Friday, June 30, 2006

Release from Tutelage

The Year of Release from Tutelage; Part One

By John Taylor; 2006 June 29

Let us consider a plan to unite and thus save the human race from the dangers rushing at it from all directions. Urgent as is the crisis, a crucial question remains unanswered, where to begin? I have been thinking for some years about a repeating ten-year cycle of planning years starting in 2010 that somewhere along the line would gain official recognition and sponsorship by international bodies such as the United Nations.

The first and most important year would be devoted to meditation and reflection; it might be called the "Year of Planetary Enlightenment," because in order for the collectivity to solve problems individuals will need self-illumination first and foremost. As we noted here not long ago, Emmanuel Kant defined enlightenment as freedom from immaturity or tutelage and suggested the motto: "Sapere aude!," "Have the courage to use your own reason!" Our prime obstacle, Kant said, is not ignorance or lack of understanding but lack of courage and the resolve to use our own minds without being steered astray by others. In the centuries since Kant millions have been deluded by ideologies since discredited as false and deceptive, false gods that lead only to war, injustice and violence.

The great philosophers and religious teachers of the past agree that our first and greatest struggle is and always will be to overcome the obstacles posed by our own folly, laziness, bias, baseness, gullibility and inauthenticity. Once the reason is released, the mind freed and the will resolved, we need only lay our own field of service out and draw up a clear, coherent plan of action.

The overall goal for this year is for each to gain his or her own measure of happiness by becoming an effective investigator of truth. To do that one must pause and think about who I am, where I want to go, what mission I wish to accomplish in my work and career, as well as how to improve our hobbies, play, sports and recreation. Another name for it, then, might be the Year of Truth Seeking. No specific meditation technique or doctrine of enlightenment would be advocated, for that would defeat the open-ended nature of the questioning (dialectic) process. Rather one thing and one only would be asserted emphatically and repeatedly: the right and duty of every citizen of an enlightened world to dare to be wise, Sapere Aude!, the motto that Kant suggested for planetary patriotism.

Once personal plans are integrated into collective plans in the second year of the cycle, the Year for Unity in Diversity, then assuredly torrents of human potential will be released that will wash away all of the apparently impossible challenges confronting the human race. The first two years of the planning decade would be a combined festival celebrating the unity of humankind, because the first two principles of enlightenment, search and oneness, are so closely allied as to be inseparable. Here are some points to consider during this reflection year for the first four years following the Year of Enlightenment, in chronological order.

Year Two; Year of Unity in Diversity. Main questions: If we are to have unity in essentials and diversity in what is not, how do we decide what is essential? What can safely be left to grow on its own and perform what is no less essential than the essentials: augmenting human character and diversity?

Year Three; Year of Unity of Religions. Prime questions: Why are we here? In what sense does everybody, atheist to theist, have a religion? What universal spiritual concerns and values can be a basis for common action? How do we promote these common, universalist interests?

Year Four, Year of Science. The scientific method is something all can learn and apply for ourselves. In essence this method is systematic questioning, a process that this first year commences. How then can I use the methods of science in my own life and career? How can I set my faith in support of reason? How can our common religion support scientific ends? How do we direct technological advance to the good of all and suppress all misuse of knowledge for which we are not ready?

Year Five; Year for Eliminating Prejudice. Falsity has a viral quality to delude the mind similar to the vulnerability of the body to epidemic disease. How then can we apply epidemiological measures to matters of thought? How can we protect ourselves from the prejudices, the "isms," of racism, sexism, chauvinism, all the forms of "otherism," "us" vs. "them" thinking, -- what some term "alterity" -- which are the root cause of war and violence? What comprehensive world publicity campaign would stamp out once and for all the grassfires of hatred bursting into violence caused by the multi-headed hydra of alteric deception?

Similar points to reflect upon could easily be devised for the following five years of the decades, which are as follows:

Year Six, Year for Economic Adjustment
Year Seven, Promotion of Education
Year Eight, media, communication, language
Year Nine Equality of the Sexes
Year Ten, Year of Ethics and Universal Peace

The Year of Enlightenment would mark the first occasion in history that the entire human race ever thought about one thing at once. Such inner, invisible activity alone would do more than any outer project to focus public opinion, lay the groundwork for a general consensus and, most important, form a single, focused human conscience. Beyond generalities, an entire year devoted to meditation would serve practical ends by repeatedly centering the attention of the world, and in particular leaders of thought, upon how to refine and re-define those questions that matter most to our survival. There is no lack of diseases afflicting us, or even of well thought out prescriptions to remedy them. What is missing is just what Kant said, an enlightened will to develop our own reason, to seize our maturity and live an examined life.

The physical preparations for year one of the ten year planning cycle would be the cheapest, easiest and simplest of any year. All it requires is that we come together, sit in silence and reflect. Since even physical coming together is optional, everybody in the world can participate in their own mind, even those confined by ill health or isolated by geographical location. Indeed those most in need, the poorest and most afflicted, having drunk the dregs of human suffering, would -- for once! -- be at an advantage in comparison to the privileged, who tend to live superficially busy, unexamined lives, lives that Socrates considered not worth living. Daring to reason is one thing, daring to reason together (in spirit if not in body) is another thing entirely. This would be the first time when the entire human race would come together to think about its own needs, both as individuals and as a whole.

Although the physical arrangements are elementary, the intellectual demands of this year would be by far the most onerous of any year in the planning decade. They call upon our best minds not to spoon-feed pre-processed answers but to help each and all see for themselves, and to pose new questions to themselves first and foremost. Their new role would as often as not be the gadfly that Socrates modeled and suggested, the goad that moves inert, conventional imitators to use their reason for the common good. There would be, as yet, no set platforms to lay out, only listening for original insights, thinking and readying of self for action. Those who are not intellectuals or professional thinkers would seek their own place to invest their God-given talents in some other unique service to humanity during the upcoming nine years of the plan.

John Taylor

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Love Letter to Law

A Love Letter to Law

By John Taylor; 2006 June 27

A few days ago I quoted these words of J-J Rousseau, " acquires with civil society, moral freedom, which alone makes man master of himself; for to be governed by appetite alone is slavery, while obedience to a law one prescribes to oneself is freedom." (Social Contract, 65) Having mulled this over I now think that J-J was wrong about this, at least in part.

In order to obey a law that one prescribes to oneself, that law has to be valid, both subjectively for yourself and objectively, that is, it must correspond to the universe outside of you. You cannot just say, "I want to make this a law unto myself," and expect to go out and make it work. Only well understood laws that work both within and without can work this magic. In other words, J-J forgot to factor knowledge into the equation of moral freedom. A person who knows the law can obey and implement it, for love and knowledge are two sides of one coin. Science is investigating the laws of the universe, religion the laws of God. To apply law, you need to know, love, obey, apply. The more you know the more likely inner and outer application of law will connect, in other words, the more power we will be able to handle without corrupting it.

Take as an example the decision of certain hawks in the White House a few years ago to push for an invasion of Iraq. I have read that the Canadian Prime Minister at the time thought to himself, "I do not want to get involved in that because it is illegal, it goes against the letter of international law. As soon as you break the law the result is always the same, a quagmire, a money sink." So he wisely kept our soldiers out of Iraq and firmly ensconced in Afghanistan, a cheaper quagmire. Going over what I was writing at the time, I could only resort to ineffectual anger and bitter sarcasm:

"I saw Donald "Rummy" Rumsfeld on CNBC the other night saying ... `Saddam Hussein wasted his entire rule in just maintaining through murder what he had taken.' Rummy's junta, of course, basing action purely on morality and idealism, will have no problems maintaining what they have taken by force. All who observe are charmed by selfless idealism and their natural sense of justice attracts them to join in and help en masse, for principle contains the seeds of its own success. We shall see." ("Kant's Vision of Perpetual Peace," 13 April, 2003)

Morally speaking, there is no difference between this behavior on a governmental level and a group of teenage boys who rob a convenience store in order to avenge themselves upon a clerk who shortchanged them. Two wrongs do not make a right and Realpolitik is policy that dichotomizes, corrupts, kills truth. It is, in terms of what J-J says above, slavery to passion, caused by ignorance of law. Rummy would have any deluded boys who rob convenience stores jailed but for one reason only, because he is bigger, stronger and higher up than they are, not because he knows or cares about the first thing about law. There is nothing new here, Machiavelli understood it when he made his "The Prince," written for autocrats, a short volume, and his Discourses, written for republics (democracies, in modern terminology), he made into a long, complex and hard-to-understand book.

I ask you this, why is it that if you go into the fiction section of a bookstore and somebody tips the shelves over onto you, you would be buried, crushed by the masses of love stories written about non-existent lovers -- yet there are no love stories about law? Why no Harlequin Legal Romances? Abstract as it is, there is nothing in the universe more real or important or indeed more loveable than law. Who was it that said that justice was "best beloved in my sight?" Oh yeah, God. God said that. Yet who ever marries justice? Who cares? Even the Prime Minister of Canada at the time thought about the Iraq invasion in purely pragmatic terms. He reasoned, "Hmm, this will be expensive because it is illegal." A lover of law would have done what it takes, even to the extent of going onto his knees in public and begging, pleading with anyone, no matter how powerful, who proposed to break it.

Think of it this way, you see a child about to be run over by a car. You act immediately, even if it puts your own life in danger, to remove that imminent, unthinkable catastrophe. Law is like that. Break one and you kill them all; allow law to die, and justice dies too. Yet we are blind to illegality and gross injustices that are a just little out of our immediate field of view. Bill Gates put it beautifully in an interview lately, he said that if an airliner goes down killing a few hundred people it fills the headlines for a week, and at the same time thousands of people die every minute from easily preventable illnesses, and that hardly merits a mention anywhere in the media. I call forth the blessings of God upon him and Warren Buffet, the second richest man in America, who a few days ago gave much of his fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. A sign, surely, that America may soon turn from its longstanding distinction of being the world's most corrupt to a new, spiritual, hegemony.

I am sorry. I have been ranting. Let us get our feet back down on the ground. Here is what I have been meaning to get at for the last few days, a proposition that acts as the climax of Kant's Science of Right:

"The best constitution is that in which not men but laws exercise the power."

Even those who care nothing about airy fairy spirituality or metaphysics still uphold this, Kant says. Yet they wish to break the law by effecting change by means of revolution. But what is science but ordered revolutionary change brought about by increased knowledge of the laws of nature? A Baha'i would say the same about religion, it is ordered change brought about by increased love and knowledge of God's law, accomplished within His Covenant, not outside it. The laws of science or of God cannot be advanced by breaking them. Okay, I will let him speak for himself. This is the last paragraph of "Science of Right."

"For what can be more metaphysically sublime in its own way than this very idea of theirs, which according to their own assertion has, notwithstanding, the most objective reality? This may be easily shown by reference to actual instances. And it is this very idea, which alone can be carried out practically, if it is not forced on in a revolutionary and sudden way by violent overthrow of the existing defective constitution; for this would produce for the time the momentary annihilation of the whole juridical state of society. But if the idea is carried forward by gradual reform and in accordance with fixed principles, it may lead by a continuous approximation to the highest political good, and to perpetual peace."

The last two words of this work, "Science of Right," are "perpetual peace," and that for good reason. Kant had already established that peace is the purpose of science. Science seeks law; law seeks justice; therefore the rule of law leads to eternal peace. In his words,

"It may be said that the universal and lasting establishment of peace constitutes not merely a part, but the whole final purpose and end of the science of right as viewed within the limits of reason."

You can come to your own conclusions about this but here is mine. First principles may not always be self-evident but this has to be if any are. Anyone who learns science, seeks, ultimately, peace. Anyone who obeys the law, seeks peace. Anyone who upholds the law, upholds peace. Anyone who loves One God loves His Peace. This, my friends, is why I am revisiting now Kant's crowning work, his "Sketch on Perpetual Peace." This is what one scholar said about the Sketch,

"Kant's short but important essay on Perpetual Peace acquires more and new relevance in the light of events today and continues to inspire many contemporary thinkers. Kant's thought contributes in important respects to our globalised world: it paved the way for our contemporary understanding of human rights, the United Nations and human freedom." (Anja Steinbauer, 2005)

John Taylor

Monday, June 26, 2006

Perpetual Peace?

Perpetual Peace?

By John Taylor; 2006 June 26

"If a majority in every civilized country so desired, we could, within twenty years, abolish all abject poverty, quite half the illness in the world, the whole economic slavery which binds down nine tenths of our population; we could fill the world with beauty and joy, and secure the reign of universal peace." (Bertrand Russell, quoted in Dave Robinson and Judy Groves, Introducing Bertrand Russell, Icon Books, Cambridge, 2002, p. 3)

It took until the turn of the millennium for this seemingly pie-in-the-sky vision of Bertrand Russell's to enter the mainstream. Leaders of thought no longer consider it at all radical, and the desire for peace by a majority, the precondition for peace reconstruction of which he spoke, has grown and solidified into a strong consensus. Although poverty today is both more severe and more widespread than when Russell wrote, wealth and technical means have also grown correspondingly stronger. World leaders a few years ago agreed in principle to eliminate gross poverty within ten years, half the time that Russell allowed for. Unfortunately they did not go beyond idle promises and the project remains on the drawing board.

The audacious idea of a planned project for the permanent elimination of war, poverty and injustice was sparked in G. W. von Leibniz when at an inn in Holland he happened to view a poster depicting a graveyard at night. Above dark images of gravestones, plastered in large letters were the words: "Perpetual Peace?" He found this question thought-provoking and he mentioned it in a letter to his pen pal, Immanuel Kant. Kant was so intrigued that he started off his "Philosophical Sketch on Perpetual Peace" with a discussion of its meanings and interpretations. The picture on the poster may have been a sketch; Kant named his peace essay a sketch too, a philosophical rather than a visual sketch.

The meaning of the question, "Perpetual peace?" juxtaposed on that graveyard may seem obvious, but not to a philosopher. Kant at the beginning of the Sketch points to it. Clearly both great thinkers had asked questions like:

Is this satirical question "perpetual peace?" holding all of humanity up for derision? Or is it mocking the rules that nations go by? Is it directed at their pretense of upholding law and order while inwardly they are "insatiable of war?" Is the grave the only lasting peace we can hope for? Is life mere struggle and brute conflict? Is death our only hope of surcease? Is peace a dream? Is it practicable? What would have to be done for peace to become real and permanent?

Kant wonders if the poster aims its sarcasm at the thinkers who feed ideas to practical leaders, or it perhaps a protest against the obscurantism that keeps philosophers from speaking truth to power? (Kant could not publish this locally because of the suspicions of censors) As long as that divorce continues, peace will remain a pipe dream.

Are peacemakers, theoretical or practical, dreaming a futile ideal? We all hope that goodness and equality will win out but is it not a fact of history that those with the gumption to rise to the top of the heap are not the nice guys but breakers of the Golden Rule, ruthless, cynical, scheming backstabbers? Will the only time the meek will equal tyrants be when both are six feet under? Is that graveyard scene the last, forlorn hope of peacemakers?

The way to peace is no different today than it was then. It begins in simple questions like the ones this poster provokes. We all have to pose them in our own words before we take a step, before we say a word.

We all know that at the top things are rotten, which is why we have war in the first place. Kant sees that in the poster. Nations pretend to defend law and order but they do the reverse, they continually lead us into war. As the Bible put it, "Peace, peace, they declare, but there is no peace." Nowadays, the agenda setters claim to fight the good fight on our behalf against terrorists and other threats. But is this done from our need for security or is it the voice of a supercharged arms industry avid to sell weapons of mass destruction to all comers? We know that greedy corporations set the agenda, they ask our questions for us first, all the way down the line. We must ask our own questions, and answer them for ourselves. If every world citizen had an equal say we can be sure that the fight for peace would be won immediately, but that is not going to happen without a plan and a polity for world citizens.

The problem, Kant continues in the Sketch, is that practicing statesmen apply naked empirical principles and look down on the political theorist as a pedant with empty, irrelevant ideas. The result is that many take for granted an astonishing thesis of human nature as inherently violent at face value, from Machiavelli to Hobbes. Kratos will always dominate Ethos, they say, might makes right whether we wish it to be so or not.

Nor did Kant wholly disagree with them. He recognizes that peace at times can seem insipid and namby-pamby; as often as not, war galvanizes the chaotic masses into planned, concerted action. Conflicts are inherently dramatic and give vitality for a time, at least until the after-effects set in. In an earlier work, the Critique of Pure Judgment, he had written that some forms of peace can be almost as unproductive as war,

"a prolonged peace favors the predominance of a mere commercial spirit, and with it a debasing self-interest, cowardice, and effeminacy, and tends to degrade the character of the nation."

Kant therefore makes a strict distinction in the Sketch between a drawn out, limited, temporary peace that is in reality a preparation for more wars, and real peace, which is permanent and perpetual in nature. The former is an imposed cessation of hostilities rooted in fear and exhaustion rather than love, whereas the latter would be firmly based upon universal brotherhood. We use one word for both, "peace," but they are entirely different. What keeps us back from even imagining real peace is our persistent acceptance of nature as warlike, whereas the opposite must gradually become our operating principle. Kant had said in the Science of Right,

"But if the idea is carried forward by gradual reform and in accordance with fixed principles, it may lead by a continuous approximation to the highest political good, and to perpetual peace."

This scientific, ordered planning for peace is what we are urgently called to commence at this juncture of history.

John Taylor

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Unnamed Tablet

Inner meaning of the principle of Oneness of God;
Notes on an Unnamed Tablet of the Bab

By John Taylor; 2006 June 24

Today let us go through an unnamed tablet of the Bab from the section "Excerpts from Various Writings" in the compilation "Selections from the Writings of the Bab."

First off, have you ever wondered why the Hidden Words are almost all addressed, "O Son of..."? Yes, it is a common literary convention -- used in the Book of Proverbs in the Bible, for instance -- for a sage in wisdom literature to offer advice as if he were a father giving advice to his eldest son, the one according to ancient laws of primogeniture would take over proprietorship of the family farm, business or other enterprise. Historically, this was the most important type of advice possible. Upon it hung the family name and the fate of all its possessions. If a daughter or younger son messed up it was a personal tragedy, but an unwise heir could sink the entire family fortune and everybody's link to family tradition. But this is getting it backwards, for the model of filial relationships, the greatest, the primal father-son tie is that of God to His Manifestation. Upon this relation we all depend for our spiritual purity and vitality. Consider God's words here addressed to the Bab in His role as the eldest son, inheritor of a new name, the gate to a time when God's Messenger is no longer called prophet but "manifestation":

"I have called Thee into being, have nurtured Thee, protected Thee, loved Thee, raised Thee up and have graciously chosen Thee to be the manifestation of Mine Own Self, that Thou mayest recite My verses as ordained by Me, and may summon whomsoever I have created unto My Religion which is none other than this glorious and exalted Path." (The Bab, Selections, 158)

The parable of the vineyard explains this distinction. The master's heir from now on will no longer be sent as a messenger to stewards of an usurped estate telling them to get ready to hand it over, as prophets did in the past. Now He is inheritor coming into direct sovereign proprietorship. He writes the message down for all to read themselves, thus "manifesting" the Will of God in authentic, verifiable text. For what does He inherit? Verses. He recites them and calls those created "unto My Religion which is none other than this glorious and exalted Path." What does Path imply? For one thing, ownership is ultimately of God, so this heir does not hold onto land passively. He builds a Path through a garden. The verses given to Him explain how; they are an "owner's manual," so to speak.

In every meaningful sense before the Bab came ownership did not exist. Only a tiny percentage of the population owned anything. The vast majority of the human race were dispossessed. They did not own land, land owned them. Slaves were property, bought and sold. The "free" peasantry were legally required to stay on the land they worked and were bought and sold along with the estate. Those few who did gradually liberate themselves from material serfdom remained slaves to their own ignorance and animal drives. As Rousseau put it, " acquires with civil society, moral freedom, which alone makes man master of himself; for to be governed by appetite alone is slavery, while obedience to a law one prescribes to oneself is freedom." (Social Contract, 65) The Manifestation is, from the spiritual point of view, the first morally free Owner ever. His followers take God's will upon themselves as their own rule, their own intimate master. Thus He takes possession of all hearts, and by extension all things, by means of God's love. But again, this is getting it backwards, All things were created for Him in the first place. Consider the next, truly astonishing statement that God addresses to the Bab:

"I have fashioned all created things for Thy sake, and I have, by virtue of My Will, set Thee sovereign Ruler over all mankind." (Id.)

One essential transition is missed by those of us not born into Jewish home, the coming of age ceremony known as a Bar Mitzvah, or for girls, a Bat Mitzvah. Kurt Vonnegut in his memoir, "Timequake," fervently suggests that such a ceremony be made a fundamental human right for every child, written into the constitution. But he adds that this would be impossible without a strong extended family to implement it. Myself, I think there should be such a thing as a "family constitution," backed by civil law. Until that happens we will never understand the value of monarchy, which is a national coming of age ceremony, much less the Supreme ceremony of the Manifestation depicted here.

In any case, these words addressed to the Bab seem to my ears to be a divine Paterfamilias conferring maturity upon the new "Manifestation" in a primordial Bar Mitzvah ceremony. We are all to pay attention as if we were friends and extended family members attending a Bar Mitzvah. Again, Christ prefigured it.

"A multitude was sitting around him, and they told him, "Behold, your mother, your brothers, and your sisters are outside looking for you." He answered them, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" Looking around at those who sat around him, he said, "Behold, my mother and my brothers! For whoever may do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother." (Mark 3:32-5, WEB)

The prophets of old spoke of God's Will as something coming in the future, but now it is manifest, here and now. The Will of the Bab's and God's Will are one, for He is a true Son in a profound way beyond our comprehension. God loves this firstborn son and the Bab loves Him back. This love and this only is a love worthy of the Supreme Being. We can never fathom such total love to and from God. It confers virtual possession of all things on the manifestation, the clarifying One. God's Will, and what identifies with it, directly pulls the strings of every atom and quark, every law, every throw of the quantum dice, in the universe.

The tenth month of the Bab's Badi' Calendar is Mashiyyat, Will. Its central position in the year (nine months before, nine after it) demonstrates the pivotal role that will and ownership play in all things. The Bab inherited it first, but inherit when we love and sacrifice for Him. Identify with God's will through His religion and verses, and moral freedom is our inheritance. We become a mature son or daughter of God. Everything in the universe, the whole family fortune, is destined for you. Jalalu'Din Rumi, a minor prophet himself, expressed it poetically:

"For he that is beside himself is annihilated and safe;
Yea, he dwells in security forever.
His form is vanished, he is a mere mirror;
Nothing is seen in him but the reflection of another.
If you spit at it, you spit at your own face,
And if you hit that mirror, you hit yourself;
And if you see an ugly face in it, 'tis your own,
And if you see an 'Isa there, you are its mother Mary.
He is neither this nor that he is void of form;
'Tis your own form which is reflected back to you."
(Mathnavi of Rumi, Vol. 4, E.H. Whinfield tr)

This reflexivity of spirit had been understood on a personal level before. What is new in our age of manifestation is that the mirror can be reflected in many, in group action. Spiritual enlightenment and evolution is no longer just about you, or just me, it is the reflection in us of our unity together. We combine in love with our brothers and sisters, we separate and recombine like letters of the alphabet expressing the Bab's supreme will. Not dead letters but living, breathing, loving letters, which is why the Bab's 19 leading followers were entitled "Letters of the Living." The Creator lays this out with perfect clarity to the Bab in the following:

"Moreover, I have decreed that whoso embraceth My religion shall believe in My unity, and I have linked this belief with remembrance of Thee, and after Thee the remembrance of such as Thou hast, by My leave, caused to be the 'Letters of the Living', and of whatever hath been revealed from My religion in the Bayan. This, indeed, is what will enable the sincere among My servants to gain admittance into the celestial Paradise." (Selections, 158-159)

To embrace this extended family requires only one belief above all: they "shall believe in My unity..." The Bab has been laying out the principle of principles, the Oneness of God. This is why I so strongly believe that all Baha'i principles are nothing but derivations of this one central conviction, the belief that God is One, that from one comes many, and that the love of the Manifestation demonstrates unity. As the Bab puts it, "I have linked this belief with remembrance of Thee..." Talk God and you talk the Bab, talk the Bab and you talk his followers... their immolation spelled out His meaning in flaming letters.

And remember, who was always there behind the scenes, the puppet master pulling the strings of Vahid, Tahirih, Hujjat, and all the other Babi' heroes? Baha'u'llah Himself. He taught them that theirs was a path to supreme sacrifice and He fortified them in that. Together they spelled out, as perfect mirrors, the meaning of the martyrdom of the Bab. This was how the Heir came of age, by taking on the crown of martyrdom. The Bab, the heir, is next informed that the very structure of the universe reflects His identity with God.

"Verily, the sun is but a token from My presence so that the true believers among My servants may discern in its rising the dawning of every Dispensation." (Selections, 159)

Intellectually, the inheritor of this was `Abdu'l-Baha. He read and memorized the Bab's Writings in youth instead of formal schooling. His assiduous study in youth of the Bab's verses came into full flower in old age when He traversed the West with a simple, penetrating and original analogy in hand: sun and earth explain understandably what had been called the trinity, the threefold levels of God, Manifestation, and creation that we see on the ring stone symbol, also designed by `Abdu'l-Baha as a teaching device. Hundreds of times the Master repeated this clarifying, manifesting metaphor. God, to the Bab, then explains the direct act of will that brought about creation, first through the Bab's Word, then all things proceeding from that.

"In truth I have created Thee through Thyself, then at My Own behest I have fashioned all things through the creative power of Thy Word. We are All-Powerful. I have appointed Thee to be the Beginning and the End, the Seen and the Hidden. Verily We are the All-Knowing."

Here the Mystery is laid out in positive terms. We know now that creativity an act of direct will and that the Manifestation is on a higher level because God created Him directly, "through Thyself," and other created things came about "through the creative power of Thy Word." He is his own substance, in technical terms, self-subsisting. Other created beings are removed from the grounds of their existence, as the word "substance," "standing under," signifies. The manifestation speaks the words and creation is the letters, syllables and phonemes that make up His speech. So much for what He is; next we are directed to what is not Him.

"No one hath been or will ever be invested with prophethood other than Thee, nor hath any sacred Book been or will be revealed unto any one except Thee. Such is the decree ordained by Him Who is the All-Encompassing, the Best Beloved.

I suppose that at a Bar Mitzvah for the eldest son the father can stipulate that this son and nobody else will run the family business. So it is with the divine heritage. All previous prophets and prophesies are wrapped up into one Revelation, that of the Bab. All loyalty goes to Him, and anybody who enters or works on the family farm answers to His leadership. This is the heart of the principle of the Oneness of God. Here is the concluding paragraph of the Bab's Tablet. If "Bab" means gate, here is the hinge to the gate, the center around which it and all things move. The words of the Bab, as this attests, "inherit" the meanings behind all previous scriptures. That is what ownership truly is, for words are the most powerful tool known to humankind.

"The Bayan is in truth Our conclusive proof for all created things, and all the peoples of the world are powerless before the revelation of its verses. It enshrineth the sum total of all the Scriptures, whether of the past or of the future, even as Thou art the Repository of all Our proofs in this Day. We cause whomsoever We desire to be admitted into the gardens of our most holy, most sublime Paradise. Thus is divine revelation inaugurated in each Dispensation at Our behest. We are truly the supreme Ruler. Indeed no religion shall We ever inaugurate unless it be renewed in the days to come. This is a promise We solemnly have made. Verily We are supreme over all things..."

John Taylor

Friday, June 23, 2006

Inventing Friendship

Inventing Friendship

By John Taylor; 2006 June 23

A computer scientist and entrepreneur by the name of John Koza -- I am told that koza means "goat" in Czech -- has strung together a thousand networked computers to solve problems using a specially designed genetic algorithm. He calls it an "invention machine" and he believes that it successfully automates the creative process. ("John Koza has built an Invention Machine," By Jonathon Keats, Popular Science, May 2006, p. 66) A year or two ago his networked electronic brain won the first patent for a non-human inventor, a milestone in computer science as great as the Turing Test. Like Thomas Edison, the machine is rapidly innovating in a dozen fields at once. Its inventor is taking it to the next step, coming up with a patent that becomes a commercial success. This would be another non-human first.

Koza's electronic inventor has come up with a new wide-field telescopic lens, a crooked wire antenna for space probes, and so forth. The program combines artificial intelligence with genetic programming by breaking down both the parameters of a problem and the program elements that solve it into small bits and "breeding" them with each other over many generations, just as evolution fiddles with the genetic code. After a day or a month, the perfect solution rises to the top.

Most interesting for me is how the invention machine is being directed to solve tangled political problems. It found a way around the world's worst democratic structure, the "electoral college" that directly elects the American president. Without this ridiculous institution the current president, already considered by a broad consensus to be the worst in history, would never have made it into the Oval Office. The invention machine discovered that if a critical mass of eleven states were to pledge to vote for the winner of the popular vote, the electoral college would be nullified. Surprisingly, so desperate have Americans become that this suggestion is actually being taken up, Illinois being the first state to take the pledge.

As a person with a passionate interest in things creative, I think this is a tremendously important development. It will change the role humans play in creativity, a role that is already a partnership rather than a master-slave relationship. For a long time I have thought that as machines catch up in raw intellectual capacity we will have to change our values around completely. Instead of brute calculating ability, something we are not good at anyway, we will learn to admire and promote the mushy virtues that humans exclusively are good at, like compassion, humility, indeed all the virtues that Baha'u'llah listed in His tablet to Mirza Mihdi, being "a friend to the stranger, a balm to the suffering," and so forth. But there is more to it than that. Let me quote a passage from the article in question,

"As genetic programming becomes pervasive over the next decade, the process of finding good solutions to difficult engineering problems will become efficient in the way that once-arduous tasks such as 3-D rendering have become routine. But, as with 3-D rendering, the real challenge will lie in deciding what to create. This is no trivial matter -- to invent a car, even with an invention machine, you must be able to conceive of wanting a horseless carriage in the first place. In the future, as solutions become plentiful and cheap, the real test of creativity will come in the search for problems." ("Invention Machine," p. 82)

Sticking to this example of the automobile, certainly if such an invention machine had been available at the turn of the last century, electric automobiles would have won out over gas burners, and personalized mass transit would have beaten both in most areas. What was needed then, as now, was not so much better choice of problems as the wisdom to be critical and say, "No, let us not invent anything at all here." The invention machine will really prove its usefulness when it is designed to be critical, to take in the environmental effects, the unexpected pitfalls of local solutions. For example, nanotechnology, new and exiting as it seems, can easily create toxic waste to dwarf present pollution problems, severe as they already are. So for every nanotech invention let the invention machine loose with one million dollar preventive cleanup question: "Will this cause more recycling difficulties than the narrowly defined solution itself merits?"

Koza is right to turn the invention machine to political problems. I think that this is the ripest area to apply its innovation skills. Work an automated inventor into the whole consultative process.

Here is an idea: Use the inventor as a lawyer-on-the-spot to draw up dynamic contracts with every person you meet. As things are if a person breaks a promise, they are impervious. If they do not turn up for an appointment, they do not pay for it. If it is not illegal, who cares? We have no sanctions or incentives on either side to do what it takes to be a good friend. If one party does not give due and timely notice, that is, if they stand you up, they should pay. The injured party should be able to put a bad mark on some virtual escutcheon between them, lower their stock, drop their emotional intelligence quotient a little bit. Brownie points and black marks should be struck up automatically, to avoid further ill-will. And they should outlast the relationship; that is, if somebody has been a lousy friend before the danger should be clear from the beginning to all who start new contracts with them.

At the same time, if a friend is putting you lower on their list of priorities than you are them, let it be clear and written, searchable and analyzable by your automated lawyer. Let the machine interview both sides and come up with adjustments to the contract, as needed. The creative digital assistant would never let an acquaintance dare call you a friend until they have earned the title, until they have given up something to be with you. Clearly, without real-time assistants, teachers and mentors drawing up and maintaining such elaborate contracts would be extremely time-consuming. Lovers already spend far too much time talking about "the relationship" with one another; think how hard it would be to do the same with long term friends, much less casual acquaintances. But there is a great need nonetheless. In our society friendships are in great need of contractual bolstering. Especially with men, the center of relationships fall apart and in old age they are left alone, friendless and embittered. Suicide rates for senior men are frighteningly high. Men especially are in need of contracts to survive, or we naturally revert to what was once called the "state of nature," complete isolation without a covenant to civilize us.

We are talking here about the automation what could be called creative covenantal relationships. These are increasingly the mark of everything we do in this age. The first thinker to turn to this kind of relationship was J-J Rousseau in his Social Contract. It is not a coincidence that those in a state of nature find it a difficult book to understand. Here is what one professor wrote about it on the internet:

"Rousseau's Social Contract is infamous for the difficulties which it imposes on its readers. Some see it as an application of social contract theory to the problem of legitimating majority rule; others see it as romantic collectivism, in which the individual is somehow swept up in the collectivity and thereby made free; still others see it as a blueprint for totalitarianism."

The social contract is none of these things, it is a precursor to the divine covenant set up by Baha'u'llah. We will talk more of this later. Meantime, consider this amazing prayer and prophesy. Imagine a day when kings and queens seek after and value good friends, rich or poor, before power and influence. Yet it must come about if God says it will.

"Glorified art Thou, O Lord my God! Thou hast, in Thine all highest Paradise, assigned unto Thy servants such stations that if any one of them were to be unveiled to men's eyes all who are in heaven and all who are on earth would be dumbfounded. By Thy might! Were kings to witness so great a glory they would, assuredly, rid themselves of their dominions and cleave to such of their subjects as have entered beneath the shadow of Thine immeasurable mercy and sought the shelter of Thine all-glorious name." (Baha'u'llah, Prayers and Meditations, 208)

John Taylor

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Oblomov Sees the Light

Oblomov Sees the Light; More Health and Diet Notes

By John Taylor; 2006 June 22

Stu introduced to me two major dietary innovations. First was a recipe for bean salad made of canned beans, quick, easy and healthful. I have a bowlful for lunch daily, flatulence be blown, so to speak. Decades of chronic illness have put health way before social acceptability on my priority list. I have improved upon his recipe by adding a handful of curry to every batch; since that Indian spice has been proven to prevent Alzheimer's and that runs in my family (50 percent of seniors get Alzy or dementia anyway these days, so it probably does not matter much if it is in your genes or not). Just to make sure, I put heaps of curry in my thrice daily gazpacho soup too.

Stu also introduced me to the idea of eating omega fortified eggs, that is, eggs laid by chickens fed exclusively on flax seed meal. Here was his story: somebody noticed that patients in some heart clinic somewhere liked their eggs in the morning, but as we all know, eggs raise cholesterol levels. So this person tried out flax fed chicken eggs on the patients and discovered that eating these eggs regularly actually lowered their cholesterol. Thus was born the omega fortified egg. So it was that for a few months I shelled out the extra dollar per dozen for these elite eggs and got into the habit of having two microwaved omega eggs, nuked in a special plastic explosion container, along with my normal breakfast every morning.

Then on my second visit to my doctor's in-house nutritionist I asked about the omega eggs. She said, "Save your money, buy ordinary eggs and eat the flax directly. Grind up the seeds in the blender, put them in the fridge and have two to three teaspoons full each day. If that does not give you diarrhea, work it up to two or three tablespoons of flax seed daily." I have followed that advice and it seems to help. By then I had gotten into the habit of two morning eggs. She did not recommend so many eggs but for me it is a choice: either every day or never. I cannot do things on a weekly basis, I can only remember every day not several times a week. Besides, a recent study -- admittedly funded by the egg industry -- found that as many as four eggs per day are safe; the same study also found that although eggs raise "bad cholesterol" levels, the type of bad that it raises is not so bad as once was thought. Call it good bad cholesterol. The study also suggested that that many eggs might be a good alternative to suggest to the poor, since eggs are relatively cheap. Low cost, in my book, always clinches it.

But the egg story is not over. In this month's New Scientist a gardener wrote in and asked the resident expert why it was that when he had two eggs in the morning he did not have to have a mid-morning snack, whereas when he had a cereal breakfast his hard labor induced enough hunger to force him to stop for a refill halfway through the morning. As soon as I read the question, I noticed that this had been true for me too, sedentary writer that I am, at least in the morning. I realized that since I had started on my two egg a day habit I had felt no desire for my usual morning snack. Instead of eating, for my break now I grab a bottle of water and pace around and stretch my legs for several minutes. It does not occur to me anymore to sit down and eat.

Anyway, the scientist answered the gardener's question by pointing out that eggs are a type of protein that predates the addition only 10,000 years ago of grains to the human diet. For that reason the body absorbs egg proteins quicker and more thoroughly than whatever the nutrients are that are in grains. At the same time they seem to hold off hunger pangs longer... Okay, I admit, I did not pay much attention to the answer, to me the observation in the question is the important thing. You go past shelf after shelf in the library about diets and how to lose weight -- you could spend the rest of your life just reading these elaborate schemes -- and yet studies found that none of them lasts more than a year before dieters regain the weight again. Yet here is a simple and easy change, two eggs in the morning, that will really work, as long as you keep it permanent.

This is the big obstacle to overcome for just about anything, how to keep good changes permanent. The only thing that for me keeps an improvement going permanently is knowing exactly why I should be doing it. For example, for many years I kept paying for distilled bottle water because of a vague sense that I "felt better" when I drank more; since distilled water tastes better than tap water I tend to drink more of it when it is easily available. Eventually last fall (or was it the autumn before that? Remember what I said about Alzies.) I stopped buying water completely. It seemed a needless expense for a possibly imagined benefit.

At around that time my migraines became much more frequent and severe. I was being blinded, the mark of a crippling condition. But only when I happened to come across it in a Migraines for Dummies book did I realize that avoiding dehydration, or to be more accurate, drinking water until you are about to burst, actually both alleviates and prevents migraines. Migraine, in my opinion, is caused by a defective sense of thirst; you do not feel the need for the amount of water that your brain actually needs to function. Now, knowing that, I gladly shell out for water, I force myself to drink it all day long, and I no longer am subject to being raked over the coals by migraine attacks. Knowing why I am doing it means that I will never revert or backslide.

I remember one doctor I went to in Ottawa (which places it around 1980) who listened to my list of symptoms, read the test results showing nothing abnormal, and then offered this speculation: "Maybe you just have a weak physiology." Yet thanks to the reasonable planners at OHIP (Ontario's medical plan), now dieticians are considered to pay for themselves, and I am a case in point. At that last visit a blood test the dietician had ordered turned up a vitamin B12 deficiency, resulting in the languor of anemia. This is something that has dogged me all my life. I had said to that Ottawa doctor,

"How could I have a weak physiology? I was among the top five Judoka in Canada in my weight class a few years ago. I was training for the Olympics. Judo matches are three minutes long, which requires only short bursts of energy, but what kills me is lasting through a whole day. Once I get through the morning all I want to do from then on is lie around. I cannot hold down a job, I get so sleepy and apathetic all of the time and afternoons are absolute torture. I cannot believe this is normal."

Yet this and many other doctors put me through every imaginable test and nothing ever turned up. Even my closest friends thought I was imagining it, or was simply lazy. Now I get a dietician and at last an adequate explanation turns up. When she asked me if I had been feeling anemic lately I had to say no, I have always felt anemic, all my life. My favorite novel for many years was "Oblomov," the story of a fellow so languid and bed bound that he falls in love and loses her simply because he is too tired to roll out of his couch. Long, long ago I gave up all hope of changing that.

Just think of the millions of dollars the government could have saved -- not to mention my own career tossed to the wolves -- if only there were closer monitoring of bodily functions. Since I started taking the 1000 mmg. of vitamin B12 daily I have been trying to be as active as I possibly can, even though I must say I still feel excruciating tired most of the time. But seeing light at the end of the tunnel, I am willing to fight it again. The dietician said that there may be an absorption problem and I am to check back with her again in August. Maybe vitamin shots will be necessary.

Be that as it may, I am determined to fight to get what I have never had, a healthy, vigorous constitution. Which is why when all the other soccer moms and dads are sitting by the sidelines I am the only adult over at an empty goal area fending off the shots of a group of ankle nippers. When Silvie is playing or practicing I kick the soccer ball around with Thomas and friends, and when he plays, I practice with Silvie and her bigger friends. I may barely be able to run like a turtle or kick like a flounder, but better be thought a clumsy fool than lose the only worldly thing that matters, your health.

John Taylor

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Can you organize the Baha'i Faith?

Can you organize the Baha'i Faith?

By John Taylor; 2006 June 21

"If an individual has an opportunity to plant a tree, even if he knows the Day of Judgment is imminent, let him plant the tree." (Muhammad)

A while back I stumbled across the following quote in an early Baha'i book:

"The Baha'i revelation is not an organization. The Baha'i Cause can never be confined to an organization. The Baha'i revelation is the spirit of this age. It is the essence of all the highest ideals of this century. The Baha'i Cause is an inclusive movement; the teachings of all religions and societies are found here. Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Mohammedans, Zoroastrians, Theosophists, Freemasons, Spiritualists, et al., find their theories fully developed in this revelation." (Baha'i Year Book, Vol. 1, 1925-1926, p. 146)

I liked these sentiments and hoped that it was authentic scripture. This was cited without attribution in an article called "The Unity of Civilization" by a non-Baha'i scholar, Y. S. Tsao. Did it come from the Master? Ocean turned up dry, so I tried Sifter, Star of the West. That search engine found its earliest occurrence in the following, which I quote again in full, since there is at least one slight difference:

"The Baha'i Movement is not an organization. You can never organize the Baha'i Cause. The Baha'i movement is the spirit of the age. It is the essence of all the highest ideals of this century. The Baha'i Cause is an INCLUSIVE MOVEMENT: The teachings of all the religions and societies are found here; the Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Mohammedans, Zoroastrians, Theosophists, Freemasons, Spiritualists, et. al. find their highest aims in this Cause. Even the Socialists and philosophers find their theories fully developed in this Movement." (Abdu'l-Baha, quoted in "The Baha'i Temple at Wilmette To Be Built with Money from Every Race, Clime and Religion under the Sun," By Isabel Fraser, The North Shore Review, May 16, 1914, in Star of the West, Vol. 25, p. 67)

This evidently was originally cited at the start of an article in a local newspaper announcing to neighborhood residents some details about what would soon be built on the then empty Wilmette temple grounds, written a year or two after the Master had dedicated it. How authentic the quote is, I still do not know.

Then along came Ruth White, an admirer of the Master who hardly became what we today would call a Baha'i. She challenged the Will of the Master. Also, she latched onto the first sentence of this statement and held it above all other Baha'i teachings. She said in effect: "The spirit bloweth where it listeth," so do not dare try to tell the wind where it should go. She told this to everybody who would listen. Her vehemence caused a ruckus for decades, both within the Faith and later from outside. She resisted every attempt to organize the Cause, a position contradictory and impracticable and hard to believe today. Attempts were made early on to counter that ridiculous position. Here is a sort of note about a pilgrim's note from August of 1921, from a talk by Mason Remey.

"Some of the friends of the Baha'i Cause have been a little confused regarding the organization of the holy Cause because of the wide circulation of some words, to the effect that this Cause should never be organized thus some have imagined that no form of Baha'i organization should exist. Now of late we are informed by pilgrims returning to their homes from Palestine that Abdu'l-Baha has explained that these words circulated to the effect that the Cause should never be organized, give an impression very different found that of the reality of his teachings.

"Experience in the Baha'i Cause shows us that when special questions arise, it is always well to gather together all of the holy Words treating of the subject, for when studying all of the divine teachings treating of any one subject we obtain an all around and a comprehensive conception of the truth of the matter. From one short excerpt from the holy Words, separated from its context, erroneous meanings may be obtained. This danger does not exist when we study the particular statement in its rightful relation with the entire teaching. (SW, Vol. 12, p. 154)

This kind of comparative textual analysis can of course be done much more quickly and easily today, what with database search technology. Even a lazy lump like me can juxtapose and compare scriptural nuances along with the best of them. What I have collected together this morning would have taken years to do before, not to mention requiring a fluency in several languages that I do not have. Let us be grateful for what we are given.

The Guardian was forced by such agitators as White to draw firm lines early in his ministry. For example, the above quote from the Master seems to imply that you can be a freemason or an adherent of another religion and still be a Baha'i. When he took over leadership of the Faith, most Baha'is were indeed affiliated with such groups. He quickly ended that practice; a slogan sums up the line he drew, "association, not affiliation." Similarly, although he was the consummate organizer and planner, and in spite of agitators like Ruth White, he nonetheless came down firmly on the side of the spirit -- if not necessarily the letter -- of what the Master was quoted above as saying:

"Regarding the relationship of the Cause to the Administration; the Baha'i Faith as the Guardian himself has repeatedly and emphatically stated cannot be confined to a mere system of organization, however elaborate in its features and universal in its scope it may be. Organization is only a means to the realization of its aims and ideals, and not an end in itself. To divorce the two, however, would be to mutilate the Cause itself, as they stand inseparably bound to each other, in very much the same relationship existing between the soul and body in the world of human existence." (From a letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer April 19, 1939, Lights of Guidance, p. 2)

I think that very good grounds for this attitude were laid in the Most Holy Law Book of Baha'u'llah: "This is not a Cause which may be made a plaything for your idle fancies, nor is it a field for the foolish and faint of heart." (Aqdas, 84) It is an organization, admittedly, but we do not organize it, God does. The Master Himself made his own position very clear on the urgent need for organization on behalf of morality, in spite of the truth that the "spirit bloweth where it listeth." He said, for example, that, "Our Party is God's party; we do not belong to any party." (Abdu'l-Baha, quoted by Shoghi Effendi, in Lights of Guidance, p. 444) Also, when he met the Mayor of Berkley, California on 7 October, 1912 he was asked about economics. This was the Master's reply:

"We must strive until mankind achieves everlasting felicity. Laws are needed which can both preserve the ranks of individuals and secure peace and stability for them because society is like an army, which needs a general, captains, lieutenants and privates. Not all can be captains nor can all be soldiers. The grades of responsibility are essential and the differences of rank a necessity. Just as a family needs old and young, master and mistress, servants and attendants, likewise society needs organization and structure. However, all must be part of an order which will ensure that each lives in complete comfort within his own station. It should not be that the master lives in comfort while the servant is in pain; that is injustice. Similarly, it is impossible that all be either servants or masters; then there would be no order."

The Mayor wondered how soon this will come about. The Master answered:

"As these laws are in conformity with the demands of the time, they will unfailingly prevail, although they will be implemented gradually. Everything can be prevented or resisted except the demands of the time. The time is ripe for the governments to remedy these ills. Relief must be brought to the toiling masses. Otherwise, if these ills are allowed to become chronic, their cure will be difficult and they will precipitate a great revolution." (Mahmud, 309)

This of course was said some three years before the Bolshevist revolution began to play out, and some ten years after a socially conservative President of the United States had been shot to death by a socialistic anarchist. The eschatological question in Christianity as to whether it is appropriate to organize for social good or just sit back and wait for the Return came and solved all our problems had been translated into a secular context with a vengeance. Wait or act? That question was vexed and unanswerable, but of course it was nothing compared to the paralysis of today. This morning Silvie, while still in bed, asked me the difference between global warming and global dimming. One cools and the other warms, I explained, like a bow and arrow aimed at the head of all life on earth. The greater the tension between them the more dire the danger and the more careful we have to be. The worst thing to do is to do nothing or to do the wrong thing. Only God, united resolve and a wholly new organization will get us out of this predicament. There is no magic involved but there is good reason both to hope and work. Mahmud records the following about the Master in Cincinnati,

"Today He spoke about the Universal House of Justice and the International Parliament of man, where representatives from all the parliaments of the world will resolve conflicts between nations, such as that in the Balkans. This organization will cure the chronic diseases of the nations." (Mahmud, 373-374)

John Taylor

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Cosmopolitical Rights

Standing up for our Cosmopolitical Rights

By John Taylor; 2006 June 20

In yesterday's essay, "Facing Cosmopolitical Reality" we looked from several angles at "cosmopolitics," literally, "universe politics," a word Kant used to describe the political order that will come about under a permanent peace pact, as opposed to the warring, partisan politics that are the mark of a truce -- a truce is only a cessation of hostilities in order to rest and make yet more preparations for further, endless war. Only a permanent pact is worthy of the name "peace," and its cosmopolitics would be a wholly different animal from the violent struggle we call politics. Baha'is, we noted, are cosmopolitically involved but disengaged politically.

Kant was directly inspired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and we briefly looked over the latter's understanding of law. Law, he said, is a human attempt to implement universal justice by assuming a state of total equality among all members. Acts performed under the rule of law are of a different moral order because all are acting on all for the sake of divine justice. Kant called this jus cosmopoliticum, or cosmopolitical right; from this primal right are derived freedom, equality, and all other human rights.

The nature of law requires that a moral agent take a first step to make law universal, that is, by making peace universal. Otherwise, as Rousseau had pointed out, those who obey the law are gulled by the lawless, those who disobey. If a few can evade paying taxes, those who do pay are made into fools, unnecessarily shackling themselves by submitting to authority. It is all or none -- none, total removal from law was called at the time the "state of nature." The same moral imperative that requires taking the first step to peace reciprocally requires of others that they not rebuff such initiatives. Here is how Kant puts it, continuing where we left off yesterday in the concluding pages of Kant's Science of Right.

"... the morally practical reason utters within us its irrevocable veto: There shall be no war. So there ought to be no war, neither between me and you in the condition of nature, nor between us as members of states which, although internally in a condition of law, are still externally in their relation to each other in a condition of lawlessness; for this is not the way by which any one should prosecute his right."

The big problem, then as now, is that the Cosmopoliticum does not exist, nor is there any evidence that it can ever be practicable. Peacemakers are demoralized and Realpolitik seems much more realistic. What moral authority can a non-existent order exert over inhabitants of the real world?

"Hence the question no longer is as to whether perpetual peace is a real thing or not a real thing, or as to whether we may not be deceiving ourselves when we adopt the former alternative, but we must act on the supposition of its being real. We must work for what may perhaps not be realized, and establish that constitution which yet seems best adapted to bring it about (mayhap republicanism in all states, together and separately)."

It takes faith, a leap of imagination, to start what has never existed before, but it is also our prime moral duty. For a writer, drawing up and perfecting the "constitution" Kant mentions is the most important conceivable work. Kant's later essay "Perpetual Peace" was intended, I believe, as the first draft of a constitution for any future United Nations. I went over it a few years ago, and I plan to go over it again soon. There is nothing more important to do.

Let us step back for a moment. What we are talking about here is what is prophesied in the prayer, "Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven." The seventh beatitude says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." A son of God may strive for justice and know that peace is the font of law, but how to raise a world foundering in violence to a high and mighty, far-off kingdom of heaven? Where God is unknown, who cares whose son you are, we are? Somehow the kingdom, the cosmopoliticum, must be modeled, portrayed, and yet God is by definition the reverse of what can be imaged, He is Spirit. We will never see Him, any more than our eyes will ever see themselves. Consider this conversation in a play of the Bard,

Brutus: "No, Cassius; for the eye sees not itself, but by reflection, by some other things."

Cassius: "Therefore, good Brutus, be prepared to hear: and since you know you cannot see yourself so well as by reflection, I, your glass, will modestly discover to yourself that of yourself which you yet know not of."

We know and imagine peace by seeing our own son-ship of God reflected in ourselves and each other. But maintaining that vision over a lifetime is impossible without an exemplar, a Perfect Son who said, "Look at me, follow me, be as I am," and who underwent such terrible persecution over a long lifetime. In Him we see the plenitude of reason played out. That is why I think `Abdu'l-Baha, our Exemplar, is of such tremendous importance. He offers an example of how to end violence and war by taking the first steps to peace, for example with His Tablets of the Divine Plan, and by His forgiveness and longsuffering in the face of the persecution of Himself and His followers in Iran, violence that is still going on. Let me close with three quotes from Baha'u'llah on this theme.

"On their tongue the mention of God hath become an empty name; in their midst His holy Word a dead letter. Such is the sway of their desires, that the lamp of conscience and reason hath been quenched in their hearts..." (Kitab-i-Iqan, 29)

"It was against God that they unsheathed the swords of malice and hatred, and yet they perceive it not. Methinks they remain dead and buried in the tombs of their selfish desires, though the breeze of God hath blown over all regions." (Baha'u'llah, Summons, 50)

"They all lie as dead within their own shrouds, save those who have believed and repaired unto God, who rejoice in this day in His celestial paradise, and who tread the path of His good-pleasure." (Baha'u'llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 20)

John Taylor

Monday, June 19, 2006

Cosmopolitical Reality

Facing Cosmopolitical Reality

By John Taylor; 2006 June 19

Not long ago a deepened believer asked me loaded question, "Do Baha'is get involved in or discuss politics?" The answer is an emphatic yes and no. The problem, as so often happens, is rooted in language. English squeezes too many meanings into the word "politics" to make it possible give an unqualified yes or no answer. It would be "no" if by politics you mean partisan political parties, but "yes" if you consider, "The earth is but one country" to be a political statement, as it no doubt is. It is unfortunate that the word "cosmopolitics," a term given prominence by Immanuel Kant, has not come into general parlance. If it were, you could say, "Baha'is are non-political but at the same time fervently committed to cosmopolitical issues." Let us explore this further.

Immanuel Kant said, "It is often necessary to make a decision on the basis of information sufficient for action but insufficient to entirely satisfy the intellect." Often? More like always! Who ever has the slightest notion of the outcome of an enterprise when they first set out? This, to be sure, is a definition of faith, but Kant also took it as an a priori justification for activism for peace, however daunting it may seem at the outset. Kant devoted the last pages of his "Science of Right" to this question. Here he asks, in essence: "Why even try when peace seems so utterly remote and impracticable?" His answer: "Because reason dictates." The House of Justice's Peace Message covers this ground at length so I think it would be helpful to go over Kant's points in this section, which he calls "The Universal Right of Mankind, or jus cosmopoliticum." He starts off the section called "The Nature and Conditions of Cosmopolitical Right" thusly:

"The rational idea of a universal, peaceful, if not yet friendly, union of all the nations upon the earth that may come into active relations with each other, is a juridical principle, as distinguished from philanthropic or ethical principles."

You can take your own shot at fathoming his meaning here, but I take it to say that the ground of peace is justice, not love, niceness or kindness. Law is a function of peace and peace is derived from the very nature of law. A law that does not serve justice, and ultimately peace, is corrupt and self-contradictory; it will rapidly deflagrate. This has consequences for property, as Kant points out next:

"Nature has enclosed them altogether within definite boundaries, in virtue of the spherical form of their abode as a globus terraqueus; and the possession of the soil upon which an inhabitant of the earth may live can only be regarded as possession of a part of a limited whole and, consequently, as a part to which every one has originally a right."

Again, simplified: the world is round, so every square inch of the planet is a part of a single sum owned by God, or if you prefer, the whole of humanity. "Every one has originally a right" means that there is not nor can ever be wholly exclusive ownership. The more in contact the parts become, the less independent and the more shared and negotiated proprietorship will become. Shareholder number one is everyone. This is shorthand for divine right, He giveth and taketh away and to none is given the right to say why or wherefore. Kant next turns to the question, "Whence does this primal right derive?"

"Hence all nations originally hold a community of the soil... they are placed in such thoroughgoing relations of each to all the rest that they may claim to enter into intercourse with one another, and they have a right to make an attempt in this direction, while a foreign nation would not be entitled to treat them on this account as enemies."

The community of the soil implies, in a slogan, that "the farmer comes first," first among equals. This the Arabic Hidden Word brings up when it asks, do we know why we were all created from one dust? To teach equality, absolute, fundamental and visceral. Since the Hidden Words were still hidden when Kant wrote, he was probably thinking of this train of logic in Rousseau,

"But when the people as a whole makes rules for the people as a whole, it is dealing only with itself; and if any relationship emerges, it is between the entire body seen from one perspective and the same entire body seen from another, without any division whatever. Here the matter concerning which a rule is made is as general as the will which makes it. And this is the kind of act which I call a law." (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, Penguin Books, London, 1968, p. 81)

The very existence of laws implies equality of all in all under God. Thus it is not government or any of its agent who make up the laws, but all of humanity in service to God, the Lord of justice. "All justice comes from God, who alone is its source..." (Rousseau, 80) Every law, be it local, national or international, springs from our universal desire to implement justice.

"...we can no longer ask who is to make laws, because laws are acts of the general will; no longer ask if the prince is above the law, because he is part of the state; no longer ask if the law can be unjust, because no one is unjust to himself; and no longer ask if we can be both free and subject to the laws, for the laws are but registers of what we ourselves desire." (Ib., 82)

So Kant, having established that fundamental human oneness and equality give anyone the basic right to set out to give human unity a political expression in a permanent peace without being regarded as an enemy, continues:

"This right, in so far as it relates to a possible union of all nations, in respect of certain laws universally regulating their intercourse with each other, may be called `cosmopolitical right' (jus cosmopoliticum)."

It is this fundamental "cosmopolitical right" that Baha'is, non-political that we are, exercise when we work for world peace, for example by distributing the Master's Tablet to the Hague -- as we did after the Great War -- or, more recently, the Peace Message to the leaders and peoples of the world. Interestingly, in a similar manner, last month the UHJ in a letter addressed to Iranian Baha'is gave them limited sanction to teach the Cause there. In support they invoked an international convention establishing the human right of all believers to follow legitimate channels in promoting their own beliefs. Before, obedience to government required that Baha'is halt teaching activities at the bidding of local authorities. No more, it would seem. Such is one internal result felt by Baha'is of the gradual extension of Kant's cosmopolitics, politics of the universe.

Kant continues, bring up what could be called a tourist's right to visit any point on the planet. We can already do this virtually with the aid of Google Maps and its competitors. Certain sensitive locations are intentionally blotted out by these Internet mapping services for security reasons. Kant did not see war and terror as valid excuses for curtailing "tourist rights," but he also considered as worthy of protection the rights of local peoples.

"...evil and violence committed in one place of our globe are felt in all. Such possible abuse cannot, however, annul the right of man as a citizen of the world to attempt to enter into communion with all others, and for this purpose to visit all the regions of the earth, although this does not constitute a right of settlement upon the territory of another people (jus incolatus), for which a special contract is required."

These special contracts are especially needed now that local abuses have the power not only to be felt but to destabilize anyone anywhere on the globe. Examples often cited: substandard farm management practices on a farm in China brought the world to the brink of a bird flu pandemic; the exposure of shenanigans on a Thai stock exchange in the late 1990's brought the economy of Russia to its knees in a matter of hours. There is no such thing as a wholly internal affair any more and politics are rapidly merging into a single cosmopolitical continuum. The more that happens the sooner it will be possible to answer the question, "Do Baha'is get involved in politics?" with an emphatic, unqualified, "Yes."

More on Kant's line of thought about peace later.

John Taylor

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sapere Aude!

Sapere Aude! Enlightenment IV, Or, Two World Kluge

John Taylor; 2006 June 18

Last time we discussed a neologism from the world of high technology: "kluge," meaning "witty," a clever rig-up that serves during the modeling phase of the scientific advance, which in turn is a phase of the "religious method," since "how" and "why" serve each other, each feeding back to the other. The Qu'ran, we saw, advises those who understand to, "...listen to the word, then follow the best of it." (Q39:18, Shakir) The law of Baha'u'llah requires this morning and evening when we relate the experience of our day to the wisdom gained in prayer and reading Holy Writ. Baha'u'llah asked the leader simply to take this to the next level, to consciously choose advisors from among those who show justice and faith (that is, those who know how and why, who have scientific and moral qualifications), and then, "take thou counsel with them, and choose whatever is best in thy sight, and be of them that act generously." (Baha'u'llah, Summons, 209) This approach combines, we saw, the critical "hacker" spirit of Protestantism and the loyal, obedient integrating genius of Catholicism.

When the critical, protestant spirit predominates fractiousness picks love and community apart. Change comes rapidly but the center easily falls apart. Aristotle observed:

"For the law has no power to command obedience except that of habit, which can only be given by time, so that a readiness to change from old to new laws enfeebles the power of the law. Even if we admit that the laws are to be changed, are they all to be changed, and in every state? And are they to be changed by anybody who likes, or only by certain persons?" (Aristotle, Politics)

The hacker or protestant raises questions about habit that can only be answered by God Himself. Otherwise, sedition. Conflict is natural to our state of ignorance. As long as no common understanding exists, we naturally split apart, take sides and form permanent, battling factions. Soon the truth becomes a sideshow to the wrangling. The harm that political parties do was evident back in Aristotle's time; discussing the situation in Crete, he wrote,

"The nobles have a habit, too, of setting up a chief; they get together a party among the common people and their own friends and then quarrel and fight with one another. What is this but the temporary destruction of the state and dissolution of society? A city is in a dangerous condition when those who are willing are also able to attack her." (Aristotle, Politics, Book XI)

On the other hand when the holistic, conservative catholic spirit predominates there is little adaptation to change, or even acknowledgement that change is necessary. Kludges are taken as graven images, as dogma; science and faith come into conflict and an atmosphere of obscurantism dims the sun of enlightenment.

In order to marry questioning with order, with due reverence, loyalty and obedience, both justice and faith must be understood as successive stages in a single learning process. The ancient word "dialectic" describes this intellectual recycling, first a thesis, which is broken down into antithesis and finally it is replaced by a synthesis. Nothing, Shoghi Effendi said, is exempt, not our most precious ideals, institutions, assumptions, religious formulae or legal standards, nor political and economic theories. All are kludges and serve provisionally until the next, improved solution takes over. We apply the kludge and inadequacies show up, we learn, we dream, we redesign, we toss out the kludge and start anew, continually, eternally. Thus, to ask if faith contradicts evolutionary theory is to miss the point; since the Kitab-i-Iqan we know that faith is the kingpin of evolution, not only in theory but practice too. This brings us back to the words of the Bab that began our series on enlightenment:

"Through the radiance of His light God imparteth illumination to your hearts and maketh firm your steps, that perchance ye may yield praise unto Him." (The Bab, Selections, 155)

This is the Bab's answer to Kant's question, "What is Enlightenment?" The guidance of light is a loan that we invest, repay and then we are paid back in the wages of a steward, the favor of being able consciously and sincerely to praise our Lord. All things are of God, He owns everything. If He appears to give us a bounty we must know that it is a trust; we owe it to Him to repay our debt as stewards, talent for talent. Such a debt was paid on our behalf by the martyr-prophet Himself, then by His followers, and is it still being paid right now by Baha'is in Iran.

It is not a coincidence that deficits and national debts are exploding. The trust of wealth given all humanity is being openly shirked by nationalist leaders, the two most prominent of whom are professedly Christian. Sums owed accelerate out of control, worsened by, in the case of the United States, an illegal conflict that, as Al Gore points out, has so far cost almost a trillion dollars, the very sum that would have covered total retooling of the economy to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. The latter is an investment, as it were a loan to mother nature. She repays such investments many times over in decades to come. Worse, not a penny is spent on establishing real justice, such as ending the slow motion genocide in Darfur. Paying for military actions without justice is worse than the steward who buried his talent, it is burying it where it will never be recovered. The master lent his talents and all know how angry he was in the parable when he got back only his original talent, paid in full without interest. Imagine having no talent at all in hand! That is when we have to hope that the parable will shift to that of the prodigal son.

Indeed, an important part of the Baha'i teaching, as put forward, for example, in the Peace Message, is that the root of the problem is our collective adolescence. The age of responsibility does not come in without a stage of abject irresponsibility. Not only a few leaders but all of us are in the precarious position of the prodigal son who having blown his inheritance must return home hoping only for a job as a menial. In this light, let us cite again the first paragraph of Kant's essay, "What is Enlightenment?" I consider it the Beethoven's Ninth, the "Ode to Joy" of philosophy:

"Enlightenment is man's release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man's inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! `Have courage to use your own reason!'- that is the motto of enlightenment."

Tutelage or immaturity is a condition, Kant proposes, of abdicating reason by allowing past and future to dominate the present. The prodigal son dissipates his inheritance in mindless pleasure. The result, Kant says, is that the mind permits a book to take the place of understanding, a spiritual director takes over one's conscience, or a doctor determine one's diet. Being immature is culpable, a violation of our divine heritage. Being mature is being one's own master. A person who roots himself in reason and is therefore free; freedom, in Kant's definition, is "self-imposed lawful behavior."

As Michel Foucault in his own essay called "What is Enlightenment?" points out, Kant's understanding of enlightenment was a "modification of the preexisting relation linking will, authority, and the use of reason." Kant was proposing to his enlightened despot Frederick an implicit contract of "private" obedience in exchange for "public" freedom. Foucault says,

"We might think that there is nothing very different here from what has been meant, since the sixteenth century, by freedom of conscience: the right to think as one pleases so long as one obeys as one must. Yet it is here that Kant brings into play another distinction, and in a rather surprising way. The distinction he introduces is between the private and public uses of reason. But he adds at once that reason must be free in its public use, and must be submissive in its private use. Which is, term for term, the opposite of what is ordinarily called freedom of conscience." ("What is Enlightenment?," in Rabinow (P.), The Foucault Reader, New York, Pantheon Books, 1984, pp. 32-50, <>)

The reversal of the contract that Kant has in mind is from "do not think but obey," from "be a mere cog in the machine," to responsible obedience on a higher level, what we have been calling a kludge of protestant and catholic and what he calls, Sapere Aude, "dare to know," a contract stipulating: "obey and you will be allowed the full use of reason." Kant was in the middle of writing his critiques of reason and was well aware at the time that reason is flawed and subject to active modeling, testing and replacement. In the essay he spends most time on the example of a pastor who obeys "publicly" in his duties as a member of the church that he has agreed to uphold, but who in his "private" writing, in the books and articles he publishes, is allowed complete freedom to say whatever he wants, even if it contradicts the doctrines of that church. In his words, under an enlightened prince,

"...venerable ecclesiastics are allowed, in the role of scholar, and without infringing on their official duties, freely to submit for public testing their judgments and views which here and there diverge from the established symbol. And an even greater freedom is enjoyed by those who are restricted by no official duties. .... Men work themselves gradually out of barbarity if only intentional artifices are not made to hold them in it."

Reading this I was reminded of Douglas Martin, the only UHJ member that I have ever personally met, albeit long before he was elected onto the supreme body. Clearly, this man is a genius, and I can understand nine people like him sitting around a table acting as a confederacy of geniuses. Anyway, toward the end of his stay on that body he made some public comments that gave rise to vociferous protests among believers. The House wrote a letter -- read it yourself, keyword "Martin" -- pointing out in sum that if it had to consider the popularity of what its members say it would be obliged to muzzle all of their public statements. They were not prepared to do that. Next election, Mr. Martin was not eligible for re-election, the wording of the notice being, well, carefully worded. He was not sick unto death, as that exemption to membership was intended to allow for. I do not have any inside information on what happened, whether he quit or was fired, or indeed if he is healthy or sick. I will have to wait for his biography to come out. My point is only that here is an instance in the Cause of God Itself of tension between public and private freedom. Having had my own private opinions stir up a ruckus in the city of St. Catherines lately, I can sympathize with Mr. Martin.

We will continue with Kant's big question, "What is Enlightenment?" in future essays.

John Taylor

Thursday, June 15, 2006

One World Kluge

One World Kluge

By John Taylor; 2006 June 15

Today let us start with a new word, at least for me. It is "kludge," pronounced "KLOOJ." Kludge came into prominence in the high tech world around the time that the UHJ first formed, in the early 1960's. It means, according to the engineer who coined it, "an ill-assorted collection of poorly-matching parts, forming a distressing whole." I had confused it in both meaning and pronunciation with "fudge," (in the sense of cheating by mashing figures together) but kludge comes from a German word for "witty." A system that is kludged is cleverly put together from cannibalized parts and it works adequately; it may threaten to fail at any time because its components were not meant for the job they are doing, but it gets by. It acts as a demonstrator.

Last year, I bought an el cheapo digital camera that acted for us as just such a demonstrator, if not a pure kludge. It worked as advertised but using it rapidly exposed severe inadequacies. It had a back panel display but no viewfinder, so I could not take pictures outside in the sun. It had no flash so I could not take pictures in most indoor lighting situations. If you cut out the great outdoors and indoor situations too, that leaves very little! My el cheapo digicam was an instant kludge, serviceable only by demonstrating to all of us exactly what we really needed in a camera. Our next camera acquisition was closer to the high end, "prosumer" market.

In the rapidly evolving world of electronics, then, circuits and microchips are kludged together intentionally, they serve for a time while users learn its inadequacies. Since it happens that these experienced users are the designers of the next generation kludges are followed by new, integrally designed, miniaturized systems. Quilt works that they are, kludges are just the practical phase of the stochastic learning process. They are responsible for the dizzyingly rapid evolution of computers and microchips. I daresay that without kludges the spectacularly rapid expansion in chips and memory storage media would have taken centuries rather than decades.

I had just learned this new word when I read the following quote from the Guardian, which the House gave prominence by citing towards the start of the Peace Message:

"If long-cherished ideals and time-honoured institutions, if certain social assumptions and religious formulae have ceased to promote the welfare of the generality of mankind, if they no longer minister to the needs of a continually evolving humanity, let them be swept away and relegated to the limbo of obsolescent and forgotten doctrines. Why should these, in a world subject to the immutable law of change and decay, be exempt from the deterioration that must needs overtake every human institution? For legal standards, political and economic theories are solely designed to safeguard the interests of humanity as a whole, and not humanity to be crucified for the preservation of the integrity of any particular law or doctrine." (Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Baha'u'llah, 42)

What Baha'i and modernism in general are about, then, in the areas mentioned, ideals, institutions, assumptions, religious formulae, is learning how to kludge. As Shoghi Effendi says, "legal standards, political and economic theories" exist solely to serve the "interests of humanity as a whole." Not part, the whole human race. Jesus defined it long before the invention of science: "The sabbath is for man, not man for the sabbath." The sabbath, and all sacred laws and institutions, must act as kludges, however permanent they seem to be. Why does that have to be? After all, holy and sacred imply eternal and untouchable. The Guardian tells us why, it is of the nature of this world of materiality: " a world subject to the immutable law of change and decay." Material falls apart, only spirit holds, integrates, acting invisibly from a distance.

In order to kludge the first thing to learn is how to use the garbage can, how to detach our hearts and toss our precious treasures into the "limbo of obsolescent and forgotten doctrines." Okay, make the garbage can a recycling bin instead, since most kludges are made up of good circuits that can be melted down and reused. (Interesting that the Guardian uses the word "limbo," since that very doctrine has come into question by the Catholic church; turns out that it was never fully a dogma, it was a sort of rumor; the new Pope Benedict is about to toss limbo itself into, well, I guess it has to be the recycling bin of obsolescent doctrines) To survive as a race, to advance quickly, to "minister to our needs," we all need to learn to judiciously use the recycle bin, to kludge everything until we design something better.

Since I mention Catholicism here, I heard lately a rather witty way of describing the difference between Apple and Windows computer users in terms of religion. Apple users are like Catholics and Windows users are Protestants. That is, an Apple computer is meant to be used as is, like an appliance. It is difficult to take them apart, whereas Wintel computers usually can be reduced to a pile of rubble in minutes with only a screwdriver. They can be hacked, upgraded and improved. The Protestants who use them usually learn at least to replace RAM memory, even if the younger ones are otherwise totally unfamiliar with how to use a screwdriver. If that is true I am a protestant bred in the bone; I bought an Apple and after a matter of weeks grew to hate it. I traded it away at my first opportunity.

Protestant Wintel owners may be more likely to know what the word "kludge" means than Catholic Apple users, but I think that a kludge takes in both as stages. The chaos of Protestantism is followed by the complete, unchangeable, miniaturized order of Catholicism; both are successive stages in a single learning process. To hack a kludge and produce a replacement involves both branches of Christianity ... so perhaps a better religious metaphor would be a Muslim, for the Qu'ran teaches believers to in effect kludge Holy Writ, to pick and choose what is useful and apply that only:

"Those who listen to the word, then follow the best of it; those are they whom Allah has guided, and those it is who are the men of understanding." (Q39:18, Shakir)

Baha'u'llah gave the same kludgy advice to the Sultan responsible for banishing Him,

"Gather around thee those ministers from whom thou canst perceive the fragrance of faith and of justice, and take thou counsel with them, and choose whatever is best in thy sight, and be of them that act generously." (Baha'u'llah, Summons, 209)

John Taylor