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10:59am on Saturday, 9th August, 2014:



As I'm speaking at the World Humanist Congress tomorrow, I guess itwould make sense to explain why I'm a humanist.

When I was an undergraduate, computers were new and exciting devices. Not a lot of code had been written, so programming wasn't about libraries and SDKs and stitching together modules through well-defined and well-documented APIs: programming was all about creativity. The people attracted to progamming weren't the problem-solvers and organisers and formatters of today, they were people who saw possibilities and explored them creatively. Computers were a force for good, an enabler of self-expression, a way to change the world for the better.

All the people who worked in computers back then had that attitude. It became known as the Hacker Ethic, but no-one signed up for it: rather, programming selected for it. It wasn't that when you started to program you picked the ethic up from your peers; it was that if you didn't have that ethic, you weren't going to be a successful programmer. So it was that I didn't view the Hacker Ethic as a set of beliefs I subscribed to, I viewed them as my beliefs that happened to be shared by those around me.

Humanism is like that. If you think about how people ought to behave, what makes sense what's best for society, then you'll come up with a set of core axioms to do with freedom to be and how to treat others. That's your philosophy — you didn't pick it up from anyone. Indeed, you might have reached your conclusions in the teeth of opposition from what everyone around you has been trying to tell you. It's your code for living, no-one else's. However, if you look, you'll find that you're not alone in reaching the conclusions you have. Other people wth a strong sense of freedom and fairness coupled with an intellectual curiosity have reached the same conclusions. The way of looking at the world they have all derived is called Humanism.

Most of the people I've talked to at this congress don't actually identify as humanists, they've just thought long and hard about the best way to live and reached the same, common-sense conclusions. Humanism hasn't informed their beliefs, it's connected them. It's provided them with other people to talk to who feel the same way, but it's not like a religion. Sure, all humanists are secularists, most humanists are non-theists (if not atheists), all humanists believe in universal human rights, but there's no humanist line of thinking. Some humanists are vegetarian, most aren't; some humanists are teetotal, most aren't; some humanists speak Esperanto, most don't. It's all about free thinking. If you follow thoughts of freedom to their logical conclusion, you're going to come up with a set of ideas that match what other people who have gone through the same processes of rational thought have concluded. Humanism is no more a religion than the Hacker Ethic.

Because no-one is brought up indoctrinated as a humanist, they've had to work it out themselves, most humanists are pretty smart and switched-on. There is, therefore, a tendency for intellectualising among humanists, particularly ones who live in liberal democracies who have very few switching costs when they decide to follow their head instead of what society dictates. However, there are people here at this congress who have a much, much harder time of it. Advocating a non-religious society in a religious society does not go down well, and atheists are persecuted in many countries. For these people, having the intelectual argument on their side is great, but they need more practical help. They also make the rest of us look rather shallow.

So I'm a humanist, but like pretty well every other humanist I'm not a Humanist. Most humanists don't know they're humanists anyway, because they haven't come across the term. Even if they have, they're not going to sign up to it in a doctrinaire fashion, because they're all about freedom of thought: taking on board opinions without questioning them is anathema to their principles.

Oh, I should perhaps mention that I'm a member of the British Humanist Association not because I feel I need to be as part of my identity. I'm a member because I hear so much religious rubbish spouted as if it were fact that I wanted to support a group that fought to counter it. That's why I joined the BHA.

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