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by Zelda Leah Gatuskin

About This Collection

As an introduction to myself and the short and medium-length essays contained in the four parts of this collection, I have included a rather lengthy text. It is adapted from a talk I delivered to the Humanist Society of New Mexico in 2009, and then in expanded form at the 2010 National Conference of the American Humanist Association. (HSNM is a chapter of the AHA.) It marks the inception of all of the writing that follows; as well, it was a significant factor in my being recruited to leadership roles with both groups.

"Art and Religion and Science and Reason" begins with some background about my Jewish upbringing, my life as a creative artist, how I became a publisher, and my serendipitous path to humanism, the Humanist Society of New Mexico and the American Humanist Association. My central thesis is that the Fine Arts have been neglected in contemporary humanist thought and activism in favor of the Sciences. Probing for the cause of this Science-Art imbalance while I prepared my case, I hit a nerve that has yet to be quieted -- the realization that the chauvinism of Science over Art is of a piece with the overall, all-pervasive, chauvinism that marks Western society. With that clarifying idea, my feminist zeal was reawakened. Fortunately, the AHA's Feminist Caucus (now called the Feminist Humanist Alliance) was there to receive me.

Not long after that 2010 conference and my discovery of the AHA's feminist adjunct, I was nominated for president of the Humanist Society of New Mexico. Since that tends not to be a contested position, I was duly elected to a two-year term; then my other arm was twisted, and I was elected to a second term. One of my reasons for deciding to accept, twice, such a demanding task was this: In order to improve the status of women, we need more women in more leadership positions. That means that when an opportunity comes around for a woman to lead, she ought to accept. So, I practiced what I preached, and the experience gave me the courage to keep on preaching.

The essays of Parts 1 through 4 are chronological within each section, and the parts themselves are roughly sequential or overlapping. The writing spans the period from January 2011 to mid-September 2016.

During the four years of my HSNM presidency, I wrote a column every month for our Newsletter. Parts 1 and 3 contain a selection of those essays. They were written to inform and motivate our members, and to engage newcomers with a practical, positive example or explanation of humanist philosophy.

At this same time, I was also increasing my involvement with the AHA, leading to my stepping in to fill a Feminist Caucus co-chair position from mid-2012 through mid-2014. This resulted in my creating a blog titled "The Tree" for my feminist-humanist essays and related media analysis. I have gathered the most significant of these into Parts 2 and 4 of this collection. I continued the blog series into 2016; but as the U.S. presidential election neared, I found myself unwilling to contribute more words to the avalanche of opinion and analysis coming from every quarter. I had repeatedly offered strong critiques of our popular culture, media and politics. On the subject of women's rights, I felt there was nothing more to say-- Except, maybe, "I told you so," and no one wants to hear that.

Now, with the passage of time, I find that the writing is still relevant. The issues are certainly still close to my heart. In combining selections from my newsletter pieces with the blog posts, I notice that they are all spin-offs, one way or another, from my "Art and Religion and Science and Reason" presentation. In lending my voice to the feminist-humanist movement, I have continued to draw from my studies in visual art and media literacy to expose the underlying themes, motives and methods of our ubiquitous mass culture. My approach to the essays, as with the talk, has been that of an artist; my goal, to demonstrate how the Arts allow us to explore our complex and conflicted human nature -- and the necessity of doing so.

The new essay in this collection serves as my Conclusion. Whereas the title essay is an appeal for personal empowerment ("If I Could Convince You of Only One Thing, It Would Be This: Value Yourself"), the concluding essay, "A Philosophy for Everyone," offers a practical, positive approach to getting along better as a society.

Finally, I have included as an Appendix the complete text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was a topic of one of my early humanist essays.

All of the opinions expressed in this book are my own and not offered on behalf of either the Humanist Society of New Mexico or the American Humanist Association. I am deeply grateful to both groups for valuing my voice and entrusting me with responsibilities that required me to be more organized in my thinking and direct in my communications. I was honored to work among many caring, accomplished and influential people, from bona-fide celebrities, to community movers and shakers, to an array of dedicated volunteers quietly contributing their skills and energy to bettering our world. I am deeply appreciative of everyone who encouraged, challenged, educated and inspired me along the way. I hope this collection will inspire in turn.

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© 2018, Zelda Leah Gatuskin

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