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The meaning and legacy of humanism: a sharp challenge from a potential ally

Author profile picture Andy Norman
Recipient profile picture Yuval Noah Harari
17 June
Dear Yuval Noah Harari,
My name is Andy Norman, and I count myself a fan of your work. I admire your clarity, your passion for big ideas, and your commitment to clear, accessible writing. I think your books—Sapiens and Homo Deus—are landmark achievements, destined to stimulate reflection for generations to come. I learned a great deal from them. I’m reaching out on behalf of the Council for Secular Humanism and the American Humanist Association. My charge is twofold: (1) to communicate a concern shared by thousands of self-identified humanists, and (2) to respectfully request your consideration. I ask that you hear me out. Our concerns center, as you might imagine, on your portrayal of humanism. What you present as humanism bears little resemblance to the humanism we know. The humanism we know—from history, philosophy, and the relevant literature, from our congregations, our social justice work, and, yes, our work for animal rights and the environment—is in many ways the polar opposite of what you depict. In fact, it’s deeply important to today’s humanists that our worldview not be conflated with those of communism, capitalism, and Nazism. A glance at any one of our movement’s manifestos will make it clear that such ideologies are antithetical to humanism. Humanist principles proscribe all forms of ideological rigidity, and self-identified humanists have consistently fought against totalitarian ideologies. Prominent Nazis (Heidegger) and communists (Marx) rejected humanism. Contemporary humanists don’t “worship” homo sapiens; we don’t believe that we humans have a “sacred nature.” We don’t think that “the supreme good is the good of homo sapiens,” and we certainly don’t think that “all other beings exist solely for the benefit of (our) species.” In fact, humanistic thinkers such as Jeremy Bentham and Peter Singer laid the foundations for the animal-rights and environmental movements. I don’t think we’re far apart, philosophically speaking. The issue that separates us is fundamentally terminological. I know that, generally speaking, one is entitled to define a word for one’s own purposes and then use it in a somewhat nonstandard way. I appreciate that the repurposing of words can have salutary effects. I understand that “humanism” is a convenient designation for a class of views you wish to criticize. I get that certain modern ideologies treat human interests as the only thing that ultimately matters and agree that these ideologies need to be pulled up by the roots. But your usage of “humanism” could also cause great harm. Please consider: Secular thinkers have long sought a philosophical alternative to the arbitrary religious affiliations that so frequently divide humanity. Philosophers have worked this problem from one end, and visionary social reformers, activists, and community-builders have worked it from another. Contemporary humanism, as articulated in several humanist “manifestos,” is the product of decades of intellectual and social toil. It represents a system of commitments that is carefully crafted to temper some of humanity’s worst instincts. Its central idea is that all human beings deserve to be treated with dignity. This idea was once given a theological foundation—“endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights”—but nowadays, humanists see the notion of rights as useful shorthand: we embrace the idea that such rights “exist” because things tend to work out well for us when we do. Historically, humanist ideas—primary among them the notion of human rights—have done a great deal to alleviate human suffering. I genuinely believe that humanism, as understood by its philosophical and social advocates, is a source of moral progress. So your portrayals of humanism worry us greatly. Given the size of your platform, you could, without meaning to, undo decades of good work. I ask, respectfully, that you walk back your characterization of humanism. Perhaps you can find another designation for the family of views you have in mind (“human-centrism” for example, or perhaps “sapiens-sanctifying”). By taking these modest steps, you would earn the gratitude of a large and growing humanist movement and might well find a sizable and receptive audience for your ideas. (Humanist organizations have provided sustained support for other public intellectuals, including Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Rebecca Goldstein, and Daniel Dennett.) Your work deserves to be celebrated alongside the work of these avowedly humanistic thinkers—rather than dismissed because of an unfortunate terminological choice. We’d appreciate your help undoing the damage you’ve done to the humanist cause. Sincerely,

Andy Norman

Author profile picture Andy Norman
17 June
Dear Andy Norman,

I’d like to focus first on what is probably the most important issue. What do we do with our shadow? People who celebrate the achievements of modernity, of the enlightenment, and of secularism often are not sure what to do with communism and fascism. Are they too part of modernity? Are they too a product of secular enlightenment? My view is that they are, but this does not negate the achievements and values of modernity and of the secular enlightenment. It does mean that we should be on our guard, acknowledge our shadow, and reject all notions that “it cannot happen to us.”

I think one of the great achievements of humanism, as against traditional religions, is that humanism has the courage and wisdom to acknowledge its shadow and its mistakes. I agree with you that humanism has done far more good to humans in the past few centuries than any traditional religion. When it comes to other animals and to the ecological system as a whole, though, I am more skeptical.

In the twenty-first century, the crucial reality we should face is that we are entering a post-humanist era. Artificial intelligence and bioengineering are game changers. They are going to change the very meaning of humanity. We will need to rethink many traditional humanist notions that worked very well in the past three centuries. Acknowledging our shadow will be crucial for a successful engagement with the new revolutions. I emphasize the fact that the Nazis and Stalinists too believed in (their version of) humanity and thought that they were creating better humans (rather than serving some God)—so that we don’t have the wrong impression that belief in the supreme value of humanity in and of itself vaccinates us against terrible crimes.

You write that humanism’s “central idea is that all human beings deserve to be treated with dignity, not because we have a sacred nature but because things tend to work out well for us when we do.” But the big question is “who are we?” Maybe things work well for us Jews when we don’t treat Palestinians with dignity? Maybe things work well for us humans when we don’t treat cows with dignity? Maybe things will work well for us superhumans in the year 2100 when we will mistreat ordinary homo sapiens? The argument from self-benefit is an extremely dangerous one.

I define humanism as a worldview that sanctifies humanity and sees humanity as the ultimate source of authority. Just as theism thinks authority comes from theos (god), and nationalism thinks authority comes from the nation, so humanism believes that authority comes from humanity. That’s why it is called “humanism.” There have been many kinds of humanism, just as there have been many kinds of theism. For just as it is unclear what exactly god is, so it is unclear what exactly humanity is. Is it inherent in individual humans, in the human species as a whole, or in some particular group of humans?

In my treatment of humanism I focus on liberal humanism (which views humanity as an individual property), social humanism (which views humanity as a collective property), and evolutionary humanism (which views humanity as a property of a superior group of humans). I pay little attention to what you define as secular humanism, because I am interested in the historical impact of ideas rather than in the ideas per se. Perhaps secular humanism does not sanctify humanity at all and instead sees authority as inherent in science (in which case, why call it “humanism” and not “scientism”?). But the humanist movements that had a big impact on history did sanctify humanity. Perhaps secular humanism recognizes only the authority of science. But the humanist ethical codes that had a big impact on history did not rely exclusively on scientific research. There was no scientific basis in 1776 for the claims that all humans are equal or that they all have “rights.” As far as I know, there has never been any scientific definition for “rights” nor any scientific basis for believing that humans have these rights.

That doesn’t mean we should start killing and stealing. You can object to killing people on various grounds. Some people say that you shouldn’t kill because God said so. Some say you shouldn’t kill because it violates human rights. Some say you shouldn’t kill because it causes suffering. The explanation you give is very important because it has many consequences. If you don’t kill just because God said so, then the moment God tells you to start killing heretics, you would have no qualms about killing those heretics. If you don’t kill just because killing violates human rights, then you would find nothing wrong with killing animals that have no human rights. If you don’t kill because it causes suffering, you would avoid killing heretics and animals as well.

Secular humanism as you define it may be superior to other currents of humanism from an ethical and philosophical perspective, but to the best of my knowledge, it was less influential than Liberalism and Socialism. Truth and influence don’t always go together. Silly stories may convince billions, while the truth enjoys just a tiny following. But then the question is what you seek in life—power or truth?


Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah Harari
17 June
Dear Yuval Noah Harari,

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I’m grateful that you’re willing to engage on this important issue. You make several interesting and valid points, and I wish to acknowledge them. You’re quite right that we need to acknowledge and be mindful of what you call “our shadow.” (By this, I take it that you mean the dark, unintended consequences of our words, actions, and commitments.) I agree that believing in the supreme value of humanity does not by itself vaccinate us against terrible crimes. I understand that there’s much more to ethics than human rights, and that “Can it suffer?” is a much better question than “Is it human?” I concede, for present purposes, that the notion of human rights has little scientific basis. It’s also true that modernity has been very hard on animals and the environment. This is a major problem, and we need to understand the root causes. You’re right that Nazism and Stalinism were post-enlightenment, largely secular, and horribly destructive.

Nazism, Stalinism, the industrial exploitation of animals, and the pillaging of the environment: these are four great evils, and we need to understand what caused them. You’re drawn to a simple and sexy story: that humanism—the worship of humanity—is their root cause. But there are two big problems with this hypothesis: first, there are better explanations of the four great evils; second, humanism has nothing to do with worshipping humanity.

On the latter point, the word humanism is misleading you. The philosophy of humanism isn’t the result of putting humans on the pedestal once occupied by gods; it results from the realization that the gods won’t save us, so we’d better save ourselves. Humanism is not about making ourselves sacred; it’s about us taking responsibility—for animals and the planet as well as ourselves.

What does the word humanism really mean? I beg you to actually look into the matter. Please look up any of the humanist manifestos and see if you can find any reference to the worship of humanity. You won’t find it because it isn’t there. I invite you to immerse yourself in the humanist literature. Humanists have been extremely clear: we think it’s a really bad idea to declare anything sacred and then harbor worshipful attitudes toward it. The reason is simple: doing this invariably marks off some things as beyond question. It prevents honest inquiry and creates dogmatic ideologies. Real humanism opposes all forms of ideological fixation. We want to tear down the pedestal, not climb atop it.

As I said, there are better explanations of the four great evils. The industrial farming of animals, for example, is better explained as a consequence of population growth, greed, and unfettered markets. (Laissez-faire capitalism, by the way, is an ideology that humanists have fairly consistently railed against.) Yes, Nazism and Stalinism are products of secular modernity, but this hardly makes them humanist. Both ran roughshod over basic human rights—and basic humanist principles. (I wouldn’t call them products of the Enlightenment either—at least not in any straightforward sense.) Yes, they cast off their supernatural trappings, but they remained stupid, cruel, and inhumane ideologies. In fact, both became ideologies that explicitly reject many humanist principles. Mein Kampf and the humanist manifestos express radically different—indeed, almost polar opposite—philosophies. Don’t believe me? Check them out.

You point out that Nazis and Stalinists “believed in (some version of) humanity.” But what does this even mean? The same is true of Christians, Jews, and Muslims. If believing in some version of humanity is all it takes to make one a humanist, then everyone is a humanist—you included—and the term fails to denote a difference that makes a difference.

We must certainly understand and take responsibility for “our shadow.” This is precisely why it’s important to understand what humanism really is, grasp what its consequences really are, and use the term accurately and responsibly. When you come to understand how the term is really used—as opposed to how you’d like to use it—I think you’ll agree that the claims you’re making are quite unjust.

Yuval, your challenges to humanism are the most sweeping in a generation. They have the potential to be enormously influential, and humanists should confront them. I for one am committed to hearing out cogent objections and changing my mind if the arguments turn out to be good ones. I hope that you are equally committed to considering counterarguments, and if indicated, changing your mind.

It’s still possible for you to examine this issue and revise your understanding of humanism. You can still avoid ways of talking that cause great harm. If you care about your causal shadow, I beg you to do two small things: (1) read up on humanism and (2) walk back any claims that then strike you as inaccurate.

Please take a few minutes to peruse my short essay “Getting Humanism Right-Side Up: A Reality-Based Mattering Map and Alternative Humanist Manifesto.” I believe it will open your eyes to a profoundly progressive strain of humanism.

Warm regards,

Andy Norman

Andy Norman
17 June
Dear Andy Norman,

Thank you for your thoughtful letter and for the additional material. I have great sympathy for the humanist cause as you define it, and it would pain me to do any harm to the reputation or efforts of the humanist movement. I believe that humanism as you define it has been and still is one of the most beneficial movements in history. There are, however, two problems I would like to raise: one historical, the other substantial.

First, the historical problem. By the term humanism you seem to refer to the twentieth-century humanist movement that goes back to the Humanist Manifesto of 1933. In contrast, I use the term to refer to a much wider historical current, which goes back at least to the late medieval and early modern Italian humanists (for instance, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s “Oration on the Dignity of Man” from 1486). In this broader sense, “humanism” refers to the epochal shift in authority from God and scripture to humanity—and in particular to human reason and human feelings. I would succinctly define humanism as “the belief that human feelings are the supreme source of authority—whether in politics, economics, ethics or art.”

When I talk of the “worship” of humanity, or of humanity being “sacred,” this is what I am referring to. Worship doesn’t mean erecting statues and dancing and making sacrifices in front of these statues. It means looking at something with deep respect and awe, because it is a source of authority and meaning. This is how Muslims look at the Qur’an—and how humanists look at human feelings. Humanists regard human desires and feelings with deep respect and awe because they are the source of value in life and what determines our highest aims.

From this perspective, the key texts of humanism include not just the twentieth-century humanist manifestos but also much older texts such as Francis Bacon’s “The New Method”; the writings of Enlightenment philosophers such as Locke, Hume, and Rousseau; the American Declaration of Independence; the French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen; and even The Communist Manifesto.

This broad understanding of humanism is not some new invention of mine, but something that is very common among historians in general. When I did my BA in history twenty years ago, when my professors talked about “humanism” they usually talked about Pico della Mirandola, Bacon, or Locke rather than about the 1933 Manifesto.

In this broad sense, humanism can boast great achievements such as the flowering of modern science and modern liberal democracy. But it cannot shirk responsibilities for the bitter fruits of Communism, Nazism, and ecological destruction. The humanist vision of utilizing the world for the benefit of humanity and perfecting humanity itself resulted not just in overcoming plagues and famines but also in subjugating the environment to human needs and in the Nazi and Communist projects to create perfect humans and perfect societies. (Note that both Nazis and Communists argued that their projects were not just aimed at perfecting humanity, but also that they were based on the most updated scientific theories. Nazism saw itself as firmly based in the theory of evolution, while Communists declared that Marx was a scientist and that Communism was the most accurate of all sciences.)

You questioned my statement that Nazis and Stalinists believed in some version of humanity and counter-argued that:

“the same is true of Christians, Jews, and Muslims. If believing in some version of humanity is all it takes to make one a humanist, then everyone is a humanist—you included—and the term fails to denote a difference that makes a difference”

Perhaps I should clarify this point. “To believe in humanity” means to believe that humanity is the ultimate source of authority and that serving the needs of humanity and perfecting humanity are the ultimate aims or “the supreme good.” This is true of Nazis and Stalinists, but it is not true of Christians, Jews, and Muslims—the latter think that the ultimate source of authority is God and Scriptures rather than humanity and that the supreme good is following God’s commandments rather than serving human needs or perfecting humanity.

You might well argue that Nazism, Communism, and the destruction of the environment are all based on misunderstanding and distorting the core humanist ideals. And you might have a point there. But that is a common problem for all influential ideologies and religions. Consider Christianity. As a historian, I would say that Christianity is responsible for great crimes such as the Inquisition, the Crusades, the oppression of native cultures across the world, the disempowerment of women, the persecution of gays, and so forth. A Christian might take offense at this and retort that all of these crimes were based on a complete misunderstanding of Christianity. Christianity preaches only love, and the Inquisition was based on a horrific distortion of this ideal. I can sympathize with this claim, and yet as a historian, I cannot accept it. Christians appalled by the Inquisition and by the Crusades cannot just wash their hands of these atrocities—they should rather ask themselves some very tough questions: What exactly in their “religion of love” allowed it to be distorted in such a way? Similarly, Marxists should ask themselves: What about the teachings of Marx led to the gulag? (My answer: belief in social engineering, in the wisdom of an avant-garde elite, and in the need for violent revolution.) I would recommend similar soul-searching for humanists appalled by the crimes of Nazism and Communism or by the destruction of the ecosystem.

Indeed, even if I go with the 1933 Humanist Manifesto, I can find there all the key ideas that could lead to environmental destruction and to totalitarian projects of human perfection. For example:

FIFTH point—“The way to determine the existence and value of any and all realities is by means of intelligent inquiry and by the assessment of their relations to human needs.” If all value depends on human needs, doesn’t this imply that cutting down a forest in order to provide food for humans is a good thing?

EIGHTH point—“Religious Humanism considers the complete realization of human personality to be the end of man’s life and seeks its development and fulfillment in the here and now.” Well, what if some humans have a more developed personality than others, or what if by some scientific method we can create a race of superior humans with superior personalities? Wouldn’t this make such humans more valuable than others? Shouldn’t we strive to create such superior humans by any means available to us?

TWELFTH point—“Believing that religion must work increasingly for joy in living, religious humanists aim to foster the creative in man and to encourage achievements that add to the satisfactions of life.” Again, what if we could use scientific method to foster more creative superhumans? Would this justify harming less creative ordinary humans?

THIRTEENTH point—“Religious humanism maintains that all associations and institutions exist for the fulfillment of human life. The intelligent evaluation, transformation, control and direction of such associations and institutions with a view to the enhancement of human life is the purpose and program of humanism.” Since humans are clearly the product of evolution, and evolution has not come to an end with the appearance of Homo sapiens, maybe the purpose and program of humanism should be to enhance not just human life but the human race itself? Why settle for scraps? Why just fulfill the limited potential of Homo sapiens, when we might create beings who are as superior to Homo sapiens as Homo sapiens is superior to chimpanzees? And wouldn’t such a project justify ignoring the needs and feelings of ordinary humans and other animals?

It is dangerously easy to reach from such maxims to the conclusion that humans should control and manipulate the environment for the fulfillment of human needs, and that we should strive to perfect human beings and human society by scientific means (and if you happen to believe in the “science” of Social Darwinism or the “science” of Communism, the results could be rather ugly). It is obvious to me that the authors of the Humanist Manifesto did not envision such interpretations, but then Karl Marx didn’t envision the Stalinist gulags either, and Jesus didn’t envision the Crusades and the Inquisition.

Let’s turn now to the substantive problem. Starting from your narrower definition of humanism and from the Humanist Manifesto itself, the main question I would like to raise is: How does it relate to post-humanism? Given the emphasis on science, reason, and human enhancement, what does humanism think about the possibility of using biotechnology to create superhumans or using computer science to create super-intelligent AI? What possible objections could humanism have to the creation of superhumans and AI and to transferring authority to such entities?

In the twenty-first century, humanism is in a double bind. It still has to fight the old battles against the biases and delusions of traditional religions such as Christianity. But it also has a new fight on its hands, against the dangerous potential of new technologies such as bioengineering and AI. My impression is that the humanist movement thinks too much in terms of the old battles, while neglecting the new battles. That is very dangerous, because despite the continuing problems posed by the traditional religions, the fate of humankind and of life itself will hinge on our attitude toward bioengineering and AI rather than on our attitude toward God and Scriptures. And while humanism has developed a very impressive arsenal of arguments against the pitfalls of traditional religions, I suspect humanism is extremely exposed to the temptations of technological utopias.


Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah Harari
17 June
Dear Yuval Noah Harari,

You’ve given me much to think about and argued from premises I cannot readily dismiss. For this I thank you. In what follows, I want to acknowledge your insights, urge a deeper engagement with the challenge I’m raising, and suggest a kind of pragmatic resolution.

First, I’m compelled to concede that you have grounds for using the term humanism as you do. It’s true that academics have used the term to designate a broad cultural current with roots in the Renaissance and antiquity, and I’ll grant that that is precedent enough to give you the right to use humanism in roughly the way you do. It doesn’t follow, though, that it’s a good idea to think and speak of humanism as a humanity-sanctifying “religion.” For one thing, there are important differences between religious and secular ideologies. The similarities merit note, but the dissimilarities should not be brushed aside as irrelevant. (Indeed, these differences lead most humanists to insist that humanism is not a religion.) Second, there are important differences between secular ideologies and a system of thought that works very hard to prevent thinking from becoming ideological. (By “ideological,” I mean tenaciously resistant to rational revision.) Third, and most important, the term humanism has developed a new and salutary set of uses—uses that your depiction of humanism threatens to disrupt.

To elaborate: progressive thinkers in the early twentieth century recognized the need for a broad social movement emphasizing human rights, reason, and freedom of inquiry. They admired all of the works you mention—those of Bacon, Locke, Hume, and Rousseau, the Declaration of Independence, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. They also admired the works of Plato and Aristotle, Da Vinci and Spinoza, Kant and Paine, Bentham and Mill.

They needed a word to designate central features of the philosophical orientation that had done so much to enlighten the world. For better or worse, they settled on humanism and began building a movement to spread these comparatively enlightened values. They authored the manifestos, pressed for a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, supported civil rights movements, and helped make women’s suffrage the rule rather than the exception. They helped inspire Gandhi’s efforts to throw off British colonial rule and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts to end segregation. (King himself explicitly thanked the “thousands of humanists,” many of them white, who helped his civil rights movement.) Arguably, humanism’s emphasis on self-determination helped to dismantle European colonialism.

To accomplish these progressive reforms, humanists needed to inspire others and build solidarity. They needed to give other progressives a sense of purpose and belonging. They needed a named alternative to dogmatic religious affiliation. For all its seemingly species-centric imperfections, the label “humanism” was their answer. Lacking a better banner to rally around, they began advocating for humanism—not just using the term to describe a venerable past but using it also to prescribe and build a better future. (A better future, I might add, not just for themselves but for all of humanity: these reformers have consistently insisted that all human beings matter. On the whole, they also insist that other sentient beings matter—though their chosen designation has the unfortunate tendency to imply otherwise. The most recent manifesto—Humanist Manifesto III—hints that we need to extend our moral concern “to the global ecosystem and beyond.”)

In any case, hundreds of thousands of well-meaning progressive reformers have since found a sustaining and motivating identity in humanism. And here’s the point: this too is part of the history of humanism. This new usage extends far beyond a small circle of academic historians—it’s out there in the world, shaping people, movements, and trends. Given that the term has acquired these uses, you can’t responsibly characterize humanists as advocating the blind worship of humanity. To do so is to caricature. It’s inaccurate because humanists have always emphasized critical reflection; they’ve worked to end the practice of showing blind obedience to anything. Also, millions of people (including a healthy percentage of Europeans) now identify as humanist. To characterize them—your natural allies—in this way does them a great disservice.

Your characterizations of humanism as nothing less than the root cause of Nazism, Stalinism, and environmental destruction are also quite dangerous. They could easily frighten religious know-nothings into scapegoating humanists. Given the prevalence of humanists in higher education, it could exacerbate anti-intellectual fervor. What if your portrayals of humanism—backed by your substantial rhetorical gifts—were to inspire Mao-style thought reform, humanist witch-hunts, or intellectual purges in the West? Do you really want to run the risk that this becomes part of your intellectual “shadow”?

You write that “Marxists should ask themselves: ‘What about the teachings of Marx led to the gulag?’” Good point. Then you add, parenthetically: “belief in social engineering, in the wisdom of an avant-garde elite, and in the need for violent revolution.” Exactly: it is these addenda to the basic notion of human dignity, not the notion of human dignity itself, that led to the gulag. The Nazis too may have started out with some humanism-inspired ideas, but it was their addition of a lot of nonsense about Aryan supremacy, biological purity, and the inferiority of others that led to the Holocaust. Similarly, secular humanist ideals don’t by themselves yield industrial-scale environmental destruction. The real roots of your four great evils lie elsewhere.

There is probably something to the hypothesis that a human-centric worldview tends to excuse the exploitative use of “sub-human” animals and the environment. This, I think, is the legitimate core of your critique. It’s worth noting, however, that contemporary Darwinism—itself a product of humanism—rejects any superiority scale that would license the categorization of other animals as less evolved, inferior, or sub-human. (They’re just as evolved as we are, only to other niches; indeed, they’re better adapted to their niches than we are—and this is the only notion of “better” that the science can endorse.)

Yes, early cultural appropriations of Darwinism—most notably social Darwinism—provided convenient rationales for Aryan supremacists and exploitative capitalists, but a fuller appreciation of the Darwinian view of life is profoundly humbling—perhaps more so than Copernican cosmology. Remember, too, that scientific humanism replaced a religious mythology where God created us in His image, placed our planet at the center of Creation, and gave us “dominion” over terrestrial life. Talk about a “dangerously easy” rationale for plundering the environment! God Himself sanctioned its exploitation and commanded us to “be fruitful and multiply.” These words are still used by the American religious Right to justify slashing resources to family planning programs.

Exploitative attitudes toward the environment and convenient excuses for pillaging predate humanism by tens of thousands of years. Humanity didn’t need the philosophy of humanism to begin privileging itself. If we want to understand root causes, then we have to examine the matter more carefully. How about this one: Darwinian principles entail that self-care is an utterly basic biological impulse, one that got modified, in the course of mammalian evolution, into a complex concern for self, kin, friends, and tribesmen. I grant that expanding the circle of moral concern to the rest of humanity—perhaps humanism’s essential legacy—doesn’t go far enough, but it was a significant step in the right direction.

Has the philosophy of humanism nevertheless exacerbated problematic attitudes? Perhaps. But a causal claim like this needs more than prima facie plausibility. It needs evidence. Yes, humanism’s chosen designation appears to privilege humanity, but is the causal link really there? Did per-capita environmental destruction accelerate as humanist ideas spread? Even if so, mightn’t industrialization be the better explanation? In a matter like this, it’s no small task to separate causation from spurious correlation.

Has humanism—initially a force for moral progress—nevertheless become inhibitory of moral progress? It depends on your definition of humanism. If it involves treating human interests as the ultimate source of meaning and value (your definition), quite possibly. If it involves “the greater good of humanity” (the AHA’s definition), probably not, but perhaps in some ways. If it involves understanding and promoting what really matters (my definition of humanism in “Getting Humanism Right-Side Up: An Alternative Humanist Manifesto”), almost surely not.

I hope I’ve said enough to persuade you that you need a better term for the phenomenon you find problematic. By all means, decry the assumptions that tend to sacralize humanity in its individual, collective, and “more highly evolved” forms. Condemn sapiens-worship to your heart’s content. I’ll join you. The ideas of self-proclaimed humanists, though, are not the root of the phenomenon you deplore. Indeed, we humanists are your natural allies.

You write that “This is how humanists look at human feelings … with deep respect and awe because they are the source of value in life … human feelings are the supreme source of authority” and meaning. I think you’re on to something here: many people today are captive to an outlook that sees all value as rooted in human desire-satisfaction. (Materialism and consumer culture are two dark manifestations of this idea.) But this idea infects more than just self-identified humanists. In fact, the vast majority of self-identified humanists have transcended the delusion that only human feelings matter. We don’t kick puppies because we know that, generally speaking, it’s wrong to cause suffering. Reflective humanists tend to regard all sentient beings as worthy of some moral consideration. (I confess that my efforts to translate this insight into an all plant-based diet founder, time and again, on weakness of will.)

Self-identified humanists also understand that mindless deference to human emotions is a really bad idea: combine it with greed, the will to power, nationalism, or other forms of tribalism, and the results are usually disastrous. I think we humanists understand this as well as anyone. In fact, our emphasis on reason, tolerance, and human rights is a pretty direct indication that we recognize the need to temper human desire.

It is not self-identified humanists who exacerbate an unhealthy tendency to worship or s acralize humanity. It is plain old human nature: our selfish, greedy, tribal selves. And here’s one of the truly admirable aspects of the philosophy of humanism: many of its tenets function to temper humanity’s worst impulses. Tempted to dehumanize others? Sorry, human rights and dignity are too important. Tempted to demonize and wage war on “them”? Sorry, all humans are your brethren. Tempted to suppress speech you deem blasphemous or hateful? Sorry, censorship is prohibited. Tempted to use state power to advance your religious agenda? Sorry, we need to maintain the wall of separation. Tempted to indulge in dogmatic, ideological thinking? Sorry, you have a responsibility to think critically, even about your own cherished beliefs. Tempted to amass great power or wealth? Sorry, but we all matter, and all matter equally. Tempted to factory-farm animals? Sorry, but other sentient critters matter too. Tempted to treat nature as a mere means to our ends? Sorry, but this pale blue dot is our lifeboat; we need to treat it with some reverence.

People who believe these things—those I call humanists—have a pretty decent track record of not committing genocide. We consistently opposed totalitarianism and supported the environmental movement. Yes, humanity generally has built a system of industrial food production that is profoundly inhumane and utterly unsustainable. We’re polluting the planet, changing the climate, and driving many species to extinction. No doubt human-centric prejudices are part of the problem. But are Nazism, Stalinism, and environmental destruction all rooted in humanism? Even on your definition, this oversimplifies. And given prevailing usage, it vilifies.

You’re quite right that the early Humanist Manifestos contain some unfortunate, species-centric language. Even Humanist Manifesto III claims that “ethical values are derived from human needs and interests”—conspicuously neglecting the needs and interests of other sentient beings. But here’s the neat thing about humanism: it’s self-revising. As a rule, humanists take critical challenges seriously and revise their thinking. We don’t treat our manifestoes as gospel; we work and re-work them. In fact, Humanist Manifesto III makes clear that it, too, is a work in progress: “The lifestance of humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience … continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideas, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understanding advance.”

Humanist manifestos get superseded every few decades. (Compare that to the way religions cling to sacred scripture for millennia!) Perhaps it’s time to update humanism again. Your concerns about biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and our “post-human” future are a welcome stimulus to do this. (Our “transhumanist” cousins tend to be bullish on the possibilities of technologically enhanced human beings; they’ve been urging us to pay attention to these questions for a while now. You may well be right that it’s time to address them in earnest.)

The American Humanist Association defines humanism as “a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.” I think this is an admirable lifestance and don’t see anything sinister in this aspiration to pursue “the greater good of humanity.” I think we should seek to improve both our condition and ourselves. Not at any cost, of course, but all else being equal? Why not? When you seek and share historical knowledge, are you not seeking to improve humanity? Were a genomic intervention to safely and painlessly spare unborn children crippling handicaps, will you denounce it as eugenics run amok? Surely not. Yes, the project of “perfecting” humanity can become sinister. But doesn’t it become sinister the moment it starts abusing sentient creatures and destroying the environment? Why not improve what we can improve and cherish those we can’t? The former needn’t preclude the latter.

You write that “humanism can’t shirk responsibility for the bitter fruits of Communism, Nazism, and ecological destruction.” But this is exactly the kind of causal claim that becomes problematic when your definition of humanism is problematized. Put differently, if your definition is challenged, you can’t use the term humanism to make such claims—not without begging the question. You must first redeem the definition. You made a decent preliminary case for allowing this usage—historians do in fact use the term as you do—but all things considered, I think, academics should refrain from stereotyping humanism in this way. Especially given that a relatively harmless (if less felicitous) alternative exists. “Humanity-sanctifying worldviews can’t shirk responsibility for the bitter fruits of Communism, Nazism, and ecological destruction” isn’t as sexy a claim, but it has the merit of being defensible.

Should a person of good will adopt your definition of humanism, recognize the dark shadow of humanism so understood, and work to overcome its baleful effects? Or should such a person adopt my definition of humanism and work to advance the humanist cause so understood? What’s a reasonable person to do?

Why treat it as an either-or? Why not both-and? It seems we need two words here. Under the circumstances, it seems best to cede the term humanism to self-identified humanists, and for your purposes, use a designation such as “humanity-sanctifying worldviews.” I’m asking you to make this small adjustment to your usage patterns, and in this way, work with us—your natural allies—to serve the greater good.

Humanists have long sought to replace religious ideologies with scientific humility. This makes your question “Why not call it scientism?” worth asking. One answer is that “scientism” has become a term of abuse. Another is that it’s hard to rebrand a movement mid-stream. More important, science combats unreason in the realm of facts but has yet to address unreason about what matters. For these reasons, I prefer “rationalism” to “scientism.”

Perhaps the humanist movement needs to rebrand itself as a movement for rationalism. I’m open to that possibility. But the ideas and values we both cherish have long been championed under the “humanist” banner, and that fact merits some respect. We can’t just equate humanism with the worship of humanity—not without doing serious harm to a significant force for human and planetary wellbeing.

Andy Norman

Andy Norman

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    Dear Sue Lent, I am a local resident in Cardiff, under the purview of your council appointment, and I am writing with regard to the persistent problem of litter around my area. I moved to Cardiff approximately a year ago, and have noticed that there seems to be a r...

    On Systemic Racism in Police Shootings

    Matt Thornton on 7 June
    Responses: 5

    Dear Ali Rizvi, Is systemic racism causing American police officers to disproportionately kill black suspects? George Floyd’s death on May 25th [2020] angered a nation. Everyone on all sides of the political spectrum agreed what the officers did was abhorrent. In t...

    I was surprised by some of your recent comments on Twitter, which struck me as decidedly backward looking.

    David Sloan Wilson on 7 June
    Responses: 7

    Dear Massimo Pigliucci, We go way back and share a love of philosophy in addition to biology. I was proud to be included in the “Altenberg 16” workshop that you organized to explore the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis, a term that you coined. I have always regarded you as ...

    The problem of consciousness, and the panpsychist solution

    Philip Goff on 7 June
    Responses: 7

    Dear Massimo Pigliucci, We’ve had a quite a few vigorous exchanges on twitter on the topic of panpsychism. I’ve learned a lot from these exchanges, but I’m sure you’ll agree it’s hard to tackle issues in any depth with the 140 limit imposed by Twitter. So I’m grateful for t...

    The future of Britain's food security

    Christopher Crompton on 8 June
    Responses: 0

    Dear Jim McMahon, I am writing to you in your capacity as Shadow Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about the critical issue of our nation’s food security. In a time of short-termist, sticking-plaster politics, we need a serious, credible, long-term ...

    Reasonable Progress

    Joshua Dubrow on 13 June
    Responses: 0

    Dear Cornel West, I am writing ask about the concept of "reasonable progress:" when we can reasonably expect progress to arrive? When stuff moves forward -- justice through judicial decisions, paperwork by deadlines -- we may think that the forward motion was in a r...

    Science, Religion, and Coexistence

    Tobias Lim on 13 June
    Responses: 0

    Dear Ali Rizvi, I came across a wonderful correspondence between Matt Thornton and yourself a few days ago. I say wonderful because it is rare to see two people from diverse backgrounds with different worldviews engage in a meaningful and respectful dialogue. Your...

    A public thank you to the Rt Hon Valerie Vaz MP

    Christopher Crompton on 14 June
    Responses: 0

    Dear Valerie Vaz, I’d like to take the opportunity afforded by the Collate platform to thank you publicly for the excellent work you have been doing to represent your constituents as Member of Parliament for Walsall South. I contacted you in 2020 on behalf of my loc...

    The resources and will to solve climate problems are finally emerging

    Ellie Young on 16 June
    Responses: 1

    Dear Bill McKibben, I’ve been following your work since my early days of climate activism. Back in college, when I was first exposed to the unbelievable reality of what we so nicely call “sustainability challenges”, I remember as one of the only climate organiza...

    The meaning and legacy of humanism: a sharp challenge from a potential ally

    Andy Norman on 17 June
    Responses: 4

    Dear Yuval Noah Harari, My name is Andy Norman, and I count myself a fan of your work. I admire your clarity, your passion for big ideas, and your commitment to clear, accessible writing. I think your books—Sapiens and Homo Deus—are landmark achievements, destined to stimul...

    Panpsychism, the combination problem, and Sufi mysticism

    Christopher Crompton on 20 June
    Responses: 0

    Dear Philip Goff, I am intrigued by your support of panpsychism and would love to run some things past you. I enjoyed your exchange with Massimo Pigliucci on Collate, although I could sense your frustration that some of his key objections seemed to be based on what ...

    Space, NASA, and the Problems on Earth

    Tobias Lim on 23 June
    Responses: 0

    Dear Mae Jemison, As you know, the Biden-Harris administration has requested an annual budget of $26 billion for NASA in 2023 (with similar sums projected for the years ahead). [1] While this is less than 0.5 percent of yearly U.S. government spending, it is not an in...

    Apple Trees and the Future of Science

    Tobias Lim on 23 June
    Responses: 0

    Dear Pamela Gay, I’m marveling at the wonderful breakthroughs, discoveries, and achievements that scientists and engineers have made recently. Over the last few years, we’ve had the COVID-19 vaccine, CRISPR technology, and AlphaFold structures, just to name a few. A...

    How do we talk about economics?

    Eleanor on 26 June
    Responses: 0

    Dear Paul Krugman, During my undergraduate studies at the University of Oxford, I attended a talk that you gave there on the response of various governments to the 2008 financial crisis. I was not a student of economics — my knowledge of economics comes from reading, l...

    An attempt to 'canonise' young adult fiction.

    Eleanor on 4 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Jacqueline Wilson, I read your books widely as a child and teenager, and they were very impactful in helping me grow up. Now an adult, I’m a musician and artist, and was struck recently by the development of ‘Poptimism’ within music criticism, and wondered whether a si...

    The Grey Ethics of Pet Ownership

    Tobias Lim on 10 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Cheryl Abbate, I was walking through my local university recently and noticed something peculiar. Their student union had organized a petting zoo for students who were about to sit their college exams. It was a nice gesture in some ways. An opportunity for young pe...

    Hello Lord Nelson

    Ak on 12 July
    Responses: 1

    Dear Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson, I love the British and you, Lord Nelson. With all respect and love, Cohen P.S. British are the best British are the best British are the best British are the best British are the best British are the best British are the best British are the best...

    Re: How Do We Talk About Economics

    Tobias Lim on 12 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Eleanor, I’m not Paul Krugman. But I enjoyed the letter that you wrote to him on ‘thinking about economics’. Perhaps I can share a few thoughts with you because I am curious as to what you might make of them. (For context, my background is in economics and fi...

    The public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously.

    Rishi Sunak on 14 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Boris Johnson, It is with deep sadness that I am writing to you to resign from the Government. It has been an enormous privilege to serve our country as Chancellor of the Exchequer and I will always be proud of how during the pandemic we protected people’s jobs an...

    Prime Minister, you have lost my confidence

    Sajid Javid on 14 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Boris Johnson, It was a privilege to have been asked to come back into Government to serve as Secretary of State for Health & Social Care at such a critical time for our country. I have given every ounce of energy to this task, and am incredibly proud of what we ha...

    The mystery of why we like mysteries.

    Eleanor on 17 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Anthony Horowitz, I had the enjoyable experience of growing up with your Alex Rider books during my childhood, and also being a fan of Sherlock Holmes, it has also been wonderful seeing you continue those stories. I wanted to write to you regarding something that has...

    Tonight I handed in my letter of resignation to the Chief Whip.

    Simon Hart on 18 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Boris Johnson, I had desperately hoped that I could avoid writing this letter, but alas there seems no other option left but to step down from my role as Secretary of State for Wales. You will be remembered as a Prime Minister with energy, vision, determination an...

    A decent and responsible Government relies on honesty, integrity and mutual respect.

    Brandon Lewis on 18 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Boris Johnson, It is with regret that I submit my resignation from the Government. It has been an incredible honour to serve in Government over the last ten years under three Prime Ministers, most recently as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Through the ch...

    With great sadness I must resign from government.

    Michelle Donelan on 18 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Boris Johnson, It has been the privilege and honour of my life to serve for our country in the department which I believe is the most important, the true engine of opportunity, the Department of Education. I have spent my career dedicated to trying to create oppor...

    With deep regret I am resigning from the government.

    John Glen on 18 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Boris Johnson, After much thought and with deep regret I must inform you that I have made the difficult decision to resign from the government. It has been a great privilege to serve as Economic Secretary to the Treasury under three Chancellors, but I can no longe...

    I cannot defend the indefensible.

    Alex Chalk on 18 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Boris Johnson, With great sadness I am resigning as Solicitor General. To be in government is to accept the duty to argue for difficult or even unpopular policy positions where that serves the broader national interest. But it cannot extend to defending the indefe...

    I have no confidence in your leadership

    Mims Davies on 18 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Boris Johnson, It is with deep regret and with a very heavy heart that I tender my resignation as Employment Minister. It has been a privilege to serve in your government and in particular this role where I have helped give work opportunities to many thousands of ...

    A jocular self-serving approach is bound to have its limitations.

    Jo Churchill on 18 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Boris Johnson, It has been an enormous privilege to have been asked to serve my country as a Minister. I was honoured to be a Health minister during the pandemic and to work collectively with others to deliver care to the vulnerable and drive solutions to the chal...

    There comes a time when you have to look at your own personal integrity and that time is now.

    Stuart Andrew on 18 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Boris Johnson, It is with real sadness that I write to tender my resignation from HM Government. I have been honoured to serve in a number of roles within government over the past few years, most recently as the Minister for Housing. This is a role, although havin...

    There are only so many times you can apologise and move on.

    Helen Whately on 18 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Boris Johnson, With sincere regret I am resigning from HM Government. I stood for Parliament because I want to make our country a better place to live. I am grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to serve as Arts Minister, Care Minister and Exchequer Secret...

    Government simply cannot function with you in charge.

    Guy Opperman on 18 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Boris Johnson, It has been the honour of my life to serve as a government minister, under three successive Prime Ministers, including these last five years as Pensions Minister. My view is that it is important to work as a team and deliver on the priorities that m...

    It was difficult to put aside previous transgressions. It must now be obvious that this is no longer even remotely possible.

    James Cartlidge on 18 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Boris Johnson, I write to resign and, with regret, to leave the post of Courts' Minister. I felt duty bound to remain in post given the very challenging circumstances facing the criminal courts. I took the view there had to be some semblance of Government in this ...

    More important than any government or leader are the standards we uphold in public life.

    Damian Hinds on 18 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Boris Johnson, With regret, I must resign from the government. I was grateful to you for asking me to return as security minister last year. It has been a particular privilege to serve in this role, and to have the opportunity, alongside dedicated officials, to su...

    The chaos in your Cabinet & No10 this month is destroying our credibility. It can’t go on.

    George Freeman on 18 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Boris Johnson, It is with huge regret that I am writing to let you know that I no longer have confidence in your leadership of our country, Government or Party and am writing formally to Sir Graham Brady to register my support for a change of Conservative Party lea...

    The cumulative effect of your errors of judgement and domestic actions have squandered the goodwill of our great Party.

    Caroline Johnson on 18 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Boris Johnson, It is with deep sadness that I am writing to you to resign as Vice Chair of the Conservative Party. This is not a decision I have arrived at lightly, and it has been an honour to work as part of your team. I have been loyal and supported you through...

    Loyalty is directed to the party, our values, and ultimately the communities we represent, not any one individual.

    Luke Hall on 18 July
    Responses: 0

    Dear Boris Johnson, I write to resign as Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party. I had taken the view that there must be parliamentary oversight of the inevitable leadership contest. However, there are others who can provide that. The current situation is clearly unten...

    Steven Pinker and Scott Aaronson debate AI scaling!

    Steven Pinker on 9 August
    Responses: 7

    Dear Scott Aaronson, Will future deep learning models with more parameters and trained on more examples avoid the [url=]silly blunders[/url] which Gary M...


    Benji 🌞🌿 on 10 August
    Responses: 0

    Dear Boris Johnson, hxbbxbxhx, nfjxjx jdjdjdj hdjxjxjr jdjdjb. hhxjdj chhd, bdjjd hhd. xhjd hsss. Jshdjxbd uxhdj lfidhe hdjdj, jshsgd hxhd khsg hd. hdjd. hdjdjd jdjs jshsg ixh, did ;hfdj, hdhusi idh hdhs kfhd. hudi udhdb kfhdh hdj. hdjsudd jcjjd hshdhm kfhd. ifh, ifh...

    Three or Four Questions About Writing

    Tobias Lim on 11 August
    Responses: 0

    Dear Natasha Brown, This may sound strange, but I am learning how to write. While I know how to form words, sentences and paragraphs, I am yet to construct anything with rhythm and warmth.  I realized a few years ago in my dreary life as a management consultant that so...

    A Layperson Wonders About His Free Will

    Tobias Lim on 25 August
    Responses: 0

    Dear Meghan Griffith, [highlight=transparent]Recently, I’ve been most curious about free will. Unfortunately, my partner is not. And she is tired of me asking her whether or not she believes in free will. So to save her from further misery, I will take my questions and th...

    The role of grow-your-own in Britain's food production and security.

    Christopher Crompton on 7 September
    Responses: 0

    Dear Ranil Jayawardena, Congratulations on your appointment as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Among the many weighty responsibilities of your new position is the oversight of Britain’s agricultural policy and food security strategy. You will alr...

    Community reporting for more effective policing of drug crime

    Christopher Crompton on 7 September
    Responses: 0

    Dear Simon Foster, Your remit as West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner of course encompasses a broad spectrum of crime prevention, mitigation and policing, so it must be a challenging task to decide where to prioritise attention and resources. I appreciate that y...

    Channel 4 privatisation: ideology and reason

    Christopher Crompton on 9 September
    Responses: 1

    Dear Michelle Donelan, Congratulations on your appointment as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. You must be all too aware that two of the key issues you have inherited with the office are the privatisation of Channel 4 and the question of the future...

    On the death of Her Majesty the Queen

    Christopher Crompton on 9 September
    Responses: 0

    Dear Internet, I alternate my car radio between Classic FM and Planet Rock, as the mood takes me. Yesterday evening, as I headed off to a music event in Birmingham, the radio was still set to Planet Rock from the day before. Yet rather than soaring guitar solos or ...

    Let the Train Go, We Want to See Our Queen

    Dale Joseph Ferrier on 13 September
    Responses: 0

    Dear Internet, [h1]Let the people see their Queen[/h1] [justify]The passing of Her Majesty last week marked a time of collective sorrow for the nation, a time where we have put aside our petty differences, and shelved our ongoing worries over inflation to simply re...

    This letter is about the socio-political consequences of knee-jerk reactions to increased violence in communities in NYC.

    Jawanza James Williams on 13 September
    Responses: 1

    Dear Internet, To New Yorkers, and Conscientious People Everywhere, I wrote this in February 2022, and subsequently published on Medium. I am adding it here on Collate because I sense this is a place being constructed with the most useful powers social media in mi...

    The Man from the Future

    Tobias Lim on 15 September
    Responses: 2

    Dear Ananyo Bhattacharya, [highlight=transparent]I wanted to thank you for writing The Man from the Future. I got my copy on Audible and thoroughly enjoyed listening to your tale of the legendary John von Neumann. You did a marvelous job weaving his personal story in between ...

    Christianity and Me

    Dale Joseph Ferrier on 22 September
    Responses: 0

    Dear Internet, [justify][highlight=transparent]A few weeks ago whilst at our usual Saturday night excursion to the village local, our conversation somehow got onto religion. Someone in our group said something seemingly insignificant, but it sparked a small epiphan...

    Farming, fungi and the future

    Christopher Crompton on 23 September
    Responses: 0

    Dear Ruth Jones, I am writing to you in your capacity as Shadow Minister for Agri-Innovation and Climate Adaptation. At present, Britain clearly has a long way to go to arrive at a sustainable system of farming. While piecemeal changes are being made, we are not seei...

    The Importance of General Aviation

    Dale Joseph Ferrier on 28 September
    Responses: 0

    Dear Anne-Marie Trevelyan, [justify][highlight=transparent]Firstly, I congratulate you on your appointment to the Department for Transport - a cornerstone for our Levelling Up agenda. I want to write to you to highlight a small but highly important area of the transport sector...

    Fermat, Pascal and Letters

    Tobias Lim on 29 September
    Responses: 2

    Dear Internet, [center][i][highlight=transparent]“I should like to open my heart to you henceforth if I may... I plainly see that the truth is the same at Toulouse and at Paris.” — Pascal to Fermat (1654) [0][/highlight][/i][/center] [highlight=transparent]We migh...

    What do you have to say to the people of Birmingham?

    Eleanor on 1 October
    Responses: 0

    Dear Jacob Rees-Mogg, As preparations for the Conservative party conference are underway in my home city of Birmingham, I am writing to you in your position as Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. This is a very salient time for me to write to you, as your party’s co...

    What are your views on the state of American politics and leadership today?

    Tobias Lim on 2 October
    Responses: 0

    Dear Erik SuarezΦ, [highlight=transparent]I saw your tweet about Collate a few days ago. [1] As an early adopter of the platform myself, I have to agree. I’ve been using Collate as an opportunity to reach out to public figures, to improve my writing, and to muse about ...

    Dealing With Our Gelatinous Ignorance

    Tobias Lim on 3 October
    Responses: 0

    Dear Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, [highlight=transparent]Firstly, I want to say thank you for your newsletter. For basketball fans around the world, your achievements, both on and off the court, have achieved a sort of mythical status. So it makes me happy that one of the greatest-of...

    RLD party is continuously committed to fight for the rights of farmers.

    Yash Chaudhary on 9 October
    Responses: 0

    Dear Internet, I am a politician of RLD party and this party is the party of the thoughts of former Prime Minister of India, Chaudhary Charan Singh ji. We are working to take these ethical ideas to the masses. Our party is continuously fighting for the rights of f...

    Bridges to Infinity and God

    Tobias Lim on 10 October
    Responses: 0

    Dear Michael Guillen, [highlight=transparent]A few weeks ago, I bought a worn copy of your book, Bridges to Infinity, from my local bookshop. The intriguing cover and table of contents caught my eye immediately. And having read the book, I can see why you won awards as a ...

    Nurturing a Child’s Lifelong Love for Books

    Tobias Lim on 13 October
    Responses: 0

    Dear Jan Hasbrouck, [highlight=transparent]I’ve been wondering about ways to improve global education outcomes around the world. In an ideal world, such a policy or initiative should: (1) help students to discover and unlock their potential; (2) not drain the public cof...

    Solitude, Obligations, and a Rewarding Life

    Tobias Lim on 18 October
    Responses: 4

    Dear Fenton Johnson, [highlight=transparent]I want to thank you for writing At the Center of All Beauty. I appreciated your reflections on silence, solitude, and the creative life. I also enjoyed the serenity you evoked as I moved from page to page. More importantly, yo...

    Truss was the first Tory leader in decades to wrap herself in the image of Thatcher. But would the Iron Lady have approved of Trussonomics?

    Sir Anthony Seldon on 24 October
    Responses: 3

    Dear Lord Charles Moore, [color=rgb(34, 34, 34)][highlight=transparent]It is an honour to be corresponding about Lady Thatcher with the most distinguished authority and interpreter of her in the world. [/highlight][/color]   [color=rgb(34, 34, 34)][highlight=transparent]Brit...

    Alternative Technology for Biomedical Waste Disposal, Govandi Deonar Mumbai

    Govandi Citizens #𝑺𝒂𝒗𝒆𝑮𝒐𝒗𝒂𝒏𝒅𝒊  on 28 October
    Responses: 0

    Dear Internet, Story of the residents fighting to shut down the biomedical waste treatment plant in Govandi. It was during the COVID-19 pandemic that I realised that I must join the fight for clean air. As biomedical waste increased tenfold at health facilities an...

    Learn from Liz Truss’s mistakes, but don’t let them put you off economic growth

    Jason Reed on 28 October
    Responses: 0

    Dear Rishi Sunak, In taking over as prime minister from Liz Truss, you have inherited a difficult economic and political situation, to say the least. As a Tory who leans libertarian, I opposed your leadership bid over the summer and was thrilled by Truss’s refreshing ...

    Please, can you tell us how to protect democracy?

    Tobias Lim on 7 November
    Responses: 0

    Dear Jennifer Dresden, [highlight=transparent]I am an ordinary citizen who is concerned about the future of democracy. You know better than I that the US midterm elections will be a bellwether for things to come.[/highlight] [highlight=transparent]You gave a fantastic int...

    Edit Buttons, Selfies and Life

    Tobias Lim on 8 November
    Responses: 0

    Dear Internet, [highlight=transparent]I have sometimes wished for an edit button on this platform. I even went as far as to send the founder of Collate a request for this very feature. I happen to be a clumsy perfectionist, you see. I have an uncanny knack for find...

    Thickheaded Corporations

    Tobias Lim on 14 November
    Responses: 0

    Dear Internet, [highlight=transparent]A few months ago, a family-friend who we will call Valerie bought two tickets for herself and her friend for travel long overdue. They were excited to visit someplace exotic after extended lockdowns and closed international bor...

    An Addendum to Gelatinous Ignorance

    Tobias Lim on 14 November
    Responses: 0

    Dear Internet, [highlight=transparent]A few weeks ago, I wrote a short letter about the “[/highlight][color=rgb(17, 85, 204)][highlight=transparent][url=]gelatinous ignorance[/url][/h...

    Why are video games so violent?

    Tobias Lim on 15 November
    Responses: 0

    Dear Michael Kasumovic, [highlight=transparent]I came across an interesting article on [/highlight][color=rgb(17, 85, 204)][highlight=transparent][url=,to%20satisfy%20...

    Love, Terror, and Brainwashing — How can we stop cult-like politics?

    Tobias Lim on 15 November
    Responses: 0

    Dear Alexandra Stein, [highlight=transparent]In light of recent political developments, I was looking for books and papers to better understand the nature of human organization and social structure. I found your research on cults especially illuminating. So t[/highlight]h...

    What are your plans for Cressbrook Dale?

    Christopher Crompton on 21 November
    Responses: 0

    Dear Rachel Elnaugh, I have been visiting the Peak District National Park for many years and regard Cressbrook Dale as one of its gems of natural beauty and biodiversity. The woodland and wildflowers through the seasons are a particular joy, and as National Park access l...

    A question about the mindful athlete

    Tobias Lim on 21 November
    Responses: 0

    Dear George Mumford, [highlight=transparent]I bought my second copy of The Mindful Athlete a few days ago. This time, I plan to give it to a friend as a Christmas gift. You see, this friend of mine is facing a series of setbacks and personal hardships. But I am hopeful t...

    Letters to Tarkovsky

    Tobias Lim on 4 December
    Responses: 0

    Dear Internet, When a nobody like myself writes in letter form to a public figure, there is only a small probability that she will see my words amidst the flood of mail and messages that she inevitably receives. Beyond that, there is an even smaller chance that she...

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