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This Week in Humanism 2018–06–25


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/06/25

“Despite the Trump administration’s trotting out of out-of-context biblical references to justify its wrongful civil authority as “ordained by God,” the maneuver fell flat with most religious leaders, including the Pope. After all, to be moral in an immoral society is the grand calling of most major religions, including in the Judeo-Christian tradition as well as secular humanism. In the end, the sounds of wailing, caged children stunned the nation, causing even an amoral and famously non-empathetic president to reverse course and take the very action that days earlier he and members of his Cabinet had claimed was not possible.

For more than 2,000 children, that backtracking came too late. Having been ripped from their parents’ grasp by armed and uniformed officers and transported — often in the dead of night to at least 17 different states across the nation — will leave permanent scars on these little ones’ psyches. What’s worse is that agents at federal facilities allegedly were ordered not to pick up distraught children. It’s not hard to understand how the administration’s family separation policy, which seemed calculated to bolster Trump’s image as an uncompromising strongman, sparked widespread anger and protest. So the pious religious blather of the president’s sycophants seemed like more salt poured into the wound, sparking even greater outrage from the truly religious.”


“(THE CONVERSATION) When I overcame a flying phobia, I resolved to make up for lost time by visiting as much of the world as I could.

So in the course of a decade, I logged over 300,000 miles, flying everywhere from Buenos Aires to Dubai.

I knew intuitively that my travels would “make me a better person” and “broaden my horizon,” as the clichés have it. But I’ve come to believe that travel can, and should, be more than a hobby, luxury or form of leisure. It is a fundamental component of being a humanist.

At its core, humanism is about exploring and debating the vital ideas that make us who we are. We study music, film, art and literature to do just that. And while it’s important to explore these ideas in our own communities, people and places that are not like us have a role to play that’s just as crucial.

This is where travel comes in. It’s what sent me packing to see some of the places I have spent so long reading about. And it’s what compelled me to write “The Importance of Elsewhere: The Globalist Humanist Tourist,” in which I wanted to make a case for a new approach to travel.”


“The most powerful presence onstage Sunday at the 72nd Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York City was absence. A performance of “Seasons of Love” by the drama department from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School left the star-studded audience drenched in tears and the viewing public silently wondering about the lost potential of the 14 students shot dead on Valentine’s Day at the school in Parkland, Fla.

Despite the aching national wound the performance opened, its underlying message was one of unity and humanism, both themes that provided the foundation for a night in which winners made bold, heartfelt statements in support of LGBTQ rights, diversity, feminism, immigration, the perils of depression and the healing merit of art itself.

Although the show’s political overtones were many and obvious, the president was not mentioned until the eleventh hour, when, before introducing a performance by Bruce Springsteen, Robert De Niro denounced Donald Trump by name and a bleeped epithet beginning in “F.” He received a rousing standing ovation for his efforts.”


“Even as tech companies have weathered scandals, many have also redirected attention toward their more socially redeeming activities by promoting the concept of humanistic technologyTom Gruber of Apple describes Siri as “humanistic AI — artificial intelligence designed to meet human needs by collaborating [with] and augmenting people.” Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella has said, “Human-centered AI can help create a better world.” Google’s Fei-Fei Li has called human-centered AI, “AI for Good and AI for All.” Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg believes the company can build “long term social infrastructure to bring humanity together.”

The word “human” crops up in conversations across the technology industry, but it’s not always clear what it means — assuming it means anything at all. Intuitively comprehensible, it sounds nonthreatening, especially in contrast to alienating jargon such as “machine learning.” It also builds on the popularity of human-centered design in recent years, a practice that is best known for its emphasis on cultivating deep empathy between developers and users. But calling the results “humanistic” is ultimately rhetorical sleight of hand that suggests much and means little. Unless these companies reconsider their underlying approach, their words will remain empty.

Among the big tech companies, Google has voiced the clearest expression of the idea of humanistic AI In March, Li, chief scientist for AI research at Google Cloud, penned a New York Times op-ed in which she writes, “A human-centered approach to A.I. means these machines don’t have to be our competitors, but partners in securing our well-being.” Yet even as it was promoting the idea of human-centered AI, Google was actively pursuing Project Maven, a major Department of Defense contract to develop artificial intelligence for use in drones. Effectively acknowledging the disconnect, Google announced that it would not renew the DOD contract and laid out a set of ethical guidelines in which it clarified that it would not be “developing AI for use in weapons.” Recognizing the potential negative publicity that this application of its technology could generate, in an internal company email, Li warned: “Google Cloud has been building our theme on Democratizing AI in 2017, and Diane [Greene] and I have been talking about Humanistic AI for enterprise. I’d be super careful to protect these very positive images.””


“The lure of humanism is its universal appeal, and its global sense and commitment to human beneficence is its strength and compelling force. An international meeting of humanists, such as the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s Conference to be held in New Zealand in August presents yet another opportunity to assess the force and state of humanism in the world. This conference is an occasion to take stock and review the progress (if any) that the international humanist movement has made in the past years. The meeting is a platform to understand how the movement has tried to fulfill its goals and objectives especially the project of promoting the humanist outlook around the globe. In fact, at this meeting, humanists will be examining how the movement has tried to deliver a 21st-century humanism, that is, a form of humanism that is in accordance with the realities of the time. This meeting is an occasion for reflection, introspection and critical self-assessment especially by those who come from parts of the world where organised humanism has yet to make a very significant impact.

The fact is that humanism presents a perennial challenge. Every generation of humanists faces and tries to address this challenge. History is filled with attempts and initiatives by past generations of humanists to fulfill this obligation and exercise the duty of fostering human rights and other human values. So the question now is this: how can this generation of humanists confront the challenge of creating a more humanistic world? Put more pointedly, how can humanism help address the inequities around the globe? This is because structural inequalities -both political and economic — within nations and between nations are at the root of the crisis that bedevils the world. They underlie the palpable anger, frustration, and desperation that rage in many regions.

Whether it is the wars in the Middle East, the conflicts across Africa, or the terrorist attacks in Europe, Africa and Oceania, the displacement of persons in all these happenings indicates an imbalance in the configuration of the world. Due to these inequities, people have been forced to migrate and flee their home countries. People have been compelled to abandon their family members. In fact, many migrants have made hazardous journey across deserts, and on the seas by boats in search of a more secured life elsewhere. The global structure that has orchestrated this uprooting of peoples beckons for change because it cannot stand.”



In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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