Dan Agin blogs on the Huffington Post. He must also hang around this site since I received an e-mail from him about one of my blogs where I mentioned him some weeks ago. I'll tell you about our connection below the break. His latest blog, A Modest Proposal is an obvious take off on Johnathan Swift's famous essay in 1729 that appears to suggest that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. Reading this essay by Dan made me wonder about a lot of things. One of them is the apparent weakness of
Secular Humanism as a force for change in our country. Come look below the break for there is more to say.
When I was doing my graduate work in physiology at the University of Chicago during the period between 1960 and 1963, I changed mentors in mid stream because my first mentor, Dr. K. L. Chow, did not get tenure and took a job at Stanford. (The medical students had complained about his accent). Under Chow I was doing Central nervous System Neurophysiology and working on a couple of projects requiring learning to do brain surgery on mammals. I'll say no more about that since my views on animal research are very different now. My new mentor, Dr. Julian Tobias, was quite a guy. He attracted some interesting people to his lab and it was a great environment. Dan Agin was one of them. Two threads developed in that lab at that time. We formed a kind of higher math journal club and went through mathematical physics with a passion. Also Dan and Howie Nash (who now is a member of the National Academy of Science) were political beings of a sort I had not encountered before. They would fit right in here at DKos. I, on the other hand, was voting for Nixon in 1960 which fit my very strong fundamentalist convictions. So we had those discussions as well.
When 1963 rolled around, I was apparently going to get my PhD and needed to pick a place to go for my Postdoctoral training. Dan was the one who, because of the strength of our conviction that a mathematical approach was the way to go, suggested that I do my post-doc in Israel with Ora Kedem and Aharon Katchalsky who were introducing non-equilibrium thermodynamics into biology. I did that, but I cut my wonderful post-doc short and took a job in Biophysics at SUNY Buffalo, NY in 1965 because the Vietnam war had put the icing on the cake that Dan and Howie had baked. I now began to grow in my socialist leanings and stopped having any respect for fundamentalism because of their mixing right wing politics with religion. That's right, this was 1965.
SUNY at Buffalo was and is the home of a group called the Council for Secular Humanism. Paul Kurtz, its founder was in the Philosophy Department there. As I look back over the years I am more and more puzzled by the lack of exposure this viewpoint has had. Here is a snapshot of what they are about.
The Council for Secular Humanism is North America's leading organization for non-religious people. A not-for-profit educational association, the Council supports a wide range of activities to meet the needs of people who find meaning and value in life without looking to a god. Its activities range from magazine publishing to campaigning on ethical issues, from conferences to support networks, from educational courses to conducting secular ceremonies, from local groups to international development. Officers of the Council for Secular Humanism include Paul Kurtz (Chairman).
Secular Humanism is a way of thinking and living that aims to bring out the best in people so that all people can have the best in life. Secular humanists reject supernatural and authoritarian beliefs. They affirm that we must take responsibility for our own lives and the communities and world in which we live. Secular humanism emphasizes reason and scientific inquiry, individual freedom and responsibility, human values and compassion, and the need for tolerance and cooperation.
Council Activities Include
Championing the Rights and Beliefs of Secular Humanists
The Council for Secular Humanism campaigns for a more secular and ethical society. It presents the case for understanding the world without reference to a god, and works to separate Church and State and defend the rights of people who do not accept religious beliefs.
Serving the Needs of Non-Religious People
The Council gives practical support and services to non-religious people. It runs courses and summer camps that educate children in critical thinking and ethical values. For rites of passage, such as marriage and death, it provides dignified non-religious celebrations and memorials. And it runs a national support network for secular families and parents.
Developing Secular Communities
The Council for Secular Humanism supports local groups (both off-campus and on-campus) that provide a forum for ideas and a base for activities. Regular regional and national conferences bring secular humanists together to exchange ideas and explore topical issues. And the new Centers for Inquiry across America are providing the buildings and staff to develop a dynamic humanist presence at the grass-roots level.
Giving a Moral and Intellectual Lead
The Council for Secular Humanism promotes rational, human-based viewpoints on important social and ethical issues. In particular, it tackles issues where traditional religion obstructs the right to self-determination, for example, freedom of choice in sexual relationships, reproduction, and voluntary euthanasia. The Council also promotes critical thinking about supernatural and paranormal claims. The Council conducts research, issues statements, and brings together leading thinkers for conferences and seminars.
I hope it is obvious, if you have read Dan's essay, what the connection here is. We are in the eve of another religious extravaganza. NPR is spewing out religious music as I type. Dan's sarcasm hits the mark for me. Of course, it is the contention of the religious that we who reject their world view are in some way "immoral". Hence Dan's concept of how to deal with the problem is a nice take off on Swift, IMHO.
My modest proposal about the immoralistas among us is not at all profound, certainly not as profound as the seminal idea of Darwinian human morality. On the contrary, my proposal about the immoralistas is simple: I propose that we locate all immoralista pregnant mothers (high density in inner cities but maybe also in Connecticut suburbs?), and that as soon as they deliver their morally retarded immoralista progeny, we remove the infants and make them available to special restaurants. The immoralista infants will be prepared, cooked, and served as a gourmet delicacy in upscale establishments, but also as "immoralista burgers" in more familiar eateries where food is served without a wine list.
There's no need to worry about genetic transmission through food. There's no evidence that it can happen. Eating immoralista babies will not corrupt our moral gene pool.
This modest proposal about the immoralista problem will not only solve the problem, it will put into place an important stimulus package for the restaurant industry, which is apparently already sliding into a deep sinkhole. Another advantage is that if severe hard times are indeed ahead of us, at least we can be assured that not all of us will starve to death. There will be meat for us. We can even imagine a revival of magazine publishing as new magazines are devoted to the finer points of immoralista cooking and dining. There will be new shows about immoralista food on the Food Network, but since that network already has so many people licking their television screens, that particular economic effect might be negligible.
Of course, even a modest proposal of this kind will require Congressional legislation, but a Bachmann-Cantor-Boehner bill, especially if it's supported by our "newspaper of record", might be the first important piece of Republican lawmaking this year. It can happen. If it's indeed all according to Darwin, it will happen sooner or later.
Satire at its best, I would say. I so wish it weren't so necessary.