I am an essayist specializing in the Bahá'í Principles. Essays come out every day or so. Contact me at: email@example.com
Friday, August 20, 2010
The Master Points a Finger
Harm and Need
The Principles of Harm and Need, Applied to France
By John Taylor; 2010 Aug 20, Kamal 19, 167 BE
What I wrote this morning is an example of my lack of discipline. Okay, to be fair to myself, I am disciplined in some ways and utterly undisciplined in others. I have iron discipline in the store where money is to be spent; but when food is already bought and lying around screaming at me to inhale it, I cannot resist. My wife is the reverse, undisciplined buying, stoic when standing before the pantry. Hence my thin spouse and my protuberant belly that almost obscures my view of the computer screen before me.
Anyway, I started off with general comments intended for a chapter of my book in progress, "Citizens Without Borders," and it turned into a screed, reacting to what I saw on a recent podcast of Democracy Now! I also indulge in what I promised myself never to do in this book, that is, mention the Baha'i Faith, or, to speak more exactly, the Master. Oh well, what does not go in the book goes into the Badi' Blog.
The stoic philosophers taught that each of us has a duty to the harm principle. The harm principle dictates that one should do what one loves and is good at, but if and only if that activity does not harm others. The harm principle has a milder corollary, the principle of need. Service to others is conditional upon whether it does good to others. The need principle would have us avoid activities that do not have real, lasting effects and turn toward services that matter in the long term.
The need principle can be technical or moral. Technical need is a test of skill. An expert demonstrates exceptional expertise by tackling tasks that her most experienced colleagues consider to challenge the knowledge and abilities of their trade or profession. Moral need is the obligation to address the most urgent problem -- irrespective of how well prepared we are to carry it out.
It is the task of educators to see to it that technical need embraces moral need. If current needs cannot be addressed perfectly right now, a teacher aims to teach what will bring skills and challenges together in the long term. With skilled educators, each new generation of experts is better trained to handle the greatest need. In learning, technical and moral needs are married. A good teacher makes the beatitude into a prophesy: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Thus the learned and leader of thought eradicates the sources of ignorance and makes this world reflect the ideal paradise.
What is a Skilled Politician?
Comenius pointed out that the mission on earth of the politician is to follow Jesus' advice and act as a peacemaker, to seek divine power by addressing the greatest threat to peace, the sorest need in society. Once the worst problem is well established, they then send in the most appropriate teachers and experts to get at the root the problem. Politicians establish peace by working as applied educators.
What a wonderful thought, that Jesus was thinking of the calling of politicians, the most reviled trade in the world right now, when he declared, "How blessed are the peacemakers!" And how terribly modern politicians have failed in this high calling! The most egregious example that comes to mind is France.
I think of Abdu'l-Baha walking through Paris, then and now a world center of art, entertainment and culture, and looking at its stately opera houses and art galleries and saying something like, "How could these people spend so much money on this splendour when around the corner there are people starving to death?" Actually, what am I doing paraphrasing? Here is what he is reported to have said during His second visit to Paris,
"One day 'Abdu'l-Baha quoted a Persian verse that eating was for the purpose of living, and not the other way round. He also said that most Europeans were now acting as though man were made for work, and not work for man. Another day, after inspecting a children's home which was poorly supplied, He spoke of the many magnificent buildings kept solely for entertainment, while the poor were abandoned to such misery and wretchedness." (H.M. Balyuzi, 'Abdu'l-Baha, Centre of the Covenant, 376)
Now the news is full of the latest revelation of the depths to which hypocrisy has sunk in France, and by extension the West. It seems that a little over a decade after the French Revolution with all its pretentions to standing up for human rights, the French government sent gunboats to Haiti, the richest colony in the Indies at the time, and extracted "reparations for lost property," that is, the loss of their "property," Haitian slaves, just after the only successful slave revolt since Moses had taken place there.
The French demanded the equivalent of their entire year's budget from the new, freshly liberated government of Haiti. This was a prodigious sum and, rich as they were, it took over a century to repay. At least three times the leaders of Haiti tried to refuse payment, and each time they were bloodily suppressed. The latest was in '05 when Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted for daring to suggest that France repay the dirty debt. He remains in exile in South Africa (the usual places of exile, France, Canada and the U.S., all refused him because they are all implicated in this cross border crime).
Now I think of those glorious opera houses and art galleries that Abdu'l-Baha walked by and I see into what He was talking about. Truly, the money that paid for that splendour came from the blood, sweat and tears of freshly liberated black slaves in Haiti. And just after the revolution that declared, "Liberty, fraternity and equality for all!" What stinking hypocrisy! Haiti had no money for infrastructure over the past century and sunk from the richest to the poorest country in the Americas; and when that quake struck, the capital city just collapsed to the ground. And now the poor women, still stuck in tents in the refugee camps of Port au Prince, are being raped by all comers. What a terrible legacy of the reverse of peacemaking. I am a lover of the arts, and I think it is a great investment, but I am in tears thinking about where that money came from.
And most tragic of all is that when you mention this situation to any French person they say, "What? I've never heard about that." They know about the art, they have no idea who paid for it. They have no idea of what has been going on for the past two centuries. No doubt, not knowing what they do, they would have been stung by Abdu'l-Baha's comment about art money being stolen out of the mouths of the poor. But do not be stung, French people, just start electing politicians who know the first thing about what it is to be a peacemaker, to stand up for human rights.
If in France anyone who learned the trade of politician had applied the harm principle, much less the need principles, moral or technical, the lot of the poor, in Haiti and in Paris, would have been their first concern, and every French person would know about this, but by now they could be proud that they had helped Haiti while making sure that the arts were funded by clean money.