I was one of sixteen wonderful speakers at #NoDust2. The event took place on Friday 27th January 2017 at The University of Roehampton and was produced by Dr Kate Hammer.
Here is the speech I gave on Personal Ethics… in just over six minutes.
“I’m going to be talking from a personal point of view, but I also want to briefly mention the other hat I wear.
I’m the CEO of an ethical society and we own and operate Conway Hall in Holborn.
We’re a Humanist charity and society with a Library and Archives, but we mainly put on educational events such as talks, concerts, exhibitions and performance.
Conway Hall Ethical Society, is named after Moncure Conway (he was born in Virginia in 1832 and died in 1907).
In 1863, he freed his father’s slaves. In 1871, he spoke of the need for gender equality. He was an advocate for peace throughout his life and understood that a united europe was the way to potentially gain peace – He went to the first Hague Peace Convention in 1899)
So, in some way because of his pedigree, I feel professionally motivated to come along tonight to help in not allowing the dust to settle on Brexit.
Personally, I feel the EU Referendum result, and its aftermath, has sparked the need to make certain philosophical principles live in the world, principles such as ‘ethics.’ And, it is the ethical need to respond to others who don’t look like us, talk like us or think like us that I would like to speak.
In 2015, I gave at a talk on ethics called “Migrants or People”. It was just around the time David Cameron used the word “swarm”… to describe refugees fleeing Syria. The opening few minutes of that talk, which I want to share with you now, I think are still relevant and maybe now even more so! Every word from here on is from that 2015 talk.
There is a positive drought sweeping over us, which threatens to create a bleak, desolate and fearful existence. We are blindly falling into oblivion and with each passing day there appears to be no arrest to our descent. News item after news item generates shudders and terrors as we stare fixedly into the stream of chaos, distress and horror with which we are presented.
Migration, violence, war and terrorism are eclipsing famine, disease and natural disaster. There is an increasing miasma of danger being felt to emanate from the actions of other humans. We worry about each other and fantasize about the threat that our neighbour poses as he ‘apparently’ hides behind closed doors manufacturing pipe bombs and stockpiling illegal weapons.
As we plough ever onwards through ceaseless days of torment at the mercy of omnipresent global communications, we harden day by day to the passage of our fellow citizens as they too go about their lives. The walls of our homes start to replicate in our minds, as we slowly set down mental brick and mortar to keep nightmare possibilities at bay. Where once there exalted innocent and open minds, embracing life’s continual excitement in the spirit of exploration, desolate wastelands of fear and deserts of paranoia spread, choking our reason and intellect.
The achievements of the 20th century that took so many great strides to overcome inhumanity are slowly showing signs of erosion. The abolition, by so many, of capital punishment is in great danger if one believes and becomes persuaded by ‘debating’ polls glibly erected to canvas, in a simple click, whether we should dismantle this abolition. Can it be that we live in a society where it is, seemingly, so easy to start chipping away and smashing one of the foundations of a mature society by naively swaying the populace with fear? The focus of fear, of course, being that post 9/11 iconographic term coined by George W. Bush, ‘Terrorists’ which is now slowly but surely morphing into the term ‘migrants’.
But really, this is fear of the other. Terrorism, immigration, and religious differences dominate our lives if we are tuned to any media platform. And, let’s face it we all are, no matter how much one might try and avoid being sucked in. The result is always the same though. Our fear levels are stoked and we find ourselves continually helpless as to being able to do anything at all to alleviate those levels of fear. As we find ourselves watching the current crisis of the hour, day, or week as if in slow motion, we cannot help but feel overwhelmed and powerless. The problem, of course, is that we knee-jerk into action if someone appears to offer a way where we feel we might be able to anonymously, and that’s important, do something about our powerlessness. Maybe, it’s by voting UKIP? Maybe, it’s by voting in a referendum on Europe? Maybe it’s by voting online to bring back capital punishment?
But can it be right that we are so ready to go backwards on this issue and if so what next? Are we willing to allow human rights to be knee-jerked into question by other online polls after being fought for by legions of academics, politicians and believers in the post holocaust world of the 1940s? Should we rescind a few of the Articles of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, just because they are becoming inconvenient, or as a way to pacify our sense of helplessness? This kind of action is absolutely the wrong kind of action that we should take.
The fostering and nurturing of fear, suspicion and hate is a real problem and left unchecked, it will cripple humanity through war and convince individuals to self-impose barriers to community that will escalate the loneliness and depression that spirals exponentially among us.
There is another problem, though: The problem of glib thinking and judging.
The ability to apply ourselves to questions of other human beings is under a malevolent pressure because it is swept along with the flood of information that we are coerced, or desirous, to process regarding the general world around us. We are digesting at a phenomenal rate. Reading, listening, processing, choosing, deciding and concluding, we are thinking at speed throughout most of our day. At work this facility undoubtedly makes us more employable because we are seen to be capable and quick-witted. The same is not true though if we apply this method when assessing other people.
Fear, hate and suspicion must be overcome by a different category of thinking than we normally apply. We have to think deeper, and we have to think wider, we owe it to each other not to think simplistically.
It’s time for a change and it’s time for us to realise what we mean to each other even if at first we don’t understand and can’t see why we each believe or do the things we do. The lessons learned in the twentieth century and the results achieved subsequently by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have shown us the danger that lurks in each one of us but also the good that we can collectively attain, striving for global civilization. We must not go backwards, we must continue to strive, we must also realise the risks we face every day by lazy thinking that seeks to reduce questions of other people to problems that must be overcome. Each of us deserves consideration, thought and understanding. Each of us deserves to be treated ethically and we need to develop a new thirst, an ethical thirst.”