SILOISM - THE OTHER HUMANISTS GM Humanist Issue 13. May 1996
Some confusion is arising over the presence in Manchester of a group calling itself "the Humanist Movement". This organisation has no connection whatsoever with either the British Humanist Association or our own group. I do have some controversial material on them from the cult monitoring organisation, Family Action, Information and Resource (FAIR), which I joined some years ago as I am myself an ex-cult member. The two reports on which I base this article come from FAIR NEWS, a quarterly digest of information on cults from the world media. The first article comes from the Spring 1990 edition. It lists the group as operating under various names such as The Community. La Communidad, Futoro Verde, Green Future, 'The Humanist Movement. The Humanist Party.
The organisation was first started in Argentina by Mario Luis Rodrigues Cobos. His title of "Silo" comes from his so-called Sermon on the Mount, which launched the movement officially in 1969. He spoke from Mount Silo. The press dubbed him the "Messiah of the Andes". The group was considered to be a cult in Spain but until the 1980's it was unknown in Britain. In 1983 the group entered politics. candidates from the newly formed Humanist Party and the Greens (a name which caused some confusion for the ecology-based European Green Party) entered the Northfield' by-election and later entered the 1989 European Elections with candidates standing in Manchester and London. All deposits were lost. In Ealing, support was fostered for the group by a drive to secure a hundred recruits by March 1990. Many Londoners complained to the local press about the intense recruitment methods used on young people on the streets of Ealing at this time.
Recruitment (at least then) seems to have involved an informal chat over a burger at Wimpy's or MacDonald's, and having a questionnaire to fill in. Those who do submit the questionnaire are invited to attend a six-month course and go to regular "assemblies" at the group's main recruitment centres.
In Germany the group has been called the Fuhrerkult als Partei-programm (The Leader Cult as Party Manifesto). The group frequently changes its name and symbols. It has used a logo that was a triangle in a circle, but later changed over to a slanted figure-of eight, an occult symbol of infinity (oo). The group promises in its own quirky language that "These activities have the function of letting you know and apply our organisation, ideology and tools for human transformation. That is our current of (correct) thinking."
In winter 1990, FAIR NEWS received further insights into the Humanist Movement's activities. Officials of the Students' Union at Cambridge University closed down a Humanist Movement stall at a societies' fair. This was because of the confusion caused by the movement in the political elections where their own unofficial Green candidate seems to have poached votes from the established Green Party and created a schism and confusion in that group.
All recruits to the Humanist Movement are expected to adhere to a number of principles including:
1. to attend weekly meetings and other quarterly meetings; 2. to give a sum of money every six months.
Group delegates have to submit about £ 150, and to aim to recruit ten more group delegates, and s/he is then designated team delegate. Team delegates then recruit ten more team delegates, and so on up the pyramid. Failure to recruit new members or to attend the right number of meetings results in periods of "exclusion" from the movement's activities. Much emphasis is laid on individual transformation as well as on group transformation. Individuals may be asked mentally to recreate their previous struggles and social conflicts and conquer them afresh. (Such amateur pseudo psychotherapy is extremely dangerous). Major meetings are held on the equinoxes and collections are made on the solstices, indicating a distinct occult connection.
There is a strong air of eclecticism about the Siloists: they borrow much from other cults and from respected organisations; they set themselves up in parallel to existing groups and use similar names in order to steal some of their thunder. Their agenda is extremely political and elitist. They place emphasis on the success or failure of self promotion, rather than on concern for humanity as a whole.
I have been aware of their presence in Manchester for some time and I invited their chief spokesman to meet our group. He declined. They publish the Withington (Manchester) community newsletter "On your Doorstep", which says virtually nothing about the aims and practices of Siloism. The group has occasionally been confused with our own as we know from St Thomas Centre and the Quakers. Apparently they have received calls from people looking for ceremony officiants.
If you have any knowledge of what these other "Humanists" are doing, or of their basic beliefs, practices and recruitment, do let me know, Information could also be sent to the BHA.
Anyone wishing to contact FAIR may write in confidence to
Family Action, Information and Resource BCM Box 3535 PO Box 12 London WC1N 3XX
After this article was written, but before its publication in May 1996, we were invited to meet with two members of the ‘Humanist Movement’, Steven Knight (their national co-ordinator) and Ian Wilcock (the latter also a member of the Manchester Humanists). We pointed out that my article would be used in the May issue of the GM Humanist, but that we would give them ample opportunity to reply in the next issue, (August -September 96). What follows is their verbatim responses. Steven Knight used the space to do no more than present a bog-standard advert for the Humanist Movement, indistinguishable from their own leaflets given out in Manchester, while Ian Wilcock tried to address some of the points raised by my article and to criticise me for producing it in the first place.
GM Humanist. Issue 14. Aug./Sep. 1996
STEVEN KNIGHT ON THE HUMANIST MOVEMENT
The Humanist Movement is a social movement, which aims for profound changes to the structures of both society and the current system of values. Our principle says:
''Nothing above the-human being and no human being below another". This principle implies that humanists reject any form of violence and discrimination, because ii denies people their freedom and intentionality.
The Humanist Attitudes we aspire to, which are present in many philosophies, include:
1. The Human Being as the central value and main concern.
2. Belief in the equality of all Human Beings
3. The recognition of personal and cultural diversity.
4. The continuous development of human knowledge (beyond "absolute truths") 5. The affirmation of the freedom of beliefs and ideas.
6. The rejection of violence in all forms.
The Humanist Movement is a current of opinion, not an institution. Members start projects in the places where they live with friends, supporters and people who like these ideas, feeling that it is important to be involved in positive change. There are active groups and members in 52 countries.
Worldwide... . Hundreds of thousands of people connect their ideas and activities with the concept of 'New Humanism': These include people with a variety of political & non-political backgrounds, both religious and atheist beliefs, but they all share the simple ideal of putting people first.
They all have in common: a passion for social justice, an ideal of human solidarity, based on the convergence of diversity, and a desire to leap beyond all prejudice. They are motivated by a personal. coherent approach to social change.
International Campaigns: Our members co-ordinate world-wide Human Rights campaigns, frequently launching simultaneous campaigns in many countries to maximise international pressure for change. We work with thousands of organisations who have similar aims to help develop links and solidarity around important human issues.
Current campaigns include: World Without War 2000, anti-discrimination in Europe.
New Humanism Study Groups These have been started by groups of people to study and develop the ideas of New Humanism.
New Economics The gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow. We want to reverse this trend, through promoting a human-centred social economy.
Neighbourhood Projects We want to help build real communities and improve the quality of life for all. We achieve this through citizens forums local papers, radio, TV and neighbourhood centres. For more details see the Humanist District Plan.
Cultural : We want to support and encourage a culturally diverse society where differences are understood and celebrated instead of a source of conflict. This happens through our cultural centres, arts projects, and Humanist Clubs.
Reform of Democracy We are campaigning for major changes to our "formal democracy ", to create a real democracy based on local decision making and control.
Commissions. Are set up to tackle specific issues like racism.
In Manchester...The aim is to build a grass roots social movement, through developing city-wide activities. To achieve this we draw on a wealth of experience world-wide implementing social projects. In return we can contribute our knowledge and communicate our experiences. We recognise that social and personal change go hand in hand and therefore we want to develop both socially and personally.
These are just brief descriptions of a few of our projects. If you are interested in collaborating with or supporting any of them, please contact: Steven Knight on 0161 224 0749 for more details.
IAN WILCOCK’S LETTER OF REPLY
The front page article entitled "The Other... Humanists?" in the May 1996 issue of the GM Humanist newsletter in which Arthur Chappell attempts to discredit another Humanist organisation with gossip and unsubstantiated allegations raised in me a variety of emotions and I can describe the two chief ones.
The first was indignation because this article was published despite, firstly, my own protestations that the views of the Humanist Movement expressed at the April meeting by Arthur were contradictory to my own personal experience and, secondly, that many of the fallacies and inaccuracies evident in his personal letter to me, and which formed the basis of this article, had been refuted by Steven Knight, the U.K. Spokesperson of the Humanist Movement in our meeting with him and Barry Thorpe just over a week earlier. The second emotion was a sense of betrayal because, at that meeting while Arthur did state that he was preparing an article about the Humanist Movement and that a full right of reply would be offered, neither of the editors of the newsletter mentioned at the meeting that the article was to be published within one week.
Steven Knight intends to reply to the article and I trust it will be given the same prominence and space as the original. My concern is why was this specious article was published at all. The article had obviously been in preparation for some time. The article recycles reports from FAIR NEWS at least five years old. FAIR NEWS in turn recycles reports from various other media, all with their own agenda. No formal attempt had been made to verify any of these assertions by contacting the Humanist Movement. Not enough mention was made of the extent of the author's own active involvement in FAIR. Why publish when the author had been made aware that much of the content was inaccurate or distorted? I doubt that this can be classified as a well-researched and objective report.
I can only come to the conclusion that Arthur had every intention to misrepresent the Humanist Movement come what may. It seems he has an understandable antipathy towards cults, real or imaginary, and I have every sympathy for him. I imagine that any person who finds their vulnerability and possibly naiveté and gullibility has been exploited by a cult, then that person is probably going to have a degree of lingering bitterness and prejudice. I would feel the same way. Therefore, I think it is going to be very difficult for him to write an objective article that purports to be authoritative on this or any related subject. Our informal meeting with Steven Knight had been intended to establish a friendly relationship between the two Humanist groups in Manchester; in this context the publication of this article can hardly be described as diplomatic, and is most regrettable
"The Other ... Humanists?" I think that Arthur would do well to re-examine his own humanist credentials and re-read the excellent leaflet by Derek Chatterton included with the newsletter entitled ‘Letter To A Believer’ and in particular the first two paragraphs regarding objective truth.
Ian Wilcock kindly loaned me a copy of a book written by Silo. Here is my review of the book from the August 1996 issue of the GM. Humanist.
Silo: Letters To My Friends, Latitude Press 1994
Silo, the Argentinean guru, sees the chief problem of society is that we are governed by "unprincipled pragmatism", too much choice facing any individual, and global (American) banking interests. He argues that capitalism has misled us to believe that free-market forces will ultimately relieve us of every problem, from poverty to the environmental crisis. He believes that we are in a period of "schizophrenic individualism" in which everybody looks after only himself. As an alternative, Silo envisages a utopian society where everyone is fully open with everyone else, in terms of what they think, feel and do. He says that we need to move away from individualism to a more communal approach; politics and social discipline should begin at a basic neighbourhood level, rather than through state or city. The individual in such a system would be answerable to the people of his family, his street, his neighbourhood and so on. Problems abound with this arrangement. The opportunities for independent thought and activity would become far more restricted. There would be more tribalism and rivalry between the interconnected neighbourhood networks. This is, sadly, what the Siloists are trying to establish in Withington, Acton and Glasgow with their community action plans in those areas. Silo wants a return to neighbourhood control, with an end to political administration. Under such a system, Silo writes, "No one can coherently propose the objective of setting up multiple layers or representatives or deputies, as occurs in leader dominated hierarchical politics. Rather, all such operations can only be the result of the organised social base."
The problem with such local, in-your-face government is that it can easily curtail "coherent proposals" and the ambitions of the individual.
Despite his contempt for the global economy, Silo has a reverential belief in the importance of money and capital:
"Money is everything. Money is government, money is law, money is power. Money is basically sustenance, but more than this, it is art, it is philosophy, it is religion. Nothing is done without money, nothing is possible without money. There are no personal relationships without money, there is no intimacy without money. Even peaceful solitude depends on money."
He seems at first glance to be voicing a pastiche of the words of western authority figures, but he offers no alternative to the use of hard capital. The necessity of a fair rate of exchange for goods and services rendered is understandable, but Silo's passion for Mammon's temple offerings is overbearing. He does argue that many people fear the tyranny of money, and argues to some extent for a redistribution of wealth, and an end to its monopoly by the global bankers. He seems therefore to see money as a necessary social evil.
Silo defines human beings as consciously evolving from pain and suffering to the avoidance of such pain in the future. History is defined as the record of each successful step we have taken towards that goal. Each person or situation that causes pain and suffering is seen by Silo as "detaining history". This means that Nazism, the purges of Stalin, etc, are actually "non-historic", and at best an interruption of human history. Our full and true human history will begin properly only when we progress away from such tyranny. Humans are human only when they are "fully realised and completely free."
Siloists believe that being religious or atheist is not an important question. They begin with the idea of the human being as a basic atom of society, and that humanism begins by satisfying the needs of that basic human building block. All else is seen in an existentialist Sartrean sense, as "Bad Faith". Siloists are very opposed to western Humanism. They argue that we put our atheism and agnosticism before humanitarianism and a political drive to kick-start history again. By challenging religion, we are wasting time that could be more effectively used fighting for the suffering minorities around us.
Silo directly rejects the "naturalism" of the Humanist "Manifestos" of 1933 and 1974. He dislikes them because they were supported by John Dewey, Andre Sakharov and Corliss Lamont. Quite why Silo dislikes these men is not made clear. His opposition to "naturalism" indicates that he regards humanity as above nature, a view which is strongly reflected in his hostile attitude to the Green Party policies on the ecology. Silo opposes the European Green movement for its accusation that humanity has endangered the ecosphere. Silo criticises the environmentalists for not seeing damage to the ecosphere purely in terms of the environment being needed to support human life. "Instead, to them, the only problem is that human beings have damaged nature." This dismissive, derisive statement explains why Siloists have adopted the Green Party name in some places and caused confusion for environmentalists. They believe that the Greens are opposed to preserving human life when they shout out "Earth first!" Silo regards the work of the Greens as a near-Nazi hysterical crusade. The Greens are described as exercising Bad Faith, and putting other considerations before future human development. Silo also writes that "humanism believes in intention and freedom, it distinguishes between error and bad faith, between one who is mistaken and one who is a traitor." To Silo, the Green Party and other environmentalists in being concerned for all species rather than exclusively for superior humanity are in bad faith, and therefore to be regarded as traitors to their species. When humanists start calling other human beings traitors for not playing by their rules, something is very wrong. Such a view is one that very few western humanists will agree with. I have evidence of the steps which Siloists have taken to damage the European Green Party's promotion of ecological and environmental polices. Siloists have stood on political platforms as alternative "Green Party" candidates alongside genuine ones, confusing voters and damaging the credibility of the Greens. Western humanists may or may not always agree with the Greens, but few could doubt that their sincere concern for the environment is in everyone's interest and hardly constitutes an act of bad faith or betrayal. Silo argues aggressively that Humanists (i.e. Siloists) always put the overcoming of human hunger before "being seen worrying about seal-clubbing."
Silo on Western Humanism:
"One need not look far to see how the right wing functions as a political instrument of anti-humanism. Dishonesty and Bad Faith reach such extremes that some exponents periodically present themselves as representatives of "humanism". Take, for example, those cunning clerics who claim to theorise on the basis of "theocentric humanism." These people, who invented religious wars and inquisitions, who put to death the very founders of western humanism, are now attempting to appropriate the very virtues of their victims. They have recently gone so far as to 'forgive the errors' of those historical humanists, and so shameless is their semantic banditry that these representatives of anti-humanism even try to cloak themselves in the term ' Humanist'"
This hateful paragraph needs careful analysis. Bad Faith is defined by Silo as treason, often wilful, against the Humanist (Siloist) cause. Theocentric is used here to characterise western humanists as being too preoccupied with issues of atheism or agnosticism to promote the cause of the whole human race. Though these words attack mainly clerics and priests, they are easily misread by many as a reference to our own form of Humanism, too, which Silo acknowledges only in the context of the manifestos. Denouncing religion and its critics is a somewhat theocentric preoccupation by Silo himself. Quite what is being forgiven as an error is not clear, and this accusation implies that Silo has not got a particularly forgiving nature either. The final implication that western humanists are conspiratorial semantic bandits who only pretend to be humanists is absurd. It is, however, quite apparent from such assertions against environmentalists and western humanists, that Silo sees no legitimate future whatever for either movement.
Silo is critical of the opponents of religious cults and new movements, arguing that the claim of brainwashing made about such cults come chiefly from "experts" who are usually atheists, and from the "dominant sects of their area." Silo has himself been accused of being a cult leader in Britain, Spain, Canada and Germany. The majority of people involved in promoting awareness of the dangers posed by the new cults are actually not experts or atheists, but the ex-members of the very cults under the spotlight. My own position as an ex-cultist and atheist is a rare one. I meet very few ex-cultists who are opposed to religious extremism, literalism and intolerance as a whole concept.
With the casual use in their literature of such words as "treason" for their rivals and critics, I believe strongly that Silo and his followers should be regarded by western humanists with some suspicion.
A note on sources
The Humanist Movement in protesting against its bad press advises that no one should believe what they read in the papers. If the only story about them was in a sensationalist tabloid this might be true, but the sources of criticism I have seen vary greatly and to date come from five countries: Britain, Spain, Canada, Netherlands, Germany.
Two Editions of FAIR News summarise media stories from I990 and . incorporate references to the Ealing Gazette, l6 Feb. I990, reporting political activity and complaints by the people whom recruits approached in Ealing. Problems are mentioned as arising in Spain also. FAIR refer to Varsity, a Cambridge Student Union report, l9 October I990, and to a Berlin Free University student research paper, and to a report by Pastor Friedrich Haack, a Lutheran priest and cult investigator. Reliability is high. FAIR are careful to ensure that quoted sources are as accurate as possible, since many cults will sue for misrepresentation.
Silowatch Canada - fragment of a letter from a Canadian Humanist who was researching Siloism and found several areas of concern.
Siloist literature - fragments and bits from various sources: support claims of campaigning against the Greens elsewhere. International Humanist News - brief warning in the Nettie column of July 1993 on the confusion caused by the Siloist Humanist Party in Spain.
In short, too many different sources to ignore any longer.
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