extent it is possible. We need to take the dawning environmental crisis seriously and show that we’re willing to make our share of needed sacrifices. Above all we need to recognize that we have to sacrifice some of our national sovereignty if we are to cooperate effectively on global problems with the rest of the world.
Until now, there has been no such thing as a global society. The most complex societies have been nation-states. There is a global authority, the United Nations, but it has no teeth. On the most important issues, a sovereign nation can ignore any UN attempt to constrain or control its behavior. It is true that many international and regional organizations, buttressed by treaties and conventions, bring a modicum of law and order into specific areas of international relations. They are useful and respond to real needs. But on the most important issues, any member of the UN can defy its authority, and the only recourse the UN has is to try to persuade other nations to put pressure on the miscreant. This sometimes works with small and powerless countries but the big ones can behave as the please. When the chips are down, the current global society resembles Dodge City from the mythology of the cowboy movie, where victory goes to the fastest draw.
Mr. Coon then outlines humanism’s role in the evolution of a global society. Humanity, he states, is now in a transitional phase, moving reluctantly from Dodge City to a global society ruled by law. He understands that creating some kind of law and order that will include the whole globe will be an enormously complicated task, one that certainly will not be fully accomplished during the lifetime of anyone alive today. But, he states, it is equally plausible that some such order will evolve eventually, if humanity is to survive at all. Right now we are living in a fool’s paradise, based on an uneasy equilibrium backed up not by an effective international rule of law but by a balance of terror.
He envisions an active, explicitly humanist policy centered on a renewed dedication to basic rules of good conduct amongst nations. This would include the concept of universal human rights. Humanists should support a stronger United Nations and more effective means of controlling conflicts, and especially nuclear weapons.
A world at peace is and should be a primary long term goal of the humanist movement. Most of the rest of humanity is floundering at this point, too involved in parochial concerns to see the big picture. We humanists are unencumbered by religious prejudices and are open to objective consideration of international ethical principles. Let’s get out in front with a defined, well recognized posture in favor of a world at peace, governed by law and not brute force, with the values of universal human rights under-girding the law, and shared by all.
1915 ~ 2008
“Thank you, whatever comes.”
And then she turned
And, as the ray of sun on hanging flowers
Fades when the wind hath lifted them aside,
Went swiftly from me. Nay, whatever comes
One hour was sunlit and the most high gods
May not make boast of any better thing
Than to have watched that hour as it passed.
Gentleman scholar, mentor, bibliophile, Mormon historian, English and American studies professor and advocate of Indo-American scholarship and understanding, Mulder, 92, died Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at his home. He was born in Haarlem, Holland in 1915, he immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1920, first to New Jersey and six years later to Salt Lake City.
Upon graduation from the University of Utah in 1940, he was elected to Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Beta Kappa honorary scholastic societies and returned to the University for his master’s degree in English in 1947. Mulder pursued graduate studies at Harvard University in an American Civilization program and was granted a Ph.D. “with distinction” in 1955.
Bill and his wife Helen spent many years in India spread over a couple of multi-year trips. These experiences reinforced the world view that he already held and made him an even greater teacher and mentor.
Bill was a long time member of our chapter. In March of 2002 he gave a lecture titled, “Problems of the Mormon Intellectual.” Here is an excerpt:
The Mormon intellectual as scientist has a higher threshold than as humanist because, more familiar with natural fact than with social value, as scientist he is more willing to assign matters of value to the area of faith, where religious authorities can resolve doubts and make decisions. His religion is not in conflict with science because they don’t really meet. The Mormon intellectual as humanist, on the other hand, finds himself deeply entangled in kinds of truth not as readily verifiable as in chemistry or mathematics, but relative. In the humanities and social sciences, truth is not so much discovered as created. Social and moral and religious “truths” leave more room for argument and require, in any effort to institutionalize them, greater latitude of interpretation and application.
A more complete report of that lecture is available on our website. Humanists of Utah wishes to extend sincere condolences to Helen and the rest of the Mulder family. Bill is already sorely missed.
I am sometimes dismayed by the way that many of the religious groups in this country vilify secularism and consider it a threat to their beliefs. The fact that all of the different religions in the United States can worship how they wish without some government-imposed religion is the result of our secular government. The most important question we can ask is, “If religion and state are to be combined, then which religion?” Religious freedom is dependant on a secular government, that is, a government that does not interfere with religion, for or against–one that is consistently neutral.
I think one of the most important things that many or most of the founders of our government knew was that mixing religion and government was bad for both. We don’t want Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Jewish or indeed any religion or confederation of religions in charge. They would rule over, not govern for, the people.
In keeping with this idea, one of the agenda items for our Board of Directors has been the idea of hosting a second yearly event, (similar to our recent Darwin Day, only smaller) in addition to our regular meetings. One idea being discussed is to have a forum with discussions, presenters and a Questions and Answers session. As with Darwin Day, the purpose of the forum would be to educate the community, and perhaps potential Humanists of Utah members, on timely and relevant topics, for example, the U.S. Constitution. Other topics being considered are the separation of church and state, and an overview of the Founding Fathers. If such an event comes to fruition, I would like to give Thomas Paine the consideration he is due, something he had been long denied because of his views on religion. His writings are so very important to this Republic of ours.
Your views on the subject matter of such event, or of the chapter in general are solicited and welcome. We do not get much feedback, and the Board would love to know what is on your mind: ideas, concerns, suggestions, etc. I also ask that you consider volunteering for a committee for one of these events, or for one of the other many needs of the chapter. We would also like to see more of you submit letters to the editor of our Utah Humanist newsletter. Please take advantage of our newsletter to voice your opinions; I’m sure Wayne Wilson would love to have material to “fatten up” the newsletter. Give it a try–you may start liking it and become a regular contributor. I certainly find it enjoyable to express myself in our newsletter.
On a final note, I was saddened when I was informed that Dr. William Mulder had died on March 12, 2008. He will be missed. However, upon further reflection, I was buoyed by the knowledge that his was a life well lived. Any perusal of his life reveals many accomplishments in a number of areas of endeavor worldwide. I knew Dr. Mulder for only the last several years, but in the few times I heard him speak and the times we conversed, it became obvious to me that I was talking to a man of great intellect, wisdom and compassion. I was honored to have known such a warm and friendly man.