A couple of new members turned up for the second meeting – Caroline and Paul – which was held on the premises of Outside the box in Leeds (thank you Tina).
First up was the concept of the group itself. It was suggested that the name of the group be changed to something more friendly (Freethinkers sounds too cultish) and Cafe Society was mooted. Perhaps we could use the SatNav concept and call it Satnavers or SatNav for the Mind? What do others think?
This led us to think of a cafe venue and we thought a bookstore that had a coffee lounge attached would be ideal. People could just come and go on a casual basis without feeling there was a formal meeting going on. It might even engage ‘passing trade’. We felt a rolling meeting day was also a good idea, so one month it would be Monday, the next Tuesday etc. I will investigate these suggestions.
We then touched upon the forced nature of our social lives; networking groups and suchlike are really extensions of a working life. What was needed was an unthreatening social group where disparate people could ostensibly meet to have a good conversation but at the same time make new friends if that is what they wished. It was felt that the concept behind the Freethinkers group could lend itself to that end and indeed, could be an incentive for people to actually turn up. If anyone has any more ideas about the group or names for it, please leave a comment.
Moving on we tackled the concept of shame – what was it, why had it arisen, what purpose did it serve? Some interesting ideas developed and we argued that the shame attached to promiscuity for example, originated from the terrible consequences that could befall a poor peasant girl who became pregnant out of wedlock. It was in her interest therefore not have sex with a man unless she was sure he could provide for her if she did become pregnant. The proof of this argument would lie in the introduction of contraception and abortion; the shame of promiscuity should disappear, which it does seem to be doing. We commented upon the powerful influence that nurture has on our psyche for it is possible to commit a ’shameful’ act in private and without the danger of anyone finding out, and still feeling a sense of shame.
We concluded that what is considered shameful is subject to cultural differences and the example of so called honour killings was cited. The perpetrators of these killings have no sense of shame in taking a life. The concept of shame therefore is a control mechanism used by society to either protect the vulnerable or manipulate the weak.
We tried to find a historical justification for honour killings and the best we could come up with was that in such societies, family feuds were common (we guessed) and so it was less damaging to kill one or two transgressors than have whole tribes fighting over an insult. If anyone wishes to enlighten us on this, please feel free to comment.
Organised religion then came under close scrutiny. Unfortunately all the people present agreed with each other and so a defence of the church was missing. To summarise; we believed all religions were essentially the same product with different wrappers and that it is the interference of unenlightened people that have corrupted the original message.
This led to a general discussion about our arrogance with regard to the natural world. It was universally agreed that technology was to blame as it inured us to the exigencies of life – we throw a switch and we have light, we turn on a tap and we have water. Everything is too easy and too cheap and this cheap convenience comes at a huge cost – ultimately a large exploited labour force suffers. This is the modern day slave trade. Because technology has pushed the reality of it further and further into the background does not make it any less real. There was a general feeling of unease that we were constructing a global house of cards and that the slightest upset would bring the whole edifice crashing down and that there was no Plan B.
The talk of modern slaves (the Chinese brickwork slaves recently released was mentioned) prompted us to talk about the original industrialised slave trade. Emotionally this was very confusing, as the recent remembrance events suggested we ought to feel a sense of shame about what had been done by the exploitative empire builders from the past. In some sense it was hard to criticise these people. The slave trade was already thousands of years old before the British became involved. Culturally, there was no shame attached to the practice. The British simply applied their entrepreneurial skills to the business and industrialised it on a huge scale. Perhaps it is only when we see a mass grave, or a cargo ship full of dead bodies that a moral sense of outrage comes into play. This would have been an ideal moment for an advocate of organised religion to contribute to the discussion had we such a person present but alas we had to leave it there as the sun had set and people needed to get home.
I would like to thank the people who attended for making it such a stimulating evening and to Tina for giving up her time.