The Case for Humanism

It is said that a society blossoms when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit. What a wonderful saying.

Yet, people who go out and try to change the world are usually ridiculed as being somewhat naïve. The belief is that one person can’t accomplish much anyway, and in the long run there’s nothing anyone can ever do against the all the greed and stupidity in the global population.

That may certainly be true. At first glance. When you don’t know where or from which angle to look. By viewing things from a different perspective, you can certainly find reason enough, reasons that are not at all naïve, to try something yourself or to support others who do actively want to change things. What you need, among other things, is information about the current condition of the world. The first place to look is Hans Rosling’s address. The unwaveringly good-humored Swede established the Gapminder Foundation. Even its slogan names one of the most important prerequisites for inducing some kind of change in this world: “GAPMINDER – a fact-based worldview.” As Rosling says, to learn about the future we have to understand the present.

It is people like Rosling who belong at the center of everyone’s attention. He, too, points out prospects for solving future problems – and by the simplest means. His lecture on global population growth in connection with poverty and wealth is legendary, clearly illustrated with simple IKEA boxes.

There are thousands of people out there like Rosling: people who either start entire projects up from nothing or who simply deposit small traces of thought somewhere on the web.

With light art I can’t actively improve the world. But I do want to help those who are seriously trying to approach this goal. I’m no longer content with silently admiring those who actually try to get things going. Instead, I’m trying here to contribute in some way within my means. I would like to attract and direct attention. Innovative ideas, fundamental principles, and future-oriented projects should be set in a warm light that conveys them to people’s minds.

References to these projects, as can be found throughout this text, should gradually fill a USB flash drive which can be inserted into the back of each ShineonHu light sculpture. The scope is wide: whether links to informative videos, pictures with fitting quotations, exceptional and pertinent web pages, uncommonly notable lectures, or even music. In other words, the contents could take on any form. What is important is only that they point in some kind of “right direction” and, when taken altogether, they create a composition.

Can I presume to know exactly what a “right direction” is? Of course not. But I simply trust myself to select items according to what I understand as “common sense” and “having a heart in the right place”.

Anyone who is guided by these criteria can sometimes find things only bewildering. For instance, when we have to witness how the EU, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2012, would rather not provide money to rescue refugees from drowning. A couple of the many creative ways to protest against this kind of cynicism and ignorance are demonstrated by “Die Anstalt” (“The Institution”, a political cabaret) and the Center for Political Beauty. Sometimes merely a single picture is enough to spark awareness. Protecting and defending human rights is one of the core concerns of humanism – a practice-oriented humanism that does not limit itself to philosophical discourse but also deals with the situation of human beings in this world.

The world needs far more people like Philipp Ruch who actively call attention to social grievances and clearly describe what is lacking in the western world despite all its comforts. At the same time crises are ravaging many regions of the world; across each continent people are still being discriminated against and even persecuted because of their skin color, their gender, their sexual orientation, or their religious affiliation. There are nations that punish blasphemy with a death sentence, parents who abandon their children simply because they are homosexuals: such conditions are incomprehensible, not only for humanists. But here, too, are campaigns and organizations that successfully offer support and provide information.

Education. Religion. Science. Unlimited aid. Protection of indigenous peoples. Environmental protection. Help and relief by the simplest means. The possibilities, proposals to join in on or to contemplate, new directions to take are boundless.

The idea behind this is sensitization, raising awareness. Stimulating empathy and motivation. This is what a collection of links should lead us to in the long term. Implemented to be talked about, discussion elicited through individual light sculptures that attract attention wherever they stand.

What impressed me most this past year has already flowed into the work of one light sculpture: The invaluable project launched by Martin Aufmuth of Erlangen. It is actually a very simple idea that does a world of good. Glasses for people from the poorest countries in the world, people who probably would never be able to afford corrective lenses without this project and, with their vision restored, can earn their own living: The OneDollarGlasses. As long as there is this kind of involvement in the world, there will also be hope despite all greater problems and challenges.

I may be an incorrigible romanticist, but I do believe in people. Their sense of injustice is becoming increasingly more distinct. Be it through the ever-expanding digital community they find themselves in. This day and age of information allows for a steadily more refined view of the world and thus more readily exposes existing abuses. The number of problems does not necessarily grow through information - the number of people who become motivated to fight them, by contrast, does. The radius of one person’s action has become nearly unlimited through Internet – if only they want it to.

Already today, a society can blossom when there are people around to plant more trees under whose shade everyone can sit.

Pete Stary