Fraser Sutherland stands at a lectern addressing a room of people, some of whom are visible behind him, as the crowd spreads in a circle round the speaker's stand. He wears a blue suit and red tie and has short brown hair.

On World Humanist Day 2023, we have more to fight for than ever

Fraser Sutherland, CEO, Humanist Society Scotland

June 21, 2023

For this year’s World Humanist Day, we were proud to offer financial and practical support to a range of activities all over Scotland. All the events tied in with themes humanists care about, such as ecology, empathy with minoritised communities, and scientific and rational enquiry: from a tree planting in Oban to a film screening in Dumfries, a community picnic in Glasgow, and a deep-timed themed walk in Edinburgh. These activities were publicised via our social media feeds, website, and digital newsletter, allowing us to connect with a wider swath of people than would have heard about them in the early days of our organisation.

The online world makes information quickly and widely accessible. It democratises discussion, organisational policy, and planning in a way that was unthinkable a few decades ago. But there’s a downside to this easy spread of information, too. We are living through a political and cultural moment plagued by disinformation, and by fear-mongering based on the atmosphere of suspicion and threat that well-placed lies can create.

Humanism is about a commitment to reason and evidence. But it’s also about compassion. It’s about empathy with the other, and about knowing when to have the humility to sit back and listen.

Fraser Sutherland, CEO Humanist Society Scotland

Right now, we’re working hard with our allies and partner organisations to combat the spread of inaccurate messaging on many of the subjects we campaign on. We’re seeing negative news stories emanating from conservative religious media outlets about assisted dying, for example, peddling the idea that it will bring some form of social engineering to Scotland, when it will simply allow people with terminal conditions to make decisions about how their lives will end. And we’re seeing organisations with charitable status peddling lies about the dangers posed to women’s bodies by abortion. In some cases, they’ve been allowed to present their views to school children.

In terms of the mass of inaccurate ideas and “alternative facts” circulating in the online ether, the topics just outlined are the tip of the iceberg. And icebergs are worth mentioning, because conspiracy theories about climate change are hampering efforts to save us from the worst impacts of warming temperatures. Vaccine refusal has had a similar effect on recovery efforts after the upheaval caused by Covid-19. And the conservative right have made huge gains in framing an anti-LGBT+ worldview by making a wedge issue out of trans rights.

Humanism is about a commitment to reason and evidence. But it’s also about compassion. It’s about empathy with the other, and about knowing when to have the humility to sit back and listen: to learn from those with the lived experience to tell you how things are. We will continue doing all we can, in collaboration with our allies and partner organisations, to fight misinformation and create a more humane and rational Scotland and world.

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