Saturday, August 28, 2010

Universal Consultancy



Pansophy and the Right to Counsel

By John Taylor; 2010 Aug 28, Asma 08, 167 BE

As an educator, John Amos Comenius believed that a world government could only persist if it is upheld by universal education. We all are born with brains, so school must be for all, young and old, rich and poor, throughout life. In developed nations this no longer sounds as radical as it did in the 17th Century; however, Comenius even asserted a kind of "right to counsellors," where even those who are not full time students are obliged to take full advantage of the best advice available.

We already recognize a limited version of the right to advice if a person is threatened by serious illness or a long prison sentence. Court systems in most developed nations today recognize a right to counsel if an individual is charged with a serious crime. Poor or disadvantaged persons get a court-appointed lawyer, paid for by the state, to defend their life. What Comenius suggested was that we broaden this right to counsel so as to make wisdom universal.

At first glance, paying for advisors for the poor seems like an extravagant expense. However, it could be justified for the same reasons that preventive medicine is known to be cheaper and more efficient in the long run. As the documentary film "Sicko" dramatizes, the American health care system is the most expensive in the world because it waits to intervene only when health is in rapid decline. Meanwhile, the much poorer Cubans are healthier overall because their doctors work to keep the people healthier in the first place.
Thus a wise society would retain advisors all the time, cradle to grave, in order to help the populace avoid choices that lead to disastrous decline. It is cheaper to teach people to avoid situations where crime can occur than to pay for trials, restitution and prisons. A universal right to advice would also put us in a position to completely avert other clear and present dangers to life and limb, such as accidents, illnesses, suicide and even unhappiness.

Of course, the roots of this imperative are found in Biblical wisdom literature, "Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end." (Prov 19:20-22, KJV) And, according to Plato, it is a basic aim of the rule of law to uphold wisdom.

"... it was ignorance, in its greatest form, which at that time destroyed the power we have described ... it follows that the lawgiver must try to implant in States as much wisdom as possible, and to root out folly to the utmost of his power." (R.G. Bury, tr., Laws, 688e)

Another translation puts this passage in the Laws more emphatically:

"A legislator's aim must be to create all the wisdom he can in a community, and with all his might to eradicate unwisdom." (Laws, 688, Collected Writings, p. 1283)

Comenius agreed with his predecessors that our chief aim must be to establish wisdom and to steer away from folly. The way to do this, he believed, would be to uphold what he called pansophy, or universal wisdom. Pansophy is an order of magnitude more powerful than just wisdom for a few. The services of experts and the wise are for everybody, not just a wealthy few; they must be available all the time, not just on special occasions. If each and all had the benefit of many advisors, everybody would become an active advocate of wisdom. We would know our own dignity, we would defend ourselves from error, and corruption would be completely eliminated. This, Comenius believed, would clear our perceptions, since folly corrupts both mind and soul.

"Since human nature has been blinded by its corruption, my Universal Education discussed how it should be safeguarded from downfall by wise guidance, and all its senses kept open to everything..." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 9, para 11, pp. 146-147)

Nowadays science allows us to clarify and magnify our senses with great efficiency. We can set up an almost unlimited array of sensors, RFID devices, dials, readouts and other indicators to enhance our senses and memory. As electronics becomes more miniaturized and sophisticated, these sensory devices become cheaper and more common. I think Comenius would point out, though, that this is not the same as wisdom. Indeed, having a flood of sensory data at our fingertips only increases our need for wise intervention by human sages. Each of us needs a skilled teacher at every stage of our development to dispense the right advice at just the right time.

Establishing a universal right to good advice would empower each new generation to put a final end to dangers that now seem to be engrained in human nature. For example, the World Health Organization says that the two most common dangers to human health are tobacco and alcohol (including other substance abuse, legal and otherwise). What youth, properly guided, would voluntarily choose to sacrifice their own well being by becoming an addict in order to perpetuate a blight to human health? Indeed, even if tobacco, alcohol and other substances were only substantially reduced, the expense of paying for advisors for everybody would be more than justified.

What then would a broader right to counsel entail?

It is axiomatic that the more complex the task, the more one stands in need of wise consultants. Modern life is complicated, so whenever we take a step, we should keep at hand at least one advisor. Today we call them by various names, consultants, tutors, mentors, fitness trainers, life coaches and guidance counsellors, but the point is that the first thing we hear about any decision must be nothing less than the best advice available. What is more, that advisor needs to be there when a choice is taken. She needs to be standing nearby, as it were, as every future smoker considers lighting up his first cigarette.

The Right and Obligation to Tutelage

The right to counsel, Comenius further held, entails at least one generalist advisor for each of the three main tasks of life, to maintain a good relationship with oneself, with other people and with our God (or, for non-believers, with our future, with long term considerations). Each relation must be well maintained in order to live a balanced, creative life. Plato recognized that this internal three-fold responsibility extends out into our social relations,

"A legislator should have three aims in his enactments -- the society for which he makes them must have freedom, it must have amity with itself, must have understanding." (Laws, 701d)

A good consultant in one of the three areas needs to be a generalist, wise in dispensing advice but also trained to recognize when more specialized advice is required.
The Comenian right to advice makes a slight but crucial adjustment to the criteria by which we call upon an advisor.

Today we operate on the principle that the more important the job, the greater the need for advice. Those with the most responsible positions retain entire counsels of advisors. Meanwhile, the poor, whose jobs if they exist at all, tend to be manual and inconsequential, are deemed to be in the least need of advice. A Comenian system takes on a slightly different operating principle: the more difficult the job, the more we stand in need of advice.

That way, since poverty is by far the most difficult human condition, anyone in danger of poverty will be understood to be in greater need of the best advice. The rich, whose lives are easier than the poor, need fewer advisors. The indigent and those in danger of falling into poverty will get the best counselors first.


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