An Interview with Alvaro Efrain Aguilar Zanabria on Youth Humanism
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: To begin, you are in the Working Group of the Americas for the International Humanist Organization and Ethical Youth. Speaking with other young people of humanistic and ethical culture, or those oriented, what is your overall impression of them and their background?
Alvaro Efrain Aguilar Zanabria: My first impression is that we are people interested in the human and humanity in general; For their dignity, respect for their differences and the way they think, however different it may be. The Working Group of the Americas for the International Humanist Organization and Youth Ethics is composed of many young people from different parts of the continent, but it is this interest for the human being that makes us a community anxious to carry the humanistic message to the other young people of the world.
Jacobsen: In what other work are you involved with respect to humanism?
Zanabria: I belong to an intellectual group called IPIF (Instituto Peruano de Investigaciones Filosóficas). This institution, based in the city of Cusco, was founded by students and young professionals from my country and abroad. We founded it with the aim of grouping young freethinkers of the city and the country, in order to begin to question the reality and the circumstances of the place where we live.
From the beginning, our projects have focused on the realization of events aimed at society. We hold, for example, weekly exhibitions on philosophy, culture and science; but also bigger events such as book presentations, lectures and academic debates around controversial issues and national circumstances.
We had, among others, the debates “About the existence of god” or “Gender, family and society”, the latter with respect to the characteristics of the new Peruvian education curriculum that promoted an education of equality, in which both males as women were shown as individuals with the same opportunities and rights; but unfortunately the country’s religious groups saw it as dangerous to promote homosexuality and what they called “gender ideology.”
The IPIF, with other groups of the country and people from abroad, is currently co-organizing the First Latin American Meeting of Free Thinkers, which will probably take place from May 28, 2018. This event is adding to several exhibitors from Latin American countries (Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica, etc.) and already has three axes of work. First, lay state, which includes analyzing the viability of separating the state from Catholic interference, a curricular mesh with no religious tendencies, the pope’s arrival in the country and the reflection of the latest pedophilia scandals. Second: Critical Thinking and Pseudosciences. And finally: Gender freedom.
Other constant works are our calls for new young members interested in the philosophy and development of critical thinking. It is also for this reason that we adopt philosophy as the main tool and attitude of my organization. We decided this, because we believe that it is the discipline that gives us the necessary attitude to achieve our goals, which are to study and ask critically about those social institutions so accepted and shared in my culture; such as religion, customs or traditions and Peruvian idiosyncrasy.
I also belong to the Sociedad Secular Humanista del Perú (Secular Humanist Society of Peru), a humanist institution that carries out its main activities in the city of Lima and of which I am always pending. The SSH regularly disseminates scientific outreach programs on the internet to promote rationality and free thought, as well as secular activism in the face of abuses of religious institutions in my country.
Jacobsen: What are some of the initiatives of the Working Group of the Americas to expand the humanist message to young people?
Zanabria: The Working Group of America is in the search of new members from different parts of the continent to build a network of contacts and thus help to expand the humanist message. Regional conferences on humanism are expected to take place in the future, but for the time, Working Group is inviting to those youngs who are able to attend the FES (Future of Ethical Societies) conferences in U.S.
Jacobsen: What are the trends observed in the youth humanist movement in the Americas? What happens, specifically where you are, in Peru?
Zanabria: In my country, the Working Group of the Americas has much to do. To begin with, I believe that many young Peruvians have a clear ethical concern for our fellow citizens, although many have worried about this concern only for being correctly led by a religious dogma. This, I think, must be the first hand of the humanist movement, to teach that an ethics towards man does not depend on any external entity other than on human itself, that it is only humanity that has been capable enough to respond to problems he has faced throughout his history; that its rationality, its scientific development and its motivation for progress has always been constant.
Perhaps humanistic ethics can be understood in one society better than in others. It is not the case of my country. Religion and a wish for returning to a glorious past has made us move away from what reality shows us. The way they educated me makes me realize that for most people in my culture the only solution to all our problems is religion and an irrational confidence towards something that does not exist.
But I see changes. As I exist many people who wish to change the reality, which we wish, as a humanist friend would say: “betting on humanity”. And we are not few, in fact we are many, from all parts of Peru and all with the purpose of betting on the capacity of humanity to define its own values and transform their reality.
Jacobsen: What have been some of the effective means of spreading rationality, empiricism, dialogue of compassion and humanism in general amon.g young people in Peru — 18–35?
Zanabria: I know humanistic ethics and its close relationship with rationality and scientific evidence in virtual platforms. Social networks; YouTube, Facebook, and other media are those that allow us to find potential humanists, young people have been created in religious dogmas by having critical thinking, but still remain in the void by no point to find principles that satisfy rationally.
Jacobsen: Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion about what we talked about today?
Zanabria: The absence of democracy, racism, homophobia, religious fanaticism. Actually, there is a lot for what you work for; And I am very happy to recognize that the humanist movement is working to bring the humanistic ethical message to the young people of the world. For it is we, the young people, who will have to face the subsequent human crises.