December 1 2007
The Spirit of New Humanism
North American New Humanist Forum: Thinking Beyond Borders
New York, November 16, 2007
On November 16, 2007, Chris gave this talk as part of the Opening Celebration of the North American New Humanist Forum. The event also included presentations from Daniel Berrigan and Tomas Hirsch, the Latin American Spokesperson for Humanism. The forum brought together roughly 350 activists, students, and individuals representing some 40 organizations to address the urgent issues facing our region of Canada, Mexico and the United States and to map out a direction based on active non-violence.
Dear old and new friends
I have the pleasure to speak to you tonight about the perspective of New Humanism, which I hope will be a contribution to the very important work of this forum. Rather than trying to be very correct or comprehensive, I want to speak more personally, and maybe that way I can communicate something of the spirit of the New Humanism, as I understand it.
For those of you who may not know, New Humanism is an activist current of humanism based on the work of Silo, who for almost 40 years has been a courageous and inspiring voice in favor of active non-violence and profound social and personal transformation. It’s a current with many expressions both in ideas and projects, but perhaps more than anything, it’s a movement that aspires to respond to the actual issues of this time, and to build alternatives to the violent and out-dated structures and institutions that no longer fit and that block human beings in their progress and development.
What is the world we live in today?
A world in which children are bombed and die of starvation;
In which young people can’t study unless they can pay;
In which indigenous peoples are robbed of their lands;
In which our grandparents can’t afford health care;
In which young men commit suicide after witnessing, or committing, atrocities in war;
In which kids are beaten or excluded because of which gender they like;
A world in which a very few people have more than they could ever possibly use.
It’s also a world in danger of nuclear war;
In which politicians routinely ignore the will of the people;
A world in which women are murdered and brutalized with impunity;
A world in which one culture sets itself up as the model for all the world to follow;
And in which selling weapons is big business.
All of these are forms of violence, not only physical violence but economic violence, racial violence, cultural and religious violence. These facts, these conditions, are absurd and monstrous. So what do we do? Is it a question of making a few adjustments, passing a law or two, increasing the budget for education,? Or protesting the current or the next invasion? I don’t mean to say these things are bad, but are they enough? Or do we need a change that goes deeper, something more fundamental and structural. What used to be called a revolution until that word went out of fashion. But maybe not a revolution like we imagine from the old days, with barricades and armed struggle — but something quieter, something soft but profound - absolutely non-violent - but reaching to the fundamental economic and political structures that today are generating suffering and blocking human progress.
Maybe we need a kind of moral revolution - or for some people it could be experienced as a spiritual revolution - not imposed from above - but something that arises in the hearts of the people and swells in force until it makes the old world (the violent, unjust world) seem ridiculous and impossible — obsolete.
Maybe the new revolution would consist (at least in part) of a recognition that all these forms of violence that have been taken for granted for so long — that have been justified or explained away as the cost of progress, or a natural part of life, or the survival of the fittest — that this violence (and the pain and suffering it produces) is not inevitable, that humanity has the resources and the technology to eliminate poverty, to eliminate ignorance and lack of education, to provide homes and health care for all the children in the world. And that if this is possible, and it is not being carried out due to a lack of “political will” or lack of interest, or a sense of “what can I do about it?” — or interests that oppose that direction — then this is profoundly wrong and we need to change it.
New Humanism asks these types of questions and doesn’t accept the false division between the personal and the social. Because human beings are not separate from the world and each other. So these things affect us - both on a social level, because the growing violence, the progressive deterioration of the public health, the economy, the infrastructure, all ultimately reach even the richest, most “protected” person, but also on a deeply personal level; because the absurdity of a world in which some children die needlessly, while others are smothered in gifts, simply because the primitive structures of unequal distribution impose this monstrous situation - because the injustice of that also nags at my conscience - whether I recognize it or not - and poisons my life with fear and a profound despair. So we need progress for everybody - not just a few.
New Humanism values diversity and denounces all forms of discrimination and violence (religious, sexual, cultural, generational). It defends complete freedom of ideas and beliefs. It offers ideas and proposals, a general framing that gives direction to our work; including the transformation of economies - of the relationship between labor and capital (to give labor a real share in the profits as well as in the decision-making about how profits are re-invested); real democracy (with proposals like laws of political responsibility so politicians who betray their promises (as they routinely do) can be removed). But it’s also an attitude and a style of work that places an emphasis on inclusiveness, collaboration, and diversity.
One thing that’s clear is that violence is a dead end. How can they expect to solve the problem of violence — with violence? Now more than ever we need to build understanding and dialogue, not walls. It’s not a time for desperate irrational measures, but a time for reflection, for reason, for trying to understand the processes we are living through, and for building a future based on simple human values — people are more important than profits, everyone should have the same opportunities in life, no one should be excluded because of where they were born or what they believe or who they happen to love.
It’s also not a time for standing on the sidelines. It’s a time for engagement, for dialogue, for creativity, for opening new roads. This is one reason diversity is so important, because we need the contributions of all the cultures to overcome the problems we face.
It’s a time to seek internal peace and external/social engagement and activism, looking for what we have in common with the many others who share a certain search that is beginning to emerge (even if it is not yet fully formed); a search for new solutions based on a scale of values that places the freedom and development of the human being at the pinnacle - not the human being is most important “as long as the macroeconomic factors allow it” or the human being is most important “as long as my profits are not reduced” not the human being “as long as it helps me get re-elected or to exploit a particular market demographic.” … a search based on a new revolutionary spirit that says:
We will not rest until every child, woman and man on the planet has equal opportunities to live, to learn, to grow, to thrive - to love, to contribute.
This is the world we envision. This is the world we work for. This is the world we are building.
New Humanists Support Czech Boycott