The Malta Humanist Association congratulates Minister Owen Bonnici for the proposal of legal reforms to the Criminal Code which will amongst other things strike off sanctions against blasphemy, which date back to 1933.
The Malta Humanist Association is an organisation for humanists in Malta. We promote education, science, reason and rationality, and oppose superstition and dogma. We strive towards a more secular nation where church and state are separate. The Malta Humanist Association was set up in a meeting attended by founding members Ramon Casha, James Debono, Philip Manduca, …View full post
Malta Humanist Association are able to offer a number of ceremonies and services related to life events – especially baby namings, weddings and funerals. Read more about the services we offer, or contact one of our accredited celebrants directly to find out what kind of personalised, meaningful ceremony we can provide for you.View full post
by Ramon Casha; photos by Ramon Casha except sheep and chimpanzee photos – see image description. Background Prior to around 1995, when I got onto the internet and started chatting across the Atlantic, I had never heard of “creationism”, nor did I have the slightest idea that there were people in any significant numbers who …View full post
by Ramon Casha – vice president, Malta Humanist Association Throughout history, there have been a number of occasions when we discovered or invented something that completely changed us. In this article I’ve restricted myself to the last 500 years or so. There were many other earlier examples but in recent times they’ve come faster than …View full post
On any given day on Facebook, you are likely to see several graphics claiming incredible health benefits for some exotic plant, or claiming that some “alternative medicine” procedure can do everything that normal medicine can do but better. Very often these are accompanied by claims of people who tried them and testified to their efficacy. …View full post
In recent weeks, there have been some people expressing concern over what they believe to be dangerous “chemtrails” in the sky. Chemtrails are claimed to be white trails of chemicals sprayed by aircraft as they pass overhead, either to somehow affect people on the ground, or, in a more recent variation of this idea, to …View full post
Good without God It’s very difficult to find a nice, short, succinct phrase that neatly sums up what is Humanism, but the catchphrase “good without God” is a pretty good fit. However I’ll try to go a bit beyond that, keeping things simple while also accurate. Religion and morality Throughout history and in most places, …View full post
The 2014 World Humanist Congress, gathered in Oxford, UK, on 8-10 August 2014, adopted the following declaration on freedom of thought and expression:View full post
It was smiling faces all round and rainbows everywhere as the speaker called out the result – the bill has passed. The new Civil Unions bill gives same-sex (or opposite sex) couples the right to get a civil union which will have the same legal rights as marriage, including adoption.View full post
Once again, political lethargy, indifference and NIMBYism (not in my back yard) has led to an avoidable human tragedy, as hundreds of migrants fleeing from war and human rights abuses that many of us can’t even imagine end up in floating death-traps operated by criminals who have less regard for these human lives than for material cargo.
One hopes that the expressions of sadness from the political leaders of Europe does not stop at words but translates into action that addresses the problems that these people are facing, and not merely by pushing it out of sight. Making it more difficult for them to depart without addressing the reasons they are doing so does little to alleviate their suffering.
We make gestures by donating flowers for the funerals of those who did not make it, while incarcerating those who do for inordinate amounts of time. European countries express solidarity while resisting the idea of sharing in the responsibility of hosting these immigrants. In the meantime, dangerous undercurrents of fascism are raising their heads, each new voice encouraging others with messages of hate and barely hidden glee at these stories of suffering.
Humanity has to come before colour or culture, nationality or religion, before citizenship or proper documentation. Europe must put into place a comprehensive plan, encompassing the immediate requirement to save lives, the short-term goals of addressing migration, and long term goals of promoting peace and respect for human rights throughout the region.
Professor Kenneth Wain is the brains behind the Ethics program being introduced in state schools this scholastic year. I was lucky enough to have the pleasure of his acquaintance this week and to talk to him about the program.
Professor Wain explained that the Ethics Program aims to create a classroom which is a "moral community and a community of enquiry, in other words a community which learns together, what we want from Ethics Studies is an education in values”. I thought this was a beautiful statement and goal. I was very happy about the introduction of this subject from the word go but I am even more thrilled now that I have a better understanding of what it's all about.
Skills involving communicating, discussing, talking and listening are at the core of this programme. That to me seems like a good thing because just one look at our local TV channels and social media is living proof of how much all this is needed. It is true that part of our Maltese charm is our passion but it rings sorely true that we need to start enjoying/developing the skills of listening and expressing our viewpoint calmly. And it is also quite obvious that we need to stop disliking someone simply because aspects of their belief system do not coincide with ours.
The main focus of the Ethics programme for schools is creating a mindset of harmony within our increasingly pluralistic society. This is not limited to issues in our immediate surroundings but also towards other issues such as lifestyle choices and civic freedoms which might not even affect us directly. There are issues which divide us as a people, emotional issues as well as intellectual disagreement and we need to learn not only to tolerate but rather to understand and hopefully even appreciate the reality of a varied society. The skill of discussing and listening is vital if we are to progress as a nation and as individuals and that includes giving space and listening to the talker, and in not being too forceful or aggressive when voicing our own point of view. In Professor Wain's own words; “The problem in our contemporary society is that very often the differences between people, how they value certain things combined with how passionate they feel about them turns a discussion into an angry confrontation. It becomes a matter of people talking at each other rather than people conversing. A crucial part of this programme is to introduce a culture in the classroom whereby the children regard themselves as belonging to a community of enquiry and discussion. When they are there in the class, they don’t just happen to be there but they form part of a community, they share values together, values we see in the class, the school and in life.”
The course is to a certain extent an anti-indoctrination program. It does not teach absolute truths without question; quite the contrary - it recognises that it is time to allow people to think for themselves and to come to their own conclusions intelligently. Those conclusions, whatever they may be, must be respected. Religious beliefs will be presented not as singular truths but as philosophies one may wish to believe in or not. It is important that children, and adults for that matter, to learn to understand what they are subscribing to, what their friends subscribe to and to and how they wish to live their lives within the understandings of that which upholds a functioning, peaceful society. Children will learn to base their opinion on their own intellectual and emotional findings about a variety of social issues which will be explored collectively and holistically in class.
Respect and knowledge of other cultures, not only abroad but also in different Maltese families and communities, is important and a very strong focus of the programme. The understanding of people's different ways will allow all to live in harmony within our diverse community and maybe, through intelligent methods of enquiry, they will hopefully learn to live together with their differences. Values may be experienced differently in real life - “Do not kill” may clearly apply to your neighbor but how does it apply to a war enemy or to animals? How do we distinguish between right and wrong?
Very young children will learn to question what they are taught. The very beginning or basis of the programme is “who am I, and what is my role in life”? First in the context of the family, then in the context of the class, the school and the world at large. We start off by socialising children into certain values which we have common agreement with; honesty, truth, respect for others. In later years young people will learn reason and rationality, they will discuss amongst other things hard realities such as war, bioethics, euthanasia and more. Issues which, if people are not well informed about can cause distress, conflict and repression of others' rights. If we truly want to lead a good life, we must include those who we do not come across every day, and furthermore other people's wellbeing should be as important as our own explained Wain.
“The world has become more ethical than has ever been the case in the past. Even because traditional points of reference are slowly being lost and we are coming to depend on our own resources to live in a harmonious and respectful way.” At the end of the day we want people to depend on themselves for correct behavior, but we need to move away from teaching moral truths which have no alternatives. People should have society’s support to live as they please in a morally correct framework. Professor Wain is aware that some topics will be controversial; some truths will be challenged but hopefully in a healthy, intelligent way so that the students acquire their understanding of right and wrong in a deep and integrated manner. Of course certain truths are universal and accepted by all. Everybody in our society appreciates democracy, freedom of speech and lifestyle freedom. We however want citizens who use their freedoms responsibly and who will navigate the reality of our pluralistic society respectfully and reasonably.
The studies will include a knowledge of cultures far and wide, leaving them with a firm understanding of how other people think, what they find offensive and what is a show of respect. One simple example is that in Thailand people find it offensive to point at objects with their feet whereas we don’t blink an eye at such practices.
This is an ambitious project that Professor Wain has devoted a lot of time to. He is creating the syllabus from scratch as there is no international model Malta can copy. His team and involved lecturers put together the lessons he outlines in the syllabus and they meet regularly to discuss progress which he has every intention of continuing to do during the coming scholastic years. "This will be a living, growing approach to teaching which I hope to see extended to all sectors of education".
Professor Kenneth Wain is a major Maltese philosopher and educator. His areas of specialisation in philosophy are chiefly education, ethics and political philosophy. He was also appointed Dean of the Faculty of Education at Malta’s university. Apart from playing a leading role in Malta’s national educational policy development, and in the setting of the national curriculum, he continued to contribute actively in the field as chairman of the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools, and of the Foundation for Educational Services. Wain is also a board member of the International Network of Philosophers of Education. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Wain
He has recently launched his festschrift entitled My Teaching, My Philosophy.
It is the time of year again when we celebrate the most important holiday of the religion that most defines ‘the West,’ meaning Europe and North America. This religion is of course Rampant Consumerism. In Malta the grip of it is perhaps somewhat less, there being a strong competing religion: in UK for example, every year people are inundated with speculation of how good will the event be for retail, and subtle and not-so-subtle reminders that if you don’t buy loads of crap you cannot afford and that the recipient doesn’t want, the economy will crash. Then life as we know it will end, and the next Xmas will be spent scavenging for scraps amongst the ruins and battling mutants with home-made weaponry. Buy a new toaster, or start weaponising the one you have now, citizens!
Toys are a prime object to buy, and Rampant Consumerism dictates every child must have many or happiness is not achievable. Toys are a perfect tool to teach children the tenets of the religion, and also hard to resist: who wants to disappoint children? Adults are already hardened by life and expect disappointment, but the little ones still believe that Santa will bring them toys (since the adults have told them so). So off we go to buy suitable plastic objects for our loved ones, and the brats of relatives we feel obliged to give something to.
This is all really prompted by a suitable toy I saw for sale, hanging outside a shop in Valletta: a set of child-sized cleaning implements, a broom, a dustpan and a brush, all pink of course. They must have felt it was a star buy, since it had such a prominent display spot. Pink, of course, is a message that clearly demarcates the said toy to be for girls only, I hope I do not have to somehow justify the statement: any doubters can go to the nearest shop for children’s clothes and ask for pink anything for a boy. A toy catalogue I have seen even had the pages for “girls’ toys” edged in pink as a warning sign. Here be girly things! Stay away!
People who oppose criticism of pop-culture on any gender grounds, will always claim that sensible people are not affected by what they see on the screen, which would make advertising the biggest scam in the world – but everyone sort of agrees that children are impressionable, and accept for example age restrictions on movies and games. So what are toys for? Amusement? Yes, but hardly only that. You could ask what is playing for, and most psychologists and biologists too (young animals also play) would say that it is practise for adult skills. Much of it is just to develop basic motor skills, but at the same time other skills are learnt, such as social skills and specific skills. Like cleaning. Toys must have some significance, since like music and dance, they are found in every culture everywhere and throughout history. One of the oldest toys that has survived is a wooden crocodile that opens and closes its mouth, made by someone in Ancient Egypt many thousands of years ago. We can guess the maker mostly wanted to amuse a little child, likely his own, but surely some information was passed on as well. Look, child, this is a crocodile. Look what big maw it has. Don’t be eaten by one. Remember it is a holy animal. Religion and life skills are passed on in one package.
I was having the ‘we were happier than kids today with much less material goods’ discussion the other day, which is also obligatory ritual at this time of year. Thinking back, I was rarely disappointed at Xmas time. My relatives were all completely hopeless at picking presents, so my expectations were extremely low: when my uncle one year presented me with a bag of raisins, I thought, ‘Yum, raisins!’ and ate them. I do think I would have been disappointed by a pink plastic coffee maker though, which probably takes the prize for most pointless toy I have seen. At least the cleaning set presents some activity, the coffee maker just sits there and pretends to make coffee. It’s hardly surprising if the tots demand more toys, being bored with the ones they have, when each toy only really has one function: this of course suits Rampant Consumerism to a T. Something generic, such as building blocks, you can give a baby who will enjoy stuffing them in her mouth and drooling. Same blocks, unless chewed unrecognisable, will still be in use five years later to build a fantasy castle or a rocket launch site or whatever happens to be the interest of the day. Making toys that last for years is not a good strategy for a company that needs to sell more and more: like anything, toys that become obsolete or break and need to be replaced are more of a money-spinner. Same goes for toys that cannot be shared. Lego seems to have grasped this well: original ones were designed merely to inflict the maximum amount of pain without breaking the skin if you step on them*, but you could also build anything you liked from them, break them up and build something else. Now almost all Legos are model sets, you put it together and then buy another set. This also mean that they are mostly toys for one child only, you can help someone build a model, having three kids build one together would not work – unlike in their old packaging and advertisements that almost always showed a group of kids building something together. Lego also decided at some point girls were not going to play with them – removing all females from their ads, and then making separate pink sets for girls. These do not even fit with the standard blocks.
Lego is not in any way alone, there seems to be less and less of the generic children’s toys and more girls’ toys and boys’ toys, across the industry. This is not to say Lego still doesn’t make the best toys – at least according to us, the consumers. Lego recently surpassed Mattel as the biggest toy company in the world, and what can be said of the company that has Barbie as their flagship?
Mattel is not as recognisable as Lego as a brand, since they operate through several. Let’s see what other brands they have besides Barbie: American Girl, Little Mommy, BoomCo and Max Steel, among many game and movie tie-ins. Say no more? Difference is that Mattel has always been connected with these gender specific toys, like the girly dolls, while Lego was not. I will for now not talk of Barbie, since I think so much has already been written of the ubiquitous mini-woman. Still, it could be noted that before Barbie, the first successful toy they made in the late 40’s was a toy ukulele, something you could present to a boy or a girl. If you own earplugs or are completely tone-deaf, of course. So progress has happened, but in a surprising direction.
The more you can narrow down your toys to certain group, by age and gender, the more toys can be sold. The next step is probably racial profiling. It is not like these companies have some hidden agenda necessarily, except Lego’s secret foot-torture one*, they just like the parents’ money. You could argue that toys merely reflect reality; I have heard it said that girls naturally like pink, as if that was somehow genetic – even though pink=girly is a recent invention, from the 1920’s or so. Blue used to be girly, and red male, since red is an active colour and blue more calm and passive. It may be possible all children like pink: a nice, bright, happy colour, and it is merely boys are trained to dislike it. Whatever, it’s just a colour, it is the way it is used as gender demarcation line that is sort of skewy.
So, looking at toy advertisements and toys themselves, do they just reflect reality?
Firstly, there is almost never girls and boys playing together in TV ads or pictures on packaging, which seems odd. I don’t remember it like that from my childhood, and surely if you do not segregate siblings by their sex even today? Girls do often play with other girls, and boys with boys, but it can’t be that exclusive. Secondly, a lot of play involves imitating some sort of adult activity, like various jobs and home life (also bullying, gossip and back-stabbing at the playground trains you for office politics later on). Girls often ‘play home’. So, let’s imagine an alien or an amnesia victim, who has to learn about human life solely based on the Mega-Bumper-Monster-Toy-Catalogue. Apparently the society mostly consists or stay at home mums who are really hot, possibly have hobbies like ballet and take care of ponies; meanwhile men drive fast cars to the nearest war. Very few people have jobs other than police, pirate, race-car driver, cake-shop keeper and pet groomer. Women use inordinate amounts of time on grooming and make-up, but men and women rarely ever spend any time in the same space, never mind interact, yet there exists quite a lot of babies. Reality? Not so much. Besides dads with their kids, male nurses and policewomen, I have even seen women drive cars that are not pink convertibles!
Well, given the choice between shooting or dancing with my pink pony at home, I know which I would choose, if it was real life. Bullets hurt and kill, so give me a pony and picket fence any day, despite the copious amounts of pony dung that has to be dealt with. Boys are not really served better by this selection of stereotypes: it is still less acceptable for a boy to act like a girl, than the other way round. Girls are also trained for some things resembling real life. You will probably take care of children and make coffee at some point, whatever your gender, while boys are told to aspire for things that are alien to life: combat, death, space, machines and robots. Girls are meant to be nurturing, boys are not, which is not natural; most boys might not play with dolls, but how many boys would not want a puppy? Girls can break out of their pink-fenced compound, they can like maths and building things, and be praised for it. Girls are not expected to show aggression, but they can take up martial arts without much fuss. Boys cannot really expect any encouragement if they want to play princesses at a tea party.
Since it is a time to be jolly, fa-la-la-laa, and children need to be placated with gifts or jolly will not be had (and remember, smoking ruins, mutants, starvation and possibly Terminators – you were warned) at least pick something fun and functional, or something that takes at least until New Year to dismantle. Maybe some art supplies. Or could be some books, or does it even need to be an object? Give them a trip to the aquarium or movies or similar. If you go with a puppy, remember it is not just for Xmas!
* Call me a conspiracy nut, but I am firmly convinced that Lego has the research locked in a vault, somewhere only the CEO and two trusted adjutants have access to.
There is a fine line between doubting and certainty that actually delineates where perceived madness sets in or is kept out. Certainty provides a reassuring border that allows us to transact our lives without having to doubt everything. However, doubting whether we locked our door or put the gas off, and doubting the beliefs in the core values or principles of our moral codes or legal systems are not equivalent forms of doubt. The former entails an unreasonable loss of certainty; the latter, challenging our convictions.
Informal (or logical) fallacies are described by The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy as errors in reasoning that can be used to persuade someone with whom you are reasoning that your argument is correct when it really is not. There are various types, the most common of which have been codified under about thirty rubrics since Aristotle. The most common appear to be argumentum ad populum, ad hominem, ad misericordum, ad baculum, consensus genitus, ad verecundiam and, perhaps, ad ignoratiam. The common denominator appears to be the predisposition of those being addressed to accepting these arguments and find them appealing. We arrive at certainty by incremental deduction and induction by a reasoning process we call ‘logic’ that is really quite mechanistic. While many informal fallacies can easily be identified, others elude even the most vigilant of people. Appeals to emotions or subjectivity are discernible, while appeals to science or rationality are more difficult to note.
The very fact that arguments can be construed to appeal to specific predispositions or structures infers that the ‘truth status’ of statements is dependent on what appears “plausible”, and thus any such correspondence could appear as ‘truth’ or ‘certainty’ when it really is not. Our structuring of plausibility greatly determines what we accept as ‘truth’ via the process of “plausibility”. What we believe to be ‘logic’ is a process subject to various values and beliefs we are initiated into via socialisation and culture. We then look at an argument or proposition and examine its plausibility accordingly, making various correlations.
How is plausibility structured? How do we structure our assumed ‘rationality’? What exactly is ‘logic’? What is ‘common sense’? Fromm makes it quite clear that ‘the grave danger to the future of man is largely due to his incapacity to recognise the fictitious character of his ‘common sense’. The majority remain fixed to outworn and unrealistic categories and content of thinking; they consider their ‘common sense’ to be reason.’[i] So, according to Fromm ‘common sense’ consists of ‘outworn and unrealistic categories and content of thinking’. We draw upon categories and modes of thinking that appear plausible, and then use these to examine propositions we were unfamiliar with to assess their truth/certainty (or plausibility) status. Often, the categories may include not only apparently straightforward logical or aesthetic categories, but also subjective or idiosyncratic categories of restricted context (for example, the plausibility of ‘honour killings’, ‘culinary codes’, ), or even the more difficult ‘rational’ categories that are deemed to be scientific, (like for example, derivatives of science, maths or empiricism, applied arbitrarily to prove a point or defend an assumed value – the value of humanitarian aid, the universality of human rights, the right to life, the ideal of democracy, marriage as a form of ‘coupling’ restricted only to two people, the possibility of conferring rationality via the transmission of knowledge etc.).
Naturally, one type of logic may challenge the logic of another typology of thinking or plausibility; but, rarely do people challenge their own certainty. One may dispel with blind faith in religion and become an atheist, but still but retain the very foundational plausibility structures that supported religious faith in other areas of belief/ value systems. Once initiated into a mode of logic and the correlative plausibility structures that reasoning entails, one rarely challenges the certainty of those assumptions. Our assembly of plausibility also unconsciously draws upon very subtle plausibility structures we may remain oblivious to. Our socialisation process initiates us via the discourse we consume as ‘knowledge’ to structure a typology of plausibility based on a reasoning process. We draw upon various correspondences to refute or confirm a proposition.
Understanding ‘plausibility’ entails challenging its very foundations, ripping them apart, and questioning our own thinking categories. While some categories are easily identifiable, other more subtle forms of value that are smuggled into the equations of plausibility may elude us. We constantly need to question our thinking processes and, in particular, the beliefs that appear to us to be ‘certain’ and the categories or catalogues they are constructed against or upon.
[i] Fromm,1971, ‘The Crisis of Psychoanalysis’, London: Johnathan Cape Ltd., page 38.
Audi, (Eds) 1999, ‘The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Wittgenstein, L. , 1969, ‘On Certainty’, Oxford: basil Blackwell.