The Thirteenth World Humanist Congress, held in Mexico City from November 14 to 19, 1996, brought together 250 humanists from six continents to discuss the theme “Global Humanism for the Cyber Age.” The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) Congress, co-organized by FREE INQUIRY and the Asociación Mexicana Etica Racionalista, was a groundbreaking achievement in many ways. It was the first to be held in the developing world, as well as the first to be held in a Spanish-speaking country. It was also the first world humanist congress to discuss and make use of computers and the internet, making computers linked to the World Wide Web available to the conference-goers.
The Congress covered diverse topics, but there were two recurrent themes: the need for humanist values in the developing world and the future impact of the “Infomedia Revolution” spawned by the rapid advances of telecommunications and computer technology. Leading speakers included exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin, Israeli politician and civil rights campaigner Shulamit Aloni, philosopher Mario Bunge, and computer software “guru” Richard Stallman.
The disparate nature of the developing world was reflected in the contributions of speakers from such diverse countries as Bangladesh, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Nepal, Peru, and Turkey as well as Mexico. There were also many common themes that arose: the necessity of empowering women, not only as an end in itself, but also as a means to limiting population growth and improving the quality of life for all; the intrinsic connections between apparently separate goals such as democracy, secularism, human rights, and peace; and the importance of education and the media as tools to help achieve all these aims.
The subject of the “Infomedia Revolution” may seem remote from the developing world, but in fact, it is central to any long-term analysis of global development. The “Infomedia Revolution” that has been taking place in last the five to ten years, especially in the United States, is making obsolete many aspects of existing development models. My personal impression from the Congress in Mexico is that humanists are only just beginning to address these issues.
Mexico’s first international humanist congress was a great success for the Mexican humanist movement. The media coverage for the Congress was phenomenal, with scores of newspaper articles, radio programs, and television reports. And the meetings attracted many new Mexican members. The Congress should prove to be a springboard for the future growth of the Mexican humanists.
The Congress was also an important achievement for the international humanist movement. As well as being a good meeting, it confirmed the growth of humanism into a truly global movement and laid the groundwork for many future projects and initiatives. As the co-organizer of the Congress with Patricia Lopez Zaragoza, I would like to thank her and all the staff, volunteers, speakers and participants who made this Congress such a productive and enjoyable celebration of global humanism.