Right now, as the world around me is slowing down and the fumes of hot wine and cinnamon become unbearable, it becomes hard not to start this YouthSpeak with some kind of season’s greetings. But why would I wish you humanists a merry christmas? And even the secular alternative, whether it comes under the guise of a “happy new year” or even the more general “winter greetings” bears trouble for an international organisation.
If he does visit the Southern hemisphere, Santa Claus rather comes on a surfboard than in his thick attire; a quick search on the internet combining the words Christmas and China yields some thousand hits – inciting me to buy “the finest tableware”. The few websites that talk about Christmas in Eastern Asia hail the spread of unbridled luxury consumption in these regions, and that’s about where the merriness ends. Apart from the buying frenzy, there seems to be nothing universal to Christmas; the supposedly worldwide “festive winter season” only exists as a by-product of global capitalism.
It would of course be flagrantly far-fetched to read those well-intended wishes as camouflaged imperialism. However, the thoughtlessness with which they’re often spoken reveals how easily one is trapped in his or her own cultural context. Cultural diversity and mutual respect are essential to the international humanism IHEYO promotes. If we are to take this serious, we must question our own cultural biases and try to see things from someone else’s point of view.
But there’s more to it. The western origins of Christmas, even though it’s being washed down to an orgy of consumerism, indicate some cultural (and economic) domination. The call for mutual respect then leads us to oppose this domination, to side with the subaltern. The liberatory potential of humanism is clear enough.
The tradition of free thought speaks against any form of mental colonisation. But it is exactly therefore that we must all avoid to think of humanism as a western tradition that needs to be spreaded. If we are to side with the subaltern, this presupposes an open and respectful engagement in which any form of paternalism is resisted. For, as opposed to christmas, humanism does not stem exclusively from western origins. On the contrary, there are longstanding and very diverse traditions of non-religious thought worldwide.
Aside from these traditions, the resistance against western dominance itself has given birth to a rich tradition of opposition to mental colonisation. In my opinion, these more recent and fresh currents of thought from the global south have not yet received the attention they deserve. This subaltern liberatory thought could provide lively inspiration to the worldwide humanist movement. Against the spread of christmas jingles, exploring them would give body to our claim that “humanism can be a way of life for everyone everywhere, which affirms the worth, dignity and autonomy of the individual” (adapted from the Amsterdam Declaration).
I wish you all a very pleasant day,