What is happening to today’s society? The rise in nationalism and the voices at extreme ends of the political scale, engaging in a verbal tango of shouting the loudest to evoke and direct angst. The fear of people who are religious and of the atrocities committed in the name of such religions, fuelling exclusionary political rhetoric. With so many voices competing against each other, many are inevitably alienated and excluded from engaging in society. Consequently, “Why should I bother?” becomes a common attitude when people feel that they are not listened to. Now, more than ever, social activism is, therefore, an ever-increasing need within society.
Society’s conscience is always changing. The ‘rivers of blood’ through which xenophobia trickled into social conscience in 1968 became the signal crime of how we should not see people. However, the need to protect a so-called nationalist narrative still ran true. One simply has to look at society today and ask, ‘“Have we really changed? Has society really progressed?” Yes, we have progressed in terms of science and technology, and the way in which we live our lives today exemplifies an increased global connectivity and consciousness. Yet, the ideals of the past and the sentiments that people such as Enoch Powell infected society with remain, particularly in the ways in which some organisations have utilised fear to their own advantage by relaying a dichotomous narrative, which Edward Said suggests as grounded in the fear of ‘the Other.’ However, because of the negative connotations that being different brings, society subconsciously segregates itself and each group becomes apathetic to the needs of those outside itself.
You might ask whether it is fair to suggest that we are becoming more apathetic as a society. For example, the right to vote is something that we, as the people of this nation, take for granted, with a consistently low engagement rate in election and referendum votes – the supposed pinnacle of public involvement in how society functions. The right to take part in the democratic process is one of the best methods we have to ensure everyone is provided an opportunity to be heard. But what does voting actually achieve? Our vote is regularly used against the most vulnerable in society – women, young people, the elderly, for instance – while the riches of the already wealthy increase: naturally, one questions why we should bother taking part in society at all. However, the dispassionate shortcomings of those in power also provide us with the means and motivation to counter such apathy, failing to realise how the consequences of their actions can inspire action to stand up for those in need. For instance, the way in which women of India stood together to raise awareness of the abhorrent attack and rape of a woman in Delhi in 2012 showed how powerful people can be if a society’s consciousness is not fractured, but united.
That is how apathy can be countered: finding that one issue that hits a nerve, that sends a shiver down your spine, that reaches the very core of what it means to be you. In short, being human.
Social activism is not the hobby of a select group of people thinking of how they can help people below them; it is rather a universal sense of duty to do what is right in the face of adversity. It is a signal from human to human to pay attention, to listen to what is happening, to unite. The perception of society being in a state of apathy is not accurate. With the pluralistic nature of society, we often struggle to cater to the needs of specific groups. Nevertheless, this has not prevented countless organisations and individuals from working to make the world a better place to live, and the advantage of a society embracing difference is that we are consequently better prepared to deal with issues pertinent to those who are different.
The aim of the Atheist, Humanist and Secular Students (AHS) Convention this year is to do just that: to bring together people from all walks of life to embrace discourse surrounding politically and socially salient issues for people from all walks of life. These include, but are not limited to, the increasing danger to and deaths of Bangladeshi bloggers who simply question the status quo (be it from a religious or non-religious point of view); how governments, societies and individuals treat ‘blasphemy’; the segregation on religious grounds of children at grammar schools; the abuse of women around the world, whether through forced marriage, female genital mutilation, the ‘traditional’ role of women or otherwise. This may be just a select few, but the aim is potent – the AHS Convention 2017 will answer the question, “Why should I bother?”
I look forward to seeing you there, and to a truly inspirational weekend!
Written by Hari Parekh, AHS President
Buy your tickets now at: https://humanism.org.uk/events/ahs2017