Guest post: A Departure from the Humanist Society of South Australia

Guest post by Bruce Everett

In November of last year, eight months after resigning from committee, I resigned entirely from the Humanist Society of South Australia (HSSA). Unlike my resignation from committee, my resignation from the organisation was undertaken with nothing in the way of explanation, my intent to leave being stated in only two sentences. Aside from a short status update on Facebook which nobody seemed to notice, up until the topic was raised by one Mark Senior here in the comments at Butterflies and Wheels, I’ve made no public mention of my resignation.

Now, given that Mr Senior has attempted to fill the explanatory vacuum with his own narrative of ridiculous and unverified speculation, I’ve opted to air my grievances with the HSSA in public. Those experiencing discomfort on account of my disclosures can thank Mark for his efforts in making it even remotely worth my time and attention.


Surely I’m just leaving the HSSA because Mark is there, and I don’t like Mark, right? This is only partially correct; I don’t like Mark. I won’t deny this. If you want particulars beyond the immediately relevant, you can use Google.

Late last year, here at Butterflies and Wheels, it was claimed by Mark (writing as “Mofa”) that in addition to my seemingly being a “Muslim apologist”, I left the HSSA in a hissy fit because an anti-harassment policy he opposed, which he’d claimed earlier in the year was rigged to target people like him, was not adopted by committee. The problem with this assertion is that it has been my understanding that the policy was passed as a bylaw by committee around March of last year.

Despite such glaring ridiculousness, Mark’s antics are at most tangential to only a handful of my reasons for departing the HSSA. He’s not central to anything I am or have ever been involved in, and at most points in this post, he won’t feature at all.

This latest case of Mark not knowing what he’s on about can’t all be laid at his feet, and is related to one of my problems with the conduct of the HSSA’s leadership. The HSSA’s anti-harassment policy is a secret policy – it has been passed as a bylaw, but as of last verification (December 2014 – far too late), its implementation has not been announced to the membership. What good is a harassment policy if the membership is unable to know their obligations in relation to standing policy, or what protections they are entitled to under it? How do you square such secretive governance with the IHEU Minimum Statement that affiliated Humanist organisations are supposed to bide by?

“Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality [Emphasis added]”.

(IHEU Minimum Statement on Humanism, retrieved January 2015)

If you can reconcile closed governance like this with the IHEU Minimum Statement, then either you’re a lot smarter than me or you’re just able to twist your mind into knots. At any rate, it’s the Australian Federal Election of 2013 that really brought out the anti-democratic sentiment.

There’s a phrase I loathe, that I’ve heard the Secretary of the HSSA use at least one variant of on a couple of occasions; “…and these people vote!” Despite my sceptical brow-raising at this, all I’ve ever got in response are sentiments like “some enlightenment figures had serious concerns about allowing people to vote” and “perhaps someone should give a talk about it”. Certainly, in the manner of Devil’s Advocate, or in formal debate with speakers from outside the organisation, it would be useful for Humanists to go over the shortcomings of democracy as per certain Enlightenment figures. Ultimately though, if the position you argue from is “democracy; no thanks”, then you can’t affirm the IHEU Minimum Statement, and strictly speaking, shouldn’t even be a member of an IHEU affiliated body, much less be on the committee of one.

More recently, this anti-democratic sentiment has found expression with both the HSSA President and Secretary supporting calls for the current Prime Minister Tony Abbott to release documentation demonstrating his renunciation of past foreign citizenship – members of the Australian Parliament not being able to hold dual citizenship. Aside from the Birther-esque attack on participatory democracy inherent to the sentiments of the campaign, the President and Secretary demonstrate a massive double standard in supporting this initiative.

Through 2013 up until nominations for Australian Humanist of The Year (AHoY) 2014, the HSSA Secretary pushed for the HSSA to nominate former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. A former Prime Minister who, like the current Prime Minister, was born overseas, thus raising the same issues of prior citizenship and documentation. Notably, neither the President nor the Secretary of the HSSA was particularly bothered about Gillard’s non-disclosure at the time.

Don’t get me wrong, I would much prefer a Gillard government over the Abbott nightmare we currently have in power. The Abbott Government is particularly hostile towards people like me, and towards people I care for. My point is, that as ever, double standards are the litmus test for hypocrisy – in this case in terms of the democratic values affirmed by the IHEH minimum statement.


I haven’t even touched on the non-exhaustive list of complaints I detailed in my resignation from committee earlier in 2014; the jokes about Asians cooking people’s pets, the weird body language around People of Colour, the racist dismissal of a Sam Harris talk at the 2012 Global Atheist Convention as “Indian neuroscience”. The response I received to these complaints (and others) was that the people making these comments were busy and hard-working, and hence made mistakes.

“It’s been such a long, hard shift; I just slagged off seven different ethnicities! I couldn’t help myself! What a day! Normally I just slag off three before supper, a Scotch and bed!” – This does not happen.

Not mentioned in my resignation from committee earlier this year, thanks to the timing, was an incident on the HSSA Facebook page, where I argued with the President over my concerns about anti-Semitism on Australian university campuses and over expressions of solidarity with Hamas made by Socialist Alternative. The President’s line of argument was both apologetic and unoriginal; extreme action (by Israel) draws extreme responses; perhaps Socialist Alternative didn’t know about the details of the Hamas charter I cited; etc., etc.

This kind of response is ridiculous, and unbefitting of a Humanist leader. Are we to adopt the fictional assumption that in the last intifada, the middle class suburbs of eastern Australia were heavily bombed, and accordingly, make allowances for agitated Socialist Alternative members? Are we to overlook the fascist pedigree of Hamas that has roots reaching back before modern Israel, or the fact that Hamas also brutalizes the Palestinian population, or the fact that the genocidal content of their charter has been well known for decades?

I guess if like the President, I chose to keep company with people who make statements like “THEEEEEEY have milked the memory of The Holocaust for too long!” I’d be under pressure to learn how to accommodate certain viewpoints.

You have to wonder what former AHoY, Leslie Cannold, would make of all this. Further, given her objections to rape apologetics for Julian Assange, something that was a potential deal-breaker for her joining the WikiLeaks party, the President and Secretary’s views on the relevant rape allegations would probably be cause for further angst. Suffice to say, on more than one occasion, I’ve had to listen to both the President and Secretary go well beyond the kind of defence offered by last year’s AHoY, Geoffrey Robertson.

The most galling thing about a HSSA leader expressing these kinds of excuses and conspiricist ideations though, is the fact that Leslie Cannold’s name, like that of all recent AHoY award winners, has been invoked on more than one occasion at HSSA meetings in order to cast the HSSA in a prestigious light. I regret being as tolerant as I have been towards this disgrace and HSSA members should feel similarly embarrassed.

Writing about this wing-nuttery evokes the memory of an episode involving one of the members retained from the old (pre-2012) HSSA. The issue of Palestine’s treatment at the hands of Israel was raised at a Humanist meeting in 2013, where the mentioned member put his oar in by declaring Israel had no right in law to exist. It was one of those fevered declarations that promised to go off into the lands of legal fiction, historical revisions of UN decision making, and meta-ethical/jurisprudential equivocation. Before it could get that far though, the Secretary interrupted with the suggestion that the member should feature as speaker, on the topic of Palestine, at a future meeting.

As far as I know such a talk has not yet eventuated, possibly having been nipped in the bud on account of the elder member’s expressed views on 9/11, The World Trade Centre, and the strength of steel girders exposed to burning jet fuel. Apparently appealing to prejudice only gets you so far, which I guess is something to be thankful for.


Speaking as a poor person from the Northern Suburbs, I don’t appreciate the hostility inherent in the President inviting me to ‘like’ a Facebook page dedicated to denigrating poor people from the Northern Suburbs. On an interpersonal level, it’s not mitigating that the President is oblivious to this hostility. And if the HSSA is going to give commentary about poverty, something it does choose to do, surely the President’s cluelessness is relevant?

When I raised this matter on the HSSA Facebook page, on a thread about poverty, precisely because the President failed to properly address it at an earlier juncture when given the opportunity, I had my participation condescendingly illegitimated as “nasty” by the Secretary, as if mild sarcasm could ever make such a thing illegitimate.

Conversing down to poor folk, dismissively, in the context of a discussion about poverty, when there is already a neglected track record of classist hostility involved, is not good form. Couple this with the misanthropic and anti-democratic sentiments already in circulation, and you’ve got a serious cultural problem for any organisation professing to be democratic, compassionate and concerned about poverty. A “shut up pleb” wouldn’t have been out of place.

This is hardly the only expression of classism to be instantiated by the President or Secretary, but I trust I’ve made my point sufficiently.


So what now?

I’ve joined an interstate Humanist society so that I can remain IHEU affiliated. I don’t expect much, and being interstate I don’t expect to be able to keep an eye on their inner workings. But if any other HSSA members want to repeat my exodus, they can look me up and I can show them how.

The professional contacts I tried to bring to the HSSA, on account of just a whiff of the problems I’ve mentioned, have to varying extents been alienated. Potential future projects involving them will likely have to be undertaken independent of organised South Australian Humanism. Given the high profile of an education academic who was one of these contacts, their reluctance to renew their HSSA membership is a huge loss for South Australian Humanism. Not that the members have been kept informed about this.

I still have friends in the HSSA, including a couple I have no reason to distrust being on the present committee. I worry about them a little. In the first instance I usually worry that they’ll be having their time wasted, their efforts negated if they don’t fall narrowly in-line with the HSSA hobby-horse regime. But then I remember some of the prejudices in circulation, and my concerns drift to nastier issues.

It’s not that it’s impossible for the HSSA to be reformed; it’s that I don’t hold out much hope. At any rate, reform of the HSSA will necessarily require a change of leadership. The HSSA has potential leaders in its numbers capable of the necessary tasks, but so far, the President and Secretary have been elected unopposed – is there enough will for reform among the members?

If I’m going to be honest, I think the best solution for the HSSA is for decent South Australian Humanists to walk away and let the organisation fall apart. Starting again from scratch would require less energy than trying to launch initiatives from this quagmire.

~ Bruce


  1. says

    Hmmmm… will have to apologise for the “that trying” in the final sentence. Should have been “than trying”.

    I tell you what, text renders nicely on FTB. I’m reading this easier than on Scrivener.

  2. Donnie says

    Thanks Mate…As an American, I like hearing from others with less American-centric focus.

    Through 2013 up until nominations for Australian Humanist of The Year (AHoY) 2014, the HSSA Secretary pushed for the HSSA to nominate former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. A former Prime Minister who, like the current Prime Minister, was born overseas, thus raising the same issues of prior citizenship and documentation. Notably, neither the President nor the Secretary of the HSSA was particularly bothered about Gillard’s non-disclosure at the time.

    This. I hate hypocrisy. We see it in American politics.
    – President Obama born in Hawaii is a ‘foreigner’ because of his father. Senator Cruz born in Canada and barely a peep from the Tea Baggers.
    – Former President Bush and torture, State secrets is the ultimate evil per those who do not like the GOP. President Obama continues the policies, and in some cases expands, and not a word against him per those who support ‘anyone but the GOP’

    Be honest and consistent, which is why I appreciate Ed Brayton so much for standing up to his principles.

  3. Lofty says

    As a fellow South Australian (my ‘nym refers to the small mountain on which I live) this post encapsulates why I stand well away from local associations pretending to be good. Thanks for the back story, Bruce.

  4. says

    There’s probably 101 other things I could have mentioned. There were certainly a few biggies that I had to leave out because they’d have taken the piece off on a tangent, and blown the word count out by x amount. I tried not to meander too much.

    I don’t write institutions off categorically as doomed-to-fail on account of human error, but there’s only so much tomfoolery an organisation can entertain before utterly compromising itself.

  5. says

    It seems that the trigger for this post was a series of personal attacks on Bruce Everett by Mark Senior. However, the bulk of the article is devoted to attacking certain committee members of the Humanist Society of South Australia, rather than Mark. That doesn’t quite add up.

    A comment such as “and these people vote” strikes me as being off-hand rather than demonstrative of anti-democratic sentiment. After all, it should hardly be news that a great many people vote irresponsibly and/or selfishly, and that the effects of this are profound. Pointing this out, and expressing frustration, doesn’t mean anyone is about to advocate the end of democracy (such as it is).

    I have attended many SA Humanist meetings and gatherings. I have not heard any comments nor witnessed any body language by committee members that could in any way be described as racist. I have also never heard any inappropriate comments with respect to poverty. The content of the meetings have been very much along humanist lines.

    The problem here is that this piece is giving the impression that the reported remarks were not only delivered in earnestness, but are a regular occurrence. This is not the case.

    I also do not see much value in highlighting differences of opinion in certain polarised issues such as the Israel-Palestine conflict and the allegations against Julian Assange. For the record, my own view on the former, an extremely complex situation, is that all parties involved have a great deal to answer for, although I do have much greater sympathy for the Palestinian people. I do not, however, consider folks who have more support for Israel, or more support for the Palestinian cause, necessarily to be racist — either way. Likewise, although I have no great respect for Assange and suspect that he may have a case to answer, I understand many people believe that he is nothing more than a victim. I do not automatically decide that such people must be “rape apologists”. Who, after all, is in possession of all the evidence?

    So if someone disagrees with me on either of these issues, is that a good reason for me to decide they’re unfit to lead a humanist society?

    As for meeting interruptions by older members — yes, we do have one or two members who are elderly and not always very well. The society welcomes people of all ages, even if you wind up with a few viewpoints hailing from earlier generations. I think it would be a shame if anyone decided to leave the group on those grounds.

    Yes, the President and Secretary were elected unopposed. That would be because no one else would put their hand up for either of those jobs.

    Undoubtedly the HSSA has made mistakes. If people have admitted to imperfections because they are “busy and hard-working”, I can relate to that. I’ve been in that position in the past. When you’re working ridiculous hours and it feels at times that you’re getting precious little help but always oversupplied with criticism, you find yourself wondering why you bother. The secular movement has too few workers as it is, so that’s not exactly a good thing.

    I don’t think this piece is helping anyone. If the HSSA delivers a response, will that be published on Ophelia’s blog too? What about the response to the response? It would be great if we could put an end to this matter. I think, in particular, that Mark should have a bit more of a think before he hits the “Submit” button in future. That does seem to be a running theme.

  6. says

    It seems that the trigger for this post was a series of personal attacks on Bruce Everett by Mark Senior. However, the bulk of the article is devoted to attacking certain committee members of the Humanist Society of South Australia, rather than Mark. That doesn’t quite add up.

    What an obviously disingenuous, politically motivated remark. The reason for the post is stated quite clearly – it is a discussion of the point of contention which concerned my reasons for leaving the HSSA. Mark was not my reason for leaving the HSSA, hence he doesn’t feature particularly much.

    The rest of your ridiculous comment isn’t much better (if not considerably worse).

    I don’t recall ever attributing to anyone in the HSSA, a desire for the “end of democracy”. Anti-democratic sentiment can, and often does fall short of this. I’m pretty sure a good deal of the people making excuses for the Charlie Hebdo killers don’t actually want to see the vote go out the window, but all the same, they do express anti-democratic sentiment.

    As for your never witnessing X, Y and Z; one would hope that the self-appointed leader of an organisation called “Reason Road” would actually understand basic reasoning. Specifically, the logical fallacy of the argument from ignorance. But alas…

    The problem here is that this piece is giving the impression that the reported remarks were not only delivered in earnestness, but are a regular occurrence. This is not the case.

    You’re hardly in a position to dispute these facts, Moira. Were you in the same car when these things were uttered on the way to a meeting? Were you on the same train when they were uttered after a committee meeting? Are you privy to my Facebook invites? Did you even bother to check my Facebook pictures, to find, specifically, the picture demonstrating The President’s membership in the mentioned Facebook group?

    No, not all of these utterances regularly occurred at meetings, which would be why, in contrast to your blatantly disingenuous attributions, I never claimed that they regularly occurred at meetings. You’ll get no thanks for trivialising my experiences of classist hostility either. No. Thanks. At. All.

    As for Israel and Assange, both your views and mine on these matters aren’t pertinent to the point I was making (and great work missing the subtext on the issue of Israel). Leslie Cannold’s views are pertinent because of the mentioned fact of the HSSA milking her reputation on occasion, despite the President and Secretary holding views that would have, in the case of the Wikileaks Party, had Cannold resigning (earlier than she did).

    Your comment about rape apologetics is fatuous as well. Dismissing rape accusations without consideration of the evidence is rape apologetics, so pointing out that we don’t all have the evidence isn’t mitigating. Claiming that the allegations against Julian Assange are a plot by the United States, in the absence of evidence, is also conspiracy theorising, so again, on that count, it’s utterly redundant to point out that we don’t have all the facts.

    What flippant excuse making!

    And oh, the thankless life of poor, secular workers, burdened with an oversupply of criticism. Yes, secular workers are in short supply. But did it ever occur to you to actually listen to what people leaving the movement have to say, rather than fallaciously dismissing their concerns and self-servingly implying that their being critical is the cause of people leaving, rather than an explanation? Has it ever occurred to you that the very dismissive attitude that you display here is itself actually a substantial cause of people leaving organised secularism?

    Has it ever occurred to you that I’m not at all unfamiliar with the frailties of human political interaction? I never expected perfection, which would be why I didn’t ask for it. If I ever did, I would have had these expectations ground out of me during my time long ago in the union movement.

    I’ve got people in my ears from multiple directions at once, with experiences from a number of secular organisations, telling me their problems and furnishing me with evidence. I’ve been listening to seriously talented, but disgruntled secular activists for the better part of the last five years. They’ve been gagged. They’ve been abused and harassed. They’ve been dismissed out of hand.

    Finally, you end with editorial directives. Surely, it would be great for you for this to end on your terms, but that’s not how it’s going to end. You’re neither the writer nor the editor here. One would have hoped that your experiences at Online Opinion would have furnished you with a little understanding in this area.

    I don’t write in service to you, and I’ll write as I see fit, guided by what I know and not by what you obviously do not. I’ll be published where I’m welcome. You have your own space on the Internet, so ideally you should be capable of restricting your editorial impulses to where they actually hold sway and some modicum of relevance.

  7. says

    Since Reason Road has now been raised –and I had no plans re opportunism, but what the hell — if there’s anyone still reading by this time, COULD YOU PLEASE CONSIDER FOLLOWING US ON TWITTER (and RT occasionally!) @ReasonRoad.

    Ophelia, would it be possible for us to also have a guest post some time soon, on the aims of our organisation and, in particular, our latest project, Reason Schools?

    Reason Road is an Australia-wide organisation, by the way. Not just SA.

    Bruce, I’m not your enemy. Here’s an olive branch: if at any stage you feel you’d like to chat on the phone about any of this, just send me an email and I’d be very happy to oblige.

  8. John Morales says

    Moira Clarke @5:

    I don’t think this piece is helping anyone.

    I’ve found it informative, and therefore helpful.

  9. says

    HumanistSA initially decided not to respond to Bruce’s attack upon us on Butterflies & Wheels because we felt that to do so could lead to a flame war. However, these posts become the accepted “truth” if they are not challenged. This will in turn damage the reputation of HumanistSA and, as the HumanistSA is the main active secular organisation in South Australia, will make it difficult for our local freethought community to do its work. Since we can show that the content in these posts ranges from misleading allegations to outright dishonesty, such damage is a miscarriage of justice.

    A detailed breakdown of the allegations in Bruce’s posts has been provided HERE. We would be able to provide more evidence in support of our statements, were it not for the fact that Bruce has recently deleted many of his comments on Facebook, and his entire Facebook account.
    The points we have rebutted include but are not limited to the following.

    – The final draft of the anti-harassment policy was emailed out to members in September 2013. It was ratified by the committee in March 2014. This was announced later that year. The policy is not “secret”. Nor do we promote any view along the lines of, “Democracy, no thanks”.

    – We are not racist. Comments concerning alleged anti-Semitism, “cooking people’s pets”, “Indian neuroscience” and the Holocaust have been grossly distorted. Please refer to our online statement and the Secretary’s statement for more details.

    – We have never suggested that Julian Assange should get away with rape. We are, however, with certain requests that the British government has made to Sweden.

    – Investigation into the issue of Abbott’s dual citizenship has been stifled by both governments. Meanwhile, there are no “double standards”, since Gillard renounced her British citizenship years ago.

    – The alleged “classist hostility”, Bruce’s main theme, mainly derives from a single Facebook page that Justin “liked” long ago and then ignored. The incident has been misrepresented, and Bruce was never invited to like that page.

    HumanistSA was reformed in 2012. Since that time membership has grown overall with a healthy retention rate. Our meetings are well attended. We have reabsorbed the members from the old SA Humanist society as well as attracting many new members. We work constructively with other organisations in the secular community of South Australia.

    The IHEU has a minimum statement. We endeavour to adhere to that and we expect our members to do likewise. Beyond that statement, members do of course hold views contrary to those of the Executive. In meetings freedom of speech is encouraged often leading to healthy debate. Free speech in meetings is not an endorsement of every statement members make.

    Neither do we endorse the views held by our guest speakers. To do so would be impossible as we often invite guests from outside the organisation to speak. That does not mean that we would ask anybody, regardless of their views, and we will always endeavour to ensure that guest speakers do not harbour views that contravene the minimum statement.

    Neither the President nor the Secretary have at any time contravened the minimum statement of the IHEU and have endeavoured to uphold the ethics of Humanism in every way possible.
    This is all we will say here on this matter as we do not wish to participate in a flame war. The individuals Bruce referred to have written full accounts addressing his criticisms. These are available at the following links.

    President’s Comments:
    Secretary’s Comments:
    Comments by members may be found on Facebook at:


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