Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association

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Draft statements for TT Humanist View

Kevin Baldeosingh • 02 February 2005 • 687 words

Ethics

Social and political issues often invoke moral arguments. However, in secular matters, it is inadequate to state baldly that “Such-and-such is right” or “So-and-so is wrong”. Moral arguments are usually limited to the mere statement of an axiom (e.g. “Murder is wrong”). Ethical arguments begin with the axiom, but present reasons to justify the axiom. Such arguments must always be based on the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”); the principle that an individual’s freedom should not be curtailed, save where curtailment is for the purpose of preventing definite harm to others; and the probability that a particular policy choice will make people better off.

We do not, however, debate the axioms themselves. An axiom is, by definition, unprovable. Its authority derives only from it being self-evident.

Science

We consider science to be the best device for understanding reality. We do not dismiss intuition, metaphysics, philosophy, religion, or mysticism as avenues for particular kinds of knowledge. However, we consider the scientific method as superior to all others for the following reasons: science has given human beings more mastery over the world than any other knowledge-device; scientific laws are true everywhere; the knowledge gained through science can be shared with others, unlike knowledge attained through mystic experience or intuition, which are essentially private experiences.

Hence, in the discussion of any issue, we invoke scientific knowledge as far as possible.

Culture

Art is to culture as philosophy is to religion. That is, culture is the whole of human activity, wherein art is one part. HOTT and its member are part of the cultural landscape of Trinidad and Tobago. But culture is an activity, not an object, and part of our purpose is to alter the landscape: primarily, to root rational thought and ethical judgement in the society.

We consider culture, in its sense of art, as playing a key role in this. Music, literature and the visual arts can help citizens to understand their world and themselves better, and understanding is the first step to transformation. But art can also play a negative role in society, by promoting superstition, feel-good fantasies, and wrong-headed analyses.

As a humanist group, HOTT’s cultural criticism will be guided by whether art meets, or fails to meet, the criteria of rationalism and ethics.

Governance

HOTT is not about party politics nor are we primarily concerned with constitutional matters. However, insofar as government affects the kind of policies implemented by the State, we will promote a certain kind of government structure and policy approach. Thus, we stand for the strict separation of church/mandir/mosque and State.

This principle is for the protection of both State and religion. A State cannot cater to all citizens equally when it has to cater to fundamentally opposed belief systems. Religions are at risk of suppression when the State caters to religious groups, for there is always the danger that the agents of the State may begin to favour one group over all others.

We hold that religious spokespersons should, however, have a voice in governance, since many citizens look to religious organisations for guidance. But these organisations’ positions should not carry more weight than any other group’s, except and insofar that their arguments make more sense than any other group’s. A secular State, as proven by history, is the only polity that even in theory can be fair to all.

Crime

In our society, crime is seen as a phenomenon to be punished. HOTT views crime as a phenomenon to be prevented. Our approach is therefore essentially long-term. We do not see capital punishment as an effective measure, since there is no empirical, logical or moral argument in favour of it. The experience of other countries has shown that crime can be ameliorated by scientifically-grounded approaches, both in terms of policing, incarceration, and social policies. We believe that there are, in fact, no other ways to effectively contain criminal activity.

Gender

There is a strong correlation between gender rights and national development. Unfortunately, discussion of gender issues is often corrupted by irrationality from both traditionalists and feminists.

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