A new academic year has dawned and campus, as ever, is flooded with the light of new ideas. There are second years and third years vying for exec positions, and planning the “tactical usurp”, while freshers run frantically from meeting to meeting attempting to justify the £5 they paid to join whichever society it was they thought vaguely interested them. Everyone hoping to make their own mark on their society of choice.
Lancaster has many societies, they are active and productive, and serve to create social groups of people with a mutual passion. However, beyond these generic advantages of having university societies, how much do clubs and groups really give back to the student body, campus, and society in general?
Apart from individual charities, religions, and political parties, nothing much of values arises from students’ time and energy. You may say, “how else can students give back?” and you would have a point. Maybe it’s asking too much to expect students to involve themselves in everything. When you actually consider what charitable organisations students join, one may decide to join Amnesty, while another joins Oxfam. Surely this is a good thing, many different charities benefiting from the student generosity? The more charities helped: the more people helped. In reality however, this divides the market. The potential fundraisers or activists who charities are competing for will only choose to be active in a select few organisations.
The main reason for this is that societies communicate via mailing lists, and only very rarely do people sign up for all the charity mailing lists. It might be better to have a system whereby a student signs up to a general group which then notifies them of any major charity events. However, the group itself shouldn’t be directly billed as a charity, so that it doesn’t dominate the market, and those that wish to be committed to any individual charity can still do so. To aid this, the group could perform other functions, to both attract members and to avoid detracting attention from the existing charities.
This concept of an umbrella institution is not so alien. It’s called the Christian Union, and must be praised for it's contribution to campus. The problem though with the Christian Union being this overarching organisation which reaches a large number in order to spread a message of wellbeing, is that it targets a shrinking demographic. There are just not enough Christians on campus to allow the CU to significantly aid the success of all charities. The number of students on campus who are not religious, on the other hand, is very high. If enough of these students could be encouraged to join an inclusive ethically driven organisation, then the reach of all charities could increase by volumes.
No new society could hope to entice all students on to its mailing list, and in doing so make a whole new sphere of undergraduates aware of charity events... but it could try. I propose that the Lancaster University Humanists Association could be the alternative society that attempts to do that. The society represents moral members who wish to discuss issues from ethics to politics, and so would be an ideal system to extend the reach of charities if it were successful. The society is not designed to be a fundraising organisation, but it would be hypocritical of any society that aims to provide an alternative to religion not to take on the positive attributes of those institutions. Religions are seen to be organisations that give to the poor, help the needy, and encourage people to consider a moral code. To a degree humanism can run by that same model; we can aid charities, and encourage the discussion of morality. Without wanting to force any moral code on individuals we can debate issues and invite guest speakers, and through a rational and open discourse each create or refine our own moral codes, and encourage others to reflect on theirs. Moral philosophy should not just be morality for philosophers, but instead should provide the foundations for morality in general society.
Let’s take what religion is perceived to do well: altruism. And show that you can be good for the sake of being good.
“A humanist is someone who does good things even though no one is watching”
Dick McMahon 2004