Friday, 27 November 2015

Our Winter Solstice Gathering: Festive Fun

This is a preliminary announcement of our end of year get-together.

Thursday 10 December 7:30 pm at White Rock Hotel.

There will be a quiz about urban myths,
and no doubt other amusements.

An evening meal may be arranged after the meeting for those subscribing to it.
For more details contact our chairman, Stephen Milton.

Further details from Stephen:

I have asked the White Rock to prepare food and fun (as last year) to cater for 15 of us at £15 per head. 
So far we have had 8 people confirming, so please feel free to join us on the day even if you haven’t yet confirmed, all comers welcome.

The plan for the evening includes a quiz Urban Myth  or Fact – can you tell the difference
Hopefully we will have a few popular carols re worked to humanist lyrics.
Please feel free to bring along anything else for a show and tell to the group

And the good company and lively discussion that always attends our meetings.

I look forward to seeing you all there…..

Stephen Milton

Thursday, 29 October 2015

2015 AGM

Our next meeting will be our Annual General Meeting

The meeting will be on the 12th Nov at 7.30pm at the White Rock Hotel

This month is the AGM and we need everybody’s support

It is our once a year opportunity to spend a bit of time thinking about how we as a group, want to  develop next year. and we welcome all contributions and anybody who would like to become an officer of the group to help us organise ourselves next year will be especially welcome.
We are also looking for 10 suggestions for topics and debates for next year

The provisional agenda is below, but if anybody wants to add items, please let me know.


1. Apologies for Absence.  Minutes of 2014 AGM (if any).

2. Reports by Office-holders, including Secretary and Treasurer, on the year's events.
Progress and problems.
See the Personnel page above for details of current postholders.

3. Discussion on the present organisation of the group.
a)    Should the day of meeting be changed?
b)    Do the rules for the annual subscription need clarifying?
c)    Do we continue to Affiliate to the BHA or become Partners?
d)    Any other issues

4. Election of Officers

5. Programme for 2016.
a)      Ideas for subjects to discuss or speakers to invite.
b)      Social events?
c)       Debates?
d)      Joint meetings?

6.  AOB

Report of the Meeting.

There were nine members in attendance, two apologies for absence.

Alistair Robertson presented an account of his attendance at the BHA SACRE Reps meeting in London on Saturday 31 October.

Minutes of the 2014 AGM were agreed, and the reports of Secretary, Chair and Treasurer.

A minor change to the subscription rules was agreed. The £6 annual subscription will include the £3 for the first meeting attended.

The Secretary, Chair, Vice-Chair and Treasurer are reelected.
Julienne Attwood continues on the committee as Social Secretary.
Alistair Robertson joins the committee as SACRE Representative.

Please let the Secretary know if you think other important points have been missed.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Refugees and Immigration

Our next meeting will be a discussion of the issue of Refugees and Immigration

The meeting will be on the 8th October at 7.30pm at the White Rock Hotel

Introduced by Nick Terdre and Steve Milton

Kipling said that “To be born an Englishman is to win first prize in the lottery of life” and really resonates now when we see the desperation of people trying to escape to a place of safety after their own home has become intolerable. But to what extent should we be sharing our good fortune?

The (simplified) Humanist creed is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When it comes to refugees it is impossible not to feel compassion for the people who are identical to ourselves but had the misfortune to be born into a nation that cannot manage its own affairs in a way that enables its population to thrive.

On the other hand there is a widespread fear that large numbers of immigrants could be so challenging to the receiving nation as to jeopardise its own ability to maintain a social contract with its citizens and preserve the very stability that makes it an attractive refuge.

We will try to avoid the overblown rhetoric that sometimes inflames these issues and aim to get a grip on the facts and history that may help us to understand what is going on and keep a sensible perspective.

Please use any opportunity to promote the event …Thanks

Stephen Milton

Thursday, 27 August 2015

On Robert Tressell

Our next meeting will be a discussion of Robert Tressell who wrote his famous book
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists here in Hastings in 1905.
The meeting will be on the 10th Sept at 7.30pm at the White Rock Hotel

Introduced by Dr Trevor Hopper

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists became known as ‘the Socialist Bible’ and is even credited with winning the 1945 general election for the Labour party.  It is most famous for its simple explanation of Capitalism described as ‘The Great Money Trick’ and an impassioned description of how Socialism should work.  To see an amateur production of a play of the book go to

and especially watch from 22mins to 29 mins

This has become suddenly topical with the popular interest in Jeremy Corbyn as a potential leader of the Labour Party and his promise to return labour to its roots.

The discussion will be introduced by Dr Trevor Hopper who is an expert in social history specialising in this region’s labour movement and has recently set up the Robert Tressell Festival in Hastings.

We can expect a lively discussion on the ongoing relevance of this local contribution to our national history.

(Please invite along a few new friends and use any opportunity to promote the event …Thanks)

Stephen Milton

Monday, 22 June 2015

Childhood and Humanism

Our next meeting will be a discussion on The History, Biology and Future of Childhood.
The 9th July 7.30pm at the White Rock Hotel

In a world driven by accelerating rates change, it is almost universally agreed that the future prosperity of our nation will depend on a well-educated workforce.  And yet we have an education system in which both the children and the teachers are increasingly disenchanted by the whole process, and levels of child poverty on the increase again.

The concept of childhood emerged during the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly through the educational theories of the philosopher John Locke and the growth of books for and about children. And it only ends when the child becomes an adult – which varies considerably. So how much longer will our current concept of childhood last?

So does the latest information about the way in which our brains get re-wired during adolescence and early adulthood, offer any pointers as to how we should change things in the future?

Please bring along your opinions for this interesting debate.

Stephen Milton

Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Role of Art in Society

Our next meeting will be a discussion on ‘The role of Art in society’.
Thursday 11th June 7.30pm at the White Rock Hotel

The role of art in society has become stronger and stronger since the industrial revolution. So what is it about art that enables it to enrich our lives and what will be the impact of the increasing democratisation of Art? We are surrounded by music, images, videos and architecture that create the environment we live in and are all the result of artistic endeavour

If Art is the act of imagining how the world might be, then perhaps one day in the not too distant future it will be the artists who lead in managing the world. So where do we draw the line between Art, Society and the technology that makes it possible?

Please bring along your opinions for this interesting debate.

Stephen Milton

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Thinking About the Near Future - A Five Year Challenge!

Our next meeting will be on the 14th May 7.30pm at the White Rock Hotel

Thinking about the near future – a 5 year challenge!

One of the things that is supposed to differentiate us from other animals, is our ability to think about, and plan for the future! But how good are we at it?
It is also said that ‘crowd sourcing’ is better at generating good results than relying on experts (the jelly bean test).  And it might also be why democracy works…

This meeting will be an opportunity to put that to the test….

With the election over and (perhaps) another 5 years till the next election, I am hoping that we can make 10 predictions that we can agree on, that we can put into a sealed envelope and examine in a few years’ time, and see if we got any of them right.  Here are a couple of examples that I think will happen to get things going:-

My Forecasts are that by 2020:-
·         The UK property bubble will have burst and property prices will have fallen by 30% leaving everybody feeling a lot poorer than they were.
·         ‘Artificial Intelligence’ will be the first line of information in diagnosing health issues, undertaking tax returns, translating into foreign languages and a great variety of seriously complex interactions that currently depend on experts.
·         We will either have found ‘dark matter’ and therefore have a deeper understanding of the ‘super symmetry’ that underpins the structure of the universe, OR we will not have found ‘dark matter’ and will be trying to re-write all that we know in a universe in which either the force of gravity is not a constant or in which the speed of light varies over time.
·         The UK will still be in the EU and after a serious run on the £ in 2018, we will also have joined the € zone.  
·         A global sales tax of 1% will be in place to finance the building of replacements for carbon fuel and stop global warming in its tracks – (OK that seems a bit far fetched!)

I look forward to hearing your predictions – small or large.

 Stephen Milton

Monday, 30 March 2015

"Mindfulness" in April

Our next meeting will be on ‘Mindfulness’. The 9th April 7.30pm at the White Rock Hotel

Mindfulness Debates

One of the many definitions of Mindfulness is “Bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis
(Marlatt & Kristeller 1999). It brings together some of the techniques of Yoga and Buddhism and promotes the benefits of stilling your mind of the clutter and noise that dominate our busy modern lives.

On the other hand

The brain is only 3% of the body’s mass, but uses up 20% of its energy.  Over 80% of the brains activity is ‘sub-conscious’ ie things that we happily delegate to automatic processes (like breathing and putting on our socks) which is an efficient use of our brain and leaves us free to focus our conscious endeavor on things that really matter.

So plenty of things to discuss.

The Introduction to Mindfulness will be given by Jessica Milton who spent last summer in a Chinese Buddhist Monastery leading a Monastic life and is studying some of these issues as part of her degree course in Philosophy.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Headstrong Evening

Our next get-together will be a general discussion of whatever subjects those present want to raise. This may be something in the news, or anything that's bothering you, or that you would like to bring to attention of other members. Stephen suggests bring your favourite quotation if you have one.

Meeting is at White Rock Hotel 7:30pm-9:30pm as usual on Thursday 12 March.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Humour and Humanism

Hastings Humanists first meeting was on Darwin Day 2009. So our February meeting this year, on Darwin's 206th birth anniversary, will be our Sixth anniversary.


The Group Secretary George Jelliss will introduce the subject, to be followed by a general discussion. Since this is our Darwin Day event we will naturally consider whether a Sense of Humour has any evolutionary ramifications. In view of recent events in France we may well consider how far satirical treatment of religions is justified. Is there any truth in the idea of English humour?

From a more personal approach, do you know a good Humanist joke? What are your favourite humorous books or films. What sort of humour appeals to you most? Puns? Slapstick? Can you recognise Irony? Does modern humour have to be scatological?

Remember our start time is now 7:30 pm.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Summary of January Meeting


At the outset, the Chair, Stephen Milton, made the significant point that Quakers and Humanist values have much in common, although Humanists are Non-Deist. General Assessment of the Presentation The technical aspect worked well, with the help of Stephen Milton who dealt with my bemusement at the electronic screen.

The following summary tries to include everything that members said, although not necessarily in the same order.  It is divided into sub-sections containing similar material.  I have sometimes included explanatory links and these became more difficult to retrieve as time ran out towards the end.  We did not show the last section at all. However, you can see it as a Youtube on Remember you have to forward through the Discussion point sections to get to the following session.
Members felt constrained by the limitations that seemed to be imposed by the suggested Discussion Points and our need to take notes.  They preferred a more wide ranging discussion.  The Summary therefore reflects the general topics covered rather than the suggested discussion points.

The Causes of the Great War.
The murder of Archduke Ferdinand was certainly an action of terrorism by the Black Hand Gang supported by Serbia.  Should we list it as one of the causes of the Great War? Or was war inevitable in any case? It is tempting to play with “counter-factuals” but not really productive.  It was certainly a precipitating cause but there were underlying causes which some commentators were aware of at the time. These include:
Germany was a growing and increasingly competitive power.  This is illustrated by her respect for engineers.
advance of Education;
Britain was investing in such areas as South American Railways and the profit were not flowing back into British industry.
Germany had a minimal empire whereas Britain’s was enormous and France also had considerable possessions. Germany believed it deserved “a place in the sun”
The build-up of British and German fleets
Incidents of “Sabre Rattling” by Germany
The creation of opposing, but interlinked alliances.

International Law
The Crime of Aggression developed during the 20th century.  In the 19th century many states just walked into other territories and took them over by force - although they usually tried to find a Casus Belli for this.  There were attempts to convict the Kaiser of something like a Crime of Aggression after 1918 but these fell through. After 1945 the Crime of Aggression became more sharply defined at the Nuremberg Tribunals and confirmed by the UN.  A state may only invade another Sovereign state if it is threatened by imminent attack or under a UN Resolution. Many legal experts have counted the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a Crime of Aggression because it did not meet these criteria. However, states can always find lawyers to justify their actions. Does the International Rule of Law override National Law? The Nuremberg Tribunals gave a resounding “yes” It is culpable to obey orders permissible under a country’s laws if they grossly violate the International Rule of Law. War between states has not been common in recent decades.  International Law has not caught up with conflict involving terrorist, ethnic and race groups often stirred up by charismatic politicians and rooted in a “them and us” mentality. Examples are Rwanda and Former Yugoslavia. This is often complicated by divisions between and within dissident groups. Even ISIS is not a monolithic block. How far can we strive to be citizens of our nation, Europe and the world? State terrorism, such as we have seen in Iraq and Syria, is not easily dealt with under International Law. This is nothing new. In the Middle Ages the Forest Laws oppressed the poor in the name of good hunting for the privileged and there was the harrowing of whole regions for punishment and pillage. Under the Versailles Treaty much hope was invested in the League of Nations to halt aggression.  There were partial successes such as the Corfu incident which prevented Italian aggression against Greece.  These, however, were overshadowed by the failure of the League to act effectively against Italy over their invasion of Abyssinia.  The United Nations has endorsed military action firmly, for example in Korea and in the First Gulf War against Iraq. However, there has been reluctance to take decisive action of this sort in recent years.

Propaganda, changing attitudes and the “Pity of War”
There was hostility in the in the public mind before 1914 and certainly before the Belgian atrocities. The build-up of the German fleet aroused suspicion and popular books emphasised fear of German invasion. The war was popular and exciting immediately it broke out. There was an appeal to the emotions and the liberating effects of war. We are reminded of the almost universal enthusiasm for the Falklands War as opposed to the considerable opposition to the 2003 Iraq war.  
As with all wars there were benefits as well as malign effects in Britain. There was terror caused by bombing, grief at the mass casualties, and deprivation through rationing. However, the cessation of Suffragette activity and the prominent part played by women in the war effort, played a role in gaining votes for women. Repressive and ancient empires - Austria and Turkish -broke up although this soon lead to more turmoil. The nostalgia provoked by the solemn and dignified poetry and music of Remembrance might help to account for its growing prominence over recent years. There is also the sense of yearning for Britain’s positive wartime achievements in comparison with her gradual loss of global significance since 1945. Perhaps there has been too much concentration on “The Pity of War” with Wilfred Owen taught widely in schools.  Oh What a lovely War and Blackadder” make much of what is seen as pointless suffering as well as on a “Lions” led by Donkeys” characterisation of the Generals. In some ways this reflects the spirit of 1960s Flower Power, love and peace. Much of this approach can now be questioned.  The mass slaughter of the trenches is no longer possible.  We do not need mass conscription because the armed forces need far more skill and specialisation and there are far fewer of them.  Modern weapons, such as drones, do not have the same effect as barbed wire and machine guns in the trenches.

Germany and Europe
The post 1945 emergence of Germany as a central pillar of the EU has been an important element in banishing the millennium-old threat of war in Western Europe. Her willingness to sacrifice the beloved and trusted Deutsche Mark in favour of the Euro illustrates this.  There are other key factors in this rapprochement including the Cold War, the emergence of NATO, the fear of “Mutual Assured Destructive (MAD)” the EU, and the Marshall Plan.

Sleepwalking into War
The phrase derives from the pre 1914 mutual obligations of the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance linked to Russia’s sense of obligation to Serbia.  Once Austria-Hungary faced Serbia with impossible demands after the murder of the Archduke it set off the fall of all the other dominoes. We could imagine something like this over Russia and Ukraine.  The Kiev Government’s drive to seek EU membership has certainly provoked Russia.  NATO membership for Ukraine would be very dangerous indeed as all NATO members are pledged to come to each other’s aid in the case of aggression against any one of them.  Russian threat or action against the Baltic states or Poland would certainly provoke a crisis. China is undergoing military development and is building up diplomatic influence in its region where “The West” already has power and influence. It is already an economic threat and could pose a military one.  

Real Security
At present “Security” is prefaced on the security of nation-states and the interests of its ruling elites.  This is not set in stone.  It is not the only way that security has been sought in the past.  In addition, states are by no means stable.  They regularly shift their borders.  England is an exceptional enduring entity but “Britain’s” territory has increased and diminished over recent centuries. All too often states concentrate on prestige projects such as power-projecting aircraft carriers which do little for its citizens. They also guard their sovereignty, and are suspicious of sacrificing it to international bodies.  The current dispute over EU membership is an example.  We could develop the concept of “Human Security” which puts the real threats to human beings at the centre of our aims.  These include climate change, floods and easily preventable diseases, hunger, threats to resources and war - especially nuclear war.  The problem is to find a mechanism to realise this. Existing international forums such as the UN, with its split Security Council, often represent corrupt, brutal and power-hungry cliques.  Democracies are prone to short-term political thinking to please the electorate at the expense of longer-term, but unpopular, policies. Perhaps the answer lies in a piecemeal approach such as the Ottawa Process which banned anti-personnel mines and was led by committed citizen groups advised by experts and sympathetic states.

Humanists believe in rationality.  But war is illogical, costly, and a collective madness,  After World War 2 we re-wrote the history book.

George Farebrother (Herstmonceaux Quakers)