Today's unserious essay, not for the book, is:
The Age of Stupid Corruption
By John Taylor; 2010 Aug 12, Kamal 11, 167 BE
This month my father paid for cable television for our home, a mixed blessing to be sure. Until now I had resisted letting TV through the door because of the damage that its propaganda does to the brains of young minds -- unfortunately, our kids already got around that by becoming addicted to broadband internet, which we already got from the cable company. Fewer advertisements on the Net, but just as sedentary. I resisted cable television for my father's good too, because I thought it a very bad thing for old people, too. I was convinced that that flow of images has to speed up dementia. Everybody else, including my brother, disagreed and said I should let him fry his brain in front of the idiot box, so at last I caved in. His dementia is progressing anyway, now that he is in his 90's.
One of the benefits for me is the "on demand" movies on TMN. This gave me the chance to watch the British climate change documentary "The Age of Stupid," which has not yet come out on DVD. Its thesis is that what is left of the next generation will look back at our time and wonder why we did nothing to save ourselves from the disasters that warming was obviously bringing about. I was a little disappointed that Age of Stupid is just three or four mini-documentaries cobbled together under a bare introductory theme of a librarian looking over them. He is living alone in a deep sea tower in the middle of the North Sea. Here moribund governments set up a large archive to save the art and artifacts, the best of what remains of civilization so that future generations can look back in anger, spit at us, and call us names like "stupid."
I do not want to review the whole film, but one part of it sticks in my mind. In Switzerland, a bunch of mountain dwellers line up on a highway to protest the harm that the tunnel has done to their formerly isolated way of life. They object that trucks ship milk out of their valley, take it to factories in Italy and then ship it back to them as processed yogurt. Does it not make more sense to just make the yogurt here? Surely it would be cheaper and fresher?
Again, a strange thing to protest at first blush. But I have had a week to think about it. I recall one of the books on my huge pile of half read books by my bed -- I reviewed it here -- about the same area in Switzerland. This dentist went through in the 1930's found that the peasants were almost totally isolated by the mountain peaks but that they had perfect teeth and were very well nourished. They had picnics with races, the prize being a bowl of cream. Now that trucks connect them, that is all gone forever, but they protest anyway. What are they protesting?
Corruption as Lack of Organization
In my opinion, the real problem that they -- and all environmentalists -- should be protesting is not a wave on the ocean like trucks and roads but the underlying cause of it all: corruption. Clearly, the trucking lobby and the oil lobby greased enough palms to see that roads go everywhere, even through mountain valleys, whether they were needed or not, whether they do good or not. Then the yogurt factories in Italy were happy of the increased business, and if a few local customs, languages and cultures go by the wayside, who really is going to care in a hundred years? Okay, global warming is going to wipe us all out, so it matters even less.
What we should be asking is not, "Why are we so stupid?" but rather, "What is the cause of the corruption that is killing us?" The most commonly cited answer is this:
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." - Lord Acton
Acton is right that power is a factor in corruption. This has the ring of truth. However, that is like saying that stove fires are caused by heat, or that automobile accidents are caused by speed. I think it is more exact to say that power is like sunlight hitting a lens. If the lens is convex the energy of the sun burns or corrupts by becoming too concentrated. That is when power concentrates into too few hands. Then the energy becomes the servant of tyranny and absolutism. That is the kind of corruption that Acton was talking about.
However, our main problem now is that the lens is convex, and the sunlight is diffuse. Literally, the heat in the atmosphere is being diffused by CO2, and being absorbed by soot and particulate pollution. Heat hits the atmosphere and is diffused, and so everything is heating up. Earth is becoming another Venus, where temperatures are 800 degrees plus. But it is also true metaphorically. We are so stupid and supine because we let our own mental powers go to waste in diffused, idle, unorganized lives.
To use the Swiss example, the peasants lived pure lives because they were isolated, not because they were organized around purity. All it took was a tunnel and a road to ruin it all. If they had been organized in the first place, the road and tunnel would have had little destructive effect. They would have been in a position to let only enough traffic through to benefit, not to harm.
This idea that lack of organization causes corruption I got from John Amos Comenius in the Panorthosia. He was convinced that disorganization is caused by idleness, and that idleness corrupts that he would have made unemployment both illegal and socially unacceptable. As Baha'is we would have no trouble agreeing with that, since we know that Baha'u'llah laid down the law about work in the 33rd paragraph of the Aqdas,
"O people of Baha! It is incumbent upon each one of you to engage in some occupation -- such as a craft, a trade or the like. We have exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship of the one true God. ... Waste not your hours in idleness and sloth, but occupy yourselves with what will profit you and others. ... The most despised of men in the sight of God are they who sit and beg. Hold ye fast unto the cord of means and place your trust in God, the Provider of all means." (Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 30)
I knew that Baha'u'llah made that a law, and that he clearly links work to our reason for being created, i.e., worship of God. But it took Comenius to make me realize the connection of this law to corruption. Unemployment should be illegal and considered socially unacceptable because it introduces a disorganizing element into our lives and society. Comenius cites many historical precedents for obligatory work laws, most of which was news to me.
"No-one in the state should be allowed to be idle, in the sense of failing to make an honest living for himself and his family by serving society in general through farming, craftsmanship, trade, or politics. My argument is (1) that no-one should learn to misbehave through having nothing to do. Therefore this should be prevented in the individual's own interests; (2) that others should not be corrupted by this bad example; (3) that there should be no occasion for begging or sharp practices; (4) that in such circumstances the idle body does not nourish any of its parts.
"In this connection the Egyptians of old had a wise law, like the Chinese of today, forbidding the deaf, the blind, the halt, the maimed, and even the victims of gout, from going idle, regardless of their wealth. Solon, the Athenian lawgiver, passed a special law against the idle and indolent, giving everyone the power to bring an action against them. Also God in His holy word passed the law: 'If any will not work, neither shall he eat.' The Romans had no temple to Fors Fortuna, the so-called patron goddess of the idle and unemployed, inside the city, but built one across the Tiber to demonstrate that idleness must be kept away from the boundaries of a well-established city." (Panorthosia Ch. 24, VI, pp. 103-104)
That is essentially what I am advocating in People Without Borders, my book in progress, that we organize our lives and get everybody to participate in saving ourselves from the dissipated corruption of global warming.
End Underemployment As Well As Unemployment
That means not only everybody working, but everybody working smarter. As Baha'u'llah points out, we need to organize work in such a way that not only all hands are moving but that all are focusing upon a trade or career. That way the worker can be scientific about what he or she does, not just slave away at what Buckminster Fuller called a "reflex machine." The entire world of work is degraded when everybody is not focused on a trade or profession. Yet you do not see placards in the streets saying: "End unemployment forever!" Nobody sees it as remotely possible, yet that is just what needs to be done.
Think about it. How does organized crime get a hold on people's lives? Why are youth gangs so prevalent? They prey upon young people who have not been apprenticed to a trade and make them into criminals. They have the choice of joining a gang or hanging about on the street doing nothing. If every child had a trade by age 12 and were fully apprenticed by age fifteen, these blights on humanity would be wiped out overnight.
I can see the ill effects of our stupid over-schooled educational system on my own daughter. No, she is not in a gang, but neither is she expected to do anything at age 15 but go to school and play, be it at the computer or in her entertainments. She is profoundly unhappy and everybody says to me, it is normal, it is part of adolescence. Sure, just like global warming is normal, part of our collective adolescence. Death is normal. Society is treating her like a large child, and the damage is apparent. She should be plying a trade, doing the world and herself some good, at this age. Instead, teachers unions assure themselves of guaranteed work by keeping kids behind the walls of schools until they are eighteen. And we cave into this swindle and tell them to "stay in school," as if sitting behind a desk during the most energetic years were some sort of moral imperative. Instead, we should be saying to them, "Ply your trade."
Here is the rest of Comenius' prescription,
"We should follow these examples and enact laws to the effect that (1) the rich should devote time to study and serve the public interest by acquiring wisdom; (2) the poor should practise trades. Anyone who fails to comply should be liable to punishment. The cure of idleness alone, if obtainable, would destroy the core of the abominable disorders of the world; plunder, theft, gambling, and fraudulence in many forms would come to an end. Hence it follows that no beggars should be tolerated in the state, far less bands of them, such as gypsies. In fact we must see that everyone has an honest occupation to profit him in body and soul as well as in material goods." (Panorthosia Ch. 24, VI, pp. 103-104)
August 12, 2010