Joel Cohen on Big Think – Demography and the Real Challenges of Humanism

Posted by on August 23, 2012 in Featured, Thoughts | 7 comments

There’s a lot of talk about the role of atheism as a movement lately. Some are saying we need to splinter off into a new sub-group called AtheismPlus (or A+ for short). Some are saying this is no different from secular humanism. Some are saying that the creation of a new group is creating an exclusivity which the new group hopes to demolish.

To tell you the truth, I’m not sure how I feel about this. One thing I do know is that, for me, my humanism (lowercase “h”) is secular in nature, and my atheism is what informs me in my need for it to be secular. I may fit into the mold of what is being described by A+, but I am not going to join up. Don’t take it personally. I just don’t like groups, because as we can see, it causes divisions, “groupthink” and tribalism. I am hoping this infighting will fall by the wayside as either the A+ movement matures, or dissipates, or whatever happens. (Am I too moderate? Probably, but I try to be realistic about everything, and since there are a lot of emotions involved which are hard to accommodate for in full, keeping my distance is probably my best course of action.)

So while I understand what is happening, and the enthusiasm for change (change which may be good if directed in the right way), I’d like you all to take 40+ minutes and watch this Big Think video of a conversation with the mathematical biologist at Rockefeller University, Joel Cohen. He makes a lot of sense, and it may shift your perception away from the infighting of the current situation, and back to the larger problems and challenges we face if we are to sustain humanity into this century and beyond. In summary, he outlines what we can do to support the people we have now, the people who will be living in the next 25-50 years, and that these solutions will trickle on to the people of the future. It covers topics of population, overpopulation, food supply, contraception, meat growth and demand, religious influence, cultural influence, dignity, well-being, and education. It’s an incredibly complex problem, but it all makes sense when you watch this video. (It goes a little off track, but as you will see, the clarity of his thought is obvious.) I always try to get as much of a perspective on any situation before making a complete decision, and this video, for me, shows just how complex the equation for a better life for humanity actually is.

See also this video (on Facebook) which is one of the Floating University lectures from Big Think (under the Michio Kaku video). This talks about what it means to be a demographer, and comes to many of the same conclusions as the video above. (Unfortunately I can’t seem to embed the video from FB.)

PS: If my inability to choose a side in the argument renders me irrelevant, then so be it. I’ll just continue to blog here on whatever I want to. It is, after all, my blog.

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7 Comments

  1. Joel @ 4min mark, on Education:
     
    (paraphrasing) “recognising that other people have different values is *itself* a value”
     
    Nice.

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  2. Atheism Plus seems a seductive distraction from political debates led by well-founded factions. Ironic it’s our turn to be fiddling whilst Rome burns (with hypotheses about how to herd cats). What infidels deserve is our meows to be heard, which means working with those whose mean speech we attack.

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  3. Atheism Plus seems a seductive distraction from political debates led by well-founded factions. Ironic it’s our turn to be fiddling whilst Rome burns (with hypotheses about how to herd cats). What infidels deserve is our meows to be heard, which means working with them whose mean speech we attack.

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  4. Well said Martin.  As you pointed out on my site, I said something very similar.  I am referring to your first two paragraphs.  I have not yet had time to watch the videos.

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    •  @reasonbeingblog There’s really not a lot much more to it for me…

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  5. I don’t think your ‘inability to choose a side’ renders you irrelevant. As I see it, the A+ thing is for people to self-identify, to make it absolutely clear they are atheists who are strongly pro-social justice. And they’ll happily join up with anyone who shares any of those goals when they overlap.As for the necessity of that, well, if you’d asked me a year ago whether I thought such a thing was necessary, I’d have said no, because at that point I didn’t believe the atheist community had a serious diversity problem. But between how people like Rebecca Watson and Surly Amy and their supporters, despite how much work they do for atheism/skepticism, have been treated, and the number of comments that have appeared since the announcement of the A+ group from people saying they would get on board this concept when before they shunned the community because of its bigotry, I’ve realised that there are benefits to making this kind of statement.It’s about involving (and, to some extent, retaining) people who otherwise wouldn’t want to be involved in the atheist community. Yes, it’s divisive, but so what? People should be allowed to form subgroups to focus on their specific interests – particularly when no small proportion of the ‘mainstream’ atheist community has made it clear that they and their views and goals are most certainly not welcome.Put it this way – the negativity seem to be mostly coming from people I know are straight white cis-gendered guys (of which, incidentally, I am one), while most of the positivity is coming from every other ‘category’ (for want of a better word) of people who’ve felt they had no voice in the community before.This article is a good one for conveying what I think the benefits of A+ are (sorry, not sure how to link here): http://dubitoergosum.net/2012/08/23/what-kind-of-diversity/

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    • Sorry about the formatting! There were paragraph breaks when I posted it…

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