The Cosmopolitan Mitzvah
By John Taylor; 2010 Jan 26, Sultan 08, 166 BE
Lately, I stumbled across a site on the Web showing charts illustrating the impressive career achievements of Jews over past centuries. In spite of their small population, the names of Jews turn up in highly disproportionate numbers on honour lists. An astonishing number have attained the highest possible distinction in their field of endeavour, including the Nobel Prize, Oscars, any honour you can name. This is all the more amazing when you consider that IQ studies have consistently failed to uncover any mental superiority on average among Jews. It is true that Judaism values learning highly. As Steven L. Pease points out in his book, The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement, the Jews were the first tribe to mandate universal literacy. However, since then other, less gifted nations and cultures have become literate, and many value knowledge no less than Jews. What is it about Jews -- not, it seems, Israelis but Diaspora Jews -- that makes their careers so brilliant?
Myself, I suspect that the Jewish bar and bat Mitzvah ceremony is a factor in their high achievement. Many recent educational studies have found that this age, around when a child reaches middle school, is a crucial period to later development. It often make the difference between drifting into failure and having a mission in life. To find direction at the age of 13, when the bar and bat Mitzvah takes place, is the basis of success later on. Failure to find oneself at this age can make it all but impossible to recover from later on.
The bar Mitzvah ceremony is highly demanding for Jewish junior youth, requiring a great deal of study and preparation on their part. At the same time, the ceremony extends to them tremendous adulation, attention and offers of support from both God and the community. It is safe to say that the lack of a coming-of-age ceremony in an industrial and post-industrial society is the main cause of maladjustment, shiftless and dislocation in adult life. It is a major reason why moderns tend to be unhappy, compared to simpler, aboriginal cultures that continue their traditions of initiating their young into their ranks.
After a world government forms, that is, in a Cosmopolitan Condition, I would like to see the Mitzvah be a universal transition to adulthood, as universal a requirement as literacy and numeracy. Every youth should undergo his or her own special coming-of-age ceremony that is in some way equivalent to the bar and bat Mitzvah ceremony. As with the bar and bat Mitzvah, it should be designed to put the adolescent in touch with his or her heritage, both religious and cultural.
However, instead of concentrating only on religion, I would like the study for a Cosmopolitan Mitzvah to cover everything that is needed to be a well-rounded human being in a Universal Civic Society. Make it, to use the term Kant used in his essay, "What is Enlightenment?", a "Release from Tutelage Ceremony." Make it a mix of personal and official elements -- though less free ranging and idiosyncratic than the content of some modern weddings. Make it something to which parents, the child's ethnicity, language, religion, local community, all have contributed to and benefited from.
Ideally, in a Cosmopolitan Condition the educational system would be efficient enough to prepare a fifteen year old to be at least potentially independent at this age. That way a Cosmopolitan Mitzvah ceremony could also include a graduation ceremony from trade school and apprenticeship. That way the youth would be qualified, if need be, to go out, marry and start her own family; at the very least the initiate should be able financially to support herself on her own using the skills she has mastered in elementary school.
This is just the base requirement for a Cosmopolitan Mitzvah, however. A new adult should also demonstrate competence in all three of the basic elements of a well-rounded human being. That is, she should be a logical thinker, a competent executive and a moral agent contemplating the eternal. That means having some basic competence in philosophy, politics and religion. John Amos Comenius concisely sums up what each of these fields covers:
"Philosophy deals with books and knowledge and the reasons for things for the purpose of enlightening mankind. Politics deals with rule and authority for the purpose of keeping mankind in order. Religion deals with God and conscience for the purpose of kindling in mankind the flame of faith, charity and hope (or keeping it alight)." (Panorthosia, Ch. 13, para 12, p. 205)
In this essay series, we have considered the possibility that a cosmopolis will require world citizens to vote in elections and even use a special currency designed for each of these three universal elements of human endeavour. A Cosmopolitan Mitzvah ceremony would require, therefore, that the young adult have enough basic knowledge to vote intelligently in each of the three types of election, and to get and spend each of their currencies in a productive way. Let us look at each of them in turn.
"Philosophy deals with books and knowledge and the reasons for things for the purpose of enlightening mankind."
A youth should be familiar with the scientific method and be ready to apply it in his or her trade, or, if so inclined, in her future profession. Having finished her apprenticeship and attained the journeyman level, she should now be ready to teach these skills to younger apprentices, as well as promoting for the benefit of the general public the special lessons and values for which this area of knowledge stands. She should say what she will look for when she votes and what virtues and qualities she would like to bring when she serves as a world citizen. She also should state how she has spent the eduterra currency that has so far come into her hands, and how she plans to spend this money in future.
"Politics deals with rule and authority for … keeping mankind in order."
The youth should be able to stand up in public and summarize what she has learned and accomplished so far in life, and what her hopes and dreams are for the future. She should state concisely, in both general and specific terms, what she believes, what she seeks to learn and what she plans to accomplish during her life and career. She should say what she thinks is important policy, and what goals she wants for her family, neighbourhood, right up to the continental and world level. She should say how she plans to follow through on that in her voting and her use of the paxterra currency.
"Religion deals with God and conscience for the purpose of kindling in mankind the flame of faith, charity and hope (or keeping it alight)."
A student should demonstrate the lessons she has learned from direct experience with her traditional or family religion, and any other religion she may have chosen. She should show basic cosmopolitan knowledge of spirituality by talking about at least two other religions or faith traditions. She should state what she believes and how she carries out that belief in her worship, her past and future charitable support using the ecuterra currency, and in the hope she inspires in her contacts and relationships with friends and family.
Since this Cosmopolitan coming of age ceremony is new for virtually everybody except Jews and a few remnant hunter-gatherer cultures, I would like to see it supported and promoted as an institution. Scientists and educators should study it as carefully as possible; they should keep long term records of what was said by each adolescent. That way, the elements of the ceremony that a child brings who later gains distinction in life and career can be used as feedback for the Mitzvahs of the next generation.