President’s Report and Keynote Address to the 2022 NEP Annual General Meeting
Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson
You might have noticed I got my hair cut earlier this month. My new hairdresser talked about a lot of things. At one point she explained why equality is not a good thing and why equity is. She said equality was like three kids each having a box on which to stand to look over the outfield fence at a baseball game. The tall kid doesn’t need the box. The short kid is still too short. For the medium sized kid, however, the box is just right.
I gently explained that her definition of equality was flawed. As a leftist, I would like to see all three kids given passes so they can watch the game from the bleachers like everyone else. In fact, the National and American Baseball leagues have been having free kids days since the 1960s. The three box story illustrates how the Woke twist the concept of equality, and ignore steps that have been taken to achieve it. In this way, the Woke ignore or deny the progress we have made in civil rights, equality between sexes and races, programs for the disabled, and so on. Since the original Enlightenment, our civilization has incrementally improved peoples’ lives with respect to health, poverty rates, literacy, crime, and upward mobility. Not good enough say the Woke.
Earlier this week the University of Waterloo posted a tenure track research chair position in the natural sciences. The ad stated that only members from specified identity groups would be considered. White males need not apply. The tall kid in the Woke fairy tale is not being denied a box, he is being cut off at the knees with the result that all the kids will equally not see through the fence. But even worse, the act of giving designated minorities reserved position denies the concept of merit; in effect stating that we who are presumed to require those extra boxes will forever be intellectual pigmies. The identitarian left is just as racist as the identitarian right and for the same reasons.
The Enlightenment revealed that knowledge can be obtained through careful observation and experimentation – we do not need to be told what reality is by a religious or ideological authority. Woke have called the scientific and rational process upon which knowledge is based a “white, male way of knowing.” By attacking such Enlightenment concepts such as freedom of speech and the universality of rights, the Woke are attacking humanism. Our mandate, therefore, is to apply and expand Enlightenment principles to the 21st Century, and in the process educate the general public on those Enlightenment skills that are no longer included in school curricula. Our vision is one that is inclusive. To paraphrase Popper, we necessarily must be intolerant of intolerance.
The New Enlightenment Board came together this last summer. It includes Robert Hamilton, vice-president; Michel Pion, treasurer; Michel Virard, secretary; and Directors Bart Bloom, Ullrich Fischer, Joann Robertson, and Eric Thomas. We incorporated this last June. We established a website to promote Enlightenment Humanism. We established a social media presence on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. We have begun an educational series with interviews of Justin Trottier, Paul Nathanson, Carey Linde, Shahdin Farsai, and most recently, Mehgan Murphy. We have also hosted a workshop by Anthony Magnabosco, CEO of Street Epistemology International.
I have been interviewed by the digital paper, Humanist Freedoms and by the Centre for Inquiry – Canada about the need for the New Enlightenment Project. The CFIC podcast also touched on identity politics and indigeneity. Along with my nephew, I completed a webinar hosted by CFIC on using the Medicine Wheel to promote Enlightenment skills. Humanist Perspectives published an article I wrote on the Globe and Mail misrepresentation of Indian Residential School history. I co-authored an article with Edan Tasca of CFIC on how Wokism undermines humanism, and that article will be published in the next issue of Free Inquiry. On behalf of NEP, I signed the Declaration of Women’s Sex Based Rights, a petition to free Julian Assange, and a petition calling on the federal government to allow atheists to access the “Less Complex Claims” mechanism for establishing refugee status. Our board has one committee committee investigating aboriginal Enlightenment and another establishing a template that can be used by defenders of Enlightenment values facing hostile school boards.
As humanists, we care about the plight of political refugees denied freedom because they hold proscribed beliefs. We demand equal rights regardless of class, sex, or race. We oppose discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, disability, age, language, religion or other arbitrary measures. These human rights are necessarily individually held. Each person has the right to freedom and equality that can only be achieved in a liberal democratic society.
When Vladimir Putin said the Russian civilization faces an existential threat from Ukraine, he is absolutely correct. Like all empires, the Euro-Asian Tsarist civilization is based on the subjugation of the individual to the collective entity. The Enlightenment challenged the very mechanism by which such authoritarianism is sustained. The Enlightenment has been solidly embraced by idealists in Western Ukraine and those ideals are spreading eastward. The ancient Tsarist civilization will not be eradicated with bombs but with ideas.
While authoritarian collectivism is receding in the Slavic East it is gaining ground in the West. As humanists, we are used to battling the authoritarians of the religious right. But our community has not yet developed immunity from another source of authoritarian collectivism recently evolved from incomplete and often contradictory pieces of Marxism, postmodernism, fascism, civil rights, social justice and even the self-esteem movement of the 1980s. This movement is antithetical to Enlightenment humanism. Whereas we view humans as having the ability to discern reality independent of authority, Wokism holds that there is no such thing as objective reality. Whereas we believe humans have the capacity to make choices, they believe that humans are programmed by culture in which the meaning of words plays a crucial role. Whereas we believe science is crucial to understanding the world, they believe science is just a “white, male way of knowing.” Whereas we believe in the value of free speech in promoting progress, they believe free speech is dangerous and seek to limit it in ways that have come to be known as “cancel culture.” Whereas we see equality as the basis of human rights, they replace equality with a set of quotas. They are doing more than just tearing down statues. They are tearing down the institutions that have given us more equality, greater education for the masses, better health, less crime and greater justice than any other civilization in the history of the world.
In our interview two days ago, Steven Pinker and I touched on what I consider the critical challenge of our times. We have been successful in defending Enlightenment Humanism from religious fundamentalism, but our bulwark in defending the Enlightenment has been academia. That bulwark has been taken over by another anti-Enlightenment ideology. The challenge of our times is to re-educate the population on those very skills that put us on the path of becoming a tolerant, democratic and knowledge producing society.
It has been suggested that there is such a thing as good Wokism – Wokism that seeks to end racism. I disagree. Humanists have been fighting racism for hundreds of years with considerable success. We know that racism is an ideology justifying discrimination on the basis of immutable characteristics. Just like they have changed the definition of equality, the Woke have changed th definition of racism. They claim racism is any group difference between their idiosyncratically assigned identity groups. If you accept a Woke definition of racism, then you are not really fighting racism. Instead you have adopted an ideology of identity politics that spreads inter-racial hatred coupled with assigned entitlement or privilege.
Wokism is a proselytizing religion whose objective is to create more Woke. Cancel culture exists to prevent ideas, like the ones I have just shared, from being heard thus depriving people of their right to consider alternatives.
Cancellations and language games are about power. Here is where we are vulnerable. We believe that diversity of opinion is a good thing. It is how we check our biases and grow knowledge. But this means there will always be differences opinion. The virus that is Wokism is endemic. It has increased the tendency, once found primarily on the religious right, to demonize those who disagree. We stand aside, or even participate in, the ousting of humanists with whom we disagree. Those humanists get replaced by people who are more Woke.
The primary challenge facing the New Enlightenment Project is education. We aim to educate the public on Enlightenment humanism and the threats it faces. We need to talk to people. We need to share our growing archive of podcasts and articles on every forum. We need to make our presence felt at public meetings. We need to defend each other when we are attacked, as we know we will be, for defending freedom, compassion, discourse, diversity of opinion and rational thinking.
We have had a promising beginning during this past year, and I would like to thank our exceptional volunteer board. Today we will be establishing our first elected board with half to two year terms and half to one year terms. We have established the foundation which the new board will use to advance Enlightenment in today’s challenging times. This last year was setting up. This year, it is getting our message out.