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The issue at hand.

This issue of the Humanist is about breaking traditions--an endeavor readily associated with humanism because of the frequent humanist practice of challenging traditional faiths, mores, and social systems. When viewed negatively, such an endeavor is called iconoclasm. When viewed positively, it is often regarded as "breaking the cycle."

Today there is a cycle of violence in the Middle East desperately in need of breaking. David Schafer, in the second installment of his exploration into the origins of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, shows that irreconcilable differences and a consequent self-perpetuating system of mutual retaliation were established long enough ago to constitute a kind of modern tradition. In acknowledging this reality, Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the international Greens weigh in with their ideas for a humanistic solution. Meanwhile, Nobel Prize-winning physicist and 2002 Humanist of the Year Steven Weinberg calls for the abandonment of all forms of religiously motivated self-destructiveness--from suicide bombings to traditions of ascetic self-sacrifice.

Regarding religion, two generations of American schoolchildren have been raised on a version of the Pledge of Allegiance that institutionalizes monotheism. Unaware of past congressional changes, most believe the pledge has always been this way--that it's traditional. Therefore the decision in July by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturning the Cold War era addition of the words under God has been mistakenly viewed by many, and opportunistically promoted by others, as iconoclastic and unpatriotic. Barbara Dority sets the record straight by pointing to the original tradition and showing how the foundational principles of the United States were actually violated by the intrusive two-word addition of 1954.

Next we challenge traditional beliefs about literacy with Gregory Shafer's radical analysis of education. He draws attention to the systemic and all-pervasive trend wherein both public schools and institutions of higher learning effectively promote the status quo rather than egalitarian social change. Furthermore, when looked at historically, institutional education has pretty much always done this. It has functioned conservatively instead of transformatively, traditionally instead of innovatively. This is why, he argues, that after centuries of educational advance we continue to live in a society and a world populated with haves and have-nots trained in conformity and schooled to accept a broad body of ignorance, disinformation, and error. This cycle, Shafer believes, is in need of breaking.

Then we shift gears with Kevin Turnquist's journey into the world of emotional depression and mental illness, as he shows how recent discoveries in neuroscience are allowing us to think about these problems in new ways. But we also need to take a fresh look at the role economics plays in maintaining the treatment status quo. As we learn more we will eventually be empowered to break with the past and develop multidimensional interventions that approach those in need humanistically as individuals.

Clearly, many traditions are harmful or outdated. In such cases it becomes a positive and humane act to break them. Other traditions, such as those which help maintain freedom and diversity, warrant our steadfast support and defense. This is why humanism can be both traditional and innovative in the values, goals, and social ideals that drive it.
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Author:Edwords, Fred
Publication:The Humanist
Date:Sep 1, 2002
Previous Article:Humanist resources.
Next Article:The great wall of Korea. (Letters to the editor).

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