Friday, August 31, 2007

Mo Tzu and Monbiot

Heat, Preliminary Review of:
George Monbiot, Heat, How to Stop the Planet from Burning, Anchor
Canada, 2007

By John Taylor; 2007 August 31, 11 Names, 164 BE

Last year publishers cashed in on the fervor about global warming stirred up by Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth," by producing a spate of books on how to save the planet. I am at last getting around to reading one of them, specifically George Monbiot's "Heat, How to Stop the Planet from Burning." According to the cover, Monbiot's Guardian column makes him the most-read columnist in the world outside the United States (implying that the number of readers of columnists in that country is an order of magnitude greater than the rest of the world. Amazing, if true. If you rule the English language, you rule the world.)

The second chapter in the book is about the subverters of the climate agenda. It stands on its own. In fact, you can read it on the web as serialized in the Guardian at:


The gist is that the real bad guys are not whom you might expect, the oil industry. No, it all started back in the early nineties when the besieged cigarette industry set up semi-independent agencies to spread lies in the media about how safe cigarettes really are. You will recall their motto, "Doubt is our product." Spin doctors of prevarication. Later, they branched out into climate change, financed by Exxon, the world's most profitable corporation. They are a less violent version of the Shining Path terrorist group -- you know their story, how they were financed by the USSR, and when that funding dried up they became professional kidnappers and freelance assassins. The professional liars-to-the-media may spill less blood right now, but it is clear that in the broad outlook of history they will be judged to be the greater murderers, by far. Planet killers. The Guardian article, called "The denial industry," comes with the following blurb:

"For years, a network of fake citizens' groups and bogus scientific bodies has been claiming that science of global warming is inconclusive. They set back action on climate change by a decade. But who funded them? Exxon's involvement is well known, but not the strange role of Big Tobacco. In the first of three extracts from his new book, George Monbiot tells a bizarre and shocking new story." (Guardian, September 19 2006)

Other chapters of the book list even more shocking facts. For example, trillions of dollars are wasted subsidizing global warming, the destruction of fish stocks and the impoverishment of farmers in poor regions. If we want to stop global warming and wonder where the money might come from, all we have to do is stop financing the problem with our own tax dollars. We would then have more than enough money left over to put into green power, economizing on wasted energy, and so forth.

So much for his muckraking. Interesting as it is, he does not dwell always on the negative. The reason I am reading him is that he concentrates very specifically on what we will all have to do to save our planet. The Wikipedia article on George Monbiot sums up his contributions to this important question in these words,

"Monbiot believes that drastic action coupled with strong political will is needed to combat global warming, Monbiot states that climate change is the "moral question of the 21st century" and that there is little time for debate or objections to a raft of emergency action he believes will stop climate change..." (

As he says in "Heat," Monbiot's goals are designed to slow carbon emissions to about 1990 levels by the year 2030. In other words, though the cover of this book calls him a "radical," his goals are, in the face of the reality of climate change, most modest and conservative. He notes that he is being optimistic, and that some environmental experts have already thrown up their hands and conceded that it is too late, that the apocalypse is upon us. In any case, here are the solutions proposed by Monbiot, as listed in the Wiki article, except that I have listed them under two groupings, A and B:

Group A (national)
- setting targets on greenhouse emissions using the latest science.
- banning incandescent light bulbs, patio heaters, garden floodlights and other unnecessary
- constructing large offshore wind farms, replacing the national gas grid with a hydrogen pipe network.
- scrap road-building and road-widening programmes, redirecting their budgets to tackle climate change.
- reduce
UK airport capacity by 90%.
- close down all out-of-town superstores and replace them with warehouses and a delivery system.

It is conceivable that his "Group A" solutions could be done, given massive political will, without major changes to present nationalist governments. Group B, though, is more questionable.

Group B (world, local and personal)
- issuing every citizen with a 'personal carbon ration.'
- new building regulations with houses built to German passivhaus standard.
- a new national coach network to make journeys using public transport faster than using a car.
- all petrol stations to supply leasable electric car batteries with stations equipped with a crane service to replace depleted batteries.

As Monbiot says in "Heat", issuing a personal carbon ration for every citizen is a tremendous undertaking, equivalent to setting up a second monetary system on a world level. We do not even have an international unit for money, and now we have to set up a second monetary system to limit carbon emissions? But he makes a convincing case that carbon rations are the only fair, realistic way to deal with this situation. Rationing worked during the Second World War, and it can work again, given efficient regulation and honest officials running it. As for his suggestions for housing and transportation, both are inherently international in this day and age. If airplane travel were curtailed and electric cars were to rival the present hydrocarbon burning setup for speed they would have to be integrated into a containerized, world embracing transport system. And re-building every house on the planet according to world standards of efficiency? You are not going to tell me that that is even imaginable without a world government.

And on top of all that, remember how minimal, how piddlingly tiny a baby step to a beginning this is. If we really hope to stop global warming, we will have to go far beyond carbon reduction, beyond carbon neutrality to carbon negativity; that is, a level of efficiency that would actually suck out greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. We have been madly pumping poisons into the air for the past few centuries, now we have to clean it all up. That means carbon credits built into everything we do, it means housing and transport orders of magnitude more efficient, and beyond that, it means mega-projects to extract carbon dioxide and methane from the air.

I will not comment more on Monbiot, since I have only just begun his book. But it is especially illuminating reading Monbiot's proposals along with my new hero, Mo Tzu. Mo Tzu, little as we realize it, had the answer. Mo Tzu, in most important respects, could be thought of as the world's first Baha'i. Consider how highly he values peace and unity:

Mo Tzu said: The purpose of the humanist is to be found in procuring benefits for the world and eliminating its calamities.
"But what are the benefits of the world and what its calamities?"
"Mo Tzu said: `Mutual attacks among states, mutual usurpation among houses, mutual injuries among individuals; the lack of grace and loyalty between ruler and ruled, the lack of affection and filial piety between father and son, the lack of harmony between elder and younger brothers -- these are the major calamities in the world.'
"But where did these calamities come from, from universal love?
"Mo Tzu said: They arise out of want of universal love. At present feudal lords have learned only to love their own states and not those of others. Therefore they do not scruple about attacking other states. The heads of houses have learned only to love their own houses and not those of others. Therefore they do not scruple about usurping other houses. And individuals have learned only to love themselves and not others. Therefore they do not scruple about injuring others." (The Ethical and Political Works of Mo Tzu, tr: Yi-Pao Mei, Arthur Probsthain, London, 1929, at:

This is so needed right now, simply to value love and unity, to love each other more universally. That is Baha'i love. That is also the gift to the world that Confucius, Mo Tzu's teacher, gave us. Most Chinese scholars contrast Mo Tzu with Confucius, but to my eye the similarities are far more important than their disagreements. Mo Tzu was born into the Confucian tradition, unlike most of us, and appreciated the value of organization.

"Mo Tzu said: Now, all the rulers desire their provinces to be wealthy, their people to be numerous, and their jurisdiction to secure order. But what they obtain is not wealth but poverty, not multitude but scarcity, not order but chaos -- this is to lose what they desire and obtain what they would avert. Why is this?
"Mo Tzu said: This is because the rulers have failed to promote the talented and to employ the capable in their government. When the talented are numerous in the state, order will be stable; when the talented are scarce, order will be unstable. Therefore the task of the leader lies nowhere but in increasing the numbers of the talented."
How are we ever going to establish carbon credits for every individual without universal organization, and individuals of talent and integrity to implement that organization? For God's sakes! The Confucian tradition understood what Monbiot and most environmentalists today do not seem to realize: we are never going to get a start on a world infrastructure if we do not set up a world bureaucracy. Even the word we use, "bureaucracy," is hateful and prejudicial. The Confucians understood that "bureaucrat" is not necessarily a synonym for "red tape." If you do it right, it is the hope of the world. A body of officials, well chosen, educated and disciplined by civil service exams, can become the greatest force for good in the world. They are our sole hope. Let Mo Tzu have the last word on that for today.
"Again, to govern requires knowledge. When knowledge is not increased by ten times, while a tenfold task is assigned, it will evidently result in attending to one and neglecting nine. Though the task be attended to day and night, still it cannot be well executed. . . If the rulers now want to govern their states so that they will be permanent and unshakable, why do they not learn that promotion of the talented is the foundation of government?"
"How do we know promotion of the virtuous is the foundation of government?
"When the honorable and wise run the government, the ignorant and humble remain orderly; but when the ignorant and humble run the government, the honorable and wise become rebellious. Therefore we know exaltation of the talented is the foundation of government.
"The wise rulers in the past greatly emphasized the promotion of the talented and the employment of the capable. Without special consideration for relatives, for the rich and honored, or for the good-looking, they exalted and promoted the talented, enriched and honored them, and made them governors and leaders. The vicious they kept back and banished, dispossessed and degraded, and made them laborers and servants. Thereupon people were all encouraged by rewards and threatened by punishments and strove with each other after virtue. Thus the talented multiplied and the vicious diminished in number. Such is promotion of the virtuous. Then the wise rulers of the past listened to their words and observed their conduct, found out their capabilities, and carefully assigned them their offices. Such is employment of the capable.
"When rulers cannot make a coat they will employ able tailors. When they cannot kill an ox or a sheep they will employ able butchers. In these two instances they do know they should promote the talented and employ the capable for business. But when it comes to the disorder of the country and danger of the state, they do not know they should promote the talented and employ the capable for government. Rather, they would employ their relatives, they would employ the rich without merit, and the good-looking. But as to the employment of the rich without merit and the good-looking -- will these necessarily prove themselves wise and intelligent? To let these rule the country is to let the unwise and unintelligent rule the country. And disorder can then be predicted.


Thursday, August 30, 2007


Pansophia; The Charter and UN Cosmopolitan Philosophers

By John Taylor; 2007 August 30

Of late my old friend from middle and high school, Doug Campbell, gave me a heads-up on a philosopher I had not heard of, one Martha Nussbaum. From what I gleaned from the Wikipedia article on her, she was more or less an unofficial philosopher-in-residence for the United Nations during the 80's and 90's.

I was interested particularly in an essay of hers called "Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism," which is available on the Web. It was written in protest to the garden variety Amerocentric provincialism of some intellectuals in the early 1990's. Towards the end, she makes an interesting point that since ancient times those who would be world citizens have been isolated from what should be the greatest fraternity of them all, the human race in general. But localism and provincialism blocks them out.

"Becoming a citizen of the world is often a lonely business. It is, in effect, as Diogenes said, a kind of exile -- from the comfort of local truths, from the warm nestling feeling of patriotism, from the absorbing drama of pride in oneself and one's own. In the writings of Marcus Aurelius (as in those of his American followers Emerson and Thoreau) one sometimes feels a boundless loneliness, as if the removal of the props of habit and local boundaries had left life bereft of a certain sort of warmth and security. If one begins life as a child who loves and trusts its parents, it is tempting to want to reconstruct citizenship along the same lines, finding in an idealized image of a nation a surrogate parent who will do one's thinking for one. Cosmopolitanism offers no such refuge; it offers only reason and the love of humanity, which may seem at times less colorful than other sources of belonging." (Martha Nussbaum, Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism, Boston Review 1994)

What we need, clearly, is for world citizens to come together and celebrate cosmopolitan ideals. This began to happen in the Esperanto movement, especially in early days. In the annual congress there was a feeling among many that for the first time we could come together from anywhere in the world on neutral linguistic territory. We could transcend the baggage of patriotism and celebrate our commonality as people, not nationals. When I first learned Esperanto, I got this feeling from correspondence. I had never realized what a barrier English is, and what a lot of ideological baggage it carries with it.

Cosmopolitan religion should be another common basis for super-patriotic fervor. If the belief in God were stronger there would be great joy for people of all faiths to come together to celebrate our commonality. The prophet Isaiah predicted that this would happen. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Yahweh, as the waters cover the sea." (Isa 11:9, WEB) Almost every night our family recites the words that Baha'u'llah addressed to our elected representatives,

"That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of all the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith. This can in no wise be achieved except through the power of a skilled, an all-powerful and inspired Physician. This, verily, is the truth, and all else naught but error." (Summons, 1.176, p. 90)

When you recite this aloud the words "cause" and "faith" are not capitalized. In view of that, I often think after our recital of this passage how much we all, Baha'is included, need to think of the common religion of all humanity, and not just our own distinctive beliefs. The Master, especially in His Talks, emphasized this "one common Faith" as something in which people of all faiths and backgrounds can participate. The pillars of religion are always the same no matter what, prayer and fasting. Variances lie only in opinions and details, the particular names we invoke when we express our belief in outer, less essential activities. In that cosmopolitan sense, we are all strict adherents of that "one common Faith."

As a writer, that is the audience I should be writing for, don't you think?

I am not a professional philosopher, of course, but perhaps the United Nations should address this directly. Rather than having unofficial philosophers (like Martha Nussbaum was for a while), why not appoint philosophers officially? I know that UNICEF and other organs of the UN have spokespersons and goodwill ambassadors, but we need a more rigorous approach. The world body should make a more serious effort at proving the arguments for cosmopolitanism and world citizenship. If they succeed and get a following, maybe cosmopolitans would not feel so lonely in future. Why not pick out our brightest young minds, train them, and send them out as a body of professional philosophers and logicians to the media to promote things like the universal aspects of religion, or the need to refer universal issues to the world level? Have them lead forums and conferences on world citizenship to get people talking about what goes on beyond national borders.

In a sense, this has already happened with the slow but steady grassroots growth of the Earth Charter. This document must have an important place in any future cosmopolitanism. In the introduction to a book on the Charter one of its founding leaders, Mikhail Gorbachev, explains its place as the "third pillar" of the United Nations, the pillar dealing with the relationship of humans to nature.

"... The first pillar is the Charter of the United Nations, which regulates the relations among states and thus sets the rules for their behavior in order to secure peace and stability. The second pillar is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which regulates the relations between states and individuals, and guarantees to all citizens a set of rights which their respective governments should provide. The importance of these two documents cannot be overestimated. But it has become obvious that another document is missing, one which would regulate the relations among states, individuals, and nature by defining the human duties towards the environment." (Earth Charter in Action, The Third Pillar of Sustainable Development, p. 10)

We desperately need official UN philosophers who can teach the foundations of these three pillars of internationalism. They do not need to become salesmen or revivalist preachers, just skilled teachers. I was so ravished by the skill that John Mighton demonstrates in turning young children on to the dry and difficult discipline of mathematics.

If he can do that, how hard would it be to teach cosmopolitanism? All we need to do is present it correctly in a group setting.

Baha'is are familiar with the Master's explanation of why we engage in group prayer: the following idea of "collective effervescence" seems very similar to his explanation how group praise of God acts as a lens which magnifies the effects. I was reminded of this in Mighton's book, where he recalls how when he worked out his math curriculum while tutoring individual pupils he doubted if it would work in a classroom setting. Fortunately, it proved even more effective. This is because, he explains, of the dynamics of a group, which under the correct conditions magnifies the effects of a given impulse.

"In the nineteenth century the sociologist Emile Durkheim observed a phenomenon in crowds that he called "collective effervescence." According to Durkheim, people's interactions "attain their greatest intensity when they are assembled together and are in immediate relations with one another, when they all partake of the same idea and the same sentiments." The effect he describes may partially account for the success of the JUMP method and the way it works so well at closing the gap between students. When used properly, the JUMP materials are designed to help students "partake of the same idea and the same sentiments." When students work together on the same topic and have a chance to answer the same questions, put their hands up at the same time, work on the same bonus questions and see the solution to a problem at the same time, they experience the collective effervescence that Durkheim described." (Mighton, End of Ignorance, p. 188)

He goes on to explain that many children never get the chance to show off to others, and that is what his JUMP method provides in a classroom.

But what single educational philosophy can unite us in "one common faith?" What program should the UN corps of philosopher teachers teach? Of course, our first impulse as Baha'is is to suggest the Baha'i social principles. Unfortunately, until God is better understood this will inevitably be perceived as a partisan platform. Besides, it does not have a name, other than "Baha'i." Jan Amos Comenius's program does have a name, pansophism, and it has the advantage of being classical, hundreds of years old, yet it is surprisingly modern.

"The philosophy of pansophism presented the goal of education as the development of universal knowledge among all people, including women and children, and all nations. Comenius envisaged educated people as those who sought knowledge from all sources in order to become more like the God in whose image they were made--omniscient and universally compassionate."

Here God, the most common belief, according to opinion polls, in the world, is presented as the common basis of educational philosophy. And look over each of the points of pansophism. How harmonious they are both to our Baha'i principles and to what UN philosophers could be teaching to small groups around the planet.

Basic Principles of Pansophism

1. An absolutely new vision of the whole, of the entire world is required.
2. A picture of the world should be viewed as unity, in its inherent organization and reality.
3. This will result in "Universalis sapientia" ("Universal knowledge") which is interconnected by a unity of its laws acting throughout all disciplines and deductible from each of them.
4. "Universal knowledge" will make it possible to clarify, in future, individual and opposed truths and, simultaneously, unite all views within a common objective.
5. "Pansofia" will extend all over the world opening boundless opportunities for cognition and perfection.
6. When the reality is understood as a unique living organism, all its components reveal their true meaning and the reality itself reveals its laws to people, they will come to a universal harmony.
7. Man should apprehend all that and create harmony in himself.
8. Man will acquire a universal key and guideline to further cognition and discoveries.
9. "Pansofia" is a true vision and understanding of the world, it should become accessible for all peoples of the Earth in their native languages.
10. If Man lives in truth and performs his part in the universal harmony chorus, then all people would come to a concord, to peace.

(from: Kytka's Pick's John Amos Comenius - Father of Modern Education, <>)


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Master and the Mullahs

End of August Roundup, Masterly Talk on Mullas

By John Taylor; 2007 August 29

My, we have been busy. On Sunday we spent the day at a lovely riverside park upstream on the Grand River, which was leased for several generations by Tomaso's friend Tommy's mother's family. Fishing, corn roast, swimming; I canoed around the island with the two Thomases in the front. On the other side, without a landing in sight the inevitable happened. "Tata, I have to go lulu." Great. He stuck it out until we got back. The highlight of the day for the kids was a pet raccoon named Daisy. According to the several family members there who have owned them, they make wonderful pets.

Coincidentally, the night before we had been raided by a wild cousin of Daisy, who was after our grape bower. I took a pool noodle and chased it out onto our clothesline, where it hung precariously. "Look at his trick!" Silvie declared, furiously taking photos of the masked marauder. Silvie had her thirteenth birthday party on Monday; not having any friends of her own (and worse being temporarily disfigured by cold sores, a by-product of her recent bout with strep, and being extra shy about her appearance for that reason), Silvie compensated by filling the couch with stuffed animals, "guests" at her birthday party.

On Sunday night we went to the YIC (the new name for what Thomas even in English calls in Esperanto the "Junula", the Youth Impact Centre) for the first of what will be a regular Sunday night improv evening. The seminar was held by a very experienced acting coach, who has held improv evenings at the Grand Island restaurant and in the Backstairs Theatre in Hamilton. Silvie started off extra shy, understandably, since the cold sores made her look like she had just eaten very sloppily a jar of jam (as one person earlier that day, to his embarrassment, thought she had done). For the first hour it was just myself, Silvie and the coach, so I had no choice but to participate. Later, others arrived and it became lively, though not the same as if we had a hilarious audience watching.

I definitely am not used to the spontaneity of improvisational acting. Writing, they say, is 90 percent re-writing, but for me it must be more like 99 percent. In spite of the shock and jet lag, it was nonetheless a very refreshing and enjoyable experience to react instantly to a changing situation. Later, as more people came, Silvie warmed up to it too and fully participated. We played games like this: engage in conversation but start every sentence with a letter of the alphabet, starting with "a" and continuing to "z." Very challenging for an absentminded sort like myself.

I have revised an essay on the Badi Blog about health that I wrote in the summer of '04, called "Wubs Again," prompted by the kind comments of somebody going by the moniker "Heidi." The new version is in place of the old, at:

Yesterday the kids and I went to see "Mr. Bean's Holiday." I found the French, European flavor of this film bracing, and much preferred it to the Californian pulp of the first Bean movie. Tomaso did not agree. Fortunately, we arrived late and missed the opening commercial, which I have come to dread. I hate having my desires manipulated. Here is what Ali, Son-in-Law of the Prophet, had to say about desire, long before advertising became an entire profession:

"He who hankers after this world there is no limit for his desires. If one wish is fulfilled the desire for fulfilment of another wish crops up. This world is like the reflection [mirage?]. If you run after it then it will itself run forward but if you leave it and run away from it then it follows you. In the same way, if a person does not run after the world, the world runs after him." (Ali b. Abi Taalib, Sermons)

I am no poet but I wrote the following attempt at a poem back in May. As Plato said, "At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet," and my mother's love still touches me, even though next year it will be a good thirty years since cancer took her, the heart and soul of this family, to a better place.

To My Mother, Almost Thirty Years after her Death (18 May, 2007)

I am ever aware, Mom, that you loved me more than I love you,
But that never bothered you, it is to be expected;
This is a law of nature, I know now,
For a parent to love the child more than the child can ever love back;

And besides,
If love less requited ever were to bother you,
The quality of your love would not be what it was,

No, what it is.

And besides,
How could anyone but a mother, my mother,
Love as you did, giving every minute,
every thought, in total devotion?

I should write a poem about the Baha'is in Iran, for theirs is a touching love. I thought of them when I came across the following talk by the Master, given to Persian Baha’is in 1914. It is interesting to observe here that Abdu'l-Baha picks out and praises one Mulla, one of the very few whose sense of justice kept him from dipping his hands in Baha'i blood. Hard as it is not to be cynical about the Mullocracy, we too need to try to see the fair and the good among them, and ignore the fanatics, as did our exemplar.

Most of the Persian ulama (clergymen) became the cause of destruction and the casting of Persia to the winds. The ulama of every sect must act in accordance with the requirements of religion, the first of which is that they must believe in God, turn to God and be severed from all else save God. Such ulama are the illumined lamps of guidance and the stars of the heaven of mercy. But when some ulama enter a school their aim is leadership, to obtain fame, to gather luxuries and worldly possessions. They are like the disease, caboos (influenza), that attacks man with helplessness and heaviness, during sleep, as though a mountain had fallen upon him and he was unable to move.

Now, these learned men are similar to the disease that is attacking the body of the people. The requirements for the ulama are mentioned in the traditions. It is said by the prophet Mohammed,

'Let the public follow whomsoever of the learned controls himself, protects his religion, opposes his desire and obeys the command of his Lord,' that means the learned who controls himself from corruption and negligence, opposes his own desire and passion, protects religion and the divine commands, fulfills the requirements.'

The souls must follow the judgment of such an one regarding laws and bylaws. Sheikh Murtaza, indeed, was strictly religious. Once at noontime prayer, a group of people were praying in the mosque at Kazmin, under the leadership of akhonds (Mohammedan priests). At such a time Sheikh Muraza arrived. He spread his cloak in the front hail and began to pray. Suddenly, thousands of the people left the akhonds and swept from all directions, standing in rows to pray under the leadership of Sheikh Murtaza. He had to employ seven muezzins (men who call the people to prayer from the tower of the mosque). He was trusted and strongly religious. Indeed, he used to work with honesty.

No matter how much the people questioned about this Revelation, he answered according to his belief, `I have not yet investigated this Cause. Go and investigate for yourselves.' The Sheikh never said any unsuitable word. On one occasion the ulama united with the Persian consul in Bagdad and planned sedition. They sent for all of the ulama of Karbala and Nadjaf, also Sheikh Muraza, perhaps he, too, would come to Bagdad. It happened that while on the road he fell and dislocated his shoulder. Although the leaders persisted in asking his opinion about the Cause, his only reply was,

`I do not think that it is my duty to interfere in this matter.'

During those thrilling times, the Blessed Beauty, Baha'u'llah, never changed his attitude. Every day, as usual, He went to the bank of the Tigris river, accompanied only by Agha Mirza Mohammed Kuli. No matter how much the friends tried to interfere, telling him that the multitudes were rising against him, he paid no attention. One day, when Baha'u'llah was walking in the reception room, two of the hypocrites who, at heart were with the ulama, but who claimed to be sincere, went into the blessed presence. A number of the friends were there to whom Baha'u'llah said:

'All of the ulama are urging others from Nadjaf and Karbala to wage a holy war upon us.'

Then, facing the two hypocrites, he said,

'By God! There is no God but Him, I do not need to send more than two persons to chase them to Kazmin!'

Sheikh Murtaza sent the following statement: `I did not know anything about the aims of these people; I pray in your behalf.' He was such a religious man, he never gathered luxuries, enormous funds were sent him from India, but it was all spent on the poor; nothing was left after his death. How wonderful, indeed, were those days in Baghdad! Every one of the friends, through the favor and bounty of the Blessed Beauty, was in the utmost firmness and uprightness. How radiant were their faces! How merciful were their hearts! How severed and attracted they were! (June 26, 1914, translated by Zia Baghdadi, Star of the West, Vol. 9, pp. 123-124)

Here are some other snippets from the sermons of Ali, confirming that arrogance destroys all the good that a body of learned professionals can hope to do in the world. The present rape of Iran by an arrogant theocracy is proof of how right-on Ali was.

"Learned is he who knows his worth. It is enough for a man to remain ignorant if he knows not his worth. Certainly, the most hated man with Allah is he whom Allah has left for his own self. He goes astray from the right path, and moves without a guide. If he is called to the plantation of this world he is active, but if he is called to the plantation of the next world he is slow. As though what he is active for [what] is obligatory upon him whereas in whatever he is slow was not required of him." (Ali b. Abu Taalib, Sermons)

"Certainly, a scholar who acts not according to his knowledge is like the [foolish] ignorant who does not find relief from his ignorance, but on the learned the plea of Allah is greater and grief more incumbent, and he is more blameworthy before Allah." (Ali b. Abi Taalib, Sermons)


Tuesday, August 28, 2007


How to Teach the Baha'i Faith, and How Not To

By John Taylor; 2007 August 28

My favorite definition of a teacher is "someone who saves you time." That is what Baha'u'llah does for us Baha'is. He offers shortcuts to fulfilling God's reasons for creating us. Baha'u'llah's Law, Writings, prayers, principles and Administrative Order, His calendar and Holy Days, all are more efficient ways than otherwise to shorten our journey to God. From a material viewpoint they may at times seem time-consuming, but in the aspect of eternity they are highly economical. Perhaps the most effective shortcut imaginable is to do all this for our neighbor by teaching this Faith to them. If we succeed in igniting a flame of love for God and His Cause, the results are infinite, incalculable, never-ending. The Bab confirmed this in the Persian Bayan,

"It is better to guide one soul than to possess all that is on earth, for as long as that guided soul is under the shadow of the tree of Divine Unity, he and the one who hath guided him will both be recipients of God's tender mercy, whereas possession of earthly things will cease at the time of death." (Selections, 77)

So, do not waste time collecting material possessions that will only burden you. Material goods must be recycled; even your body will be recycled. Rather, center your thoughts on what is worthy, what will continue to live and grow beyond the grave. As teachers of Faith we offer this shortcut to eternal wealth.

But never imagine that because it is shorter it is a mere trick. It is shorter because it is empowered by the greatest force in the universe, love. Love is a wormhole across the infinite space that separates hearts; it is surely the Most Great Shortcut! That is why our gift of this spiritual roadmap does not come across by "winning" an argument, or by contending in any way. The Bab, in the next sentence after the one cited above, tells exactly in what spirit to offer it:

"The path to guidance is one of love and compassion, not of force and coercion." (Id.)

Here is exactly how to teach, and how not to. It cannot be forced. This is why fundamentalism always undercuts the fundamentals it sets out to uphold. You cannot teach love by hating, or knowledge through fanatical ignorance. No divine shortcut, however sublime, can undercut God's first fundamental: "Choose life." The teachings of God are a shortcut to life that applies love's attraction to get there with optimum efficiency. No other instrumentality can stand before this fundamental.

There may be some Baha'i teachers who use pantomime or silent film making to teach, but I am sure that they are not in the majority. The Writings are quite emphatic that the lion's share of our teaching has to be done by means of words. So today let us think about what words to use in teaching the Faith.

When I was on the "Army of Light" street teaching teams in Alaska back in the 1970's they taught us a very effective way to summarize the Baha'i Faith in a few words. For example, you have only three seconds to reply when somebody asks, "What is the Baha'i Faith?" What do you say? "Baha'is believe in the unity of humanity." Five seconds? "Baha'is are followers of Baha'u'llah, who taught the unity of humanity." We practiced with one another until we could easily expand this spiel indefinitely, anywhere from thirty seconds to several minutes. I was interested recently to stumble across the following instructional site explaining how to craft your own "Elevator Pitch."

This of course is very general. It tells how to explain any idea or passion, which in our case is God's Cause, in the time that you might get while traveling with somebody on an elevator. This usually works out to a few minutes. We could adapt it to train ourselves in a very similar manner to the "soldiers" in the Army of Light.

That covers how to teach. Let us talk a little about how not to teach.

Myself, I rarely run across Baha'is doing what the Bab warned against, trying to force the Faith down other peoples' throats. Tempting as it is to argue, we know enough not to get into religious contention; Baha'u'llah was most emphatic that this is anathema and we comply. No, the most common problem I see is that we forget the dramaturgical or thespian requirements of teaching. That is, we talk and act around non-Baha'is exactly as if they were Baha'is.

The last large fireside I attended was a good example. The speaker was talking about a Baha'i teaching project. It became obvious that you cannot teach the Faith by talking about teaching the Faith. They are not the same thing. One Baha'i, call her S, realized this and loudly protested that there were non-Baha'is there and maybe we should talk about the Baha'i Faith itself a little. The speaker steadfastly ignored this and several other more subtle hints. At one point the speaker turned the discussion briefly over to me. Rather than argue, I turned to the non-Baha'i guest and asked her about her religious background. She was happy to share that with us but had hardly opened up her mouth when S interrupted and brought the discussion back to the very thing she had protested about earlier, idle talk about teaching the Baha'i Faith. I felt terrible. It was like being in a Monte Python sketch except that it was not funny at all. Here we were in a teaching situation and all we could talk about were the problems and tribulations of being in teaching situations.

Think about it. Philosophy did not start when people began babbling about philosophical issues. It began when Socrates, by giving his life for truth, made it into a living, human story of truth transcending the grave. Teaching is drama. Same thing with religion; it always starts with the life and sacrifice of a Holy Individual. His struggles and sufferings give the love impulse that turns into faith. We cannot forget that when we are in a teaching situation. We do not get brownie points for "honesty" by acting so naturally that we ignore the dramatic requirements of the situation.

That is why I was enthralled to discover that when John Mighton figured out how to teach mathematics to young children the assistants he enlisted to work as tutors to kids, and at the same time help him perfect the method were not fellow mathematicians or even teachers, they were actors. As a playwright he had many friends in the acting fraternity who needed spare cash, and who were perfectly suited to put on a performance that would attract children to numbers. I believe it. Teaching is acting, and acting is teaching. An actor after all offers us a shortcut to emotions that we would feel in any given situation. We learn far more about applied psychology from an academy award winning performance as any psych lecturer could convey in the same amount of time. Most of their histrionic nudges away from innumeracy are just as applicable to our teaching of the Baha’i Faith. Next time, I will go over some of their lessons how _not_ to tutor math.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Mighton, I

Stamping out Ignorance; A Review of:
"The End of Ignorance, Multiplying our Human Potential,
by John Mighton, Alfred A. Knopf,
Toronto, 2007

By John Taylor; 2007 Aug 26-27

On Thursday the kids led me on a wild goose chase. They begged and cajoled me to take them to the Cayuga Library to get a book they wanted -- they did not tell me what it was until they had it in their hot little hands. It turned out to be a book-length collection of Garfield comics (or two) that they have not read yet. Garfield and Captain Underpants are the only books that Tomaso will read on his own. When we got to the Cayuga Library it turned out that they were thinking of the Caledonia Library instead, so I drove them there. It was such a refreshing change for them to be dragging me out on an excursion rather than the other way around that I happily indulged them. Anything to get them away, albeit briefly, from the Almighty Screen.

In the New Arrivals section of the Cayuga Library was a book called "The End of Ignorance." I read the dust jacket and was intrigued, but resisted temptation and left it on the shelf. Then in the Caledonia Library I came across the same book in their new book section and could resist no longer. I had no choice but take it out. This turned out to be such an extraordinary book that I broke all the rules. Since I started my active lifestyle last year the only books I read cover-to-cover are audio books, which I listen to as I exercise, lift weights or practice hitting the ping pong ball. Printed books I squeeze in when I can, usually taking years to finish, or, most often, never finish at all. And I never read new books, I wait for material to mellow out before I touch them.

The End of Ignorance was an exception to these and many other rules.

I read it in two days. I laughed out loud, I cried, and then very often I would do a double take: you are reading a book about mathematics, why that of all things? This is a dry subject, theory of education, why is it having such a profound emotional impact? Sure, I was suffering from the weather, the tail end of a hurricane, I am told, but it was more than that. I was in tears because I was looking back on the twelve years plus of mathematics torture sessions disguised as educational classes that I took all through public school. Time utterly wasted. I was recalling my passionate love for science snuffed out and permanently blocked by, it turns out, grossly incompetent math teaching.

Silvie, like so many of us, has persistent problems keeping up in math class, and I recall dunning her teacher in every parent teacher encounter through the years, "Why do you put kids through this?" "What do you hope to accomplish by trying to force mathematics into them?" "What good does it do?" A century ago teachers used Latin as a form of discipline, not useful knowledge in itself but a rigorous way to sort out the sheep from the goats. At least with a little Latin kids could quote some pithy Latin saws, like Tempus Fugit, or Carpe Diem. What do they have to show for thirteen years of mathematics? I cannot do much more than count, and most other adults are not much better.

At one point I even loaned Silvie's teacher my copy of the Icon Books visual introduction to mathematics, which shows how the content of math as taught is nothing better than thinly-veiled Western propaganda. Most of what is portrayed as the product of European inventiveness was originally discovered in China, India and Islamic lands hundreds and even thousands of years ago. But I never had much luck persuading him that math should not be taught. The fact that he was failing was not an argument that he should not try.

Studying math does not even help to learn mathematics. That is what the following anecdote, told by our local musician, Ron Speer, implies.

He talks about a highly concentrated, advanced math class at graduate level where every year they let in half musicians with no special training in mathematics, and the other half are highly advanced mathematics students. Every year the musicians beat out the mathematicians. To me that says one thing. Forget about math in public school, teach them music in the early years. At least music is enjoyable (actually music was more torture for me than math, but I am an exception, I think). With a music background later on at higher levels kids will be better prepared for math than if they had beat their heads against the wall trying to do the impossible, learn math as a child.

The End of Ignorance persuaded me that maybe mathematics should be taught to children after all. Why? Because this mathematician, John Mighton, proves that mathematics _can_ be taught to young children. And what is more, it can do them good to know it.

He uses a teaching method that I have only seen used once successfully in all my days, and that was not a math class but a Baha'i children's class that Silvie attended several years ago. It was taught by Debra Fuller, a Native believer whom we also have to thank for the graphical improvements of Baha'i Canada that began around the same time. In Debra's final class they had a picnic that featured a brief demonstration lesson. The kids were so avid to answer her quiz about the Dawnbreakers that they were literally chasing her across a grassy field. She should perhaps have limited that exuberance since the shy Silvie was left out, sitting on a picnic table. But it got through to her too, even though she was in a younger class and only was taught by Debra once or twice; for years afterwards Silvie was still citing details about the life and adventures of Mullah Hussein that slipped past me long before.

As they are right now, school is obsessed with pointing out differences in ability among students, and that deflates things quicker than a needle in a balloon. We have no idea how the brain works or what basis these perceived differences in thinking may have in reality. Here is the paragraph from the book that the publishers chose to reproduce on the back of the dust jacket:

"There will always be differences in ability and motivation among children, but those differences would probably not have much bearing on long-term success if schools were not so intent on making differences matter. Because children's levels of confidence will largely determine what they learn, teachers can easily create artificial differences among them by singling out some as superior and others as inferior. I've learned to not judge students too hastily; I've seen many slower students outpace faster students as soon as they were given a little extra encouragement or help."

In other words: ours is a supposedly egalitarian society but the old social stratification has been replaced by a new elitism, one based on sham meritocracy. Ability in schools is sorted not by anything in the children themselves but by how they do when either not taught or taught incompetently. Students who for one reason or another get by without a teacher are branded "gifted," while those who need teaching are humiliated and left behind. It is the old blame-the-victim syndrome; the sins of a corrupt education are visited upon innocent children. Meanwhile substantive discoveries about how children's brains work and how they respond when learning are ignored. At the beginning of the book, Mighton writes,

"If we are ever to nurture the full potential of children, we must develop a model of education based on a deeper understanding of the brain. In the natural sciences our understanding of complex systems such as the brain has recently undergone a paradigm shift. Scientists now recognize that complex systems show emergent behaviour: new and unexpected properties of a system can emerge out of nowhere from a series of small changes. For example, if a chemist adds a reagent to a chemical solution one drop at a time, nothing may appear to be happening until, with the addition of just one more drop, the whole solution spontaneously changes colour. I have seen this behaviour in hundreds of students: they can appear to be at the limits of their ability, and then, with a single drop of knowledge, they leap to a new level of understanding." (End of Ignorance, p. 10)

He devotes a full chapter to this research, much of which is based on studies of chess masters. Chess happens to be among the easiest and most reliably measured skills. The research found that, properly taught, anybody can learn to be a chess master. The Hungarian father of the Poldit twins proved it. At the time, female chess masters were all but unknown, and he decided to teach his twin daughters how to play; because he knew how to teach, they succeeded, becoming top players (they also learned Esperanto, a key to language learning that is not unlike mathematics is to science). The trick is to ignore everything that educational theory says: either let them play and hope they will discover the rules for themselves, or try to pound details into their head by rote. What really works is to get them running fast with easy challenges, then offer a "plot twist," a challenge that, in Mighton's frequent terms, "raises the bar." Using this method, reinforced by strong chess machines, recently a fourteen year old became a chess grandmaster, the youngest to attain such a height in history.

But instead of exiting rewards from the get-go, we offer humiliation in front of their peers, the worst thing that can happen to a young person. That proves right away that math is impossible and they are dumb, and then we congratulate ourselves on our superiority. As Mighton points out, people who fail to learn to read are ashamed and hide their illiteracy, but failure in math teaching is so ubiquitous that most people are actually proud of their incompetence. We (I say we because I am one of them) freely admit to all who will listen that we can barely count. Teachers abuse rather than teach, in spite of the fact that, as Mighton says, they all believe that, at least in theory, they should be offering some kind of incentive to learn math.

"I have never met an educator who would agree that students who lack confidence in their intellectual abilities are likely to do well at school. I find it surprising, therefore, that no program of mathematics used in our public schools has ever taken proper account of the role of confidence in learning. If students are more apt to do well in a subject when they believe that they are capable of doing well, it seems obvious that any math program that aims to harness the potential of every student must start with an exercise that will build the confidence of every student." (End of Ignorance, 104)

Once Mighton has a confident student, he knows what to do then. For one thing, as a mathematician who went back to school to study math as an adult himself, he is one of the few people in the world fully qualified to show how to get ahead in math study. Most teachers are not qualified, let us face it. As he points out, in one school they gave a question from the grade six mathematics examination to every teacher in an elementary school, and not one of them got it right. (Strangely, the suits at school board have never consented to undergo such a trial by fire.) He also points out another surprising thing, if you want to learn what children respond to, do not ask an educator, go to children's television shows. The makers of Sesame Street were told by the boffins, never mix fantasy and reality, it will twist their minds. They found out right away that children love that and learn much quicker when the Muppets talk to real people. So much for theory. Anyway, this fellow is also qualified because he actually pays attention to what works. And what does not work is elitist bias.

"Based on my observations of thousands of students, I am now convinced that new intellectual abilities can emerge in any student from a series of small advances, and that mathematics, rather than being the most difficult subject, is one in which a teacher can most easily add, rigorously and effectively, the drops of knowledge that can transform a student. New discoveries in cognition and genetics suggest that the brain is much more plastic than scientists had previously imagined, and that with rigorous training, new neural connections and mental capacities can be developed even in older children and adults." (End of Ignorance, p. 10)

In other words, learning cures as well as enlightens. When teachers fail to teach, they offer a do it yourself diagnosis of ADHD, and rush the parents off to a shrink for a pill. Instead, what is being found is that learning a skill is a far better way to rewire the brain than any pill. It actually changes the way the neurons program themselves. He goes into classes full of these victims slash students, and suddenly there is no problem with "behavior" or attention deficits, suddenly they are all avid to learn math, of all things.

What enthralled me about what this guy does is that he does just that. He in effect acts like God, according to our Baha'i conception of "going to the need." The Manifestation of God takes the toughest nut to crack in the world, and shows how to crack it. Jesus came to the Jews, Muhammad to the Beduin, and Baha'u'llah brought Baha'i to its cradle, Persia, and then He sent His world Order to its Administrative Cradle, America. Same way, Mighton goes to the toughest classes, the inmates of no-opportunity opportunity classes, to inner city schools full of problem kids in Toronto and London, England, and demonstrates that his teaching can grab even the worst math reprobates imaginable. He challenges the autocratic suits with their absolute power over teachers to try doing the same thing with their failed curricula. They would not dare! Of course he puts this idea in more diplomatic terms, since he has to work with these suits. Here is how he phrases it:

"Boards must assume that teachers will be able to tell when their classes improve, will be motivated to improve their teaching, and will have good judgment about the success of their work, if they are offered alternatives that make sense to them and that they can become excited about. Rather than trying to improve schools and by forcing the same text or program on every teacher, boards must trust that teachers who are given a range of resources to test, and who can communicate with their peers about their successes and failures, will become better teachers."

Instead of improving our teaching methods, we have corruption, bafflegab, pride and money grubbing.

"We must move away from a system that values theoretical expertise more than practical expertise. There are teachers who clearly can teach well and who are recognized as good teachers by their colleagues and their students. Find out what these teachers do and allow them to train other teachers. If an educator can't step into either the most difficult inner-city classroom or the most affluent, privileged school and get all of the children engaged, and if they can't give other teachers effective strategies for doing this, then they should not have the power to dictate to teachers."

This is revolutionary! Let teachers work with what works. Then pick out the most effective teachers, and let them teach the next generation of teachers. History offers many proofs that this can work. For example, that is how the American air force won out over the Japanese, flying the superior Zero fighter, in the Pacific theater of the Second World War. The Japanese pilots fought, died and were replaced. American pilots who gained experience and proved the most successful dogfighters were not left in the fiery skies to fight until they were killed. They were pulled from combat and made into instructors to train the next wave of novice pilots. By scientifically pooling their best talent for teaching rather than dying they learned how to defeat an opponent in much faster, more maneuverable fighters. That should be happening in the teaching profession.

The biggest problems to overcome in education, as in every other area of life, are provincialism and corruption. Provincialism because everything Mighton does, including teaching fractions at grade one and two level rather than seven or eight, is already being done successfully in Far Eastern countries such as Taiwan and Hong Kong (not to mention the Czech Republic, number one in the world in math and science). But here in North America the almighty dollar speaks louder than success in far off places that we can ignore.

I have often written about Richard Feynman's run in with wealthy text book manufacturers on this blog, in his amusing "You Must Be Joking, Mr. Feynman!" Mighton refers to this too, and reports that things have not changed since Feynman's day. These corporations have a stranglehold on both educational research and school boards. Their over-centralized power structures assure that the board decides everything, even if it means purchasing twenty thousand dollars worth of textbooks, which are then left on the shelf because they are unusable (as really happened in Ontario at least once). Learning materials are selected for corporate benefit, not that of students. The folly begins in faulty, uncontrolled research done often not by experimentally trained scientists but by academics adept only at manipulating the jargon and ideas of science.

"There is one danger in relying too much on research that most people are unaware of. In the pharmaceutical industry, checks and balances have been established to ensure that research isn't unduly influenced by companies that will gain or lose money based on the research results. In fact, many people think that controls in the pharmaceutical industry aren't strong enough. But the controls in education are virtually nonexistent. Many educators employed by faculties of education or by school boards and ministries receive funding from textbook companies for their research, or they derive income from those companies as authors and consultants." (End of Ignorance, 228)

Rather than rely on evidence or science, these influential educational researchers take the cheap shortcut of hiding thought and detail under a soft, snowy blanket of buzzwords. Here is the mealy-mouthed conclusion of one paper: "To summarize, the data suggests that teaching and learning can be related through the kinds of instructional tasks provided and the nature of the classroom discourse." A mathematician examining this supposedly exemplary educational research commented,

"If I didn't miss something, what that says is that teaching and learning can be related to what goes on in the classroom." Well, I certainly hope so. As Horatio said to Hamlet, "There needs no  ghost, my lord, come from the grave, to tell us this." (End of Ignorance, 218)

Of course, behind this corruption is stinking complacency on our part. Parents simply do not care enough to protest. My daughter's teacher was unmoved by my protests about math because other parents passively accept the situation. We think: "I screwed up in math as a kid, so let my kids do the same. Failure will toughen them up." Mighton puts this more politely, as always,

"... as a society, we could simply refuse to settle for programs that do not nurture the potential of all children in every subject. If we were to take these measures immediately, I believe we would see striking improvements in our schools within a matter of years, and in our society within a decade. Since adults can relearn subjects by tutoring or teaching them to children, we could also establish an adult education program that would support the public school system so we could see the benefits from our investment even more quickly. If we were to invest properly in early childhood education, the results would be even more dramatic. (267)

Mighton does not elaborate on this "adult education as tutoring" proposal, but it is intriguing. Instead of taking night classes, parents and adult learners could be tutoring kids, helping out with the classroom work that Mighton's methods require. This would re-educate adults in the most important basics of math very cheaply, and at the same time do good for the next generation. I am so inspired by his teaching that I am seriously considering doing just this, tutoring math, using Mighton's JUMP method, starting with my own kids. Plus, it is very exiting to think that this can be applied to every area of learning, not just math. I am avid to try.

Mighton also has some interesting political insights, essentially saying that what we consider political issues are usually really educational failures in disguise. Whatever the Ancient Athenians thought were issues of the day were really stuff and nonsense, what really would have helped would have been to eliminate slavery and sexism. He speculates on what might result if ever we did learn to teach children efficiently.

"It is hard to say exactly how a society that educated children according to their potential would look. I can imagine there would be less government and fewer regulations, but I can also imagine that there would be more. It is very difficult to speculate about this issue, because a society that educated children according to their potential would produce adults who would be almost unimaginably different from ours. (pp. 267-268)

I have barely scratched the surface of this book. For one thing, for anybody who has read the advice to teachers that Abdu'l-Baha gives, Mighton's methods sound eerily familiar. I would like to examine this intersection with the Master's teaching in more detail in a future blog entry when I have some experience tutoring my own kids, and hopefully others, with his method. His website is Let his credo in the following be our last word for today:

"Children have fundamental psychological needs that are far more important than the content of any particular lesson. Children want success: they want to be able to show off to a caring adult, to feel that they are not stupid or inferior to other children, to reach higher levels in an activity (as in a video game), to succeed in front of their peers, to see patterns and play with subtle variations on a theme, to solve puzzles, and to think the same thoughts and experience the same excitement over an idea as other children. Because we have never completely taken into account the things that are deeply important to children -- in the planning of lessons, in the development of textbooks and programs, in the way we assess students' work -- we have never been able to nurture their intelligence effectively. We need to give children the opportunity to train the way experts do and to practise and solidify their knowledge effortlessly, with joy and excitement." (Mighton, 184)


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Ignorance I

Ignorance as Bliss

By John Taylor; 2007 August 24

"... his ignorance were wise, where now his knowledge must prove ignorance." - Shakespeare

I have rounded life's summit of fifty years of age, and all is downhill from here. I find now that it is better to think about what I do not know, not what I do know. On the way uphill to this summit, in our youth, we were ignorant but it did not seem to do harm. Then, it was called innocence, not ignorance. Is the ignorance of a child a good thing? Is it any different from the ignorance of an elder?

Now I think I know why poets turn so often to their childhood for inspiration. Such was the "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College," where Thomas Gray looked back, downhill, over his former playground and muses on his salad days,

Ye distant spires, ye antique towers,
That crown the watery glade...
Ah happy hills, ah pleasing shade,
Ah fields beloved in vain,
Where once my careless childhood strayed,
A stranger yet to pain!

The young cavort and play with no idea that they are about to go through the grinder. The playground now hints at this strangeness of innocence, the only time in life when ignorance is without darkness, when the full light of morning shines on the heart.

Our Exemplar's childhood was not joy unalloyed as it seems for many of us. Although His family was wealthy, early on he experienced the contempt that the religious majority had for Babis. He knew well the face of prejudice, what a character in Shakespeare declared, "O thou monster Ignorance, how deformed dost thou look!" Abdu'l-Baha was regularly mocked and bullied in the street by mobs of larger children for being a Babi.

Then, when He was round about the age that my son Tomaso is right now, eight-years-old, everything changed for the worse. He met with extreme suffering and, soon after, homelessness when the attempt on the life of the Shah was seen as a declaration of open season on the Babis. The entire family was evacuated from Tehran when His Father, Baha'u'llah, was incarcerated. Only Abdu'l-Baha stayed, for He had fallen so ill that it was thought He might not survive. But the physical agony was nothing compared to the psychological pain of knowing --  and not knowing -- what was happening to His Father. As Lady Blomfield relates,

"'Abdu'l-Baha, then only eight years old, was broken-hearted at the ruthless treatment of His adored Father. The child suffered agonies, as a description of the tortures was related in His hearing -- the cruel scourging of the feet, the long miles Baha'u'llah had to walk afterwards, barefooted, heavy chains cutting into the delicate flesh, the loathsome prison; the excruciating anxiety lest His very life should be taken -- made a load of suffering, piteous for so young and sensitive a child to endure. All the former luxury of the family was at an end. deserted as they were by relations and friends. Homeless, utterly  impoverished, engulfed in trouble, and misery, suffering from sheer want and extraordinary privations -- such were the conditions under which His childhood's life was spent." (Chosen Highway, 80-81)

The fact that Abdu'l-Baha responded first and best of all to the Revelation that came down like a mighty torrent to Baha'u'llah in that dark and dank underground prison, that is a kind of consolation to us in our own hard times. For not only Baha'u'llah but our exemplar went through that and both wholeheartedly felt what the Elder expressed in a prayer,

"I am well pleased with that which Thou didst ordain for Me, and welcome, however calamitous, the pains and sorrows I am made to suffer." (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings, 89-90)

It is one thing for a Holy One of God to undergo such an experience and quite another for an eight-year-old to witness the effects. We know that the boy was allowed to view His Father, bent over from bearing the heavy instrument of torture, walking in the prison yard, and that the sight so shocked Him that He fainted dead away. But the agony was wrapped in a Mystery, and His sensitive soul was so conditioned by this agony that later He discerned a change in His Father. This led to what can only be called the "Declaration of the Master," a religious experience of the greatest moment, though unmarked in our calendar.

"I am the servant of the Blessed Perfection. In Baghdad I was a child. Then and there He announced to me the Word, and I believed in Him. As soon as He proclaimed to me the Word, I threw myself at His Holy Feet and implored and supplicated Him to accept my blood as a sacrifice in His Pathway. Sacrifice! How sweet I find that word! There is no greater Bounty for me than this! What greater glory can I conceive than to see this neck chained for His sake, these feet fettered for His love, this body mutilated or thrown into the depths of the sea for His Cause! If in reality we are His sincere lovers -- if in reality I am His sincere servant, then I must sacrifice my life, my all at His Blessed Threshold." (Esslemont, Baha'u'llah and the New Era, 51)

This is how He bore under the burden of trials and tribulations for the rest of His life: His identity was wrapped up in sacrifice, He longed for it, and as to all great souls, life obliged and poured down oceans of it upon Him, to the very end.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007


John Taylor; 2007 August 22

Potpourri Contents:
Some Sexual Advice
Rant for Pure Mother's Milk
A Pioneer to the Atheists



Thank God, it is great to be alive; for with every day that passes the boundless expanse of my ignorance is laid out in ever greater splendor before my wondering eyes. This morning the trigger of my astonishment was Mozi, or Mo Tzu, a pre-Confucian Chinese philosopher that I confess I do not recall every having heard of. He is briefly quoted at the start of the last chapter of Singer's One World, where Mozi asks: "What is the way to universal love and benefit?" and answers his own question, "It is to regard other peoples' countries as one's own." (Peter Singer, One World, The Ethics of Globalization, 196) Here are the Baha'i principles of Oneness of Humanity and Universal Peace distilled as succinctly as ever you could ask for. I looked a bit further into Mo Tzu this morning and discovered the following insight, which seems convergent with the recent discovery (discussed in detail here a few essays ago) that we use the same region of the brain for remembering as we do for imagining future events. The Book of Mozi relates:

"P'eng Ch'ing Shengtse said: `The past can be known, the future cannot.' Mo Tzu said: `Suppose your parents met with misfortune when 30 miles away, and there was just the margin of a single day. If they could be reached they would live, if not they would die. Here are a strong wagon and an excellent horse, and here are a bad horse and a square-wheeled cart. You are allowed to choose. Which would you take?' It was replied that the excellent horse and the strong wagon would of course make for a more speedy journey. Mo Tzu said: `How then is the future not knowable?'" (The Ethical and Political Works of Mo Tzu, tr: Yi-Pao Mei, Arthur Probsthain, London, 1929, at:

I found out that the above little aphorism of Mo Tzu quoted by Singer was no flash in the pan. His idea that the way to peace is to erase the "us versus them" mindset by regarding others as yourself and their countries as your own country is inherent to Mozi's ethics.

"For Mo Tzu, Universal love confers `righteousness' on a person; "righteousness" 'or Mo Tzu is merely living one's life in accordance with heaven, which after all regards all humans as equal: `One who obeys the will of heaven will practice universal love; one who disobeys the will of heaven will practice partial love.'" (

In other words, there is no positive evil, everything is good, but some goods are more universal than others. Prejudice is a limited form of love; ignorance is stunted knowledge. This pretty much sums up Mozi's ethical philosophy, which boils down to knowing how our limited minds and hearts establish bounds on love,

"Humane men are concerned about providing benefits to the world and eliminating its calamities. . . . When we come to ask about the causes of the calamities (war, poverty, etc.) that people suffer, from what do these calamities arise? Do they arise from people loving others and benefiting others? Certainly not. We should say that they arise from people hating and injuring others. If we should classify one-by-one all those who hate and injure others, will we find that they are partial or universal in their love? Certainly, we'll find them partial in their love. Therefore, partial love is the cause of all the human calamities in the world. Partial love is wrong." (quoted at:


Some Sexual Advice

Note: Like many, I return from time to time to the question of sex, as yesterday. This essay had "sex" as its subject line. Experience has taught me means that many recipients will not get it because spam filters have a nasty habit of rejecting every email with "sex" anywhere in the subject line. So, if you did not get that essay simply go to my blog, and read it there. While you are there, you can probably get the blog to send you the blog version of my daily essay. When I make typos or other blunders, this is the version that gets corrected, so it is preferable that people consult this, rather than my mail-outs. Just do not ask me how you do an RSS feed, because I have no idea.


Rant for Pure Mother's Milk

We desperately need to pray for the left and right wing. Until a revealed prayer turns up, let this little supplication suffice.

"O God, make us into true conservatives! O God, liberate us so we can be true liberals! Lord, spare us from the false imitations of both ideals. Save us from progress made regress, from conservatives who do not conserve, from liberals with no idea what real liberty is. O God, send us real conservatives to protect us from the dangers of science gone mad!"

What prompted this was news that chemicals invented by anonymous developers hiding behind a corporate facade have added to women's cosmetics chemicals so powerful that they penetrate the body and are now turning up in mother's milk. Now there are artificial pheromones so seductive that they defeat the whole purpose of reproduction. Where are the conservatives when we need them?

As if we were not getting enough exposure to chemicals already, now the cosmetics industry takes it to a new level. The corporatocracy has removed from us a fundamental human right, the right to know what we are eating, to know everything that is entering our body. An example is, well, just about everything you eat. Want to know what is in it? Forget it.

Corporations have a sacred right to keep that information from you.

Artificial flavoring and preservatives are protected as trade secrets. This allows them to compete with one another better. A good analogy is this: you are tied down and rival gangs are competing to see who can shoot you first. Does it matter to you which gang finally puts a bullet through your heart? Myself, I do not want anybody shooting at me, I want safety. I want real conservatives in control, for liberty comes from solid protection, and liberalism can only thrive if conservatism is efficacious.


A Pioneer to the Atheists

Lately I wrote of my mission to the atheists. My friend Peter Gardner has a similar calling. He spends much of his time in a lesser known corner of the Web called "Theism Debate." If cyberspace were like geography, most of use would, at best, be travel teachers, but Peter would be considered a permanent pioneer. He writes,

"My favorite forum is What I enjoy are discussions with rational-minded people who have objections to mere religious imitation. Most of the members are agnostics or freethinkers. A small number of religious people also participate. There are over a thousand members listed but I don't know how many are active. Each conversation that a person starts often carries on for months, with posts up to a hundred or more.  It is a pleasure to respond to difficult questions because it gets me thinking and reading to offer a helpful answer. If you wish to join, follow the instructions on the site (at the above URL) when you get there. Enjoy."

Peter sent me a sample. This is a recent post he made to the Theism Debate discussion group. It is part of a longer conversation.

"An erroneous scientific idea is displaced by an advancing science. An erroneous philosophical idea is challenged within the context of philosophy. What could displace an erroneous religious idea in the hearts of people with a proclivity for religion? Thousands of years of history and prehistory indicate that human beings have a propensity for religion. Our nature may not dramatically change in the next few thousand years, even if we improve our philosophy, our science and our religion. Those mistakes in the realm of scientific inquiry from the past are not likely to gain hold again. They have been displaced. Since, generally, we are scientific, philosophical and religious, is it not likely that we will advance in understanding all of these questions? You and I can have a positive influence on all of these types of dialog, not by arresting them but by contributing to them."