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.