By John Taylor; 2010 Dec 03, Qawl 12, 167 BE
I just started attending an institute on the Baha'i Covenant (the new Book VIII) being held for tutors in my old home town of Ancaster, Ontario. At the same time, I have also been auditing a series of lectures on the history of freedom. This I do, wearing earphones, as I paint part of our basement. At the same time, the news is full of this Wikileaks affair, which, it strikes me, is part of the whole theme of this age, the tension between security and freedom, between obedience and expression, between individual right and social conformity.
Cosmopolitanism, the theme of the book I am trying to write, is all about this very theme, the need for strict rectitude in universals, and a concurrent faith that universals will translate into optimum good for individual souls. This is what Immanuel Kant talked about with his Categorical Imperative, the duty strictly to adhere to duty by turning the implications of the Golden Rule into universal laws. And Baha'u'llah seems to seek the same balance in the Kitab-i-Ahd, the Will and Testament of Baha'u'llah, which is the main concern of Book VIII.
Abdu'l-Baha, in Paris, laid out the Baha'i version of Kant's C.I. with astonishing purity. Although this is not, strictly speaking, Baha'i scripture (the original text in Persian was lost), it is still astonishing that the Master seems to have spoken in such Kantian terms about the need for duty in universal and particular undertakings.
"In the human world there are two kinds of undertakings, universal and particular. The result of every universal undertaking is infinite, and the outcome of every particular undertaking is finite. In this age all the human problems which create a general interest are universal and their results are likewise universal, for humanity has become interdependent."
"Today international laws have great influence, international policies are bringing nations nearer to one another. Therefore it is a general axiom that in the human world every universal affair commands attention, and its results and benefits are limitless; therefore let us say that every universal cause is divine and every special matter is human." (Address by Abdu'l-Baha at the Esperanto Banquet, given at Hotel Moderns in Paris, France, February 12th, 1913, Divine Philosophy, p. 141)
The Master says, "Every universal affair is divine." Think about that, what it implies for the amoral Realpolitik that dominates the international stage today. In effect, the current nationalist mind set turns every universal affair into what Baha'u'llah calls the "metropolis of Satan." Morality is irrelevant, only so called practical matters of competing interest. Compare that cynicism and what the Master says above to what Kant says in his own "peace message" (Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, 1795), which is one of the backbones of my book-in-perpetual-progress, Cosmopolis Earth.
"Since the narrower or wider community of the peoples of the earth has developed so far that a violation of rights in one place is felt throughout the world, the idea of a cosmopolitan right is not fantastical, high-flown or exaggerated notion. It is a complement to the unwritten code of the civil and international law, necessary for the public rights of mankind in general and thus for the realization of perpetual peace." (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Immanuel_Kant)
The fact that, as Kant points out, civil and international law remains unwritten, that is, that there is no written world constitution, is the great flaw and downfall of our current world.
This is one reason that the Wikileaks affair has gripped me harder than any news event since Watergate, which played out way back when I was in High School. I remember at the time being glued to the television, watching the hearings for days on end, devouring every article in the press about the characters of the senators and lawyers running those senate hearings. They were heroes to me, and the climax came when Richard Nixon resigned. Then he was pardoned and everything went back to normal. I longed to become a lawyer at the time. This chase for justice in high places that seemed to be happening in those hearings seemed the noblest thing in the world.
Only later did I read Noam Chomsky, who pointed out that all that fuss was just a reflection of the fact that the crime committed at the Watergate complex, bugging backroom dealings of members of the Democratic Party -- activities that were themselves highly illegal and scandalous, by the way, but that somehow never got discussed --was committed against powerful people. Nixon had already committed dozens of worse crimes, including out-and-out assassinations, against less powerful groups, but as always that barely merited a headline. Then I felt ashamed to have been sucked into watching what amounted to a show trial that had nothing to do with real justice.
Still, the diplomatic dispatches being released by Wikileaks have many of the elements that made Watergate so compelling. There is the high-tech angle, the fact that the Internet seems to be beyond the clammy claws of censorship -- although some say that censorship is just being delayed and privatized. There is the fact that powerful officials of the American superpower are being flouted in the same way that outliers are, the sort of schlep they openly torture and routinely kill as an object lesson to the powerless.
There is the secrecy angle, the fact that although only about six percent of these dispatches were officially secret, so pervasive is the cloak and dagger culture that it is provoking the most comical reactions, including apparatchiks threatening employees and potential employees of the State Department that if they dare read any of the leaks they are doomed, even if the leak mentions them, or in fact was written by themselves. One Canadian stooge even suggested sending a cruise missile against Julian Assange, the head of Wikileaks -- let no American claim that they have a monopoly on whackos.
Then there are the actual revelations, which are not insubstantial in the skullduggery they uncover. The loss in America of the right of habeas corpus is a grave one, a loss for every human being, and the leaks show that the spooks are taking full advantage of their new powers. They flout the law by secretly transporting terror suspects beyond borders. In one case, a German national with the same name as a terrorist was transported to Pakistan and tortured for months. Then, when the blunder was undeniable, the U.S. Secretary of State had to intervene before the C.I.A. did what they were inclined to do, rub him out with extreme prejudice to cover up the embarrassment permanently. This is criminality at the highest levels. It of course will go unpunished, as always.
Such wrongdoing is an outward symptom of a deeper cancer. You cannot engage in the behavior that the international order demands of its minions without soiling yourself, without losing all your better principles and ideals, without sinking in the ordure floating around you. The biggest secret that these over-secretive officials and heads of state are keeping is that they have lost their principles. As Kant points out, you may have a personality but you cannot have character without holding to high moral principle.
"Character means that the person derives his rules of conduct from himself and from the dignity of humanity. Character is the common ruling principle in man in the use of his talents and attributes. Thus it is the nature of his will ... A man who acts without settled principles, with no uniformity, has no character. A man may have a good heart and yet no character, because he is dependent upon impulses and does not act according to maxims. Firmness and unity of principle are essential to character." (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Immanuel_Kant)
I long for the strict moral standard that Kant held up for world statespersons.
I am happy that the information revealed by wikileaks is out in the open so soon. I do not imagine that it will change much but at least it allows future historians to understand the mind set of our cynical leaders. These mistakes are probably the worst of any generation of leaders, ever. This generation of leaders (and followers) are willfully ignoring climate change, the most basic threat to our survival. They are therefore putting the human race in the gravest peril. Speaking of recent climate talks, George Monbiot put it very well,
"What all this means is that there is not a single effective instrument for containing manmade global warming anywhere on earth. The response to climate change, which was described by Lord Stern as a result of the greatest market failure the world has seen, is the greatest political failure the world has ever seen." (http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2010/09/20/the-process-is-dead/)
It is frightening. In spite of all the affected concern for security, there is no single instrument for basic justice anywhere on earth ... other than the Universal House Justice, of course, which, as its name implies, is all about universalizing justice. And their true splendor will not shine for all to see until we all see the light and form a world government.