Plurality is a Strength – Not a Weakness
In recent years the gbs directorate has repeatedly received comments from journalists, politicians, and gbs members who subjected the statements or actions of individual gbs advisers to harsh criticism and demanded their exclusion from the foundation. With such complaints having occurred frequently in the second half of 2015, the directorate published a statement explaining the guidelines of the foundation's policy.
From the framework model of evolutionary humanism on which the Giordano Bruno Foundation is based, we can derive not only a certain view of the world, but also a corresponding organizational principle. Anyone who thinks evolutionarily should develop a healthy skepticism towards the "concept of centralistic control", which overestimates the ability to plan complex processes and underestimates the importance of historical coincidences and the creative potential of individuals.
As evolutionary humanists, we do not believe in centralist control and rigid hierarchies, but rather in the idea of the "grassroots revolution". For this reason we also let our regional and university groups choose their topics and actions independently. This has repeatedly generated wonderful new ideas for projects that we in the "gbs headquarters" would probably never have come up with.
The same freedom that we grant to the gbs regional groups is of course also granted to our members, not least our advisers. It would be completely contrary to the spirit of the Giordano Bruno Stiftung for us to want to monitor or even discipline them in any way. Moreover, such an "inquisitory" policy would destroy the very potentials that made the Giordano Bruno Stiftung what it is today: a small but subtle, remarkably effective "free association" of clever, creative minds that advance the guiding principles of humanism and enlightenment.
With such a "free association" there is no "group compulsion" and also no "clan liability". It would therefore be absurd to hold the advisers responsible for the activities of the foundation and vice versa. In this context, it is important to keep in mind that our advisers usually act on their own behalf – not on behalf of the foundation.
In fact, there is a wide range of opinions within the gbs on some issues. We do not consider this to be a fundamental problem. On the contrary, such differences of opinion are, in our opinion, even helpful, since they a) help to refine one's own position and b) prevent sectarian uniformity from developing within the foundation, which would be incompatible with the "principle of critical rationality" we advocate. A certain form of plurality is therefore, we believe, a strength - not a weakness.
Advisers who represent minority positions within the foundation on specific issues are generally well aware of this. As long as they can live with the fact that some of their positions contradict the foundation's official position, we, as those responsible for the foundation, can do the same. Since freedom of expression is of precious value for us, we would only go so far as to exclude a member of the advisory board as a "notorious deviator" ("heretic"?) in an extreme emergency. Instead, we prefer to clarify the official gbs position, which is the responsibility of the directorate and the board of trustees, by making statements and activities as clear and unmistakable as possible. The foundation only takes responsibility for these explicit gbs statements and actions - not for the actions or statements of our advisers, who have by no means given up their right to their own opinion, which may differ from the "mainstream" of the foundation, with their membership in the gbs advisory board.
Regarding the criticism's substance
The complaints received by the foundation's directorate in recent months related to five subject areas: 1. gender studies/feminism, 2. homosexuality, 3. criticism of Islam/debate on refugees, 4. communication policy, 5. animal rights/veganism. In the following, we will outline the foundation's positions in these areas, making it clear which statements of advisory members may have contradicted the official principles of the foundation. We deliberately refrain from including names, since we refuse to discipline our members for essential reasons as stated above (which does not mean that members of the foundation may not harshly criticize other members - but they should do so as individuals, not as gbs representatives).
Example 1: "gender studies/feminism":
Some members of the Giordano Bruno Stiftung criticize culturalist positions within gender studies, which underestimate or even completely negate the importance of biological sex. Such a culturalistic disregard for biological factors contradicts the framework model of evolutionary humanism (see, for instance, the first volume of the gbs series "On the Way to Unity of Knowledge. The evolution of the theory of evolution and the dangers of biologism and culturalism"). However, of course, a biological disregard for cultural factors can also lead to serious misjudgements that are incompatible with the evolutionary-humanistic viewpoint (also pointed out in volume 1 of the gbs series). It is especially problematic if normative demands are derived from biologistic or culturalistic misjudgements which contradict the ethical "basic principle of the equal consideration of equal interests", which can be observed at least with some genderists (usually women), but also with some anti-genderists (usually men).
Despite the gbs directorate's critical attitude towards the culturalist (i.e. "anti-naturalist") arguments advanced by some strands of feminism, they consider it fundamentally wrong to deny the great importance of the women's rights movement in the struggle against patriarchal values and for a more open society based on solidarity. Not without reason does Olympe de Gouges appear in the finale of the gbs film "In Humanity We Trust" (at about minute 40) alongside Giordano Bruno as THE martyr of the enlightenment and emancipation movement.
In our brochures we have also repeatedly stressed the importance of the women's rights movement and the topic of "equality between men and women", for example in our latest brochure "The Legend of the Christian Western World", which states on page 9: "But the heritage of the Enlightenment only truly begins to blossom from the middle of the 20th century onwards (...). The feminist movement opposes the idea of male supremacy that is found in the "holy scriptures”, and paragraphs concerning Christian morality are eliminated from criminal law (for example the "coupling clause”, which made it illegal to provide rooms for "indecent acts” between unmarried persons, or Section 175 of the German penal code against homosexual behaviour.)"
The preceding brochure "Self-determination instead of Group Pressure" (only available in German) declares in the section "No false tolerance" that misogynistic and homophobic attitudes must not be tolerated under any circumstances. The cover of the brochure is even more important: The image of the young woman tearing off her headscarf (which we produced in 2007/2008 for the 1st Critical Islam Conference) has been adopted in recent years by Arab women's rights activists worldwide to attack the (religiously justified) subordination of women to men. In Iran, in particular, the image had enormous symbolic power and led to a widely acclaimed campaign in which women were photographed without headscarves (see: https://www.facebook.com/gbs.org/videos/vb.135579333135073/1260305490662446/).
Example 2: "homosexuality":
Biologistic and culturalistic misjudgements all too often lead to a devaluation/discrimination of homosexual people. The Giordano Bruno Stiftung has criticized this repeatedly. It was with good reason that the gbs was the first organization outside the LGBT scene to support the appeal to Chancellor Merkel to open up marriage. It participated in appeals for the rehabilitation of the victims of §175 of the German Penal Code (StGB) ("anti-gay paragraph") and criticized the unequal treatment of heterosexual and homosexual people in numerous publications, including the campaign "Gegen religiöse Diskriminierung am Arbeitsplatz" (GerDiA - "Against religious discrimination in the workplace"). Just how deeply the gbs supports the cause of the LGBT movement can be read from the eulogy given by gbs spokesman Michael Schmidt-Salomon to Ralf König (the world's most successful cartoonist of explicitly gay comics - and also a gbs advisor). Should individual gbs members actually express themselves in a way that could be interpreted as homophobic, this would be their sole responsibility - the clear positioning of the Giordano Bruno Stiftung in this matter is in no way challenged by such aberrations.
Example 3: "criticism of Islam/refugee debate":
The Giordano Bruno Stiftung opposes Islamism AND xenophobia. In the debate on refugees it has taken a decidedly humanistic and secularist standpoint, focussing on the "principle of an open society" (see: /meldung/saekularismus-fluechtling...). In order to establish this viewpoint in politics and society to a greater extent, the Giordano Bruno Stiftung cooperated both with ex-Muslim Islam critics and with liberal Islam reformers. Both frequently caused indignation: Some accused the gbs of going too far in its criticism of Islam, others complained that we did not go far enough.
We consider both as expressions of ideological delusion. In our understanding the political debate is not about the question whether one is FOR or AGAINST Muslims, but rather about whether one supports progressive, liberal Muslims or whether one abandons them in their fight against a fascist, political Islam (anyone who denies its existence obviously suffers from perception problems)! Thus, if people within the gbs environment adopt positions that equate criticism of Islam with anti-Muslim hostility or, conversely, if they promote anti-Muslim hostility as criticism of Islam, it should be clear that such positions have nothing (and absolutely nothing!) to do with the philosophy of the Giordano Bruno Stiftung.
Example 4: "communication policy":
The Giordano Bruno Stiftung is independent of political parties and adheres to positions that could be described as "left-liberal" in the broadest sense (if such categories can still be considered meaningful in the first place). Nevertheless, it cannot be avoided that gbs opinions or actions are sometimes (often in a shortened, distorted form) used by groups of other political orientations. The gbs tries to limit such "outside uses" as far as possible by not cooperating with organizations or media which, for example, are located in the "right-wing spectrum".
However, the Foundation cannot - and does not want to - impose such a "communication policy" on its members. After all, there are other communicative approaches (e.g. in the English-speaking world) that assume that all platforms (especially those that are politically distant) should be used to advance social debate. In any case, one should avoid "intellectual short-circuits" in this context (which unfortunately are often found in social networks): Of course, the fact that person X is speaking at an event of the organization Y does not mean that X sympathizes with Y in any way. In other contexts most people understand this: Nobody would think of Michael Schmidt-Salomon as a supporter of Catholicism just because he often speaks at events of the Catholic Church. Why would this be different in political contexts?
Example 5: "animal rights/veganism":
The Giordano Bruno Stiftung considers it necessary - for ethical, social, ecological, and economic reasons - to reduce the current level of meat consumption. However, there is no consensus within the Foundation as to whether this necessarily leads to a requirement for a vegan (or at least vegetarian) diet. In contrast to many other ethical issues, the differences among the foundation members on this topic are (still) so large that it is not possible to define an official foundation position.
There is consensus, however (even if a few foundation members would prefer otherwise), that the framework model of evolutionary humanism necessarily calls for a more responsible approach to the non-human animal world. For this reason, the Giordano Bruno Stiftung relaunched the Great Ape Project, which overcomes the sacrosanct dividing line between humans and non-human animals (see for example www.giordano-bruno-stiftung.de/en/news/relaunch-great-ape-project or www.giordano-bruno-stiftung.de/en/news/constitutional-goal-speciesism).
Complaints in this area referred to the fact that some advisers (partly also regional groups) were "taking animal ethical demands too seriously" and promoting a "vegan dictatorship" or, conversely, that animal ethical demands "were not being taken seriously at all" and advisers or regional groups were following the "dictate of carnism". As already noted: As an evolutionary-humanistic foundation, we cannot and do not want to discipline our advisers. Neither in the field of nutrition nor in any other field.
While we understand that people are appalled by individual statements made by individual advisers and believe that "such a person does not belong on the advisory board of the Giordano Bruno Stiftung", we hope that these remarks demonstrate why a free-thinking organisation should only sanction free thinking in extreme emergencies. The Giordano Bruno Stiftung is and remains a "free association" of lateral thinkers, in which there is no "inquisition", no "factional compulsion" and also no "Sippenhaft".
Herbert Steffen / Michael Schmidt-Salomon, December 2015