Somebody famous once said,“Trust your instincts; then your mistakes will be your own. Instinct is a better guide to truth than reason.”
That somebody famous was Federico Fellini, closely approximating something he once heard the director Billy Wilder say. Fellini admired the sentiment and I do too.
Now, because Top 10 lists are naturally subjective—notoriously so—a fair slug of instinct must be used in compiling one. I had issues with a certain film on the list in this issue’s cover story, “Reel to Real: Ten Classics in Humanist Cinema,” by Nick Farrantello and suggested replacing it with the 1997 film Contact. This is part of his reply:
Carl Sagan is fantastic. I‘ve read all of his books more than once. Cosmos was mind blowing. The novel Contact was astounding. But, I’m sorry to say I thought the movie Contact was just ok. I didn’t think director Robert Zemeckis captured the awesome wonder of the novel (despite Jodie Foster’s prolonged staring). Intellectually the movie hits all the right themes. But if we are to get our message out, it is just as important to appeal to people’s guts, as well as their minds. The cacophony of the new media has thrust us into a visceral age. We need to push humanism out of its high-backed leather chair and force it to shave its beard. Our memes must scream with emotion or they will be buried in the ocean of ideas crashing down on us every day. I think Sagan would agree. Ok, actually I have no idea whether Sagan would agree.
I know Fellini would, and Wilder too. I also feel sure you’ll find something great in each of the ten films included on the list. Readers may be pleasantly surprised as well to learn that humanist cinema is a burgeoning niche, evidenced by the first ever Freethought Film Festival held in Tampa, Florida, this past spring and covered here in the Humanist Interview with its founder, Andrea Steele.
And for your further entertainment, we have our heads examined in Valerie Barbaro’s investigative jaunt into the world of cryogenics and Rick Heller’s deeply compelling case for conditioning our brains to do more with less.
Quick story on a final note: I recently got a call from a reader wondering what happened to the social justice component of the American humanist movement, which in its modern inception in the 1930s was decidedly socialist. The following week another reader complained that there are plenty of Republican humanists out there and could we please stick to church-state issues and cease trying to be so much like Mother Jones?
I share this not to suggest that the two complaints cancel each other out but to reinforce the idea brought out in the issue at hand—namely, that humanists are head cases because we’re human (big brain and all). And like all humans we’re each unique. But as an organized group we can be such a discordant lot. In short, you can’t please all of the humanists all of the time, and that’s how it should be. Ain’t that the instinctual truth.
Jennifer Bardi is the editor of the Humanist.