September 2016


Whose Ground?

Excerpted from Patricia Williams’ article in The Nation (Aug. 29/Sept.5, 2016) of the same name because rational thought should supersede a panic response for all of us, especially humanists.

He looked dangerous. He looked like a suspect. He looked like he was reaching for a weapon. The officer feared for his life.

This familiar litany was recited on the news more than once in this vexed summer—a time weighted with foreboding, anxiety, and grief. We are all afraid of something: terrorism, random outlaws with PTSD, ominous political forces. As a result, gun sales have soared. Paradoxically, rising gun sales mean that it’s increasingly reasonable to suspect that someone pulled over by police to the side of the road will have one. Writes Ted Shaw, director of the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina, “in a society that worships gun culture and advocates the right to carry weapons, it cannot be that the fact that an individual has a gun automatically justifies shooting him.”

Caroline Light (whose excellent book Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair With Lethal Self-Defense is forthcoming from Beacon Press next spring) asserts that current policies, including defunding basic public services, have led to a situation in which “the state’s retreat from protection of its citizens creates a perceived need for (do-it-your)self-defense.”

But “stand your ground” laws are a sub-species of self-defense. The idea is that “ground” is jurisprudentially defined as a space from which one has the reasonable expectation of excluding others—i.e. one’s property. What makes the idea of standing one’s ground so troubling is precisely the question of whose ground it is anyway–yours or mine? What indeed of “our” ground?

If mere experience of fear justifies violence anyplace, anytime, we have set a dangerous precedent regardless of race, gender, or occupation—but especially in the case of police. There are at least some who, in the absence of training, experience, self-restraint, and proper support, may fill that void with assumptions and panic–who would place self-protection so far ahead of the duty to protect the community that they succumb much too easily to an ethic of “Shoot first, ask questions later.”

Nikki Giovanni’s poem “Allowables” bears repeating as a counter-litany in these times of edgy stand-off:

I killed a spider
Not a murderous brown recluse
Not even a black widow
And if the truth were told this
Was only a small
Sort of papery spider
Who should have run
When I picked up the book
But she didn’t
And she scared me
And I smashed her
I don’t think
I’m allowed
To kill something
Because I am

—Lauren Florence, MD

President’s Report

In recent conversations with Humanists of Utah board members and regular chapter members the subject of de-baptism events has come up. These happenings have occurred more often lately in part due to the recent pronouncement by the LDS Church concerning children of gay parents needing to reject their parent to become members. You know, that good old Biblical notion of suffering the sins of your father. Since that pronouncement, thousands of members have undergone this ritual to remove themselves as members of the LDS church.

I think it is about time for HoU to host one of these events. I am also willing to be first to undergo this ritual. For quite some time I hav maintained that I am the one who decides whether I am a member or not. But a couple of people point out that regardless of what I say, I am still on the roles and considered a member by the church. This is true of course, because the LDS home teachers stop by every fourth Sunday to say hi and see how we’re doing. They’re nice people and they are actually aware of my humanism and our group, as they are related to former member and one of HoU’s founders Martha Stewart. They will be disappointed, but I can’t let that stop me. So if there are any of you who still need and want to free yourself from the LDS church, let us know, and let’s make plans to do this soon.

Moving to another subject, I want to say something about gun violence. I know I have visited this subject at least a few times in the years I have been writing my report. But sometimes something gets me going again. Actually I don’t want to write about gun violence so much, but more about some statistics.

Gun violence is certainly a horrible problem in this country and I think stricter laws should be written. But recently in the comments thread of an article about gun violence, I got in an exchange with a woman who was so upset that Americans weren’t more outraged about this violence and working to ban guns. What I pointed out was that our society is a little strange to me in that we are outraged about gun violence and rightly so, but not very outraged about other “more deadly” aspects of our society. I then pointed out that while guns had caused 33,000 deaths in a recent year, tobacco cigarette smoking alone accounted for 480,000 deaths in a year. That’s about 15 times more deaths than from guns. So where’s the outrage. They’re both products sold legally in the U.S.

The woman I had the exchange with also felt that the gun manufacturers were criminals and partly responsible for the deaths. So I asked her if tobacco growers and their employees were criminals also, because after all, they are in the business of selling poison. I got no response to that.

I know statistics can be boring and used improperly they can be misleading. But they can also shed light on a subject and cut through some of the emotional response we have to issues such as gun violence and the like. Cold hard facts sometimes in comparison, sometimes in charts, columns, graphs and maps help broaden our perspectives on issues where emotions and media hype fail.

—Robert Lane
President HoU

Webmaster / Editor / Publisher