MDC is the original WASH chapter with members or other interested people in the greater Washington area, including Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland.
Chapter Coordinator: Gary Berg-Cross
Our members cover the spectrum labeled freethinkers, skeptics, secular humanists, non-theists, atheists, agnostics and the recent Nones or “not sure”.
Like other WASH chapters we participate in a range of activities with other groups of like interests.
Meeting are also announced on our Meetup page.
Our April 2023 meeting was on the topic of:
Ideas for tuning the Secular Humanist message
What can the secular community learn from communication science about messaging? A start is a short summary of general messaging ideas by Anat Shenker-Osorio, a communications expert and author who has written extensively about the art of messaging. It is online – The Art of Messaging with Anat Shenker-Osorio — In the Arena with Jonathan Stein: https://www.ucsd.tv/shows/The-Art-of-Messaging-with-Anat-Shenker-Osorio-In-the-Arena-with-Jonathan-Stein-31825
People may watch this video and come prepared to discuss their ideas such as “don’t message on your opponent’s turf”. In some arguments we unwittingly embrace the frame of the other side and thus seed ground by agreeing to have their starting point and topic organization.
Or the idea that a good message is not to say just what’s popular which may be bland. The better idea is to make popular what you need to say (and want to come about). We need to understand the messaging ordering effect problem. What to say first?
As a start some of the discussable ideas can be based on these arguments:
- Messages are not neutral: According to Shenker-Osorio, all messages (e.g. “abortion is bad”, “religion is the basis of morality”) contain implicit values and assumptions. These can, unconsciously shape the way people think about and initially how to respond to an issue. Therefore, it’s important to be intentional and put some thought about the messages we put out for consideration and discussion.
- Emotions are key: We shouldn’t be boring. Shenker-Osorio emphasizes the importance of understanding and engaging people’s emotions in order to create messages that can resonate with them. Fear-based messaging is incredibly effective in conservative thinking, but not so much for freethinkers. By connecting with people on a deeper level, we can continue a discussion and maybe motivate a portion to take action (instilling the idea of agency)
- How we frame the message matters: The way we frame an issue (why should the government tell a woman if she can have a baby or not?) can have a big impact on how people perceive it. For example, instead of talking about “cutting taxes,” we might talk about “investing in public infrastructure.” This re-frames the issue in a more positive light and makes it more appealing to (some) people. A message like every mind should thrive opens up a possible conversation base on shared values.
- Practice empathy: To create messages that truly connect with people, it’s important to understand their values, experiences, and perspectives. By being honest and practicing empathy to put ourselves in others’ shoes, we can create messages that are more authentic and compelling.
- Be positive, but also authentic: People can tell when a message is insincere or inauthentic, so it’s important to be true to ourselves and our values. Authenticity can help build trust and credibility with an audience which shouldn’t be turned off at the start of a message (“Religion is evil”).
Out March 2023 Meeting was on:
Whither intelligence and wisdom in a post-enlightenment world?
In an age of hyper media and newly talented machine learning systems we might ask where is human intelligence, creativity and wisdom going? In the industrialized Western world intelligence measured by a variety of IQ tests in hundreds of studies on the development of intelligence has been going up.
This may reflect environmental changes such as better nutrition, medicine and improved schooling. Maybe it is just practice on tests.
But scientist James Flynn, found a kink or Reversal (Generational changes in IQ:) in the trend. Since the 1990s, the average intelligence quotient has been declining in high tech industrialized nations & cultures The bend of the curve that previously knew only one direction for almost the entire 20th century: upwards.
While artificial intelligence in computers is getting faster and faster maybe our brains are slowing down. Some argue that this is because digital stimuli permanently distract us and break through our concentration. A big problem of the Internet is the flood of stimuli that distract us from focused thinking. If you don’t train skills such as concentration or self-discipline, you may well do less well on an intelligence test. This seems a bit more of an issue about wise use of our cognitive capacities.
A simple view of the Enlightenment is that we reason with an adequate base of knowledge would characterize our future. AI-based tools seem likely to provide some help and free us to more creative activities. But are we wise enough to design and use them well? Or will our cognitive abilities just decline?
Maybe our environment doesn’t suit our evolved brain. Other reasons for the declining IQ are suspected outside the brain and due to. Environmental pollution affecting the thyroid gland. The thyroid needs iodine to produce hormones. Studies indicate that hormone-altering substances, such as those contained in pesticides and flame retardants, change the production of the thyroid gland.
These and other ideas on intelligence changes are over-viewed in the DW Documentary “Are we getting dumber and dumber? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8TM_RD3qrI
This meetup will discuss some of these issues/ factors explaining past and current Flynn Effects:
Education. “the tenor of education has changed are we losing essential cognitive skills?
Access to information. We are in an age of information and can research almost any topic through the internet – but are we wise about using this. …
Exposure to complex tasks – do AI abilities and vast knowledge stores help?. ...
Health and nutrition.
In February we celebrated Darwin Day —with a talk A Serpent in the Garden
Snakes are fascinating animals whose evolutionary trajectory has led them to become one of the most successful and widespread predators on earth. Found on every continent except Antarctica and occupying almost every conceivable ecological niche, these extraordinary limbless tetrapods tell the story of one of evolution’s most successful animal lineages.
Join us in celebration of Darwin Day with a talk on snake evolution, featuring Larry Mendoza as he teaches us about:
— Cultural and evolutionary history of snakes
— Basic Taxonomy
— Unique Anatomy and Physiology of snakes
— Common Virginia snakes
In December 2022 we had a Virtual HumanLight 2022 celebration.
In October and November we had sessions on Sustainability:
Sustainability 2: Discussing the challenge of sustaining Biodiversity
We used ideas from 2 videos to discuss biodiversity in the context of tipping points. Biodiversity is a measure of the variety and variability of life, and climate change is causing the decline of biodiversity in numerous ecosystems via extreme weather, sea-level rise, and habitat destruction. Biodiversity matters because without such a variety of life and species, ecosystems begin to collapse ultimately affecting the livelihoods of communities reliant on healthy, biodiverse ecosystems. Biodiversity loss caused by climate change ultimately means species extinctions and a disconnect between animals and plants.”
Video 1: Humanity has pushed Earth beyond the boundaries that have kept Earth stable for 10,000 years, since the dawn of civilization. A 10 minute overview of Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet hosted by Sir David Attenborough shows the various tipping points from ice lost to species loss
Video 2 provides more biodiversity detail such as the loss of synchrony is provided with an 8 minute video “Biodiversity is collapsing worldwide. Here’s why.”
People should try to view the videos before the meeting and take notes but major points will be brought up by the organizers.
Kicking off a meeting on all the aspects of Sustainability
This Fall’s WASH MDC meetings centered around the broad and important topic of sustainability – what it means and how we can pursue it. Sustainability is a central topic of our time and has many aspects. Our first meeting will include a short 3 minute video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zx04Kl8y4dE) defining the term and we will have follow-on discussions around the definition and specific topics of interest to Humanists for meetings in November and December before we host a Humanlight party in late December.
A simple view of what sustainability means is as an effective configuring of civilization ( our way of life) and human activity in order t that society, its members and its economies are able to meet their/our needs and express their greatest potential in the present, while preserving a future of biodiversity and natural ecosystems, planning and acting for the ability to maintain these ideals for the next generations of each of these domains,
Sustainability benefits the environment, but is more about a lasting preservation – including that of moral, fulfilling life.
This also involves understand resources and concepts like “replacement rates”
It involves system thinking about connects and the question of what do we want to last – our way of life and the natural world.
A broad framework is organized around 3 pillars:
- Environment and its replenishment (for example, trees)
- Social –who gets what resources without exploitation
Of course, these three are related so trade off decisions are needed for balance.
### “What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Our summer 2022 meeting using Zoom was a Book club discussion Thursday, June 16th, 2022
Topic: Mental Immunity by Andy Norman
A practical guide to spotting and removing bad ideas, a stirring call to transcend our petty tribalisms, and a serious bid to bring humanity to its senses.
Some influential assumptions are suppressing our “immune response” to dangerous ideas. They prevent us from normalizing critical thinking and leave us vulnerable to mind-parasites.
Andy Norman is director of the Humanism Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University, founder of the Cognitive Immunology Research Collaborative
Our May 31 , 2022 Zoom meeting discussed:
“Individual Identity, Identitarians and Identitarianism”
According to the Urban Dictionary an identitarian is:
“A person or ideology that espouses that group identity is the MOST important thing about a person, AND that justice and power must be viewed primarily on the basis of group identity rather than individual merit.”
As a recent editorial by Robyn Blumner in Free Inquiry -Identitarianism Is Incompatible with Humanism.
What might be the problems for the Humanist Project (in a confusing moment in history)?
Briefing Slides are available here.
We held a Meeting in February when Bill Creasy discussed Group Selection and Humanism: Does it Matter?
Bill Creasy, longtime WASH officer, recently wrote a book compiling articles from WASHline, the WASH blog, and new material. The book is now available on Amazon, paper version only.
The book concerns group selection, the evolution of groups, which can explain the idea of cultural progress. Several topics of interest from the book will be summarized in the talk. The question for the audience will be whether an understanding of group selection is important for humanism? (Here is the link for the book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09NRX5Z2P/ )
Another recent one was a Virtual one on Oct. 19th 2021:
The Many Faces and Un-Reasons for Denialism and Science Denial
June, 14th, 2021 we discussed: Plans for in person meetings and “Difficult Discussions.”
Free thinkers are familiar with these situations and many have approaches to them, but now a constellation of overlapping and interacting national & international problems divide people and make conversations difficult.
Does the free thinker experience offer some best practices to address the conversational atmosphere?
We will have a discussion about discussions following a short introduction to the topic.
Previous to that we had a Spring Meeting March 29th, 2021 to discuss:
Humanist-oriented community service
A summary report, including planned actions and areas of interest can be read at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1k6Y74PA7Dq6TZkv0eMDRbQ3ZiQzpqPTUa9chbsT-Qy8/edit?usp=sharing
For general information about the MDC chapter, contact Gary Berg-Cross via email (email@example.com) or via phone (240-426-0770).
Please remember that WASH is a volunteer organization. Contributions of your time and money are the core of WASH’s ability to serve you, our membership. If you’re not already a member, please consider joining for $35, or at least becoming a friend of WASH for $10. If you have the means to provide financial support for WASH beyond the membership dues, your contributions help WASH engage in projects such as the following:
- Printing of the Ingersoll Walk booklet (estimated cost: $300)
- Upgrades for the next Ingersoll Oratory Contest to include rental of a tent, an improved PA system, and upgraded prizes for contestants (estimated cost: $2,000).
- A project to make WASH generated videos available on YouTube (estimated cost: $500)
- Support for student groups (estimated cost: $500)
- Support for a fee-based speaker, such as professional interpreters of Jefferson (Steve Edenbo) or Madison, book authors, or others at a WASH event (estimated cost: $3,000)
- Advertising campaigns such as billboards (estimated cost: $5,000)