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This is the workshop area, where we seek to describe and build a better world.


We can describe the basic challenge we face like this:

  • we seek to understand the world (including ourselves) better
  • so that we can work to make the world a better place (and to make us better people)
  • while we avoid the dangers posed by the proposed changes.

We can improve our understanding through talking with one another - by talking about our ideas so they can be shared and improved, and by telling our stories so the ideas can be grounded in the real world.  When talking about ideas, there are two big dangers: on the one hand we can be too pragmatic; on the other, we can be too idealistic.

  • At the one extreme, people believe in a united world, with everybody in perfect harmony.  In this vision, everyone works together, all for a single purpose, and disagreement is not allowed; the world is a carefully regulated society, in which each person plays the part which the whole society requires of them.
  • At the other extreme, people believe in a divided world, with everybody in conflict. In this vision, we work together for temporary, selfish reasons, because we must; the world is a jungle, 'red in tooth and claw'; in the end it is 'every man for himself'.
  • Our vision is of a middle way: one where difference does not lead to disagreement, nor variety lead to conflict.  We believe we can learn from and live with one another, without needing to agree with one another on every point.

The same basic choices face us when we attempt to describe what we are aiming for.

  • At the one extreme, people attempt to describe a perfect society.
  • At the other extreme, people settle for simply fixing the worst consequences of our current system.
  • Our vision is of a middle way: to address not only the injustices and failings produced by the present system, but also the structural problems which create those injustices and failings.


The problems we face are primarily seen in the systems we operate.  Yes, some people are bad - cruel, selfish and insensitive.  But most of the problems which most of us face are not caused by bad people seeking to do bad things: they are caused by people who are mostly good, doing their best within systems which don't work, either for most people or for the environment.  It is really hard to change these systems.  We struggle even to understand them: they are formed from laws and customs and culture, from our expectations and the physical environment we inherit and create, from habits and assumptions, from promises and commitments, from fear of the unknown and fear of strangers, from ignorance and confusion, and much else.


There is no agreement about what a perfect society might look like - we certainly don't want to live in the 'perfect' societies of Plato's Republic or Moore's Utopia.  On the other hand, there are clear structural problems within our society which harm people and damage the world, so as well as patching up the current problems, we can seek to make the structural problems less of a problem.  And maybe, if we can move in the direction of a more just and more sustainable society, we might find new people are able to contribute, and new possibilities can be found to address problems which seem beyond us at present.


And one thing seems clear: we will not succeed in solving our problems unless we learn to work together, with all our differences.  Everybody is needed; so please contribute your ideas and perspectives.  And those contributions need to include constructive criticism: we need to understand the downsides and disadvantages of the solutions being proposed, so those weaknesses can be taken into account and perhaps countered.



A Framework for the Discussion

It is hard to talk productively about anything, because everything connects with everything else.  Most obviously, global climate change connects with every other issue we talk about, as does overpopulation.  So we can't say everything we want to about any of these subjects.  Instead, we are aiming to say as little as possible, while still being useful, and sometimes pointing out where this subject connects with that one.


This suggested framework divides all of reality ('like Gaul') into three parts: physical, social and spiritual.  For more about the reasons for this division, please see Particles, People and Purpose.

  • Physical. Roughly, the subject matter of the 'hard sciences'; answering questions about particles and forces; asking questions like, "What is happening?"  What we discover here is true at all times and in all places.  If we ever meet intelligent aliens, we will be able to talk with them about atoms and prime numbers and electrical currents.
  • Social.  Roughly, the subject matter of the humanities or 'social sciences'; answering questions about people and societies; asking questions like, "Why is this happening?"  What we discover here is often true in specific contexts.  If we ever meet intelligent aliens, they will almost certainly have their own equivalents of psychology, sociology, politics and economics, but they will be different from ours, and their answers may not work for us.
  • Spiritual.  Roughly, the subject matter of the philosophers and religions; answering questions about morality, values and purpose; asking questions like, "What should be happening?"  It can be hard to describe what happens here as 'discovering truth', but progress does get made: slavery has been officially abolished in much of the world, and this is not the result of an improved understanding of mathematics or economics.  If we ever meet intelligent aliens, it seems likely that they will have wrestled with the same big questions as us, and we will each seek to learn from and make use of the answers which the other race has found.


Within each area, it is probably helpful to state clearly what are the issues we are wanting to address, before we go on to talk about the ways they can be addressed.  But we don't want to spend a lot of time on describing the problems, partly because it has already been done, and partly because we don't want to spend our time focusing on what is wrong instead of looking at what we can do to put it right.




The physical world issues include:

  • The Earth: Global Climate Change, pollution, lack of fresh water
  • The Biosphere: loss of biodiversity, mass extinction, species migration, despeciation, loss of topsoil
  • Overpopulation
  • The Covid-19 Pandemic


These proposals to address the physical world problems are (to a first approximation anyway) all necessary.  We can't just pick one and think we have 'done our bit' - we have to do all of them, or the world as we know it does not survive.  The proposals to address the physical world problems include:




The human world issues include:


The proposals to address the human world problems include:




We have not (yet) divided this part into issue and proposals.  There is probably a lot which needs to be said about ideas and beliefs, how we arrive at them, and how we handle them.  Many people think that the core things we believe and understand make a massive difference both to our individual wellbeing, and to the activities we undertake.


At the moment, we only have contributions from the Christian, from the Humanist, and from a general 'thinking about thinking and beliefs' perspectives; if you would like to contribute from other religions and other perspectives, you are very welcome.




Religion and Belief



Comments (2)

markinpowys@... said

at 8:34 pm on Apr 19, 2021

'Spiritual' is to my mind a terrible abused word. It can mean almost anything. Would 'Ethical' be an appropriate alternative?

Paul Hazelden said

at 11:45 pm on Apr 19, 2021

I agree that 'spiritual' is a terribly abused word, but I have hunted around and can't find anything better. 'Ethical' is far too limited. Translations of Plato talk about the 'sensible world' (the world of the senses) and the 'intelligible world' (the world of the mind), but I think 'intelligible' raises other problems.

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