Humanist Jan Tamas - world should be run by people power, not politicians

Jan Tamáš

Rob Cameron's guest in this week's One on One is Jan Tamas, a member of the Czech humanist movement, and also the spokesman of "No to Bases", an initiative against the stationing of a US radar base in the Czech Republic. Humanists - who exist in more than 80 countries worldwide - say they're not a governmental organisation, they're not a humanitarian organisation, they're not a political party and they're not a religious movement. So what are they?

"Interesting question. There's thousands of ways how to tackle that question. We can say humanism is a sensitivity of people, who feel that a human being is the most important value, who feel that other values are being put above the human being nowadays. We believe that every human being has a right to education, to healthcare, to a place to live. And of course we believe that it's not necessary that people die of hunger today."

It sounds like a sort of nice socialism.

"It's not true. Socialism is a different ideology. Socialism is built around society. We're built around the human being. So it's based on a different value."

How did you get involved with humanism?

"Well, it was ten years ago, when I first met some people from the humanist movement, and I liked it from the beginning. So I just joined right there. And I've been involved for the past ten years."

What was it that attracted you to humanism?

"The idea that there's a movement that's a global movement. It's international, and it's not limited to one particular area. I felt I wanted to do something for homeless people, or people addicted to drugs, or single parents, or parentless children. But if I got involved in one area, I would know that there were all these other areas that I'm not involved in. I was looking for something that would try to tackle all of these issues at once. And I found that in the humanist movement."

I'd like to quote something from the "What we want" section from your website - 'We want a slightly different world to the one we're living in today. We think that people aren't fools who are incapable of deciding things for themselves and we also don't think that today's politicians are the ones who should be making decisions for us.' You might not like them, but those politicians were voted into office in free and fair elections. Some could interpret what you're saying as an attack on democracy itself.

"In fact we want the opposite. We want to improve democracy. We want to make it so it would be the people who decide directly, not through the politicians, and we believe that's possible. We believe nowadays we have the technology - we have the cellphones, we have the internet - that makes it possible for the first time in human history to really allow people to make the decisions themselves, without the middlemen, without the politicians, who often are corrupted, who often represent the interests of those who put them in power. We want to go ahead with the evolution of the human race, of mankind, and improve democracy, so really it would be the majority of the people who decide, and not just a couple of individuals."

So in other words you're saying that humanism and direct democracy are interlinked.

"Yes, if you would look at the humanist groups which are involved in politics, then direct democracy is one of the first proposals that they have."

But in this country, that would probably result in the death penalty being reinstated for example.

"I don't think so. This argument is often stated by people who don't believe in the goodness that is inside of people. I don't feel that people are stupid."

But the majority are in favour of reinstating the death penalty. Seventy percent, I believe, think it should be.

"You know, that's according to polls, and polls can often be manipulated by the question that is being asked, by the environment where the question is asked, by the people who are being asked. So, that's questionable. I think if people were really given this tool to decide, they would begin thinking wisely about the decisions that they make, especially if they would see that those decisions had a direct impact on their lives, and on the lives of their children and their grandchildren."

One issue you're very much involved in at the moment is an initiative called "No to bases". It's against plans to station a small US radar base on Czech territory as part of the American missile defence shield. The system is designed to protect the United States and its allies from attack. What can possibly be wrong with that?

"I believe what's wrong with the system is the idea or the thinking that by building new weapons, by building new military equipment, by establishing new military bases, we will make the world safer. We believe the opposite. We believe that if we want to make the world safer, if we want to keep the peace, we need to begin getting rid of the weapons that we have and we definitely don't need to create new weapons or new military bases."

But this is a defensive system. It's against the weapons that other people, i.e. Iran and North Korea, are trying to acquire.

"Well, anybody who deals with international politics knows that there's really not a difference between an offensive and a defensive system. For example, body armour that a robber wears to rob a bank, and he's running away and shooting at a policeman. Is the body armour a defensive measure? No. He put it on because he wanted to rob a bank and kill some policemen. So you can't really say it's a purely defensive measure. And of course it will provoke the other nations, the other superpowers, to react. So it will escalate international tensions, decrease stability, and increase the potential for conflict or for war."

Do you accept that there are limits to what you as humanists can do? That sometimes there comes a time in history - 1939 might be one - when there is no other option but military force. In fact that it was foolish not to take military action earlier.

"I would answer perhaps by expanding the answer I gave to a previous question. We don't really see a need for this base to be here. Against whom? Against what? We're told there are some threats. Well, we don't believe those threats. We don't believe that Iran is a threat to the security of Europe or to the security of the United States. Just as we didn't believe that Iraq was a threat. And nowadays we know that it wasn't. The United States government was saying that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We know that they weren't there. Everybody knows it. The whole world knows it. So, how can we believe that what we're told today is the truth about Iran, or North Korea? We don't believe that. So if there's no real threat, there's no real need to build this base."

Obviously it's a pretty grim world in which we're living, with global warming, nuclear proliferation, wars around the world etc. To be a humanist, to remain a humanist against the background of all that, do you also have to be something of an optimist?

"Well of course, we are optimists. Otherwise we would never be able to do what we are doing. It needs a lot of optimism and courage to really take that strength inside of us and try to change the world outside, which seems so rigid and so permanent that sometimes it may seem really foolish to try and change it. But we believe in the strength of the connection between people, and in the fact that when people get together, when they begin working together, we can make the world really the place that we want it to be."