Jul 29

MHA calls for mature discussion on abortion

The Malta Humanist Association backs the call for a mature and reasoned discussion on abortion. For too long, abortion has been the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about, but issues are not resolved by ignoring them or sweeping them under the carpet.

Between the existing blanket ban on abortion, and unrestricted, unregulated abortion there are many grey areas that one should explore through dialogue and without prejudice.

Jul 09

Blasphemy law reforms welcomed

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Apr 22

Political lethargy, indifference and NIMBYism has led to an avoidable human tragedy

migrants-dead-italyOnce 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.

Apr 06

Free the nipple

James English

They’re Nothing Special (Unless You’re a Baby)

Fellow humanists, we have a body image problem.  To be specific, men’s half-naked bodies are works of art to be swooned over and women’s bodies are shameful sex puppets that must be covered at any cost.  Don’t believe me? Turn on the television or go to the cinema.  Bare-breasted men litter popular culture, nipples and all, but women?  Their breasts are shameful things leading innocent men to their ruin.  In other words: Look out!  She’s got a boob!

Read the rest of this entry »

Apr 06

Feminism from a male perspective or Perfect pussy, because otherwise, we won’t have it.

Alexander Saliba

Feminism has always been fought from the radical sidelines, the fight for female cultural, social and personal equality has always been considered as a guerilla war, small numbers of recalcitrant women who refuse to sit down and listen. Mocked, branded as man haters, the deniers of masculinity and as the ones who dare try to skew societal imbalance to their favour.

The modern 21st century fight resides on the ever expanding and thus infinite universe of the internet. From sewers of 4chan, to the back alley of Reddit and over to the mainstreet of Facebook, there constantly pervades this relentless fight for equality. The difference is only perspective. Read the rest of this entry »

Apr 06

Atheist Myths!

Krista Sullivan

Atheism! The word used to stick in my throat until I eventually realised that really, there is little that is more honorable than to cast aside all superstition and rely on oneself for good moral behavior.

You can hardly blame me. Thinking back, when as a young kid, I asked an adult what the word meant, I was told, and I remember the exact words, "atheists believe in nothing, they have no God and so they value nothing". Read the rest of this entry »

Apr 06

Religious Taboos

Godfrey Vella

 

taboo1

Certain taboos appear to have been created to protect society’s very existence.  A society will fight back against anything that threatens its survival.  And what threatens a society more than attitudes or activities which reduce the capability of a society to regenerate itself?  The biggest threat that a society can possibly face is extinction.  It is therefore to be expected that a society could  look very unfavourably at practices that put at risk it's reproductive fitness. Homosexuality, abortion, adultery and contraception can be seen as such practices.  It is hence not surprising that traditional societies have erected strict prohibitions - taboos - against these non-reproductive sexual practices.  The snag is that we have inherited these taboos in an age when they no longer make any sense.

We must bear in mind that in primitive societies where infant mortality was high, life expectancy was low and there was a huge dependency on manual labour, the pressure to reproduce was very strong.  Societies with lower birth rates faced extinction.  Therefore it is not surprising that practices such as homosexuality, abortion and contraception were frowned upon and very actively discouraged. Read the rest of this entry »

Apr 06

Freedom of Thought and Speech

Ramon Casha

 

brain

In 1616 the Roman Inquisition ordered Galileo Galilei to abandon his claim that the earth orbited the sun - not to think it or teach it. 330 years later, many countries came together to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the most important documents in existence today, and in it, Article 18 states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Article 19 adds “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Read the rest of this entry »

Apr 06

Focus on Ethics

Krista Sullivan

 

ethics-and-compliance

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.


Apr 06

Toys for all the good boys and girls

Tura Satana

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.

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