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Program Archive

The monthly programs are an essential element of CDHS. Our programs support our humanist goals of exchanging ideas, heightening our knowledge of the world and ourselves, fostering moral and ethical growth, and promoting the principles of secular humanism. This archive of summaries of past programs provides an overview of the varied subjects addressed.

Carol Quantock

For The Birds: Identification, Observation, and Protection

March 12th, 2022

Carol Quantock's talk was for the birds — or, rather, "For the Birder: Identification, Observation, and Protection." She's been a longtime active birder herself.

A "bird" is a warm-blooded egg-laying vertebrate distinguished by having a beak, feathers, and (usually) the ability to fly. There are many different varieties. Quantock explained that one can see them at bird preserves, or one's own backyard, especially if stocked with native plants or a bird feeder. She advocated buying only good bird seed, not the cheap stuff.

Quantock noted that bird activity varies during the day; she likes to go out really early. Dusk is another good time to see birds, especially owls. She deemed listening most important, because birds make distinctive sounds; and use of binoculars for a better view.

Most of the talk was about how to identify birds. Of course, the flying part is key, and birds are easily distinguished from other things that fly, like insects and airplanes. But many people like to identify the exact variety of bird. Timing is important, not just time of day, but time of year, since many birds vacation in distant places like Canada and Mexico (though "Moonbirds" do not travel to the Moon; bird wings only work in air).

Also, different habitats host different sorts of birds, giving one a clue for what to expect (though Quantock cautioned to "expect the unexpected"). For example, water birds might be expected on lakes; bluebirds like open woodlands; forests are good for thrushes, owls, and hawks — which, she noted, eat other birds, remarking, "That's fine, it's nature," shocking some listeners.

Another point was that to determine what you're seeing, size is important. Ostriches are bigger than sparrows; a downy woodpecker larger than a hairy woodpecker. But be mindful that a bird's apparent size may vary depending on distance from the viewer; and binoculars do make them look bigger.

Color is important too. Most birds have some. A goldfinch differs in that respect from a bluebird, as the names imply. Though there are way too many birds sporting yellow-and-black color schemes. Males tend to be more showy, while females try to be less conspicuous, to avoid predators and catcalls.

Then there's shape, and behavior. Quantock noted that robins mostly hop around on the ground, and are not seen clutching tree trunks like woodpeckers. She also pointed out that birds move rather than standing still, so that if you watch a bird for any length of time you will be able to see different aspects of it.

As to bird safety, a big threat is cats. Quantock recommended keeping cats indoors, making it harder for them to catch birds. But the biggest danger to birds is windows, which humans thoughtlessly incorporate into their dwellings. The problem is birds thinking they can fly through glass, which they cannot; resulting in fatal injury. Re-education efforts have failed. Quantock suggested instead various stratagems like keeping blinds partly closed.

Notwithstanding the preceding point about birds heedlessly smashing themselves against glass, it was asserted that "bird brained" is largely a misnomer, and that birds (even while their brains are in fact quite tiny) nevertheless somehow demonstrate a lot of intelligence. Very few birds voted for Trump.

Elahe Gol Pari

What is the 'Woman Life Freedom' movement in Iran?

February 12th, 2022

Our February speaker was Elahe Gol Pari, who lived most of her life in Iran; a playwright, screen writer, film maker, etc. Her talk was titled, "What is the 'Woman Life Freedom' movement in Iran?"

Those three words, in Farsi (the Persian language), are "Zan Zendegi Azadi," and became the rallying cry for the protest movement that erupted after the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22 year old Kurdish Iranian woman. She'd been arrested by Iran's so-called "Morality Police" because her required hair covering was imperfect, and died three days later from injuries inflicted in their custody. While the protests were initially directed against those female dress strictures and the "Morality Police" enforcing them, they turned into a movement against Iran's Islamic regime itself. And while women have taken the lead, a high proportion of men support the movement.

These protests have swept the country, and the regime has responded with extreme violence, many hundreds being killed, and great numbers being jailed, where torture, including sexual violence against women (by the "Morality Police!") is endemic. Elahe said that police shooting at women protesters often aim for the eyes, and many girls have been blinded. Furthermore, injured protesters who go to hospitals have been taken out and jailed and further tortured — as have doctors treating them.

Elahe noted that the first Iranian woman to speak before men without wearing a hijab, the full body covering, was Tahira Qarrat Al-Ain in 1848. This was greeted favorably. No, actually, they killed her.

Elahe also observed that the headscarf, at least, is traditional Iranian clothing, akin to males wearing hats. But in 1936, under the modernizing regime of Reza Shah Pahlavi, women were given the freedom to dress as they pleased. In fact, the hijab was banned in schools and government offices. In 1963 women were given the vote.

Then the Pahlavi dynasty was ousted in 1979 with the "Islamic Revolution" under Ayatollah Khomeini, who opposed such liberalizations.

There was some discussion of the import of these female dress strictures. They putatively embody the idea of covering feminine charms so as to avoid exciting male sexual appetites [seemingly insulting to men, as if they can't keep their libidos under control; which Western men appear able to manage quite well even on topless beaches — FSR] But it was meanwhile suggested that these dress restrictions are in truth assertions of male power over females.

Adam Neiblum

Manufactured Need: What Capitalism Learned From Christianity

January 8th, 2022

Adam Neiblum has degrees in philosophy and religious thought, and has authored several books and articles. His talk was titled "Manufactured Need: What Capitalism Learned from Christianity."

It bashed both, though with greater force vented upon religion. Christianity, he said, was the original "big business." The parallels between the two are many: both are characterized by the "manufactured need" of his title, with religion providing the original model for how capitalism operates.

Neiblum sees a lot of the products sold in the capitalist consumer economy as not really needed by the buyers, hence the idea of manufactured need. He invoked the philosopher Immanuel Kant to draw a distinction between "intrinsic" and "instrumental" value, the latter being merely a means to an end. Kant saying that a human being should never be treated as a means; rather it's a human life that's the ultimate in "intrinsic" value. Neiblum considers capitalism a reversal of Kant's doctrine, with almost everything sold being of (at best) instrumental, not intrinsic, value.

Its sale thus dependent on manipulation, deception, and indoctrination, playing upon people's fears and insecurities. In that category he cited, for example, women being forced to think they have to use cosmetics, fearing social failure otherwise. Many products indeed being marketed not for their "intrinsic" value but to enhance one's social status. Cars, for instance, seen as status symbols rather than merely modes of transportation.

The big fear that religion preys upon is death. Not an imaginary, or even exaggerated fear, but integral to the human condition. And Christianity ups the ante by threatening, in place of extinction, eternal torment, creating a need for absolution. While on the other hand promising the ultimate consumer good: eternal paradise. All together a perfect gambit for making people dependent upon the "product" of religion.

In this context Neiblum spoke of the "Seven Deadly Sins" — all of which are, in actuality, aspects of normal human life. Only in extremes are they a problem. He focused, for example, upon lust, and how truly screwed up it is for religion to make people feel guilty for it. Explaining how much of human culture would vanish if nobody experiences any lust. (Indeed, the species itself would vanish.)

This is just one way in which religion's pretensions as a source of morality are awry. Neiblum presented polling data, asking people whether they believe God is needed for them to be moral. Results ranged from 90% of Swedes saying no, to only 2% in Indonesia. Narrow majorities in America, and worldwide, said no. Neiblum noted that the most thriving nations have the biggest "no" numbers, and obviously they're none the worse for it.

He portrayed one's development of moral ideas as a maturation process. It begins in childhood with punishment avoidance being key, rising (ideally) in adulthood to mature moral reasoning and agency. Along the way we make mistakes, and from them learn to be better. The religious, however, tend to confine themselves to the ladder's lowest rungs, thus in effect remaining children — morally, psychologically, and socially.

Back to capitalism, Neiblum acknowledged that he didn't have an alternative to replace it; in fact, he ultimately acknowledged that it "makes it happen" for us, and on the whole is "remarkably positive." No such indulgence was vouchsafed for religion, which he likened to an albatross on the neck of humanity. We need to normalize atheism, and stress secular education and critical thinking. The good news is that people free of religious beliefs are on the upsurge.

What a shocker.