The Paradox of Tolerance: We Must be Intolerant of Intolerance

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It feels like many have forgotten one of the important the lessons of history. With the recent Charlottesville violence and the failure of the United States president to condemn white supremacists perhaps a reminder of one of the lessons came of out World War 2: tolerance needs to be limited to intolerance. We learned the hard way that sitting by and watching hate spiral out of control has disastrous consequences. Even before Britain and France declared war the Jewish in Germany suffered a downward spiral of hate and violence. It went, roughly, as follows:

  1. A powerful reminder of what happens when we tolerate intolerance.

    Rumours and conspiracies: When world War 1 was ending front-line German soldiers felt like they were winning. They were gaining ground and morale was high. When the treaty of Versailles came Germans were forced to stop fighting and give up some of the territory they had captured, they felt betrayed. The rumour circulated among front-line soldiers that it was a Jewish and communist conspiracy. They took their resentment of the Jewish and Communists home with them.

  2. Blame: A few coincidences such as a few of the leaders of the räterepublik being Jewish exasperated anti-Jewish hate in Germany.
  3. Generalized Bigotry: A steady increase in antisemitism started occurring in Germany and gave strong anti-Jewish political establishments like the Nazi’s a chance at election.
  4. Loss of homes and businesses: After the Nazis were elected in addition to the yellow badges of shame was the seizing of Jewish homes and businesses.
  5. Escalated Violence: As if losing everything and facing hatred wasn’t enough violent incidents such as the Kristallnacht (Night of the Long Knives) became acceptable in Germany.
  6. Segregation: Shortly before the establishment of concentration camps jewish Germans were all moved into fenced off neighborhoods and forced to fend for themselves where they either starved our sold off the last of their belongings for food through the fence. They also had no medicine and they suffered crime driven by desperation.

All of this was known in the free world at the time and we did nothing, we all know what happened next: Industrialized killing, torture, torment and all other kinds of suffering and misery of millions of people because of their religion. And of course the invasion of peaceful countries that lead to a world war that killed over 60 million.

After the war Karl Popper outlined The Paradox of Tolerance:

“Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them…We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.” Karl Popper

This is spot on correct, it’s only through zero tolerance that we defeat the ugly beast of intolerance. There is no question that a person or a group should be allowed freedom of speech and peaceful assembly, no matter how much we disagree with the ideas and opinions of that person or group.  A person or group must be allowed to hold an an ideology no matter what, even if it is as ignorant Nazism/White Supremacy. However these are only legal protections in a free society, not social. There is nothing to stop a person from speaking out against hate and we can certainly have nothing to do with them. Being intolerant of intolerance is really the only way of ensuring the hateful do not succeed. It’s not an easy process because human beings tend to categorize people, places and things to make thinking easier. The difference is racists and bigots don’t draw a line or understand that things like skin colour and religion are superficial reasons to judge a person.

This blog tries to stay away from politics but Trump not condemning the racists was, in this blog’s opinion, his biggest failure in leadership yet and  very damaging to anything a humanist (or any decent human being for that matter) stands for.

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Dynamic Optimism

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I came across this in 2000 and really liked it. It was written by Max More and it covers all the basics of what it means to be an optimist. Like anything psychology related you simply can’t change your personality and embrace an ideology on a whim but the essay is on the head about optimism. This has also inspired a soon to be added mental health page.

DYNAMIC OPTIMISM is an active, empowering, constructive attitude that creates conditions for success by focusing and acting on possibilities and opportunities.

To understand Dynamic Optimism deeply and to apply it to expanding our lives, we need to become aware of its diverse aspects—the personal characteristics of a dynamic optimist and the kinds of powerful thinking patterns such a person displays. The dynamic optimist both interprets experience positively, and influences outcomes positively. Merely believing that everything will work out fine without taking action makes one a foolish optimist, not a dynamic optimist. For optimism to give us the power to overcome the limits in our lives it needs to fully recognize reality, not hide from it. For optimism to maximize our abilities and happiness, we have to take responsibility for our thoughts, our attitudes, and our actions. This world is full of possibility. We can achieve almost anything we can conceive. Yet we will move forward only by turning dreams into practical, rational, responsible thinking. This kind of thinking will naturally generate productive activity.

The twelve key characteristics of the dynamic optimist can be stated briefly but take practice and wisdom to implement consistently. First I will divide them into characteristics involving the positive interpretation of experience and the positive influencing of outcomes. We can then investigate in more detail what each involves.

 INTERPRETING EXPERIENCE POSITIVELY:

(1) Selective Focus: Emphasizing the enjoyable, constructive, open aspects of life.

(2) Refraining from Complaining: Avoiding pointless complaining and whining about one’s difficulties. Taking the world as it is and not complaining that life isn’t fair.

(3) Questioning Limits: A constructive skepticism that challenges the limiting beliefs held by ourselves, our associates, and our society. A fundamental creative openness to possibilities.

(4) Sense of Abundance: Feeling free to do what you want, rather than feeling compelled by circumstances or people. Recognizing the world to be full of opportunities. Being for things, not against things.

(5) Humor: Seeing one’s own shortcomings with a sense of humor. Allowing healthy, good-natured humor to reveal new perspectives and combat dogmatic thinking.

 INFLUENCING OUTCOMES POSITIVELY:

(6) Rational: Using reason rather than being lead by fears and desires. Objectively assessing situations and taking action based on understanding reality apart from our wishes.

(7) Self-Improving: Optimists see the self as a process and seek continual improvement. Their drive to improve is not pushed by fear but pulled by a inspiring self-image.

(8) Experimental: Frequently trying fresh approaches, staying out of ruts, actively seeking more effective ways of achieving goals, and being willing to take calculated risks.

(9) Self-Confident: Believing that we can bring about good things. A fundamental conviction of competence in living.

(10) Self-Worth: Believing one is worthy of success and happiness. Without this, attempts to improve one’s life will lack motivation.

(11) Personal Responsibility: Taking charge and creating the conditions for success. Being aware of how we determine our chances of success. This crucially involves integrity: living according to one’s values.

(12) Selecting Environment: Being attracted to positive people and situations. Seeking out those who will support and inspire, not discourage, distract, and undermine.

These twelve characteristics of effective optimists give us specific ways of turning the abstract idea of dynamic optimism into actions. Later we will see how these characteristics or attitudes can be turned into particular thinking patterns suited to living effectively. I should note here that the division into interpreting events and influencing outcomes is intended as a tool for understanding and application. The division should not be taken as a theoretically watertight one. Some characteristics could be placed in either category. The two categories go closely together: positive interpretations tend naturally to lead to positive actions by changing the focus of your energy and attention, and positive actions can easily reinforce habits of interpretation.

A more detailed examination.

Speaking of Heaven

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The Hubble Telescope, one of humankind’s greatest inventions is regularly bringing us the wonders of  space at https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/main/index.html

A few favorites:

Heaven On Earth

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An evangelical friend of mine likes to say ‘See you in heaven’ and my reply is always ‘I hope so.’ I’m not trying to be funny when I sat that, I really mean it. Imagine a place of eternal joy, who wouldn’t want that? Saying that place can reached in the afterlife in exchange for good behaviour is pretty smart. Then all you have to do is define what good constitutes good behaviour and threaten eternal suffering for bad behaviour (which you also define) and you’re all set, you will control your followers.

Religious concepts of heaven and hell are based on at least three unproven ideas:

  • We have a soul.
  • Our soul leaves our body when we die.
  • Our soul has the ability to find heaven and hell and experience them.

This use of heaven and hell is an abuse of useful concepts. Heaven and hell do exist but certainly not in an unproven afterlife. Even Pope Francis once admitted that heaven and hell aren’t literal places, they’re experiences. Telling people that heaven is achievable in the afterlife diminishes the motivation to appreciate heaven here on Earth. While what constitutes heaven on Earth is different for each person there are nearly countless ways to achieve a heavenly state right here and now. There are too many people, places and things that can bring about happiness and contentment to list but the University of Sussex and the London School of Economics studied this and made a list of 33 things that make people happy:

The 33 things that definitely make us happy (% increased happiness)

Intimacy, making love 14.20%

Theatre, dance, concert 9.29%

Exhibition, museum, library 8.77%

Sports, running, exercise 8.12%

Gardening, allotment 7.83%

Singing, performing 6.95%

Talking, chatting, socialising 6.38%

Birdwatching, nature watching 6.28%

Walking, hiking 6.18%

Hunting, fishing 5.82%

And 23 more  Even though this is culturally biased, it’s a start. There is actually an entire branch of  Psychology dedicated to ‘the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive’ (source). This is what we are all about too and so have added to our list of useful links.

Heaven is absolutely here on Earth:

People

Places

Nature

Once we understand that we don’t need to wait until we die to have heaven we take away religion’s ability to control us with promises of it in the afterlife. More importantly we enjoy life more simply by taking it all in and appreciating all the great things it has to offer. Even the little things become more enjoyable and life becomes easier.

 

A Printable Humanist Declaration Of Values

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This is a repost but given the change in the direction of the blog it seems appropriate. This is taken almost entirely from Paul Kurtz’ declaration he wrote for the Council For Secular Humanism many years ago. Seems prudent after so many years to re-examine it but for now here it is: the-affirmations-of-humanism and in Word format the-affirmations-of-humanism

 

This will be our ‘Values’ page as well.  

 

 

 

The Arts: A Vital Part of Being Human

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When I was 15 years old I was quite the rocker. If you asked me my feelings on opera I would have laughed and criticized it. Somehow a friend of mine convinced me to join a school trip to see The Phantom of the Opera and it changed me forever. Not only did I really enjoy it but it opened my mind to other genres of music and performing arts. I spent the next few years volunteering at a university radio station exploring different genres of music and it made me very happy.

Stories like mine are very common, the arts move people in various ways and is difficult to explain but there is some understanding now:

Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts

The Psychology of Artists and the Arts

Art, Aesthetics, and the Brain

How Music Works: The Science and Psychology of Beautiful Sounds, from Beethoven to the Beatles and Beyond

A small list but a good example of the intense study that has gone into how and why the arts effect us the way they do.

However, how can one put into word the importance of the arts to our humanity? Artistic expression is a powerful medium and the arts effect us all in one way or another.

Imagine society without the civilising influence of the arts and you’ll have to strip out what is most pleasurable in life – and much that is educationally vital. Take the collective memory from our museums; remove the bands from our schools and choirs from our communities; lose the empathetic plays and dance from our theaters or the books from our libraries; expunge our festivals, literature and painting, and you’re left with a society bereft of a national conversation … about its identity or anything else. Sir Peter Bazalgette

Entertainment, education, the economy, our community and even our national identities are all shaped by the arts. Without the arts you have a culture nearly void of pride, pleasure and historical relevance. The effects of artistic expression to psychological well being is so well documented that it is used as a therapeutic approach by psychologists. There is no contesting that the arts are important and as culture moves away from religion the arts will be a vital part of providing an alternative to what religion provides.