Sunday, October 31, 2010
Flora Tristan's Plan
By John Taylor; 2010 Oct 31, Ilm 16, 167 BE
Living conditions of workers in the 1840's were degraded to the point of desperation. Sadly, ignorance and poverty were worsened by open strife among themselves. Workers' guilds in Flora Tristan's time were fraternal groups whose interests were seen as restricted to a given trade. The idea of solidarity among all workers was a foreign one. Guilds were plagued by bitter rivalries among trades; it was not unknown for fights to escalate to rioting in the street. They sponsored graduating apprentices on a cross country junket called a "French tour." Unfortunately, this involved more carousing than professional development.
The year after completing her "Worker's Union", Flora Tristan followed the example of the workers she wanted to help by starting her own "French tour," a speaking tour promoting broader solidarity. "Worker's Union" was her suggested plan of action for organizing guilds and other workers groups across the country. In the spring of 1844 she officially started her Tour de France, leaving Paris on the 12th of April. She took her mission very seriously, fighting ill health, giving public addresses in each town, pleading with the proletariat to build worker's palaces.
Her diary of this tour recorded details of working class life that no other writer noticed, making it a valuable document for historians today. On her first stop, Auterre, she wrote in her diary that "I felt in me something like a divine grace enveloping, magnetizing, and transporting me into another life." (Le Tour, P. 38, cited in Workers' Union, Translator's Introduction, xv) After six months of travel her illness worsened and she had to stop. Bedridden, she died in a hotel room soon afterwards.
Flora Tristan held that workers can advance their own lot through effort and study. Nobody else was going to do that for them. As a fervent Christian, she believed that faith, knowledge and love are the true liberators; in Christ's words, "the truth shall set you free." She did not believe that conflict between classes was needed, much less inevitable. The mere fact that they were in the majority was sufficient for ultimate victory. As they educate themselves and exercise their rights, the representatives of her proposed Worker's Union could enter government. Soon, they would gain the same amount of influence in government as had the bourgeoisie. The democratic process would then kick in, workers would dominate elections and their interests would prevail on their own.
Nonetheless, she was not naive. With great prescience Flora Tristan anticipated the chief objection that would be raised against unity among workers,
"This demand, no matter how just and legal, will be considered an attack on property per se (land, houses and capital). And labor organization will be considered an attack on private enterprise. And, since those who lead the governmental machine are land and capital owners, it is obvious they will never agree to grant such rights to the working class." (Tristan, Flora, The Worker's Union, Translated by Beverly Livingston, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1983, p. 55)
After Flora Tristan's death in 1844, extremism and radicalism took over. Revolt, violence and reaction made an ever more volatile mix. As conditions for workers worsened a series of revolutions broke out across Europe, lasting until about 1847. All failed. Nonetheless, the radical model of socialism took over. After a decade of Louis Napoleon's dictatorial regime, a spontaneous bloody uprising in Paris known as the Paris Commune broke out as soon as his restraints toppled. Idealistic socialism gave way to communists fomenting open rebellion. In 1848 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote their famous Communist Manifesto. Inspired by Flora Tristan's example of martyrdom on behalf of workers, they agreed with her that the poverty-stricken, exploited workers of the world had to take their fate into their own hands.
The difference was that Marx and Engels prescribed war instead of construction. A recent reader of the Manifesto pointed out that it is difficult to read this stirring tract without wanting to go out and shoot a businessman. Whereas Flora Tristan in Worker's Union addressed everyone involved, businessmen, politicians, women and men, as well as workers, the Manifesto is addressed to the victims of exploitation alone and ends with the famous admonition, "Workers of the world unite, the only thing you have to lose are your chains." Flora Tristan would have pointed out that this is, at the very least, a lie. The right to life is crucial. Workers can easily lose their lives, their families, their homes and their wages, and they do every day. In rebellions they invariably suffered the most. Even if they really had nothing to lose, perpetual class struggle would doom everybody to the loss of a clean, peaceful world and a harmonious future.
As atheists, Marx and Engels did not agree with Tristan that truth alone is enough to liberate workers. They firmly believed that conflict not only cannot be avoided, but also that it should not be avoided. The misery of most of mankind is its fate and our only choice is who will be the miserable class. Their ideas eventually led to the Soviet Union, a spectacularly failed experiment in forced equality that lasted most of the 20th Century.
The Chains of Haiti
The historical model that Marx and Engels called to mind when they spoke of "chains," was a singular series of events that took place about fifty years earlier in the French colony of Saint-Domingue. There, for the first time since Moses, a successful slave revolt took place. After a long series of bloody slave uprisings, the slaves really did lose their chains. The victorious former slaves named the French side of the island of Hispaniola "Haiti." This event, where slaves won out, sent a chill down the back of the ownership class, especially in France and America. In spite of the rhetoric of the French Revolution about freedom and brotherhood, French gunboats were sent to Haiti, but even that failed to put down the rebels.
The model of self-liberating slaves that Marx and Engels chose was an unfortunate one. With only two known exceptions, all slave revolts in history were crushed. Moses' slave revolt, we should recall, was aided by divine miracles. Even then it took a full generation for the Israelites to see the promised land. The modern abolition of official slavery came from top-down legislation by the British parliament, which banned slavery throughout its Empire. In the United States the Emancipation Declaration was also top down, and made only after slavers had dragged the country into civil war.
For better or worse, the bottom-up triumph of the Haitian slaves was unique, a Pyrrhic victory, and remains so today. It provoked a united reaction by the entire ownership class, which then as now, is highly class conscious and refuses to respect national borders. It pushed the French government to incur on Haiti a huge reparation payment to compensate for "stolen property," that is, their human chattel. Haiti had indeed been a plum target, by far the wealthiest colony in the Americas. The sum they arrived at for reparations padded their budget for over a century. Several times during the 19th Century the leaders in Haiti tried to default on the unjust debt. Other western powers, including Canada, America and England, supported France in recouping their "compensation" for lost slaves.
After several attempted defaults, Haiti finally paid off the debt in the late Twentieth Century, leaving its infrastructure devastated. To this day, Haiti remains a pariah state, anathema to capital, isolated, chaotic and, though technically independent, it is still enslaved to drugs, debt and corruption. From the richest it sank to the poorest nation in the Americas, one of the poorest on the planet. In spite of all our political correctness today, and even after a devastating earthquake levelled Port au Prince in 2010, France still refused to recognize pleas by activists to return the mulcted money to Haiti.
A slave rebellion was hardly an auspicious model for the workers to adopt! The Communist Manifesto plunked the worker's movement right into a no-man's-land between owners of capital and government. The more militant workers got the more fearful owners became. It is no longer possible to crucify revolting slaves alongside public highways as a grisly warning as was done in Roman times after Spartacus's revolt, but the elected leader of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was still quietly exiled to South Africa, to mention only one instance. Owners do anything to protect against threatened loss of their wealth, legitimate or otherwise. Such is the dominance of the male element and the unpopularity of religion today that the name "Karl Marx" continues to remembered by every educated person today, while the name "Flora Tristan" remains buried in obscurity.
Next time, let us talk about what for Flora Tristan was the real enemy we should be fighting.
Friday, October 29, 2010
Flora Tristan's Worker's Union
By John Taylor; 2010 Oct 29, Ilm 14, 167 BE
Some of the most insightful thinkers about citizens as local planners have been women. Among them are Jane Jacobs and, much earlier, Flora Tristan (1804-1844). In 1843 Tristan launched an early initiative to persuade the impoverished workers of France to come together in their own interest. Flora Tristan was part of a movement among writers called "Christian humanitarianism," and was influenced by Utopian socialists and the emerging idea of scientific socialism. She got the idea that she was destined for a personal mission on behalf of workers when in England, on a visit to Bedlam, the insane asylum. Here she met a French inmate who proclaimed that she [Tristan] had been sent by God on a special mission. Tristan was persuaded that she was a "modern female savior committed to rescuing the working poor from their intolerable circumstances." At least five years before Marx and Engels wrote their Communist Manifesto, she set out to liberate the workers of the world.
Long before there was welfare state, Tristan suggested that workers set up their own self-governing co-operatives, which she called "communities of human unity." An early feminist, Flora Tristan also hoped that these communities would advance the lot of women if they set down legal provisions to allow them to enter their schools and trades as equals of working men. At the same time, in the face of objections from men, she urged the males to emancipate themselves from their traditional thraldom to the bottle.
Tristan had noticed that the poverty and iniquity suffered by workers was wrapped up in an extreme imbalance between the sexes. Uneducated women became sullen baby-making machines, while their husbands fled for solace to the local tavern.
Disproportion gave rise to an either/or mentality and widened the artificial gap between worker and owner. Tristan did not see this as inevitable. She dreamed of human progress based upon economic cooperation, male temperance and conscious advancement of the lot of women.
In her 1843 manifesto, "The Worker's Union," Tristan pointed out that the 1789 French Revolution, although it pretended to uphold universal human rights, really was a revolt of the business class (the bourgeoisie) defending their own interests against kings and aristocrats. While they had pretensions to universality, in practice they utterly ignored the rights of women and the welfare of the working class, the better to exploit the degradation of both. A union of workers, she hoped, would refuse to imitate such precedents.
Once organized, workers in every locality (department) of France should found institutions to take care of their own, the old, disabled, sick and vulnerable.
"I come to you to propose a general union among working men and women, regardless of trade, who reside in the same region -- a union which would have as its goal the CONSOLIDATION OF THE WORKING CLASS and the construction of several establishments (Workers' Union palaces), distributed evenly throughout France. Children of both sexes six to eighteen would be raised there; and sick or disabled workers as well as the elderly would be admitted. Listen to the numbers and you will have an idea of what can be done with the union." (Flora Tristan, The Worker's Union, Translated by Beverly Livingston, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1983, pp. 38-39)
The union of workers would express the solidarity of workers, who now were engaged in fights among the trades. Meanwhile the buildings, which she called workers' palaces, in which the union is housed, would have symbolic as well as functional value. Just as kings and magnates build palaces as public statements, as gilded showpieces of prestige, wealth and power, so should the Worker's Union.
Work has great dignity since it is the source of the power of which the elite boast. So why should not the proletariat build palaces too? The palaces of the workers can be visible declarations in every locality of the fact that workers are what she called the "most numerous and useful class." Unlike their antecedents, Tristan had faith that since their interests are identical, the leadership of a workers union would be congenial to the equality of women.
"Workers, perhaps in three or four years you will have your first palace, ready to admit six hundred old persons and six hundred children. Well! Proclaim through your statutes, which will become your charter, the rights of women for equality. Let it be written in your charter that an equal number of girls and boys will be admitted to the Workers' Union palace to receive intellectual and vocational training." (The Workers' Union, p. 88)
In the workplace, in the workers' palaces and their subsidiary institutions, the rules should "recognize, in principle, the legal equality of men and women as being the only means of constituting the unity of humanity." She had this faith because in her travels Tristan had observed that cooperative institutions like Robert Owen's New Lanark tended to be structurally more open to the social skills and inclinations of girls and women. Small, local co-ops tend to be friendlier to the concerns of women. They allow for greater equality than the hierarchical structure of larger institutions.
Flora Tristan thought that it was important that worker's palaces be largely -- but not exclusively -- supported by the workers' own money. Government should neither regulate or fund them. She set about the daunting task of persuading workers to pass the hat among themselves in order to build the first palace on their own. Once it is built, they should agree permanently to deduct a portion of their admittedly meagre wages to maintain its social service institutions. She calculated that a small portion of their wages, if all workers were involved, could easily keep the palace's school, the orphanage and old age home going.
In addition, workers should form reader's circles, raising their consciousness by discussing reports of the lot of workers around the world, and sharing the expense of the books they read by pooling money among themselves. Once their children are being educated as well, they could seek out representation in the highest circles of power. Here her proposal resembles in some ways that put forward much earlier by John Amos Comenius. In a nine bullet point summary of the proposals in Worker's Union, Tristan put as number two:
"Representation of the working class before the nation by a defender chosen and paid for by the Worker's Union, so that the working class's need to exist and the other class's need to accept it become evident." (Worker's Union, p. 128)
Once workers had a toehold on power, their representative could assert the right to work for adults, the right to education for children and the right of women for equality of opportunity. In order to address the workers' lack of ownership -- in comparison to the business class and the nobility -- this representative would seek official recognition of workers' hands as "property." This is how she reasoned it out:
Every right derives from the right to life. Although established before, the right to life had not, unfortunately, been guaranteed in France's 1830 Charter. It was crucial to re-introduce it, and its consequence, the right to work. Workers were so destitute that the loss of a job was effectively a death sentence, so the two, life and work, had to go together. Their own two hands were all that most workers possessed. This ownership, this ability to work, was the cornerstone of all property rights. In this sense, the right to work gives workers ownership of the means of production too. Therefore, she reasoned, workers have another fundamental right, the right to organize themselves.
Since workers were by far the majority of the population, democracy alone is enough for their rights to prevail. No need for struggle or conflict, just by making their rights known by a single representative, workers should prevail. All workers need, therefore, is to advance the democratic process --although, strangely, Tristan saw nothing wrong with the union openly purchasing votes! Nonetheless, her faith in democracy was such that she made the following statement, which I think every elector should read over before casting a ballot.
"Let us adopt a humanitarian point of view, and since we are looking for men of love and intelligence, let us not consider their religious and political opinions." (Flora Tristan, The Worker's Union, Translated by Beverly Livingston, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1983, p. 59)
Once there is democracy in politics, there soon would be democracy in the workplace. This would further lead to economic equity. Gradually the tendency to concentrate money into the hands of a few will reverse itself and wealth will flow the other way, into the hands of the many. Hence her belief that the use of their hands is all that workers need.
Next time, let us look at the provenance and the fate of Tristan's plan.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
By John Taylor; 2010 Oct 27, Ilm 12, 167 BE
A Language of Truth
John Amos Comenius tried to devise an artificial language whose grammar made it impossible for a speaker to tell a lie. Imagine how such a language might work. A potential liar opens his mouth to speak but somewhere in his brain the liar's paradox kicks in. It short circuits his voice box and only silence comes out of his mouth. Clearly, human free will and ill will are so basic to speech that such an inherently ethical language will always an impossible dream, at least for human languages.
As the state of the art in the technology of war and peace accelerates, it may not only be possible but imperative to make machines incapable of lying, indeed of committing any other crime or wrongdoing. Our more sophisticated handheld devices now usually have GPS detectors built into them, but none, as yet, has a working moral compass. As a result, our tools can be used for good or evil. However, as we saw in a previous chapter, some robots are already being built with a decision tree of moral choices built into their circuitry. Researchers at Microsoft have even come up with a hardware interface device whose software is off-board; that is, it is constantly being updated by a live wireless feed to the Internet.
As such wireless links advance, robots will not need an entire moral philosophy built into their circuitry. A moment's interaction with an Internet server dedicated to the problem it faces will provide it with the latest conclusions of moral philosophers about what the right thing is to do. Once software, robots and machines are reliably connected to the collective wisdom of the human race, we can rest assured that our technology, at least, will do and say the right thing. What is the right thing? This is a difficult question now, but when we have global peace and democracy on a global scale it will be possible to commission common agreements by thinkers of East and West, at least upon basic ethical standards. Once this essential human ethical foundation is firmed up, we can safely build the standard interface between humans and tools that we have been calling the stele. As long as its connection to common wisdom is maintained, the stele will at last realize Comenius' dream of a totally truthful language.
The Language of Steles
The stele is a mobile robotic interface run by core software similar to today's time management programs, known as personal information managers, or PIM's. These PIM's plan the lives of humans, and interact with the world of technology to further these ends. The main service of the stele is to act as an interface between humans and more primitive tools and technologies. It rules over other machines with absolute, incontrovertible authority. The "DNA" embedded in its PIM software speaks the perfect ethical language envisioned by Comenius, a single ethical code decided upon by the latest consensus of expert opinion.
The words in the language may err, but as the machine subject approaches the level of conscious thought, it becomes ever more incapable of lies. As long as it makes choices based upon official, off-board criteria, all subsidiary technology will operate morally as well. This of course is what Isaac Asimov anticipated with his "Three Laws of Robotics," except that this code is infinitely more sophisticated, being the product of moral philosophers working together in universities around the world. All rules are transparent, the official conclusions of experts, and are subject to continual revision.
The Stele's Reason for Being
The stele is at the top of the technological food chain, the most sophisticated robot available. What makes it a perfect life companion is the fact that it is a blank slate. This reflects the nature of the human mind, which is boundless by nature. In his best known work on education, Comenius wrote,
"Aristotle compared the mind of man to a blank tablet on which nothing was written, but on which all things could be engraved. There is, however, this difference, that on the tablet the writing is limited by space, while in the case of the mind, you may continually go on writing and engraving without finding any boundary, because ... the mind is without limit." (Comenius, The Great Didactic (1649), translated by M.W. Keatinge (1896), from Wikiquotes, Comenius)
If the stele is a dictator to other machines, for an honest, sincere human being it is not arbitrary in the slightest. But it still needs to elicit compliance because, as already mentioned, a stele's first purpose is to promulgate the rule of law, to make sure that everyone knows the law and understands the difference between right and wrong. Is that enough to get everybody to obey the law? It is, according to Socrates, who taught that none do wrong willingly. All people need in order to do the right thing every time is just to know the truth. If for some the truth seems not to be enough, they have fallen short of the whole truth by failing to live the examined life. Plato caught the spirit of Socrates when he wrote in his final major work, the Laws, that,
"...whatever the way which promises to make a member of our citizen body -- male or female, young or old -- truly excellent in the virtues of soul proper to human character, be they results of some occupation, some native disposition, some possession, or passion, or conviction, or course of study, that and no other shall be the end, as I say, toward which every nerve shall be strained so long as life endures, and that not a single soul shall be found to prefer aught which hampers these pursuits. (Laws, 770d, Collected Dialogues, p. 1348)
The stele starts off as a blank slate on which a person writes the ideals by which to live throughout life. Throughout their schooling, each cosmopolitan citizen will collaborate with teachers in choosing the particular "virtues of the soul" that appeal to him or her. Once that is clear, everything on the stele is written largely by its individual owner. Everything in it contributes to the soul mission. Of course, many laws must be obeyed in order to avoid harming the central missions of others, but as Plato put it, "Any ... fate must be borne rather than the change to a polity which will breed baser men." (Laws, 770e) Those raised with a stele as a companion will not fear it or find its rules a burden.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Counsel as Right and Obligation
The Next Chapter of Cosmopolis, Volume One
By John Taylor; 2010 Oct 25 Ilm 07, 167 BE
In the previous chapter we looked at how a democratic world republic can avert the danger of increasingly warlike technology by introducing an inherently pacific technology, the cornerstone of which is the stele robot. This promulgating machine can act as the main interface between our living, human word and inanimate cyberspace, both virtual and physical. The software "DNA" of the robotic stele is a personal information manager (PIM) and, for institutional steles, a group information manager (GIM). Every tool and machine will follow the stele's lead, having legal and ethical inhibitions built into it. The transparent security of the cosmopolitan condition will give rise to a new architecture and infrastructure; the second volume of Cosmopolis will concentrate upon that massive design makeover of the built world. For the balance of this volume, I will linger on the PIM and GIM software runs the stele, specifically the aims and grounds, both philosophical and humanitarian, upon which all cosmopolitan citizens will have to agree upon as they manage this "ghost in the machine."
As an educator, John Amos Comenius held that a world government can only come about if it is upheld by universal education. We all are born with brains, so schooling must be available for all, young and old, rich and poor, to grow those brains as much as possible throughout life. In developed countries this is no longer as controversial as it was for Comenius in the 17th Century. However, a close reading of Panorthosia reveals that Comenius went even further. He upheld a kind of "right to counsellors," where everyone, even those who are not full time students, has the right to the best advice available -- in fact we obliged to take full advantage of sage advice.
Theatres of Wisdom
Comenius proposed hiring sage coaches and advisors to increase the chances that each and all will do the right thing at the right time. Like Plato, Comenius understood that wisdom is best taught indirectly, through music and the arts. As a tool for this he suggested what he called "theatres of wisdom,"
"I mean that all men should be wisely guided from the earliest age and constantly thereafter through the theatres of wisdom, and should all have endless opportunities of exercising their senses, their reason, and their faith." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 9, para 11, pp. 146-147)
These theatres might be a combination of drama, simulations, games and experiments designed to allow each new generation, as Comenius puts it, to see the world with all their faculties, sense, mind and faith. Once we see all aspects of life from this balanced perspective, wisdom comes naturally.
Today we can do much more with this idea of "theatres of wisdom." Interactivity and social networking could enable our Stele mediators to inculcate in everybody an intimate appreciation of what Comenius called "pansophy," being wise universally, taking the entire human race as the grounds of identity.
Long after Comenius, Buckminster Fuller in the mid Twentieth Century experimented with what he called the World Game, a simulation using data about global resources designed to help youth grasp the complexities of running an entire planet. More recently, Jane McGonigal, director of games research for Institute for the Future at Palo Alto, California, has suggested that we tap into the vast pool of time and talent expended by gamers -- according to her there are now half a billion gamers who average 25 hours a week solving difficult problems. (Serious Fun, by Samantha Murphy, New Scientist, 22 May, 2010, p. 37)
McGonigal points out that we would do well to tap the resource of games and the army of gamers who have grown out of computers and the Internet to solve some of the technical challenges of the present hour. For example, she points out that stopping climate change demands painful sacrifices right now for benefits that tend to be delayed, uncertain and for most all but invisible. It demands major lifestyle adjustments for few immediate rewards.
Such problems were mastered long ago by the authors of computer games. They are experts in tying long term needs with short term incentives in compelling ways. So effective are their techniques that their games can be addictive for some.
Certain computer and video games have already been made available that are specially designed for direct global problem solving. Among these are "Chore Wars," an online game designed to bring the clever incentives of computer games to the common domestic problem of persuading reluctant family members to help with the housework. Other games being developed include "World Without Oil," which makes players think about how to adapt to oil shortages, "Food Force," for disaster relief, and "Fate of the World," where players steer the planet through 200 years of a warming planet.
McGonigal makes an excellent suggestion to enlist this large unused army of online gamers, who are clever problem solvers, to alleviate creeping climate de-stabilization. No doubt the PIM's in the Stele could incorporate interactive games to encourage such creative responses and adaptation in most people's lives. But the technical aspects of global warming are only the visible part of problem. The greater part is lack of wisdom.
Professional Tutelage an Obligation
Comenius held that the right to counsel will have to involve more than plays and games, important as they may be. We will always need personal contact with professional tutors. It is desirable to have at least one generalist teacher in our lives for each of the three main tasks of life, which are one, to maintain a good relationship with oneself, two, relations with other people and, three, with our God -- perhaps for non-believers this could be relations with long term, future considerations. Each relation needs to be well maintained in order to live a full, balanced and creative life.
Like Comenius, Plato recognized that we have an internal three-fold responsibility that extends out into 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 would need to be a non-specialist, wise in dispensing advice, but also have enough training to recognize when more specialized advice is required.
Most countries already recognize a limited version of the right to counsel, for example when a person is threatened by serious illness or a long prison sentence. Court systems in developed nations today recognize a limited right to counsel; the state appoints a lawyer for poor or disadvantaged persons who are charged with a serious crime. Similarly, when threatened by illness most countries see to it that paying for medical fees is not the primary consideration. What Comenius suggested was that we broaden this right to counsel by assuring that every citizen has full access to what he called pansophy, universal wisdom.
As it is today, large companies and institutions spend huge sums for lobbyists and consultants of all kinds; celebrities, athletes and the wealthy routinely edify themselves by hiring fitness coaches and every kind of consultant, whose pricy services assure that dependable advice is ready to hand. At first glance, to have the public purse pay for such advisors for the poor seems like an extravagant expense. However, it is the same chain of reasoning that persuaded governments around the world that a good education is cheaper in the long run than courts and prisons, and that preventive medicine is more economical than drugs, surgery and other interventions.
The United States is the only developed nation to reject this reasoning. Michael Moore's documentary film, "Sicko," dramatizes how the American health care system, the most expensive in the world, fails by pinching pennies and intervening only when health is in rapid decline. As the film depicts, much poorer Cubans end up healthier overall by spending on keeping patients healthy in the first place. Similarly, it is cheaper to teach young people how to avoid wrongdoing than to pay for an oversize police force, lawyers, trials and prisons that result. As the recent British statistical study, "The Spirit Level," shows, societies that eliminate extreme inequalities avoid situations where crime tends to occur. Egalitarian nations are better off by almost every measure.
A wise leadership has to go beyond providing timely legal and medical advice. It should see to it that all, rich and poor, can retain appropriate advisors of every kind, and at every stage of life, from cradle to grave. A universal right to advice would not only avert dangers to life and limb, such as accidents, illnesses, and even unhappiness, it would also tend to eliminate outright folly, the long string of bad choices that lead to addiction, suicide and other sorts of disastrous decline.
The roots of this imperative are found in wisdom literature. The Bible, for example, advises: "Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end." (Prov 19:20-22, KJV) Similarly, Plato held it a basic aim of 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." (Plato, Laws, R.G. Bury, tr., 688e) Another translation seems to put it 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)
Pansophy and Perception
Our chief aim must be to establish wisdom and to steer away from folly. The way to do this is systematically to uphold Comenius's pansophy, or universal wisdom. Pansophy is orders of magnitude more powerful than desultory wisdom, wisdom some of the time for a chosen few. Perhaps most persuasively, Comenius held that universal wisdom would completely eliminate corruption. Its first effect, Comenius believed, is that it 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)
As technology advances, Comenius' prescience becomes ever more evident. Science today clarifies and magnifies our senses with astonishing efficiency. We can set up an almost unlimited array of sensors, RFID devices, dials, readouts and other indicators to enhance our senses; ever cheaper and more capacious computer memory allows us to store reams of data and retrieve it when needed. As electronics becomes more miniaturized and sophisticated, sensory devices become cheaper and more common.
Comenius would point out, though, that rivers of data input and output does not necessarily add up to wisdom. Indeed, a flood of enhanced sensory data at our fingertips only increases our need for clever intervention by human sages. Even if wise experts are programming the PIM's of the steles that organize our lives, still, nothing can take the place of human contact. Each of us needs a skilled teacher and role model at every stage of our development, someone who is ready to dispense just the right advice at exactly the right time.
What Price Universal Consultancy?
The promulgation of a universal right to advice would empower each new generation to put an end to dangers that now seem engrained in human nature. For example, according to the World Health Organization, the two most mortal killers are tobacco and alcohol -- with other kinds of substance abuse, legal and otherwise, following close behind. Essentially, this marks a failure of advice; the fact that such a danger to human health does not soon disappear on its own is a sure sign that wisdom is being systematically blocked out by folly.
What youth, properly guided, would ever voluntarily choose to sacrifice not only his or her own well being but that of friends and family by becoming an addict? What perpetuates this blight to human health? Nothing but naked folly. Yet every day young people around the world blunder into a new cycle of addiction. In view of the loss of life and trillions of dollars wasted every year by addiction, we stand to gain a great deal by only a slight reduction of addiction rates to tobacco, alcohol and other substances. Even a large expenditure for advisors for everybody could be justified by this potential gain alone.
If we all concentrate upon the harmonies of wisdom, we will find joy in justice. Prudence and long term thinking will become our default.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
The Promulgating Robot
By John Taylor; 2010 Oct 21, Ilm 06, 167 BE
In an earlier chapter, "Man of Stele," we broached the idea of an electronic interface between people and institutions called the stele, a latter day update of an almost four thousand-year-old technique used by ancient kings, the best known of whom was Hammurabi of Babylon. Steles are finger-shaped stone monuments standing about two metres high, with a codified version of the laws inscribed around their "skin." By this means ancient kings of this era pioneered the rule of law by erecting steles in prominent places, tacitly declaring that it was not their whim that ruled the land but immutable, comprehensible laws. The "fingernail" of one surviving stele on display in the Louvre features a portrait of Hammurabi himself, in the act of handing down the "rod" of his law.
The stele fulfills a major precondition of justice: in order for a law to be fair, it must be promulgated, that is, publicized and made comprehensible to all. Steles were designed to assure that even foreigners and non-literate peasants had as much access to a codification of the laws as possible, so that all could be held to account for their actions. Ignorance was no longer an excuse in the eyes of the law.
We no longer use steles today, in spite of the fact that we are called upon to conform to far more laws and much more complex rules, norms and regulations. In place of steles, it could be said that we spend as long as twenty years in school learning what society expects of us. At the same time, multiculturalism has intensified; rapid travel and the Internet are melding all cultures into one global civilization. This makes promulgation a much more important and difficult challenge today than in Hammurabi's time.
Fortunately, it is possible to build steles based not on a legal code written in cuneiform script etched in stone, but rather computer code "etched" into silicon chips, in particular a genre of software known as a personal information manager, or PIM. PIM software is now routinely used by executives to schedule appointments, organize projects, and simplify interactions with complex databases of contacts. The PIM can be used to guide the investigation, aspirations and plans of individuals, displaying visuals as they check off achievements, mark milestones. They also issue warnings when an action falls short of self-declared goals and ideals. PIM's often have standard plug-ins to coordinate activity with similar software planners of groups and institutions. The interaction of PIM's already informs the protean structure of daily life.
For the individual, a PIM-based cybernetic stele could start where software PIM's leave off. It can act as a core interface to cyberspace, and as a sounding board for setting out one's goals in life. Such information management could become the concern of a new science called "lifestyle engineering," since they start with a unique individual's personal style and carry that forward into what Socrates called the "examined life." We will discuss the details of this future science in future sections of Cosmopolis.
For institutions, similar steles will mediate and negotiate among the many PIM's of members, clients and guests. Standard group information managers would coordinate ideas and distribute services among members, clients and guests, while maintaining due security by clarifying and proclaiming the rules, standards and purposes not only of that group or institution in particular, but of all similar ones around the world.
Like the ancient stele, cyber-steles would make written constitutions open and accessible to all. In order to do this most effectively, these steles and PIM's would need to conform to the legal conventions of open systems software, as laid out in the Creative Commons and the Open Frontiers Foundation. This would not only make the stele's PIM software free, concise, open and confidential, it would also make it safe. Every line of open systems code is freely available for scrutiny by any who care to download it. This makes it impervious to the back doors, worms and other security threats that seem inherent to proprietary software.
The most distinctive feature of the open systems PIM in the stele is the cosmopolitanism standards built into it. Every time a person swings out of balance, the stele would alert the aspiring Homo Universalis of insipient danger. Its universal standards are the product of a consensus of opinion among philosophers, senior citizens, believers, workers and teachers around the world on what is needed to become a sane, balanced person, and how that person fits into the social whole. As Plato puts it,
"A community should be at once free, sane, and at amity with itself, and ... these are the ends a legislator must keep in view in his enactments." (Plato, Collected Dialogues, The Laws, 693b, p. 1282)
Thus the cosmopolitan PIM is the product not only of computer programmers but also the collective wisdom of legislators, philosophers, elders and every other kind of expert. It is our fundamental heritage as humans in a united world. Once a stele is linked to the totality of human experience available on the Internet, it can act as a sort of DNA for cosmopolitan faith, learning and citizenship.
Implementing the Stele Ideal
Emerging robotics technology should allow electronic steles to aim at much more than passive promulgation. They can potentially become the face and focal center of the built world, including all tools and technology. As mentioned, the stone monuments of old were shaped like oversized index fingers with a stone mosaic portrait of the monarch on their "fingernail." In a similar way, a robotic stele would feature a computer monitor as its "fingernail." It can interact with us using a voice interface, as well as the usual computer input and output devices, a mouse, speakers, webcam and so forth. Most importantly, it will be mobile.
In order to work, electronic steles would be ubiquitous, placed prominently wherever humans go, and fit in with the machines around it, for which it acts as interlocutor. Offices can put mobile robotic steles to work as receptionists and public relations representatives. One can be stationed at the center of a workplace or at the entryway, making sure who everybody is and that everybody knows where they are going, and understands the rules, roles and expectations of the institution in question. A domestic stele acts as a doorman, guide and factotum at the gate of a family compound. Institutional steles would be stationed at gates and entryways to neighbourhoods, city blocks and apartment complexes. Throughout the cosmopolitan city, steles are placed at entry points, street corners and squares of a city, village or town.
The most important of all steles is the personal stele. Individuals will station their robotic stele at the doorway of their bedroom or other private space. When they are away from home, it autonomously maintains and protects the home, working as butler, maid, receptionist, secretary, answering machine and security guard. When the resident arrives home, it acts as their workstation and interface to the Internet, as well as tutor, student and companion. Because it is so influential, it may turn out that in future the work that teachers, doctors and other professionals do will involve less direct interaction with students and more tweaking and adjusting of the software running their respective steles. Such intervention would be less intrusive and may prove more effective.
To begin with, a stele need be little more than a tall, rolling computer with an LCD monitor on its "fingernail." Already many hospitals have "helpmate" robots plying the corridors, delivering medications and performing other menial tasks. Such devices can also act as stand-ins for flesh and blood human beings. At least one office has a telecommuting boss who works from home thousands of miles away from his company. He is represented there by a robotic proxy, a remotely controlled, mobile robot with a video image of his face on its monitor. This virtual boss's authority resembles that of Hammurabi's steles, except that employees can actually speak and interact with his avatar image in real time on the robot's monitor.
Even with the rudimentary robotics technology available today it would not be overly expensive or difficult to mass produce at least the outer shells of robotic steles, allowing the software PIM within it to be constantly updated over the Internet as experience increases. As more data and opinions are fed back into their software, steles would get better by the minute. Most citizens of developed countries are already heavily invested in personal computers, broadband links, and many other kinds of Internet connected devices; a stele would connect with these and integrate them through standard ports.
A world government can declare owning at least one standard cyber-stele as a basic human right. By declaring a goal of "one person, one stele" within a decade or two it would jumpstart a massive industry. This would also change how we understand law itself, and for that matter judges and lawyers. The global law promulgated by steles would not be the sort of dead letter that we have become used to. In place of sanctions that are little changed from Hammurabi's harsh, inflexible laws, the rules of steles will be entirely personalized and ever more flexible, capable even of reprogramming itself in real time, adapting as circumstances change.
Of course, the introduction of steles would have to be slow and graduated. For example, it is true that we cannot yet entirely trust the competence of robotic drivers on the open road -- although Google and some military contractors have been quietly experimenting with prototypes. Autonomous feedback technology is advancing at a furious pace, however. Soon autonomous vehicles will be much more reliable than human drivers, and will probably take over the wheel.
The real obstacle is not technical but ethical.
We fear intelligent robots, probably for good reason. Like a world government itself, we have to get it absolutely right before we implement it, since a bad product might be impossible to change or remove. If we are to put robotics to good use, we must first address legitimate fears by eliminating the root cause.
As Immanuel Kant pointed out, only a world order would be completely secure, since as long as competing centers of power exist, they will continually struggle for hegemony, even in so-called peacetime. Our nationalist order is therefore inherently warlike and competitive. As a result, we have come to expect that advances in robotics will automatically lead to a nightmare scenario where robots take over, or, as depicted in the "Terminator" movie series, where murderous robots wage eternal war with humanity. It is already possible to buy an off-the-shelf autonomous, drone fighter that can be launched from anywhere; completely stealthy, these drones can attack and destroy just about anything, anywhere, without being detected. Such killing machines only work if they are programmed to destroy without qualm. The more intelligent they become, the more inherently dangerous they are.
I see a PIM-based robotic stele, regulated by a cosmopolitan world order, as the only sure way to avert this clear and present danger built into technology. Everything depends upon the permanent peace enforced by a democratic world government. Once that is established, however, it will be possible to build the highest of human ideals and values right into all technology, from chip design to software to the hardware shell without.
Already the first "moral" robot has been built. Named "Nao," its programming is based on ethical principles that allow it to make elementary choices about which of several tasks it takes on first while serving the residents of a nursing home. (Michael Anderson and Susan Leigh Anderson, "Robot be good; Independent minded machines will soon play a big role in our lives. It's time they learned how to behave ethically." Scientific American, October, 2010, p. 72). With increasing sophistication, ethical robots placed in new situations should be able to answer the most difficult ethical quandary, if only by sending out a wireless "informational crowd sourcing" query on the Internet. For the same reasons that autonomous vehicles will be safer than flawed human drivers, as long as such robots are in touch with the Internet, their ethical savvy should rapidly become as good or better than a human.
Once steles can be relied upon to maintain core human values themselves, the next question is how they would help humans do the same -- which of course is the main goal of promulgation. The fact that they are shaped like steles, the first technology that instantiated the rule of law, would remind everybody that the law is the basis of peace on earth. Then it will not be unreasonable to expect higher probity from our machines than any human authority figure. Anybody who interacts with a stele would realize that this is no mere machine, it stands for the sum of our collective wisdom.
At the same time, users of steles will soon be made aware that unlike older legal systems, cosmopolitan laws are not a Fait Accompli. The experience of an individual with PIM's feeds back into its software and constantly changes the defaults. If there are enough exceptions to a rule, new subsections can be written into the law. In this way, steles and PIM's will change the professions, especially the teaching profession. Instead of working directly on their students, teachers can spend most of their time adjusting and tweaking a student's PIM to make it more responsive to his or her particular temperament, interests and personality.
We are used to many freedoms that the near future will probably regard as license; for example, the obesity rate over the past few decades has slowly climbed to a large majority of the population without many alarm bells going off. The stele would prevent that, although many of us today would find the subtle incentives and disincentives that it uses too intrusive for comfort. Be that as it may, a little intrusiveness in daily life is a far sunnier prospect than an epidemic of chronic illness caused by obesity, not to mention the gloomy scenario explored in the Terminator movies.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Friday, October 15, 2010
The Right to Convert and the Free Market of Faith
By John Taylor; 2010 Oct 15, Mashiyyat 19, 167 BE
Nowhere is good governance more lacking than in religion. There is frightening diversity of opinion and beliefs. Faith groups have been isolated from one another for centuries, resulting in vast differences of expression. At the same time, the world desperately needs universal, eternal values that all can agree upon as working principles. Daunting as it may be, every thinking person has a duty to try to narrow the gap between religions. Otherwise, in everything that concerns the eternal aspects of existence, including the long term interests of humankind, we will be trying to count without numbers, as Comenius' put it.
Without detailing theology or philosophy, there is one sense in which everyone, no matter what belief they profess, is a person of faith. This, in one sentence, is a stepping-stone upon which all can tread:
Everybody who dares get out of bed in the morning to face the unknown dangers of the day is a believer and demonstrates a modicum of faith, hope and charity.
That is it. For this reason alone, each of us can consider ourselves a believer. As believers, we should consider it a sacred duty to participate directly in some way in some faith group, and, on a broader level, to participate in at least one consistory, or parliament of religions. If consistories are designed as both neutral and ubiquitous they will become an integral modality of institutions at all levels, without permitting meddling and interference by narrow minded leaders. As the consistory influences every center of power, from the family to the world government, it will change the ethical and spiritual landscape. It will narrow the gaps among beliefs and first principles.
Everybody has a basic right to believe. But we also need to exercise that right. We have a right to change our mind about what we believe, should conscience dictate. As believers we should uphold the right to convert -- a right that is implicit in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but which has yet to be implemented by the U.N. or any other international body. Once the law is affirmed everywhere individual adherents will no longer be subject to bullying or other arbitrary measures by leaders of their own religion. Just as companies are forced to compete with one another for customers in a free market, the right to convert establishes an open "marketplace" of beliefs and opinions. Religious leaders have no choice but to treat their adherents fairly, if only for fear of losing them to a more enlightened alternative faith.
As believers, we uphold our rights by voting in the members of the Consistory of Holiness. Beyond this, we also should support the consistory directly through voluntary donations, and also by regular payments, alms or tithing, above and beyond whatever charitable donations we contribute to our own religion. By thus upholding an umbrella institution, no matter what religion or lack of religion we profess, each one of us gains a say in the totality of religious expression in our locale.
Unalienable constitutional provisions would make the consistory wholly dependent for votes and funding upon the population it serves. This is a fundamental requirement of good government. By depending only upon the believers under its jurisdiction it is not beholden to any group, religious or otherwise -- including the other two wings of government, the political and scientific. It has the power to outlaw unfair or corrupt practices by faith groups under its jurisdiction. While upholding the freedom to believe, the consistory can lay down sanctions for harmful practices or wrong-headed dogmas that infringe upon the rights of others. It can prevent religious leaders from propounding hate speech, and even "holier than thou" attitudes. It upholds such standards, like any other government, through laws, required training and licensing. For example, it can use a faith group's tax exempt status as a condition of compliance.
Aside from law enforcement, the consistory can promote and amplify many of the positive benefits of religion. By encouraging universal involvement in interfaith activities it make service to others and all the health benefits that this gives, a normal part of life. A local consistory can sponsor service projects that encourage cooperation among faith groups -- in the same way that a local college of light will strive to involve workers and professional associations, and the dicastery will make citizens and political groups actively involved in broadening the bases of peace.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
The Consistory, Why it is Needed and What Makes it Unique
By John Taylor; 2010 Oct 13, Mashiyyat 17, 167 BE
Times Out of Joint
We must be able to rely upon one another, but not overmuch. If we could somehow center our inner balance around a few fundamental principles there could be agreement upon principle by all. That way, peace and world government would come about easily and naturally.
As I mentioned in a recent chapter, my children have a toy which they call Raccoon, a vibrating hard plastic ball connected to a plush tail. Placed on a smooth surface, the ball's vibration and a built-in imbalance gives it a crazy wobbling motion. Like Raccoon, too many unbalanced individuals give a similar unpredictability to groups and organizations. Too many unstable leaders with stereotyped worldviews can put an entire government out of whack, pushing it towards tyranny, an inordinate concentration of power into the hands of a few. At the other extreme, the leadership may lose faith in the individual completely, causing over-reliance on bureaucracy, which is efficient but clumsy, faceless and heartless. In this way, officials and institutions sink into corruption, injustice, war, rumours of war, revolutions, reaction or upheaval.
The Enlightenment project of the 18th Century openly proclaimed universal human rights and wrote them into constitutional law for the first time. Unfortunately, the Enlightenment also saw a divorce. It tore apart the very idea of a complete human being. Formerly, it was expected that an accomplished seeker of truth would be a balanced, well rounded person. The Renaissance Man was named after that age and movement. After the divorce there could be no "Enlightenment Man." As a result, from then on close harmony among government, science and religion became all but impossible. Each struggled with the others, giving a wonky ride to all. John Amos Comenius described the result, which was already apparent in his day,
"For here lies the real difficulty, that most men, even if educated in the ordinary way, are like blind men judging between colours without first knowing what degree of truth there ought to be in anything so that they can judge whether it is there or not; and in so doing they are exactly like men attempting to count without number, to measure without a measuring scale, or to weigh something without a weight and a balance." (Panorthosia, Ch. 11, para 5, p. 176)
We now think of science, belief in God and political activism as separate activities, if not permanently antipathic to one another. Although higher education still takes place in institutions we call "universities," we no longer expect Homo Universalis to come out of them. Not even the most accomplished scholar attempts to balance all three. Even the invention of the Internet, which places virtually all human knowledge at our fingertips, has not raised our expectations.
As a result, it is a rare citizen who even tries to cultivate a broad outlook or cosmopolitan concern. Human faculties are so bifurcated that it is impossible to conceive of world government as anything but a nightmare. Even as the environment degrades and survival threats raise their heads by the dozen, the obvious solution of a strong, democratic world government remains out of the question.
The Need for a Consistory
A case in point was American newscaster Walter Cronkite. After he retired, Cronkite gave a speech to a group of world federalists. He announced that now that he was out of the public eye, he felt it his duty to throw aside his "objective" stance and side with advocates of world government. As we have seen, in doing so Cronkite was joining the global majority opinion. However, so virulent is the climate of suspicion in his country, spread largely by religious reactionaries, that he felt it necessary to declare openly,
"If being for world government means sitting at the right hand of Satan, then I am happy to sit right up there next to him." (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inu9vKXsrFA)
This antipathy is not a recent phenomenon. Much of the blame for the Enlightenment split lies with petty leaders of religion who rejected anything that might diminish their parochial sway and refused to embrace a cosmopolitan outlook.
Faith leaders fought among themselves, meddled with politics, and initiated bloody wars and persecution. As a result, secular thinkers came to think of religion as inherently fractious. Issues of faith were either excluded or marginalized from the public forum. All this happened in spite of the majority opinion. As we have seen, most of the world's peoples desire order and a stable world government. And, then as now, the vast majority of the population believes in God. Thus science, religion and even democracy clashed among themselves. From the ashes emerged a monolithic nationalist state that by its very nature cannot satisfy the aspirations of most people.
This is why the voice of John Amos Comenius rings so true today, more perhaps than in his own time, over three hundred years ago. Comenius wrote just before the great split took place. His experience as an educator of broad, balanced individuals made it conceivable for him to envision a comprehensive world government resting on three equal pillars of science, religion and politics.
The Originality of the Consistory
Comenius put a great deal of thought into how each of the three representative institutions would rely upon one another to help build Homo Universalis, and how they would build upon what he or she stands for. In order to involve everybody in all three institutions, the religious, the political and the religious, each citizen could be enfranchised not with one vote, but three. Thus an aspiring Homo Universalis could vote in three elections, one for the philosophers of the College of Light, one for politicians whose goal is peace, and one for interfaith representatives on the Consistory of Holiness. Each expresses an essential part of the heritage of all humanity. All three councils are necessary not only in themselves but in order to balance out the other two aspects of Homo Universalis.
"It is not enough that Man should merely be set beside God by bringing him to his everlasting blessedness; we must have him likened unto God even here on earth. Pythagoras was quite correct in defining philosophy as likeness unto God, but he went too far in giving philosophy the whole credit for a result which it cannot wholly achieve by itself alone. Politics and religion must come to its assistance, playing their part in such a way that philosophy likens Man unto God through the light of his mind, religion through the purity of his heart, and politics through control of his actions. This will come to pass if Man has knowledge of good and evil, and wishes only the good and not the evil, and controls himself in his choice of the good and rejection of the evil with all possible zeal." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 10, para 40, pp. 168-169)
The first challenge was to get over the egregious behavior of leaders of religion. Comenius himself, along with his church, the Moravian Brotherhood, had been forced to flee their homeland because of such persecution. But Comenius sought a solution not just for himself or his own church, but to all bullying among faith groups, for all time. It was also necessary somehow to make religion palatable not only to believers but also to the small but important minority of political leaders and scientists. In order to do this, Comenius proposed that we elect a parliament of religions that he called a "Consistory of Holiness." This interfaith parliament would be directly supported by all citizens and believers. It would act on behalf of God and all humanity, setting aside parochialism and sectarian loyalties in order to uphold the highest spiritual aspirations of all groups with a claim to truth, spirituality, ethics or piety.
The fact that this Consistory was elected by everybody would give it a higher moral authority than any one faith group, no matter how energetic, including the one whose members are in a large majority. A broader mandate allows it to restrain religious leaders from fractious or fanatical behavior, and from inciting followers to violence, parochialism or even "holier than thou" attitudes.
At the same time, unlike some interfaith churches and other faith groups that are active today, the Consistory would not allowed to act as a religion itself. It is a neutral regulatory commission with strict constitutional provisions to prevent it from competing with the organizations that it oversees. For example, Comenius envisioned the consistory operating at every level, including the individual and the family. Thus the consistory might see to it that every individual can make room in their dwelling for an alter or place of worship or meditation of some kind, and that every household have a room that can be used for group devotions at least some of the time. However, it should have no say over the form and content of these sacred places and ceremonies; this should left entirely up to the individuals and families involved, and whatever faith group they choose to affiliate themselves with.
Ultimately, the goal of all three institutions, the consistory (interfaith religion), the college of light (science) and the dicastery of peace (politics), is the same, single and utterly compatible object: to free us all from the tyranny of the material world. This, in Comenius' Biblical phrasing is the "one thing needful."
"If one could reveal to men the meaning of the saying 'One thing is needful' and the importance of partnership with God, they would quickly free themselves from the dizziness of the material world with all its darkness and terror. This would be a real possibility if we could find true philosophy, true religion and true politics." (Panorthosia, Ch. 1, para 16, 17, p. 50)
Similarly, Plato wrote that,
"all these branches of study will be found fair and becoming, if only by further laws and institutions you expel illiberality and commercialism from the souls of those who pursue them thoroughly to their profit; otherwise, you will be surprised to find that you have produced not a philosopher but a regular knave..." (Collected Dialogues, p. 1331)
It is true that Plato in the sixth book of his final major work, the Laws, made provisions for what he called "local gods and spirits," shrines to who which should be established by his ideal state. He would not have had a state religion replace or interfere with pre-existing religious groups, but where they do not already exist Plato wanted the state to set up its own religion roughly based upon the Delphic Oracle, the closest thing to a universal religion in the Hellenic world. This idea has some similarity to Comenius' consistory, and Comenius may well have read the Laws for all I know. In any case, the rise of Christianity and Islam changed the moral reflexes of humankind forever, making the faith expressions that Plato assumed all but unrecognizable to most people. For that reason we should pay attention to Comenius' consistory first.
Nonetheless, we should give serious consideration to several of Plato's suggestions for the uses of faith groups and holy places. For example, he held that votes should be held only in holy shrines (Laws, 753c), where presumably a meditative atmosphere would prevail during elections with greater attention to rules of reverence and decorum. He also suggested that voting be compulsory and that a democratic system be based upon a combination of democratic elections and, when that option is too clumsy or inequitable, random selection -- that is, drawing lots to determine who rotates next in filling a given post. Choice by lot, he said, is an appeal not to the will of the people, but to that of God.