Blog Revamp – 6 September 2016
Hi there. My name is Hugh Harris, and this is my personal blog where I write about rationalism and free thought. I spend most of my waking hours worrying about designing work places and taking care of my family, and so, this blog is what I do in my reflective moments. I’ve been in architecture for over 25 years and have worked as a project manager, sales manager and director/owner in various firms. I have a wife and three wonderful kids – these are my other sets of eyes through which I see the world.
In other episodes of my life I wielded a guitar in an alternative rock band – I have CD’s and photo’s to prove it! – and had a stint playing semi-professional online and live Texas no limit hold ‘em poker. But while I still occasionally haunt a poker room, my “reads” and “big calls” are now mostly confined to politics and the philosophy of religion. I’m intending to write a couple of essays about how poker and gambling speak to the religious and superstitious parts of our minds.
I’m a member of The Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) and write for various publications, including the ABC, Fairfax, New Matilda, the Courier Mail, and The Huffington Post – please see recent articles listed on my MEDIA page. I can be commissioned to write submissions and opinion/feature articles, and speak/debate, on my specialty areas of rationalism and philosophical atheism. I write a column in the RSA quarterly philosophical journal – PLEASE JOIN and get the journal mailed to you free! As well as scouring the Australian media, I love reading The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Banter, New Philosopher, AEON, and essays/books about metaphysics, anthropology, atheism, and religion. I think it’s particularly important to talk about books – please see my READING page.
I don’t know about you, but I view the use of evidence and reason in public debate as something worth fighting for. Too often ideological concerns, vested interests, and lobbyists, combine to relegate evidence to the margins. Western societies are splintered into partisan political groups based on ideological concerns which pre-date the Cold War era. Vast silos compartmentalize increasingly disparate and inconsistent sets of ideas into strict platforms. “Battlelines” was such an appropriate title for Tony Abbott’s book (not that I like much else about it), reflecting the current age where the battle of ideas has become hopelessly confused with the fight for political power.
This blog attempts (as part of a wider effort) to carve out a niche for the principles of rationalism in Australia. I hope you can consider helping. The rise of groups affiliated with free thought and reason coincides with a marked decline in religiosity in western democracies. As the demographics change, it’s inevitable that secular groups will begin to exercise a more pronounced influence in politics. But how that influence plays out is yet to be seen, given the established major party system, where the main parties persist with outdated ideology, and still contain an inordinate number of religious advocates.
I’m concerned about the increasing influence of religion in Australian politics. It’s conspicuous in our school system, where faith groups brazenly use taxpayer funds to make disciples of children. Both the National Chaplaincy Program and Religious Instruction transform secular state schools into mission fields where children are vulnerable to exploitation.
My views tend to be near the centre of the political spectrum: utilitarian, civil libertarian, liberal (in the classic sense), and socially progressive. And not chiselled in stone! I consider myself part of the freethought community in Australia, comprising the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA), The Atheist Foundation of Australia, various Humanist and Secular groups, and groups such as Fairness in Religion in Schools, and Queensland Parents for Secular State Schools. I represented the RSA at the Religious Freedom Roundtable, hosted by Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, in late 2015, and I found the brief experience of participating in political debate and writing about it stimulating and rewarding. It was also surprising to find out how many ostensibly religious groups shared our belief in secularism.
I think the secular community should avoid tribalism and unthinkingly adopting positions based on partisan politics. Let’s absorb the issues, consistently challenge our own views, and where possible, seek to bring issues back to first principles. We should try to avoid the demarcations between the Left and Right of politics, and seek to illuminate the landscape using evidence and reason.
Our innate tribalism propagates itself in our choices of information. Countering our own selection bias is crucial to objective analysis. This means disciplining oneself to look beyond the usual sources of information – resisting the temptation to automatically reach for that trusted source for the counter argument. It means playing the devil’s advocate for uncomfortable positions.
One consequence of tribalism is the incessant “calling out” and branding of others in pejorative terms. Just like the screams of “Blasphemer!”, from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, the media often erupts in outrage and engages in the extended public shaming of persons who cross the line of acceptable behaviour. Granted, sometimes people thoroughly deserve all the criticism they get, but, it’s amazing how often even minor transgressions quickly result in a spectacle of vilification, along with calls for persons to be sacked, fined, or imprisoned. In the arena of ideas and progress, this is a censoring and divisive influence. Thus, adopting unpopular causes and arguing the case for them becomes a potential antidote. Establishing and weighing the merits of different arguments, and publishing a range of alternative viewpoints, might also help to cut through the dark jungles which obscure and guard some of the more questionable ideas governing our political tribes.
I started this blog intending to write mainly about philosophical atheism and the future of religion but quickly began to focus on applying the lens of reason and evidence to Australian politics. So my blog contains articles on current affairs as well as philosophical essays – see ESSAYS.
Anyway, that’s enough about me. I hope to hear from you.