Friday, October 28, 2005

BIC is Back

The BIC is Back and On Track

By John Taylor; 28 October, 2005

The Baha'i International Community, the UHJ's presence at the UN, has
issued a new statement called "The Search for Values in an Age of
Transition" to mark the international body's 60th birthday. Check it
out at: <> These periodic
statements are for Baha'is like encyclicals or Vatican councils for
Catholics, a challenge and a stimulus to thought, not to say
controversy. This one may be the best timed statement yet. Just about
everybody is saying that there have to be major changes in the
structure of the UN, so who knows?, this time somebody in high places
may pay attention. There is an excellent summary of the BIC's main
points at the Baha'i World News Service:


Reading over what the BIC says here I was quite startled at the
boldness of their proposals. There is nothing mealy mouthed about this
statement! The only way they could have improved it would have been to
hire a cartoonist or a Michael Moore-like documentary filmmaker to
illustrate their points and bring them to life before the masses. But
the masses are not at all what the UN is all about, and that is part
of the problem. Anyway, today let us go through the parts that hit me
the hardest. Here is one proposal they put forward:

-- That "healthy democracy must be founded on the principle of the
equality of men and women" and efforts by member states to promote
democracy must therefore "vigilantly work for the inclusion of women
in all facets of governance in their respective countries."

A few weeks ago I suffered through an excruciating two hour PBS
documentary, a blow-by-blow history of the disastrous Middle East
negotiations for settlement of the Palestinian question during the
past decade. The political football went to one male leader who would
fumble it and it the next man took it and he would fumble again, and
the next and the next. It did not matter who had it, he would let it
slip out of his hands and they would all be back at square one, or
worse. It did not matter if the male maven was an American, an Israeli
or a Palestinian, they were all messing up and the tougher they got
the worse blunders they made.

If this was a football match the bleachers would be empty long before
the whistle blew. Yet it was a show run by men in the testosterone
charged style that men love. Their maleness dug right into the
atmosphere of violence and made it worse with every move they made; it
acted like poles of a magnet, pushing them all apart no matter how
much they pretended to push to get together. Both of the past two
administrations of the world's superpower were utterly determined to
enforce some kind of a peace and both failed miserably. I kept
screaming at the television screen:

"Why am I seeing only men on both sides here? For God's sake, why not
just pick out a group of ten women from both sides and let them take a
shot at it? I don't care if it is the least educated five Israeli
women and the five least qualified Palestinian women, no matter how
bad they are they cannot possibly be worse than these clowns!"

Okay, John, calm down. Let us take it slow and start back at the start.

Not surprisingly, the BIC start off their statement with oneness of
humanity. Nations that ignore the interests of all nations are
ignoring their own best interest. The UN itself and its
accomplishments over six decades are part of an overall evolution away
from absolute state sovereignty towards shared sovereignty, in other
words, peace and universal democracy. In other words, female-style
leadership. Don't get me started.

Here is a shocker, especially for anybody who has even heard of the
Middle East: the BIC calls for "the United Nations to affirm
unequivocally an individual's right to change his or her religion
under international law." Yeah, right. Let us say the UN does adopt
this resolution and it transpires that it was the Baha'is who
suggested it. The next thing that will happen is that a Baha'i from
anywhere in the world will be able to fly to just about anywhere in
the Middle East and as soon as they get off the plane they will be
immediately hoisted onto the shoulders of a grateful population and
carried about to cheers and general acclaim. We will be feted and
dined and there will be tears of affection in every eye, a feast of
wit, reason and soul all around. I can hardly wait to see it happen.

Anyway, the BIC say that failure to place unity first, to make oneness
our first principle and the main talking point at every meeting just
strengthens the forces of division. You cannot get rid of fruit flies
by throwing fruit at them; if we treat problems that feed and breed on
isolation separately, if you think of them in complete isolation from
each another and from our fundamental oneness we only strengthen their
destructive force. Issues they specifically bring up as examples are:
poverty, AIDS, environmental degradation, terrorism, proliferation of
weapons, the role of women, global trade, religion, environmental
sustainability, the well-being of children, corruption, and rights of
minority populations. Bad as such conditions are, they are so only
because we are neglecting the principle two-step: one, seek truth for
yourself, and two, work out what you discover with others, in unity
with the whole.

Living up to our Baha'i reputation as optimists who emphasize the
positive, the BIC points out about a dozen important new international
institutions and conventions founded only in the past 15 years alone.
It is an impressive list and proves that oneness cannot be rationally
debated or questioned, it can only be lived up to.

The big challenge for the UN, and everybody, is that everywhere unity
is being negated and denied. To paraphrase Rousseau, we are born one
but everywhere people are in chains of multiplicity. The BIC ask a
series of questions, like: "Why ... given the dramatic increase of
mechanisms and fora for cooperation is the world so deeply divided
against itself?" Good question. Not because we do not want to be rich,
that is for sure. So we have to realize that conflict ends wealth.
Peace -- they say in effect -- is prosperity and prosperity is peace;
one does not come at the expense of the other. This historical lesson
can be drawn from those sectors of the world economy that are still
thriving: whatever economic progress we have is a direct result of
peace and harmony worked out on levels beyond the national. The Dow
dips when we fight, it soars when we agree.

"The blurring of national boundaries in the face of global crises has
shown, beyond a doubt, that the body of humankind represents one
organic whole."

Our oneness is not globalization, it is not narrow, artificial or
forced, it is the truth, the very nature and essence of the human
condition. If you want a stronger whiff of that essence, check out
this document on the BIC website.

John Taylor

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Service House

The Full Service House

By John Taylor; 27 October, 2005

We think it a little thing but failure to take time for silent
reflection and actively engage in disinterested consultation has big
consequences. I do not hold with conspiracy theories for modern ills,
they are nothing more than neglect, insidious sins of omission. Lack
of spiritual courage, spiritual solitude, and spiritual planning, add
up in no time to horrors, blatant tragedies that the mind cannot
otherwise comprehend. A startling historical example is the phenomenon
of genocide. One of the first modern genocides was the destruction of
the Indians of California. Nobody said, "Hey, let us go and wipe them
out." They did not have to, the usual neglect of essentials,
neglecting understanding of common humanity, neglecting to prosecute
those who wronged and enslaved the Indians, that was all it took to
have them virtually wiped off the face of the earth in less than a

Neglect is a more than adequate explanation of how this architectural
jungle we call the modern city came into being. Experts too
specialized in ivory towers forgot how to consult with other mavens
and the public at large. Buildings and districts split up and a horrid
spatial reductionism divided and conquered our humanity. Neighborhoods
segregated, subdivided off from the rest of the city. Formerly diverse
and vital communities cut off into disparate residential districts,
offices, industrial areas, commercial zones, etc. As a result industry
felt free to pollute as much as was convenient and the health of
suburban residents declined as labor saving devices gave them no
reason ever to use their hands to do anything or their legs to get

In the 1960's there was a massive, worldwide youth movement rebelling
against the "machine," hierarchical, monolithic power structures
implicated in the Cold War. Unfortunately a ready made, networked,
egalitarian alternative was not in the offing. Eventually abuse of
drugs, violence and other excesses by student revolutionaries led many
to seek out alternatives. Some sought retreat by going "back to
nature." People changed how they dressed and how they ate. Many went
off into the wilderness to live as hermits; others followed in the
footsteps of religious monastics by experimenting with communal
living. Their ideal was a leaderless community run by common consent,
a true democracy. Needless to say, not many communes survived an
initial burst of enthusiasm. Those few that did had strong leaders,
often more autocratic than old-style leaders in the society at large.

The inheritors of the commune movement turned out to be Danes and
other Scandinavian architects and planners, who erected entire housing
blocks using communal principles. Indeed, the evolution of communal
dwellings, known as the Kolletivhus, had already started going in the
early 1950's. In his history of housing, Norbert Schoenauer writes,

"One of the first postwar Danish collective houses, Hoje Soborg (1951)
designed by architects P. E. Hoff and B. Windinge, was built in a
Copenhagen suburb, Gladaxe. The 120 dwellings of this five-story
elevator serviced building ranged in size from one to four rooms.
Apart from a doorman, collective services included a common dining
room with central kitchen catering, housekeeping services, a
children's center serving all age groups, two guest rooms for tenant's
visitors, and, at the roof level, common party and meeting rooms with
access to a terrace garden." (6000 years of housing, by Norbert
Schoenauer, WW Norton & Co., New York, 2000, p. 460)

The evolution of collective or communal housing continued until by the
late 1970's an improved version was now called a "service house." One
in development in Stockholm was so popular that it had a waiting list
of 13,000 names. Schoenauer writes,

"Collective habitation is an attractive proposition to many families
and households. A young working couple would find it very convenient
to move into an apartment building where food catering and
housecleaning is available on request. Similarly, a new family,
transferred from their hometown to an unfamiliar city, would find
security in a collective house. Working single parents with preschool
children would benefit greatly from using the in-house day-care and
kindergarten. Elderly couples and retired people too can benefit from
collective services offered in these buildings. In particular, single
people: whether young, middle-aged, or elderly, divorced, or widowed:
are all potential collective house residents who want to live in
comfort without sacrificing their privacy." (Id.)

As a result of the high demand many of these Scandinavian projects
were built too high and large and became overly institutionalized; it
was difficult to maintain a homey atmosphere in a high-rise. In North
America there was little effort to see that these in home services
reached one jot or title further than a tiny minority who could afford

"If Otto Fick were alive today, and he visited an American family
living in a luxury apartment complex like Chicago's River city, a
building with 24 hour doorman service and amenities such as swimming
pool, sauna, exercise room, rooftop party room, and roof gardens as
well as food delivery from an in-house restaurant, he would insist the
River city is a Kollektivhus, although in reality it is a mixed-use
development. In fact, most American luxury apartment buildings offer
services to the residents that are similar to those of collective
habitation. But Fick's original intention of making similar services
accessible to moderate or lower income groups remains just a dream."
(Ib., 460-462)

This dream I share with Fick; I long to see a collective or service
house attractive to both rich and poor. Every service house in every
part of the world should have the same facilities built in and offer
the same range of collective services, such as communal gardens,
kitchens, dining and childcare, cleaning services delivered the home,
and closely available, participatory education and entertainment. Such
flexibility and universality should be the goal of the structure of
mound architecture. The chief problem so far with service houses is
how to maintain both unity of thought and economic viability. As for
the latter, Schoenauer writes,

"Experience shows that moderate sized collective house, with 60 to 100
dwellings and collective services limited exclusively to residents,
may be desirable from a social point of view but unrealistic
economically. Moderate sized collective habitation is only viable if
the residents are willing to operate it communally, as is the case in
low-rise communal houses such as Bofaellesskaber, in Denmark, or in a
mixed-use apartment building where collective services are provided by
in-house commercial outlets." (Ib., 460)

I see no reason not to have both communal services and commercial
enterprises operating simultaneously in what is being called
"co-opetition" (cooperative competition, where rivals participate in
agreeing upon common standards, a phenomenon now restricted to the
world of high technology corporations). It would be easy to tweak
residency rules to enforce economic and racial diversity, and give
various credits and funding to those who find ways to contribute.

A rich or employed resident might pay cash for services in order to
save time and effort, for example to have a fresh salad served each
day. Meanwhile the poorer residents of a service house might
participate full time in the growing, preparing or serving of that
salad. The essential is that everyone have not only equal access to a
standard, high quality diet with all proper nutrients -- that is, a
salad with every meal -- but also all should have their own
productivity increased by having access to all the time saving devices
and services presently available only for the very rich.

In a healthy service house neighborhood there would not be as hard a
division between employment and unemployment, between working and
being retired or disabled. A person who loses his or her job would
make ends meet just by spending more time in neighborhood collective
gardens, kitchens, shops or other facilities. Subsistence living in
cooperative services would be a last resort for the skilled and a way
to enter into the community for the interloper and immigrant. service
houses so that all would have access.

The big wrench in the works for communal housing is political; it is
very hard for a group of varied opinions and outlooks to arrive at a
democratic decision. The few communal projects that have endured have
very little diversity. Schoenauer points out:

"Communal housing groups seem to function best, and with less
friction, if their members share similar values and have similar
backgrounds. This is one of the reasons they are so successful in
Denmark, a country with a culturally homogeneous population. It is
tempting to compare the members of communal housing to a large
extended family or a clan, but there are two basic distinctions: (1)
membership is voluntary, and (2) there is no patriarch or leader and
all important decisions are made democratically." (Ibid., 466)

While everybody likes the ideal of a full participatory democracy, in
practice consulting is slow drudgery, consuming much time and energy
and -- let us face it -- it is extremely boring for most people most
of the time. Participants who try to spice up the deliberations only
stir up contention, which tears away the roots of the whole tree. This
is a huge problem, one that has to be approached from several angles.
My point is only that we cannot neglect it, as the poor Californian
Indians were neglected. Indeed, aboriginal peoples and their
traditions of small informal consultation may make them a great
resource for learning to love democratic problem solving. This is a
point that Schoenauer refers to in summing up the educational
advantages of one experiment in communal housing, Bofaellesskaber.

"First, individuals have the option at all times either to enjoy the
privacy of their own homes or to engage in social activities the
community's common areas. Second, these residential communities foster
voluntary social interaction as well as social and environmental
responsibility; most communities practice composting and recycling.
Last, but not least, they foster first-hand experience in harmonious
communal living: not unlike members of band-type food gathering
societies, they learn to compromise after realizing that what is good
for the individual may not always be in the best interests of the
community." (Ib., 466)

John Taylor

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Footnotes II Silent Road

Silent Road
In the light of personal experience

by Wellesley Tudor Pole
(no date or publisher given)

From Chapter 3, A Personal Note
p. 134

A Case of Intervention

One such instance may be worth recording. When lying gravely wounded
in the hills around Jerusalem in December I917 I prayed for guidance
or that my end might come. 'Someone' knelt down beside me and gave me
instructions through which my safety was ultimately to be assured. It
may be of interest to give the story in some detail, based on notes
set down in a Cairo hospital soon after the event in question.

The Saving Presence

It had been a sunny blue day and the scenery was glorious. It was
Sunday, December 2nd, 1917 -- a fort- night before the fall of
Jerusalem to Allenby's armies.

We were ordered at 8 p.m. to start creeping up the hill of Beit el
Fokka a dozen miles north-west of the city and almost overlooking its
outskirts. The night was dark; in places the boulders were almost
insurmountable. We were able to advance only a few yards at a time.
The men (drawn from the Devon Yeomanry, dismounted) were cheery, for
they knew little of what lay ahead; only the officers knew, and I for
one was satisfied that the enterprise was desperate. The summit of the
hill was but half a mile away, though about five hundred feet above us
in actual height. We lay down and waited for the rising of the moon.
Waiting under such circumstances was not pleasant. The silence was
broken only by the cries of jackals.

Suddenly the moon rose across the hills, turning the country into
fairyland. We could see for miles, away beyond the orange groves down
to the plains and to the sea. It was not long before we were
discovered, for there were Turkish snipers behind each ledge and
boulder and in the trees. Machine-guns were hidden cleverly at the
entrance to caves and ravines; high above were the breastworks on the
hill crest, then a bare plateau without cover, and finally the rough
walls of an old Roman village on the summit. The first wave of men
began to creep forward. The force I commanded was in the second wave,
and we followed on, just a few yards every five minutes.... In the
distance we heard a few stray shots, and then silence. Suddenly chaos
was let loose. Shrapnel burst over our heads- machine-gun bullets
rained down upon us and how any men in the first wave escaped I cannot
tell. The moonlight was in our eyes; we could not fire back
accurately. Turkish guns two miles away on another high ledge began to
bombard us, and we could not hear our own voices. Men began to fall;
some crumpled up without a cry, while others groaned in agony and then
lay still. The first wave needed reinforcements, so I took my men up
into the front line, running and leaping over and around the rocks,
then falling flat to recover breath....

Water was scarce in both armies, and we were fighting for it--fighting
for two wells in an old Roman village on the hilltop. Bullets whistled
past us, whirred through the air above. We reached the front line one
hundred and fifty feet below the hill-crest, fixed bayonets, and leapt
forward on to the crouching Turks.

It was a terrible moment....

I do not give details because as I jumped over the crest an interior
form of guidance began and I was lifted in consciousness above the
blood and hell around us. I gathered my men together. The enemy, who
had been driven temporarily off the hilltop, swarmed up through the
trees under cover of machine-gun fire which raked the ledge on which
we lay. We tried vainly to fire over it and down while we flattened
ourselves out on the hard rock. Suddenly a score of shrieking Turks
jumped on to the ledge, but they never went back. Hundreds were behind
them, led by officers dressed in British khaki, shouting in quite good
English 'Don't shoot I Don't shoot!'

Orders came not to advance, so we lay there, to be picked off one by
one, our fire going too high and doing little damage.

We could not dig in, for we lay on the bare rock. Then Mills grenades
were sent to us and we pitched them over the ledge more or less
blindly.... Someone stood by me unseen, a guardian who seemed grave
and anxious. I knew my fate would be decided during the next few
minutes. I called for reinforcements, and half stood up. There was a
Turkish sniper in a high tree just visible below but we could not move
him. Wails from the enemy came from the woods below, but there was
silence on the ridge--those of us who had been struck were beyond
pain.... I felt a sudden premonition that a decision had been arrived
at as to my own fate. The sniper in the tree fired. I fell on my
knees, wounded. My sergeant came over to see where f was hit, but fell
dead across me, pinning me flat to the ground on that bare
bullet-swept ledge. I was bruised and broken, bleeding freely, unable
to move....

The sun was rising in all its splendour across the hills of Judah, and
there was silence. With pain I raised my head. It was a bitterly cold
morning and there was no sign of life around me. What could I do? I
longed for another bullet, and just then firing began again. The enemy
swept over the hill, bayoneting the wounded, stripping their bodies
and throwing them into the wells to contaminate the water. No one who
showed signs of life was spared. The protection of the sergeant's body
saved me from this final indignity.

Then the unseen presence knelt and told me to lay my head on the
ground. I obeyed, and lay still. I heard a whisper in my ear. The
substance of the message was that I was needed for some other work
later on in life and would not die just then however much I desired to
do so. The experience I was passing through would be valuable,
especially as a test of faith. The ridge on which I lay could not be
held. Had I remained un- wounded, my duty would have kept me upon it
until I was killed.... Later, I heard that no one was left alive
there. My 'guide' had come to a decision how to get me away safely. I
was to be wounded. I was to lie still for some time longer and make no
effort to move whilst my escape was arranged. I must 'obey implicitly,
faith- fully'.

That is all I can remember now, except that the message satisfied me.
I just lay still and waited.... Probably an hour passed, and then I
was 'told' to stir. I raised myself and found that the sergeant's body
and rifle had rolled off me and I was free. Beside me there lay a
strong hooked stick; I have no idea from whence it came. With its help
I drew myself into a position which enabled me to crawl along the
ground, though without any clear sense of direction. Later, through
the intervention of the same 'guide' already referred to, I was led to
a cave where fresh water was available and ultimately to a place of

There is one point about this incident which perhaps is worth
recording. Whilst in hospital, the surgeon in whose charge I was told
me that the bullet had passed right through my body without touching a
vital organ, without severing an artery or breaking any bones, which
fact he considered surprising to the point of being miraculous.

Who decides when intervention of this kind shall be allowed? Who
arranges for an intervener to be avail- able when needed? I have
written earlier in this book about the mystery of premonitions.
Sometimes a pre- monition of a very simple kind can lead to important

The story has often been told of a conversation between two young
officers in Palestine on the eve of battle. This particular experience
took place the night before the incident that I have just related. May
I quote the details here?

The following extract is taken from a pamphlet entitled Round the
World at Nine o'clock.*

The Origin of The Silent Minute
Published by the Big Ben Council, Parliament Mansions, Westminister,
London, S.W.I.

Chapter Four, The Voices

During the fighting in the mountains around Jerusalem early in
December I917, two British officers were discussing the war and its
probable aftermath. The conversation took place in a billet on the
hillside at the mouth of a cave and on the eve of battle. One of the
two, a man of unusual character and vision, realising intuitively that
his days on earth were to be shortened summed up his outlook thus: 'I
shall not come through this struggle, like millions of other men in
this war; it will be still my destiny to go now. You will survive and
live to see a more tragic conflict fought out in every continent and
ocean and in the air. When that time comes remember us. We shall long
to play our part wherever we may be. Give us the opportunity to do so,
for that war for us will be a righteous war. We shall not fight with
material weapons then, but we can help you if you will let us. We
shall be an unseen but mighty army. Give us the chance to pull our
weight. You will still have "time" available as your servant. Lend us
a moment of it each day and through your silence give us our
opportunity. The power of silence is greater than you know. When those
tragic days arrive, do not forget us.'

The above words are quoted from memory and are not literally exact.
Next day the speaker was killed His companion W. T. P. was severely
wounded and left temporarily with the enemy, but managed to get back
to the British lines with an inescapable sense of miraculous delivery.

It was then that the idea of a daily moment of united prayer and
silence was born, now known as the Silent Minute and signalled by the
chiming and striking of Big Ben at nine each evening.

- Is it not strange to think that a movement destined to become so
widespread should owe its birth to the premonitions of a single man as
he prepared to take leave of his life on earth?

History has shown that on many occasions the fate of the human race
has depended on incidents of a seemingly minor character. I suppose
there is a moral to be drawn from this undoubted fact. It is
reasonable to believe, for instance, that if Hitler's favourite
soothsayer had not predicted victory for Germany, the Second World War
might never have occurred. Per- haps it is more reasonable to suppose
that the cumulative forces behind any world event, or even behind the
happenings in men's lives, are responsible for bringing about the
final minor 'incident' through which the powers of Destiny are

It may be that when the fate of kings and empires appears to hang upon
a single thread, that thread is the instrument through which immense
forces operate, and in a way far beyond the range of human vision To
think otherwise would make the world picture I

WAS SITTING on the deck of a transport in the Eastern Mediterranean.
It was at sunset on the --evening of November th, I9I7. The day had
been a glorious one, marred only by an attempt made to torpedo our
ship during the afternoon. The sun went down in splendid radiance; the
sea was still, stars shone up above. There was silence everywhere. I
sat alone. Suddenly the night was filled with a tumultuous sound of
'voices'. For a time I could distinguish nothing.

I seemed to be surrounded by unseen presences striving, striving,
striving to make their voices heard and under- stood. I could hear
voices speaking many tongues: English, French, German, Russian,
Italian and many Eastern dialects. The confusion of the sound was
great, but, strangely enough, there arose above the confusion an Idea.
The Idea was clothed in form, but to attempt description would prove
impossible. I gazed long upon the Idea that stood before me, striving
to understand its purport. The Idea grew out of the babel of voices
that surrounded me on every side, welling out of the sea, and through
the air and from the sky. Gradually the voices died away, and then the
form of an Idea became for an instant more distinct; then disappeared.

In that instant I gleaned some inkling of what it stood for, and,
taking out my notebook, I jotted down a record of the meaning of those
voices. A strange cry from the night, harsh and uncontrolled, sad, but
clamourously insistent:

'Our voices must be heard. Some day our voices will be heard. No power
can hold back from us the chance to say that which awaits our
utterance. What is it that we have the need to say? Why should we not
remain silent whilst the world groans on in agony ? Our message must
be delivered, come what may, a message that shall in some degree
express the ideas, the ideals of a countless number of us, slain on
the battlefields of Europe and elsewhere, slain needlessly, uselessly
and as if unendingly. The great ones of the world talk of the Wars
that are to follow, as if human conflict would never cease. On this
subject we have the right to make our voices heard, voices that cannot
be stilled until our message has been given.

Because our bodies have been taken from us, snatched away when
strength and vigour were at their height, who dare deny to us the
right to speak back across the river we have just crossed i Who dare
to erect barriers of unbelief, saying we are dead and gone for ever?
Because a cruel fate has robbed us of our earthly lives of usefulness,
robbed us of our human birthright, hurled us across space into a
strange and solemn land, this is no reason why we should not speak
that which is in us, pass back our message into those regions where
chaos and carnage still mercilessly riot.

We are of every race, our message is for every race, we know no
barriers of colour, creed or sex. We claim our right to be heard above
the din of earthly conflict. Again we say, who dare deny us this ?
Life itself cannot be taken from us for God alone can give life and
take it away. We have been robbed not of life, but of the form in
which we were expressing it. Our opportunities of service and
experience have been cut in two. Beyond again will come a day of
judgment. Beyond once more will come a day of reparation and
repentance. Then will dawn the days of peace. Our bodies lie broken
and buried beneath a hundred battlefields, but our souls live on, we
have triumphed over death in ways not yet apparent even to ourselves.

Listen to what we have to say, for have we not the right to speak our
minds? Is it for no great end that we have been murdered wilfully? Who
are we who speak to you? By whose authority do we speak? You wish to
know? Then you shall hear:

I am a French soldier, I fought in many battles, was wounded thrice,
suffered unspeakably, was taken prisoner, died a death of
misery--cold, hungry, covered with disease. Shall I tell you of the
agony suffered by my wife, my children, my mother? The story is too
tragic in its holiness. I dare not speak of it. What has the world
gained through the terrors of my life and death? Tell me.

I am a Belgian girl. I died in the market square, naked and alone. Can
I never banish from my thought the horrors of my last hours on earth?
I was torn from my home, stripped naked and thrown on the ground in
the public place. It was evening: I looked up to the quiet stars above
and longed for death. Death was so long in coming. I lay upon the
pathway of my Calvary all night--and longer still. Can you picture
what this means? The enemy soldiers had just come in that awful night.
They were drunk, they stood in jeering groups around me and used my
body for their sensual satisfaction. They brought my mother, my
father, my young sisters, and forced them to watch my agony, my shame.
Need I say more? Death came at last, at last, and I am here. Some day
peace may come to me again, or, better still, oblivion. And I am only
one of countless many. Countless many. What has the world gained
through the terror of my life and death? Tell me.

I was a Russian peasant, full of lusty youth, of life, of hope. A
shell struck me; an arm was torn away. I remained for hours upon the
battlefield until I bled to death. I died alone, in mortal agony. I
died alone. Nothing can efface the memory. I can speak but little of
the thoughts that well within, but tell me this: What has the world or
my country gained through me? What has become of me?

I was in the Prussian Guard. I served my fatherland well for nearly
three years of war. Why should I not speak? I saw my country writhe in
agony and still the dance of death goes on and on. I met my death from
English gas. For two days I lay outside the parapet slowly
suffocating, gasping my life away in froth and blood. I speak for
thousands of my countrymen. Our voices blend with those who speak to
you across the gulf. War must for ever cease.

You know my voice of old. I can claim your friendship from the days I
spent on earth. You know my story well. I was shot at sunset just
outside the lines in France. I died quickly. What do details matter?
Sufficient that I am still alive. My work here brings me into touch
with the maimed and weary ones who die on battlefields. Add my words
to those already spoken to you by other soldiers killed in battle. We
dare not think we died in vain.

'Who are we to speak to you? Our voices blend, our message is the
same, yet, as we have already told you, we belong to every race, we no
longer fight among ourselves. We only strive to speak, to give our
message, to make our influence felt and understood. To give our
individual stories would be to tell unending tragedies of war; to tell
of vilest passions hideous lusts unending, evils unspeakable, called
into being by the trumpets of the conflict. For us, all this is over.
We have not returned to speak of what has been, but to speak of what
shall be--what must be, if the race is not to be swallowed up for ever
in the dark- ness of unending night. We claim the right to give our
message; we command attention. Mark well our words.... We dare not
rest while wars continue.

There can be no blissful heaven for any one of us while the anguish of
the battlefields remains. We tell you this. We work that wars shall
end for ever. There are millions of us now. We work in bands, in
councils, in communities. We are behind the people's cry for peace in
every land. We strive in Russia that the people's voice be heard. In
every conflict we are there to urge our cause. Think you we have no
power? Our power grows and in time will become greater than any power
the war lords of the world can raise against us.

'We inspire many who know not of our presence. We stand behind kings.
We sit in council halls. We walk at noonday in the market places of
the world. We are never absent from the battlefields. We move in and
out of the minds of the great ones of the earth, and all, unknowingly,
they fear us. We sit beside priests and ministers in their private
hours. When they descend from pulpits, having preached of righteous
war, we give them war within themselves instead of peace. We dog the
footsteps of all who dare to take the name of God in vain. They cry to
Him forsooth for victory for this or that material cause. They cry in
vain. God is not near such men and will not help them.

'We sit beside our soldier pals in trench and bivouac and hut. They
know us not, but all unconsciously they feel our presence and our
thoughts. War must forever cease! Our powers will grow apace. The time
will come when we shall bring mortal fear into the hearts of all who
dare to stand before our way. We strive, we strive, to make our voices
heard above the mortal din. No mundane power can hold us back. We will
be heard. We are purposeful, fiercely un- relenting, strong in our
demands, united in our strength. 'No man dare tell us we have died in
vain. No man dare stand between us and the purpose we are pledged to
carry through.

'Our message is to all. Hearken before it be too late. We would avert
a chaos beyond words menacing. Listen to our words! A people's peace,
a soldiers' peace, a peace such as a child would make--that is the
peace that must be made.

'There must needs be renunciation, sacrifice, penitence from all. We
see signs, we see blessed signs upon the dim, the very dim, horizon.
Meanwhile we cannot rest and would not. Tell the common people of the
world, the simple souls, those who suffer silently in trenches or
elsewhere, the quiet and steadfast men and women who watch and wait
and pray. Tell them that we are with them. We dare not watch, we work.
We dare not wait, we act. We cannot pray. We yearn for the day when we
can kneel before our God once more and tell Him that the great purpose
to which we have bent our very selves has been won--achieved,
accomplished. You who fight in war! Soon you will hear the voices of
us who fight for peace: who fight across the veil; who fight the long
night through.

'One word more. A lesson we had hard to learn, a lesson all must heed.
Peace comes to those who are at peace within. Such inner peace is
worth a thousand victories on the outer battlefields of life. Be
quiet! Listen for that inner voice; the still, small voice-- obey it!
Never act without its mandate first. Purify the sanctuary within your
soul that the Christ may walk therein. Bar not the gates. The Christ
awaits without.

He is calling everywhere. Above the deafening noise of battlefields we
hear His Voice. His Message is greater than any we can give. Listen
for that still, small voice. Live with it, hearken to it, and all will
yet be well. We have spoken. We can say no more. There is nothing more
to say'

I have only one desire left, that my story and my example may stir the
conscience of mankind so that all who prepare for further wars and who
train future generations in the art of murder may be driven for ever
from power in the councils of the people and expelled from the
governments of all nations.

Chapter 8 Spiritual Healing

"If several healers offer themselves--namely, one who heals with the
knife, one who heals with herbs, and one who heals with the holy word,
it is this one who will best drive away sickness from the body of the
faithful." The Avestas, Vendidad (c. 1000-400 B.C.).

Healing 'Miracles' (Abdul Baha Abbas)

It has been my good fortune to meet two saintly men whose capacity to
heal has seemed to me to be almost as wonderful as that of Jesus
Himself. I have already referred to the Persian seer, Abdul Baha
Abbas, a modern-day prophet, whose father, Baha Ullah, founded the
Baha'i Faith a century ago. This great movement first emerged from the
Moslem world and has now become a purifying and regenerating influence
far and wide. One of the great purposes inspiring the Baha'i Faith is
to bring about unity and brotherhood between all religions, with the
desire to establish a universal faith that shall embrace all man-
kind. For a period of over forty years Abdul Baha and his family lived
in Turkish prisons, first at Adrianople and later within the walled
town of Acca on the Pales- tine coast. His saintly father died there
in I892 and it was not until the Young Turkish Revolution in I908 that
Abdul Baha secured freedom for his family and himself. They had
committed no crime, but their movement was so much feared by the
Muslem fanatics in Persia that the Teheran authorities were able to
induce the Turkish Government of the notorious Sultan Abdul Hamid to
act in this barbaric manner. It was not unusual for devoted followers
to make the long journey from Persia to Acca, by mule or on foot,
solely for the purpose of receiving their master's blessing, although
this could only be obtained through prison bars.

Many sick and maimed were brought all this way, taking two or three
months on the journey. They would be carried to a spot on the seashore
from which a view could be obtained of the barred window on the sea
wall of Acca, through which a glimpse of their venerated leader could
be obtained. Although unable to be present on such occasions, I have
secured reliable evidence to the effect that many remarkable healings,
even of so-called incurable diseases, took place solely as the result
of these pilgrimages of faith. The patients would be carried on to a
small rock in the sea which gave the best view of the window behind
which Abdul Baha would stand to give his blessing.

I have spoken with one of those who was completely cured in this way.
He had been bedridden for twenty years and was both dumb and
paralysed. His sons had carried him on a stretcher all the way from
Tabriz to Acca by road and mule track. He told me that so soon as he
saw his beloved master, standing behind these prison bars, with his
hands held out in blessing, he felt new life surging throughout his
body. (It should be mentioned that there was a distance of over sixty
yards between the wall of the prison and the sea-girt rock on which
the pilgrims were wont to gather.) Within a few minutes of receiving
Abdul Baha's blessing, the healing happened. The paralysed man found
his voice, stood up and was able to carry his own stretcher back on to
the shore. When I met him some years later he told me this story, and
one of his sons (who was present when this miracle took place) was
able to assure me of its truth in every particular. After his release
in 1908 Abdul Baha went to live on the slopes of Mount Carmel at
Haifa, where I often visited him. Later, he was twice my honoured
guest in England. The following incident is worth recording. In the
spring of 1910 I went out to Alexandria, where Abdul Baha was staying
at the time. I had been entrusted with gifts from his English friends
to take to him. I had travelled from Marseilles on a steamer called
the Sphinx and intended to return overland via Damascus, Smyrna,
Constantinople and Vienna. My return ticket and reservations for the
round trip were arranged before I left London. On arrival at
Alexandria I lost no time in visiting my revered friend and in
carrying out the commission with which I had been entrusted. I speak
no Persian and my knowledge of Arabic is rudimentary, and so our
conversation was carried on through Abdul Baha's grandson, acting as

At one point the latter was called away, but Abdul Baha continued the
conversation and I found myself replying! When the interpreter
returned my ability to do so ceased. To make sure that I had
understood correctly, I asked for a translation of what Abdul Baha had
been saying in his absence, and this confirmed the fact that I had
been able to understand and to reply accurately in a language of which
I was completely ignorant. (This curious experience was repeated some
years later when visiting Abdul Baha in Paris.)

On returning the next day for another interview, I asked the master to
give me his blessing for the journey that lay ahead of me. This he
did, adding casually that I should be returning to Marseilles on the
following day on the same steamer from which I had so recently
disembarked. I then explained to the interpreter that I had made other
arrangements and that all my overland bookings had been made. He
replied to the effect that if the Master said I had to return to
Marseilles now, then that was what would happen. I went back to my
hotel in a state of considerable annoyance because I saw no good
reason for changing my plans. During the night, a very restless one, I
found myself in two minds as to what I should do. Next morning, when I
went to say goodbye, and much to my own surprise, I told Abdul Baha
that in fact I ~as leaving on the Sphinx for Marseilles later on that
same day.

He took this for granted and then requested me to carry out a
commission for him on reaching Paris. He said that there I should meet
a certain Persian student who was nearly blind, and he gave me OI? in
gold to pay his fare to Alexandria. (Travelling was much cheaper in
those days!) I was to tell this young man, whose name was Tammadun ul
Molk, to lose no time and to present himself to his master as soon as
he arrived. I accepted this commission with very bad grace because it
seemed a poor reason for upsetting all my previous plans. When I asked
for the student's address in Paris I was told that this was unknown,
but that a way would be found for bringing me into contact with him.

On reaching Paris I went to the Persian Consulate, only to find that
Tammadun ul Molk was unknown to the officials there. I then visited
the students' quarter on the left bank of the Seine and spent the
whole day there and elsewhere in a task that yielded no results
whatever. When one's mind is fearful or depressed, no interior
guidance can be expected. This I have found to be true on many
occasions throughout my life. In the present instance I gave up the
search and set out for the Gare du Nord, where my luggage was already
deposited in readiness for the return to England.

En route I crossed the Seine by the Pont Royale. Happening to look
across the bridge to the opposite pavement, I saw, among a crowd of
pedestrians, a young man, evidently of Eastern origin, who was using a
stick to tap his way along. I dodged through the traffic and accosted
him. In reply to my question, he told me he was of Persian origin. I
then enquired whether by chance he knew a certain Tammadun ul Molk. In
surprise he replied 'C'est moi, adding that he had only arrived in
Paris from Vienna that very morning.

In Vienna three serious operations on his eyes had been undertaken,
but the results were negative and he had been told by the surgeon that
his sight could not be saved. I then gave Abdul Baha's message and the
money for his ticket to Alexandria. To watch the profound joy on his
face was more than sufficient reward for all my previous
disappointments, including the abandonment of my European tour.
Tammadun duly reached Alexandria and visited his master at once. Those
present told me later that Abdul Baha poured a few drops of attar of
roses into a glass of water. He then gave the youth his blessing
whilst anointing his eyes with the water in question. Immediately full
sight was restored, and when I met Tammadun some years later he was
still enjoying perfect vision.

The further sequel was both significant and instructive. I crossed to
England late that night and on reaching my house the next day
discovered that I was only just in time to avert a very serious crisis
in my affairs. The change in my plans had indeed turned out to be a
blessing in disguise. On many other occasions the prophetic insight of
the Baha'i leader was made clear to me. As an instance of this, I
recall that when visiting him at Haifa, just after the Armistice in
November 1918, I spoke of the thankfulness we all must feel that the
war 'to end all wars' had been fought and won. Sorrow came into the
master's eyes. He laid his hand upon my shoulder and told me that a
still greater conflagration lay ahead of humanity. 'It will be largely
fought out in the air, on all continents and on the sea. Victory will
lie with no one. You, my son, will still be alive to witness this
tragedy and following many tribulations, and through the beneficence
of the Supreme One, the most great peace will dawn.'

Abdul Baha left us some years ago and his mortal remains lie buried in
a mausoleum on Mount Carmel, specially built for the purpose by
devoted followers from many countries.

John Taylor

Silent Meetings A footnote, I

Silent Meetings; A footnote

By John Taylor; 26 October, 2005

Explanation of Selections from Silent Road by Wellesley Tudor Pole

Friends, today's contribution (sent separately) is a selection from a
book, The Silent Road, written at the end of his life by one Wellesley
Tudor Pole, a personal friend of Abdu'l-Baha. The Master stayed as his
and his wife's guest at their -- I guess today you would call it a
"bed and breakfast" near Brighton, England. Tudor Pole is also
directly responsible for saving the Master's life at the close of
World War Two, when the order had been given by the Turks to have Him
hanged. In the following passage you will see the full story of what
happened not long before Tudor Pole led the van and liberated Haifa
and saved the Master.

I came across this book several months ago on the Baha'i Academic's
Library website but I quailed when I saw how atrociously it had been
scanned. You can barely make out what is being said in the etext. I
knew it would take a lot of bull work to make it readable. I was
right. I just spent the whole morning going through it substituting in
the place of its ~'s the real letter; since there was a tilde every
tenth letter, this took a long time. I think the slogging probably was
worth it though, because this is such an important footnote to the
biography of the Master. I have confirmed through other sources on the
internet the veracity of the story, this story about the origin of the
minute for remembrance is in fact commonly attributed to him. In this
book Tudor Pole himself is mostly concerned with listing his own
mystical experiences one after the next, and those involving the
Master are only some among many others. But in view of what does
transpire here, now when we tell the story of `Abdu'l-Baha's life can
say something along the lines of the following, something I had not
realized till I came across this text:

The Master and Minutes of Silence

The Master in London talked about silent meetings, meetings where not
a word was said, but which had great effect in ancient times (Paris
Talks, 173). We need to come together and reflect, not jawbone. This
is because in any creatively demanding situation words fail us, they
push us away from the truth as much as they bridge hearts and minds.
The spirit must descend freely, unbound by words and hackneyed ideas,
if it is to have full effect in a large and diverse meeting. I think
the silent meetings He proposed in London are the hope of the world,
the direction that democracy is going to turn towards in the future.
They are the only way to de-politicize public life.

Anyway, one of `Abdu'l-Baha's listeners in that London talk probably
was a seer and psychic by the name of Tudor Pole. Later as a soldier
in the midst of the fighting of World War One, Tudor Pole had a
conversation with a soldier who knew he was about to die the next day.
This soldier begged Tudor Pole to convey a message to the world: take
a minute of silence and listen to the millions of souls whose lives
were cut off by this hellish war. Later, King George V instituted just
that, a two minute silence at the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the
11th day, Remembrance Day.

Not long before World War flared up again in the even deadlier
conflict we now call World War II, Tudor Pole remembered what that
soon to be dead soldier had asked him to do. He initiated the Big Ben
Council to re-institute a daily two minute of silent reflection at
nine o'clock PM in a daily BBC radio broadcast featuring Big Ben
tolling the hour. This daily event for reflection on how to avoid more
wars had been dropped in favor of the Greenwich beep signal. Tudor
Pole campaigned vigorously for reflective silence for peace to be
reinstituted, and finally he caught the ear of Winston Churchill. When
Churchill rose to power he saw that the custom of daily, united
reflection started again. It was a beacon of hope throughout the war
for BBC listeners everywhere, especially those isolated and caught in
the grip of tyranny. This daily custom continued until the 1960's. In
many places, including England, the shock of 911's act of terrorism
started the custom going again.

Still, if you read the Master's original London talk, the time of
silence is not meant to be a new thing decreed from above; it is an
ancient technique dating back thousands of years. With all due respect
to that unnamed, dying soldier, it is not conceived as a knee-jerk
reaction to avoid repeating past mistakes, not merely listening to
dead war victims' cries of agony, though no doubt that is part of it.
For the Master silent reflection meetings are a creative problem
solving methodology. You name a particular problem and come together,
reflect, and go home with the answer, and your role of instituting it,
sitting delicately in your head. You do not do it for a minute or two,
which is hardly enough silence to clear out the cobwebs, you do it for
hours on end. I suppose the meetings of the illuminati lasted just as
long as it took for a solution to crowd out the words, the hackneyed
ideas, the imitations and shibboleths that keep us far from a common
solution. Only when such impurities and distractions are forgotten in
silence does Spirit gently take a seat inside peoples' skulls.

John Taylor

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Big Boss and People Space

Big Boss and People Space

By John Taylor; 25 October, 2005

The Bab as Big Boss

October 16th is Boss's Day, only four days before the Birthday of the
Bab. In lieu of reviewing detailed discussions on the Baha'i Holy Day
in the press, I have been enjoying the spate of articles on
boss-employee relations written for this occasion. And after all, the
Manifestation of God is the Boss of all bosses, and the love that
every seeker after truth spontaneously feels for the Bab must surely
condition the world for fairer management and better relations with
authority figures generally.

Searching Google News and its compendium of recent articles using the
keyword "boss," I found one journalist noting that not many bosses got
their boss day card this year -- not surprisingly since relations
between workers and bosses today seem sunk in an all time low.
Bullying is rampant. Lack of communication and gossip are even worse.
One website I heard about here seems to deal fairly positively with
problems with bosses, called:

It has several articles on common problems with bosses and helps the
worker understand and deal with the various kinds of bosses. The site
even shows how you can forward these articles directly to your boss's
email mailbox, completely anonymously. Do not try this if your boss
has only one or two people under him, would be my advice.

One study found that breakdowns in communication between labor and
management make gossip the most reliable source on what is really
happening. In the workplace if consultation and planning are out of
joint, the grapevine is the only way to plug into the future, into
what to do next. Much as bosses and human resources people (not to
mention, Baha'u'llah) talk against gossip, it often serves useful
purposes in an organization. Those who are cut out of the gossip mill
often feel "lobotomized" and lose touch with others; hearing gossip is
a sign of acceptance, it is a key to understanding the hidden dynamics
and complexities in every organization. From our Baha'i point of view,
I guess you could say that there is a thin line, or rather a
gradation, between informal Ad Hoc consultation and gossip. In my
experience I find sometimes that only after a conversation is finished
and I am reviewing my day in the evening, only then can I analyze and
decide whether it was mere gossip or useful, informal consultation.

This informal, non-organized management style was the mark of the
Bab's leadership. As soon as it was known what He was about, the Shah
had Him imprisoned. Normally that would be the end of any
organization. But the Bab had His Writings to communicate, and He had
Baha'u'llah to coach the Babi' leaders in what to do. It was informal,
inchoate, spontaneous; leaders and followers, save a few, all went off
to glorious martyrdom. Normally that would be the end of it. But as
`Abdu'l-Baha points out, the Bab's trump card as it were was
Baha'u'llah, working behind the scenes to train Quddus, Mullah Husayn,
Tahirih, in how to do the ultimate act, sacrifice yourself to the
flames, leap into the breach, keep hands off the meddling of the usual
human religious leader. This was unique, at least since the ministry
of Jesus.

Another study reported by Reuters is "Unfair bosses get to workers'
hearts" (25 October 2005
found that poor bosses are literally killing those under them. Male
public servants in a ten year study who reported that they felt they
were treated fairly by their boss had thirty percent lower incidence
of coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in developed
countries. The author of the study writes, "Most people care deeply
about just treatment by authorities, Lack of justice may be a source
of oppression, deprivation and stress." What makes a worker feel that

"People consider that they are being treated fairly at work when they
believe their supervisor considers their viewpoint, shares information
about decision making and treats individuals fairly and in a truthful

Sounds an awful lot like the Guardian's description of an ideal
Assembly member, does it not? And it actually, measurably, improves
the health of the community to have leaders like that! Amazing. I am
very interested in how the relations between boss and employee change
in different situations and political climates. Since in effect,
Baha'is elect their bosses, who only function authoritatively and
decisively as a group, though they are expected to act and intermingle
separately as well, how will that example affect the office and
factory of the future? Will bosses be elected?

Another idea and question especially is bothering me lately: how do
you reduce bullying by making bosses accountable? The idea is to use
PDA's or other small devices to give feedback to bosses. If he makes
unreasonable requests or is unfair, he should feel it, right away,
from those under him. How that would work specifically I am still
trying to work out in my mind. One start has been made, a study
reported in the Toronto Star, A1, 17 October, 2005, called "Hey chief:
Bosses fail employees' performance test." In this online poll
employees rated their bosses according to whether they recognized
their own errors, ability to make the job interesting and challenging,
consideration of their wellbeing, etc. Most fell below par. I think
quicker feedback direct between each party would raise the competency
quickly and reliably.

People Space

For some reason an exam by a local psychologist at school found that
Silvie has problems with "small motor skills." So yesterday she had to
take a day off school while I drove her an hour's drive to Brantford
for a more elaborate exam in the Lansdowne Children's Center. They
found that if anything she has motor skills slightly above grade
level. At least I had some time with her, which is unfortunately quite
rare now that at Grade Six homework is dominating her life. The system
is hard at work turning her into a drudge, a slave to the machine,
crushing her creative spark. I never did like homework as a student,
and I hate it more as a father. Her mother insists that every iota of
this slogging insult to real learning is done, and done right, and I
cannot intervene, so I console myself in the thought that this is a
good discipline. I enjoy seeing good marks from her as a result of
this massive, hateful time spent but most of me is crying for her
inside. I hate, hate, resent, hate, hate these precious hours of a
young life wasted slogging. The three R's I spit out of my mouth.

One good that came out of this was that as we drove through the Six
Nations Reservation and Silvie fiddled with the camera and read
Brilliant Star Magazine, I heard an interview on CBC radio with Fred
Kent -- a fellow who should be better known than Clark Kent. Check out
his "Open Space People Space" website at:

It includes a link to the entire interview, which I encourage you to
listen to. This fellow, I swear to you, is working out the details of
how Baha'u'llah designed the people spaces of the future. Think of it,
the Mashriq is at the center with a wagon wheel of service
institutions surrounding it. You reflect, meditate, restore in the
prayer building and the gardens around it, then you go out and serve
humanity in the service buildings, the school, hospice, etc. This guy
is saying essentially the same thing: if you want to have a vibrant,
living city or town or neighborhood, you have to design it around
people, not the ego of some monomaniacal architect. That is, put at
least ten good things in the center, things that people need and will
attract them to come and "hang out." Put a park in the middle, and a
farmer and small vendor's market. The park lets people wind down and
relax, the market charges them up by giving variety, an assault on the
senses. It is much better than the vermin of big box stores bred by
enslavement to the automobile. Here you walk, you get exercise, you
use the body God gave you to restore the soul, to buy, to relax, to
mix with young and old.

Kent points out that in a properly designed space you feel at home.
You can put yourself on display, not arrogantly but in the confident
manner of a host to contented, well fed guests; you can sit down on a
bench next to someone of a totally different cultural, racial
background and just share the surroundings with one another. This Kent
guy expresses this image so beautifully in such a brief time that I
would use his interview as an exemplar if I were teaching a public
speaking course. I would love to tour the world and visit the public
spaces he recommends, and just take in the atmosphere. In fact you
can, he sponsors a yearly conference with tours to local neighborhoods
that have his stamp of approval. Attendees take home a kite and share
photos of themselves in their own favorite people places, flying a
kite. I guess the theory is, if you cannot fly a kite there, what kind
of people place is it, anyway? To learn about the conference, go to:

I would like to get one of these kites and fly it in the grounds of
the Mashriqs of the world. I hear that the Santiago, Chile Mashriq was
almost approved to go into a downtown park, which would have been
ideal for what Baha'u'llah had in mind. As it is, it is going up in
the middle of an empty field way out in the suburbs. Maybe eventually
the whole city will move over there, and the Mashriq will be in a new
central market square. Hope so. With the structure of the Mashriq, 9
sides, 9 gardens, several institutions, it is interesting to see how
on this site they talk about the "power of ten." In an essay on how
this applies to small vendor's markets, they write:

"Underlying all PPS's work is the "Power of 10"--the idea that at
least ten focal points are necessary to make a great place, with each
of those areas offering ten things to do. Public spaces exhibiting the
Power of 10 offer the depth, meaning and visceral connections that
create satisfying everyday experiences. This principle has a strong
effect when applied to public markets, and lends them a competitive
advantage over many other commercial forms. It is interesting to note
that many innovations which have proven successful at public market --
connecting with local farmers and producers, adding public seating,
rebuilding a sense of community, adapting to site specific needs --
are now being copied by savvy retailers such as Whole Foods."

I think the whole glory of the day of God will only flare out when our
built spaces reflect His Spirit by bringing souls together in a
positive atmosphere. Spirit burned in, as it were. I would like to get
a program like SimCity and work out the details of how all this might
come together using mound architecture. Maybe the mounds could come
out like spokes on a wheel from one city square, a space with a
market, city square, park and house of worship in the center, under a
big dome. The blueprint of it all is the Mashriq, but many details
need to be worked out.

John Taylor

Friday, October 21, 2005


On Bullying; This Month's Philosopher's Cafe Reflections

By John Taylor; 21 October, 2005

Bullying is the best word I think for the violence most often
encountered in everyday life, the ubiquitous violence that we
nonetheless do not fear because we do not see it, it does not make
good scare headlines. Bullying is by far the most common cruelty we
can be victimized by and, yes, that we can perpetrate. Who can say
that they have never bullied, ever? Ah shore caint -- you see, I am
bullying right now, mocking the accent of southerners. A bully is
anyone with the upper hand who resorts to unnecessary compulsion or
violence of thought, word or deed, violence of commission or omission.
Bullies pick out those under their thumb, anyone they see as
vulnerable or beneath them; victims are at their mercy, or more
precisely their lack of mercy.

Our last philosopher's meeting on equality of the sexes at the library
in Wainfleet was an eye opener. We started strolling through the usual
ground, the relationships of men and women, the prejudices that men
often show against women, and vice versa, blah, blah, blah. I
mentioned that in my opinion the much politicized problem of violence
against women is a subset of the broader problem of violence and
tyranny, rule of ignorance, of violence and cruelty of human to human.
After hearing several examples of male chauvinism, to my surprise,
both of the other men present volunteered the information that they
had been forced into retirement by a bullying boss, one boss being a
man and the other a woman.

Most think of bullying as a schoolyard phenom but an important study
last year found that the bullying of bosses to employees is rampant.
There are, after all, no playground supervisors to monitor the
workplace as in a school playground or cafeteria. The problem, as a
result, tends to be much worse for adults than the younger set. Not
that it is not extremely severe among youth, especially young girls,
sad to say. I am including the full text of the latest article in the
New York Times on that theme at the end of today's essay called,
"Confronting Bullies Who Wound With Words." For a Baha'i this is
confirmation of the gravity and and wisdom of our most unusual and
distinctive law, that against backbiting and gossip.

One surprising point that came out of last year's bullying in the
workplace study was a finding that while the boss's pounding on
victimized employees is stressful and deplorable, it apparently does
not degrade productivity. I am confident that if the researchers
looked a little closer, or perhaps stepped back to view the broader
picture, they would find that bullying bosses are indeed detracting
from productivity. It stands to reason that a sadist will not elicit
creative performances or the free and insightful consultation upon
which long term success depends. I suspect that it is the nature of
the jobs we are asking people to do that is the determinant. A
reflective and supportive personality makes a poor drill sergeant
because that job requires turning out canon fodder who face bombs
rather than question an order. In a sane world we would not need canon
fodder workers, we would need creative problem solvers. But for the
sake of argument, let us accept that a bully can be a functional boss.

Given that things still go ahead in the shop or office when the boss
is a snit or a martinet, even so, such stress in the long term has to
degrade the health of all workers. That in turn must raise healthcare
costs and encourage the use of tranquilizers, a practice that is
epidemic, especially in the United States. Finally such drugs end up
in the water table; already disturbing amounts of Viagra and who knows
what else is turning up in America's rivers and streams. As always,
human abuse to other humans ends up poisoning the natural environment.
In effect bullies do more than their part in killing those completely
under our thumb, the plants and animals of this beautiful planet.

What can we do to reduce bullying? Yes, we can pray, we can try to
change our attitudes to our own subordinates and underlings and
dependents. As the Qu'ran says over and over, God is Merciful,
Clement. Why cannot we be too? Nobody is greater than God. And yes, we
can try to consult better, we can encourage fair play and use
education and peer pressure to keep bad bosses in line. But none of
this seems enough. All it takes is one bully, one, among all our
relationships in our whole life to ruin it completely. A clever bully
can drive a person to suicide, it happens to young people every day.
We are all very vulnerable and we surely should fear it more than any
of the terrors we witness in the media.

Certainly, long term if enough people learn and apply Baha'i laws and
principles bullying will die out. I accept that. But it just does not
seem to be enough for us, for right now. I guess what I am saying is
that we need to look at technological short cuts. Violence needs to be
short circuited by communications technology and our built
environment. That is why I am writing this book -- current working
title: "Total Openness" -- to explore technical, structural ways to
undercut whatever tends to raise a bully, be he a big kid on the
schoolyard or a Hitler or a Saddam Hussein, to the top of the heap.

Confronting Bullies Who Wound With Words
Published in New York Times, October 16, 2005

AT the beginning of her sixth-grade year at Great Neck North Middle
School, Dana Convissar sat with a few friends at a table in the
lunchroom with the "popular girls of the grade."

"When they were with the girls that were the leaders, they would
ignore me," Dana, now 13 and an eighth grader, said of her friends.
"They would laugh and they would joke, and I would never come in the

Dana was a victim of the popularity wars of middle school, where
meanness, particularly among girls, is the name of the game.

"It made me feel like I was absolutely nothing, and I could do nothing
about it, and I couldn't be included," Dana recalled.

The war isn't fought with sticks or stones, but with social weapons
that cut children this age much deeper: taunts and teases,
name-calling, gossip-mongering and scapegoating. The ways youngsters
are tormented and ostracized by one another, often in the guise of
being cool or hip, are the stuff of teenage nightmares: being made the
butt of a clique's disdain, not being invited to the party everyone is
talking about, and increasingly, being eviscerated in nasty instant
messages over the Internet.

"'Popular' is supposed to mean you have a lot of friends," Dana said.
"But now it's come to the point that the popular girls are the cliquey
girls, and they are exclusive. They won't be friends with anyone who
is a little different from them, and they won't interact with anyone
who is not in their group."

Middle schoolers say meanness pervades their world. In a survey
released last month by Child Abuse Protection Services, a nonprofit
group based in Roslyn that creates student-targeted programs to combat
abuse, bullying and peer harassment, 83 percent of sixth and seventh
graders on the Island said their schools had a bullying problem, and
45 percent said it was significant or severe. In the survey, 3 out of
10 students over all, including 1 in 4 girls, said they had bullied
someone themselves.

"Bullying today is less about children hitting each other than it is
about children being victimized by a culture of meanness," said Alane
Fagin, executive director of the organization. "Children understand
what many adults seem to have forgotten: You don't have to get hit to
get hurt."

And the Internet is making matters a great deal worse, parents and
experts say, because it provides a cloak of anonymity and removes
physical size and bravery from the equation. Children as young as 7 or
8, who would never have dared to belittle or confront a classmate face
to face, are empowered to be vulgar and vengeful at the keyboard. The
new online dimension of bullying has grown to the point that Scope, a
nonprofit group that provides educational services to school
districts, convened the Island's first conference on bullying in
cyberspace at Stony Brook University on Sept. 28. Five hundred
teachers, administrators, technology experts and students from 3rd to
12th grade took part.

On the Internet, said Betty Kauffman, manager of Scope, "you can take
a kid who is 4 feet 11 and thin as a rail, and be the biggest bully in
the world, but in real life he couldn't do it." Ms. Kauffman
identified two common species of Internet bullies. One is "the tough
kids, the thugs, the power-hungry," she said, who use the Internet to
continue picking on a victim, one on one.

The other is the joint-bullying pack in the "mean girl" mode, though
they may be of either sex. "They get their enjoyment out of getting
everyone to join in with the teasing and the bullying," she said, in
an arena where there are no teachers or aides to intervene. The
victims "are being emotionally hurt and they are being ganged up on,
which might not necessarily happen in a schoolyard," Ms. Kauffman
said. Dana Convissar, who plays cello in her school orchestra, said
she had recently learned that another orchestra member had posted an
online message saying she hated Dana. "I would never do anything like
that to her, even if she isn't my favorite person in the world," Dana
said. "It was something stupid and rude."

John Taylor

Sunday, October 16, 2005


Principle Crossroads

By John Taylor; 16 October, 2005

The September 2005 special edition of Scientific American, "Crossroads
for Planet Earth," is the most important periodical put out so far
this century. The cover states, "The human race is at a unique turning
point. Will we choose to create the best of all possible worlds?" The
editors recognize the difficulties and the promises before the human
race and set out an action plan based upon the best that science
offers to take us out of our collective slide to oblivion. In the
concluding paragraph of their editorial they say,

"Geographer Jared Diamond's recent book Collapse documents past
civilizations that could not recognize or bring themselves to change
unsustainable ways. Largely because of science, our civilization has
the chance not only to avoid their fate but to enter an age of
unprecedented prosperity. Science is not and should not be the sole
factor in decision making; others, such as moral values, are also
crucial. But we need to go into these decisions with our eyes open to
what is going on in the world." (SA, September 2005, p. 10)

These editors of Scientific American chose prominent leaders in
various fields of science, economics and planning and commissioned
each to answer one aspect of a coherent approach to solving what
threatens humanity. They calculate that it will all come to a head in
the year 2050 and only resolute action now can blunt the bad curves on
the trend projection charts. The full text of the issue is presently
available online at:


It would be presumptuous to try to assess the scientific merits of
such a plan even for one far better qualified than myself. Two
considerations embolden me, however. First, a plan for all humanity
must affect all people and therefore all, expert or not, have an equal
right to a say, indeed, a clear and urgent duty to contribute. Second,
although the specifics of this plan are scientific, the ability to
agree, act upon and all too often sacrifice for it does not come of
scientific knowledge but faith, a faith we all must, to some degree,

One thing is certain. This action plan demonstrates that from a purely
scientific viewpoint we have the know-how and are physically capable
of facing the challenges confronting humanity -- if only our leaders
summon the will and the rest the desire to avoid the Great Collapse
looming before us by actively supporting the initiative. It is
axiomatic: a plan for all relies upon all for support. This means
first somehow de-politicizing the political landscape, adopting the
action plan at the highest level, starting with the United Nations,
then taking it to the grassroots with a massive, world-embracing
education campaign.

George Musser recognizes the enormity of the preliminaries in his
introductory essay to the September 2005 "Crossroads" issue called,
"The Climax of Humanity: Action Plan for the 21st Century." Goal
number one of his program aims at common consensus on coming
demographic trends,

"Understand the changes. Obvious though it may seem, this first step
is so often neglected. It can be hard to look past the daily headlines
to understand the core trends we are experiencing. Demographer Joel E.
Cohen paints the broad picture of a larger, slower-growing, more
urbanized and older population. The detailed projections are
uncertain, but what is important is (sic) the general issues that they

Also, the eighth and last of this set of goals partly addresses the
prime challenge: corruption, influence peddling and politicization,
which distract and discourage from the planning process before it even

"Prioritize more rationally. Right now priorities are set largely by
who shouts the loudest or plays golf with the right people. As staff
writer W. Wayt Gibbs describes, economists and environmental
scientists have been working on better approaches. With costs and
benefits properly priced in, markets can act as giant distributed
computers that weigh trade-offs. But they can fail, for example, when
costs are concentrated and benefits are diffuse."

But this begs the questions, how can democratic leaders summon up the
will to act, often in the face of clamoring special interests upon
whom they depend for re-election? Upon what philosophic grounds can we
base unity of thought? These and other moral and philosophical
questions must be broadly discussed, such as:

What transcends the diverse interests, ideologies and cultures that
enrich us, but which all too often prejudice our minds? How do even
professional philosophers perceive and agree upon this, much less
teach it? What program could possibly appeal to every one of the six
billion souls on the surface of the planet? How do planners reach out
to individuals and groups? How do we deal with the problem that some
psychologists call the "economy of attention," the fact that we all
have limited time to listen, much less discuss, the issues? What
system would select out those willing to cast aside the moral and
mental obstacles that politicize moral issues? In a word, how to raise
principle over ideology?

John Taylor

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Birthday 49

Thanksgiving Birthday, Number 49

By John Taylor; 12 October, 2005

A pilgrim asked the Master if everything matters, if some things are
left up to chance and He replied that every atom of the universe is
intimately connected to God, His Meaning, His teaching and that yes --
to my astonishment a century later -- at least as far as a believer in
God is concerned, the tiniest detail matters, even where a lock of
hair happens to fall on their forehead. This is a pilgrim's note, in
other books He recognizes that accidental happenings do occur. Yet,
for one who believes, seemingly, the smallest accident has some deep
significance in the universal scheme of things. Since then I have paid
a great deal of attention to the smallest details of the hairstyles of
Baha'is I meet. I find myself eyeing their coiffure, trying to discern
secret meaning between the strands. It is reminiscent of when Mr.
Samandari visited Los Angeles and they had to send out a general
warning to the friends not to go up and stare into his eyes, which
everybody wanted to do, considering that those eyes had stared into
the eyes of Baha'u'llah Himself. I told that story to Silvie, and she
appreciated it, for her little amusement when she was small was to
come up to me when I was in a meeting interacting with people and
stare into my eyes. I would not notice at first, and then, "What? What
are you staring at?" She would laugh at her staring into the eyes
prank, her innocent humor that only the pure in heart can grasp.
Otherwise it is jolting to have another stare into your eyes, even for
a Hand of the Cause who did the same thing to the Lord of the Age when
He was not looking.

The tenth of October fell on Thanksgiving Day this year, as it did the
day I was born. Being born on a day of gratitude, and having my
calling of writing you would think I would have something intelligent
to say about gratitude but no, not at all, at least until a few days
before this Thanksgiving Day, when I read this personal testimonial.

"What is courage? Does courage always have to be an act that saves
someone's life? Tamara, a career counselor, says softly, "My nephew
Henri is showing me that how you die can have as much, or more, to do
with courage as how you live. He has inoperable cancer. But he does
not feel pity for himself. He says there are many people much younger
than he who have died from diseases, from wars and accidents, and that
he feels fortunate just to have been alive. He lives every moment as
fully as he can. It is not like he is just putting a brave face on
things; this is the way he is. And I think being this way is a way of
courage; Henri has so much dignity in the face of death, and he is a
role model and inspiration to others, by showing us that it is more
important than ever to keep our heads held high, to live fully, till
the moment we die." (Six Questions of Socrates, Christopher Phillips,
W.W. Norton and Co., New York, 2004, pp. 209-210)

Phillips and Tamara categorize this testimonial under courage but
clearly it should be put under gratitude. Thankfulness is an attitude
to the Creator that gives many gifts, courage, as well as contentment,
joy, happiness, but mostly I suppose, freedom from fear, which is not
precisely the same as courage; freedom from worry, I guess, a defense
against the niggling feeling: will some bad guy or a freak accident or
whim of fate take away what I own, or my very life? Be grateful and
know that what is beyond my power is beneath me, I am grateful just to
have lived the life I have lived.

The slow death of this Henri reminds me of my mother's death. People
who knew her to this day come up to me and talk about her, they
confide in me that her slow, traumatic death inspired them, how having
only a Grade Two education she would struggle through the Baha'i
prayers and still touch peoples' hearts with her indefinable spiritual
quality. I who lived with her in those last months and years, who
listened as she let off steam -- for she fervently did not want to die
-- I am touched by her influence that I know is a result of one thing
only: suffering. That Thanksgiving Day when I was born she was still
in shock from having two children, one Bonny, about 14 and the other
Tommy, about 13, killed before her eyes in another of those senseless
accidents that prey upon the mind. The car stalled on railway tracks,
the driver could not get it going, Mom got out with big brother Bob,
but not with Bonny and Tommy, who stayed in the back seat. Boom. Ten
months later she was so fearful of losing another baby when I emerged
from the womb that October 10th that she refused to look at me. "Why
should I look at a child that is just going to be taken away from me
again?" The doctor took her face in both hands and forced her to look,
saying, "Look, this one is different." She latched onto that and she
told us over and over again through the years that when she did open
her eyes I did look different from all her other babies. She was wrong
of course, I am just like the others except in one way, I was chosen
to enter the Cause of God, not by my own merit but as a blessing in
suffering, as are all real blessings. I am grateful to have lived and
to have seen with my inner eye the greatest of visions, the rise of
God's Glory in its midsummer splendor.

But still, my ingratitude is boundless, for until I read the above
about the hair on the forehead of a believer, I had sunk into what the
Master calls an "evil routine of thought," an habitual way of thinking
that denies meaning and imagines that a believer is subject to chance
goods and bads. The Master said:

"As long as man is a captive of habit, pursuing the dictates of self
and desire, he is vanquished and defeated. This passionate personal
ego takes the reins from his hands, crowds out the qualities of the
divine ego and changes him into an animal, a creature unable to judge
good from evil, or to distinguish light from darkness. He becomes
blind to divine attributes, for this acquired individuality, the
result of an evil routine of thought becomes the dominant note of his
"May all of you be freed from these dangers and delivered from the
world of desires that you may enter into the realm of light and become
divine, radiant, merciful, Godlike.
"All that has been created is for man who is at the apex of creation
and who must be thankful for the divine bestowals, so that through his
gratitude he may learn to understand life as a divine benefit. If we
hold enmity with life, we are ingrates, for our material and spiritual
existence is the outward evidences of the divine mercy. Therefore we
must be happy and pass our time in praises, appreciating all things.
But there is something else: detachment. We can appreciate without
attaching ourselves to the things of this world. It sometimes happens
that if a man loses his fortune he is so disheartened that he dies or
becomes insane. While enjoying the things of this world we must
remember that one day we shall have to do without them.
"Attach not thyself to anything unless in it thou seest the reality of
God - this is the first step into the court of eternity. The earth
life lasts but a short time, even its benefits are transitory; that
which is temporary does not deserve our heart's attachment."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, 134-135)

John Taylor

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Review of "Six Questions"

Book Review of Christopher Phillips, "Six Questions"

By John Taylor; 11 October, 2005

Six Questions of Socrates, Christopher Phillips, W.W. Norton and Co.,
New York, 2004

This is the latest popular work of Christopher Phillips, author of
Socrates Cafe, the chief initiator of the philosopher's cafe
movement... popular philosophy in action, where a philosopher, amateur
or professional, initiates informal discussions on philosophical
questions open to all comers. Phillips's own meetings tend to be more
Ad Hoc than most, he lets the group choose the topic on the spur of
the moment and he takes the meetings just about anywhere, in schools,
public squares, prisons, anywhere with people interested in thinking
deeper thoughts. His influence extended even into deepest Wainfleet,
in whose public library we hold our own Philosopher's Cafe meeting
evening every month, and from whose "new arrivals" bookshelf I
borrowed this book, Six Questions of Socrates.

Pound for pound, Six Questions is the most thought provoking book I
have read in a while. Phillips has read scads of published books by
academics and does not shy away from citing them at length. But
characteristically he asks the very questions that Socrates asked and
plies them where Socrates did, in the street and marketplace. In fact,
modern jet travel being what it is, you could say that Phillips has
taken the questions even further. He takes them to modern-day Athens,
both in a field within view of the Stoa and in the halls of an
Athenian High School. But goes to Korea, to a market square in Mexico
City, to a mixed group of Israelis and Palestinians in an American
campus, and most amazingly to me, he takes it to "mentally challenged"
adults in a group home -- and even more amazingly, their comments and
insights stand right up there along with other answers produced by the
best minds in the world.

Truly, Phillips proves that there is a democracy of philosophical
enquiry and nobody should feel unqualified. Indeed, I believe that we
were all built and designed to ask and answer, to examine and
reexamine such questions, and if we fail to do so we cannot really say
that we have lived. If anybody doubts the value of thinking and
discussing these questions with as wide a variety of people as
possible, let them read this book. Here are some highlights of what I
got out of it.

One of Socrates questions that Phillips took around the world was,
"What is Piety?" The chapter on this question demonstrates that here
is one question where Socrates, the once and future king of
philosophy, still blows all comers out of the water. In his time as
now, most people understood that the gods were bigoted and interested,
doling out rewards and punishments according to whether men side with
them or not, and even that they were capricious, sending ill upon both
good and bad. Socrates held that only good can come of God, never
evil. The gods are, in the words of Phillips' favorite modern
interpreter (Socrates never wrote a word himself), "relentlessly
beneficent." Piety is the conviction that they have work to do in
perfecting humanity, and that we can and should help them out. Piety
is "doing the gods' work to benefit human beings." (Six Questions,
280-281) We do it by perfecting our own soul, making it more wise and
God-like. Socrates saw his mission imitating the beneficent mission of
the gods by "summoning all and sundry to perfect their soul, to work
as he did ... as his own service to the gods." Socrates changed many
lives forever and for the better. Some were upset but only those who
were corrupt themselves, who neglected to perfect their own souls.
These determined to kill him.

It is humbling to recall that the Athens that killed Socrates was not
a tyranny but a democracy; democracy can be the best government or it
can be the worst, depending upon how many people live examined lives.
At the end of the book Phillips mentions an important objection that a
skeptical teacher in a private school posed while walking to a
Socrates Cafe that he was about to hold in that teacher's class. The
teacher called his dialogues mere shams asking to whom he thinks he is
accountable. Phillips replies, "I think I am accountable to myself,
mostly, to letting my conscious be my guide. And my conscious dictates
that I should feel accountable to all those who came before me and
risked it all so that humanity had a chance to inch forward." The
teacher find's this answer offensive, and asks: "Don't you think it is
dangerous what you are doing, giving young people the license to
question everything?" Phillips replies:

"Yes, wonderfully dangerous. And I think it is more dangerous --
terribly so -- if we do not give them license, along with the tools,
to think for themselves. It seems to me that we adults have made a
pretty good mess of things. Maybe young people, if imbued early on
with a social conscience, can show us the way out of it." (Six
Questions, 302)

While this is a good answer, I do not think it is good enough.
Phillips has spent too much time on secondary sources and misses the
most important point that Socrates was trying to make. Socrates did
not claim just to be "following his own conscience," he honestly
believed that his conscience was the voice of a god, no, the voice of
God, directing him to do what he did. By trying to keep God out of it,
Phillips is denuding Socrates of his deepest and most influential
meaning. Without Socrates' sacrificial application of belief in God as
laid out in the dialogues of Plato -- not many realize this but it is
true -- there could not have been a Christianity or an Islam or any
other monotheistic religion. The whole idea of one God before that was
incomprehensible to intelligent seekers of truth. Indeed, in the axial
age of Socrates, not even Judaism was theistic in the modern
understanding of the word, not because people were stupid but because
the idea of a personal God was incomprehensible. Socrates -- along
with the prophet Job -- demonstrated that God was not a first among
equals, God is that small voice within that directs one to right
action, even in the face of suffering and defeat.

Why is this so important? Because behind Socrates' questioning method
is a single item of faith: there is only one truth, one reality, one
God, and no matter how much questioning and criticism goes on, every
thinking person will inevitably and naturally end up in the same
place. This is of the nature of things, it is human nature. Each and
all can be rightly guided without need of outside compulsion because
one God directs conscience with complete dependability. One God means
one truth, a truth that does not admit of division, and as a result
multiplicity of opinions must eventually fuse into one opinion. Or to
speak more exactly, there would be universal agreement upon essentials
and a good and beautiful diversity of opinion about what is not
absolutely necessary. Without this simple faith that skeptical private
school teacher is perfectly correct, conscience would need fetters,
chains and accountability. Totalitarian government would be
enlightened and paternalistic laws sensible, force would be our only
hope for union of conscience, for harmony between hearts and minds.

Socrates, I maintain, taught a simple faith that external force is
unnecessary to bring about conformity, only the internal compulsion of
a small voice within guiding toward truth and knowledge is needed. One
of his students was Zenophon, who was literally sitting in the gutter
when Socrates called him out with a question. So moving was meeting
this great teacher that the boy in the gutter, Zenophon, became a
writer and historian. He understood that Socrates' great secret was
that he changed the nature of our questioning from idle speculation
about the natural world to serious questions about virtue, the kind of
question that gives real power over human realities.

"The student of human learning expects, he (Socrates) said, to make
something of his studies for the benefit of himself or others, as he
likes. Do these explorers into the divine operations hope that when
they have discovered by what forces the various phenomena occur, they
will create winds and waters at will and fruitful seasons? Will they
manipulate these and the like to suit their needs? or has no such
notion perhaps ever entered their heads, and will they be content
simply to know how such things come into existence? But if this was
his mode of describing those who meddle with such matters as these, he
himself never wearied of discussing human topics. What is piety? what
is impiety? What is the beautiful? what the ugly? What the noble? what
the base? What are meant by just and unjust? what by sobriety and
madness? what by courage and cowardice? What is a state? what is a
statesman? what is a ruler over men? what is a ruling character? and
other like problems, the knowledge of which, as he put it, conferred a
patent of nobility on the possessor, whereas those who lacked the
knowledge might deservedly be stigmatised as slaves." (Zenophon,

You might say, then, that even though Phillips has not completely
grasped the implications of Socrates teaching, the very power of the
questions he asks around the world in "Six Questions of Socrates"
smears over his book a "patent of nobility" that is incomparably
powerful. If you have not time to read the entire book, at least read
the chapter on moderation, called "Moderation Unveiled." Here Phillips
takes the question to a roomful of Muslim women, some in modern dress
but most veiled. They talk candidly about the state of women and
issues of equality, and give a surprising answer to the question,
"What is Moderation?" To them, the veil and other forms of covering up
the body are symbols of the virtue of modesty, which in turn is an
outer sign of a moderate way of life. Whenever we dress, we balance
one extreme, making an exhibition of ourselves, and the other extreme,
hiding away in complete invisibility. As they point out, you can be
very unchaste and immodest even under a chador or burkah, and you can
be chaste and modest in a bikini. Every culture tries to find a
balance between dress and undress in order to moderate these
polarities. I have to admit, I never thought of moderation as modesty
in this way, and I find myself feeling differently as I choose what
clothing to wear in the morning.

But Phillips caries the idea of moderation further than its
implications for relations between the sexes. He looks at its
consequences in the economic realm. He asks a very thought provoking
series of questions about the insanely immoderate plutocracy known as

"What if the way we measured the nation's overall prosperity were
based in part on how many additional low- and moderate-income people
were able to fulfill the American dream of owning their own home, and
had good health care? In the pharmaceutical industry, what if growth,
in part, were based on how cheaply they were able to distribute their
products to the most people, and turn a modest profit? In the food
industry, what if growth were measured partly on how their products
contributed to the nutritional health of its consumers? What if
overall economic growth were measured in part by whether there is an
increase in the number of people who earn at least a middle-class,
living wage? Is this far-fetched, pie-in-the-sky nonsense? Corporate
muck-a-mucks profess to be soul-searching, after an orgy of
irresponsibility. Perhaps they now will be inspired to subscribe to a
moderate ethic based on ideals that were widely shared by Franklin and
others in this country's early years. (Six Questions, 93)

Behind these questions is a greater one, one the Greeks asked and that
we must ask too, "What is the measure of man?" As soon as the spirit
of moderation and equity departs no economy can be economical, no free
enterprise either free or enterprising. We have to measure all this as
we measure ourselves. Quite rightly in this context, Phillips cites
the following from the Spirit of the Laws, and I will end this review
with this.

"True is it that when a democracy is founded on commerce, private
people may acquire vast riches without a corruption of morals. This is
because the spirit of commerce is naturally attended with that of
frugality, economy, moderation, labour, prudence, tranquillity, order,
and rule. So long as this spirit subsists, the riches it produces have
no bad effect. The mischief is, when excessive wealth destroys the
spirit of commerce, then it is that the inconveniences of inequality
begin to be felt." (Montesquieu, Spirit of the Laws, Book 5, part VI)

John Taylor