Tuesday, November 30, 2010
You have got to watch this. Then read the Master's first talk in Paris Talks. Same prescription. Same message since Abraham.
written format: http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/PT/pt-1.html
spoken format: http://librivox.org/talks-by-abdul-baha-given-in-paris-by-abdu%E2%80%99l-baha-%E2%80%98abbas/
Monday, November 29, 2010
On Haiti and the Day of the Covenant
By John Taylor; 2010 Nov 28, Qawl 06, 167 BE
Tracy Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains, Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York, 2003
Long ago I read Tracy Kidder's early book about the computer company Data General, one of his first books. Then Kidder turned to themes that were less interesting to me. At our library's annual summer book sale, I came across a recent book by Kidder, called Mountains Beyond Mountains. It is about Paul Farmer, an amazingly saintly American doctor in Haiti who learned Creole, then in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere invented techniques for controlling difficult-to-handle diseases like tuberculosis and AIDS.
Until he came along everybody thought it was impossible to deal with them in a poor country, and planners blithely left the world's most destitute to die in the dirt. Aside from the ethical issues, this unthinking lack of policy let the disease spread unchecked, and it inevitably spread to what really matters in the minds of rich planners, home, in rich countries.
So effective is Farmer the doctor's approach that it is now the model for epidemiology around the world. What Farmer and his organization, Partners in Health, do is they train local talent to work in their health clinics. They go out on house calls to the homes of anybody who gets sick and, if they judge their situation desperate enough, they see to it that they get a job, a new house, whatever it takes to assure that they will actually take their treatment in its full course, and that they get better before the disease can spread further. This targeted approach nips epidemics in the bud, and takes a major swipe at the scum of poverty as well.
Farmer's approach is now standard practice.
He took the technique to the prisons of Russia (which had become breeding grounds of TB). This proved that Haiti was not an isolated case. His approach works anywhere, it is transferable. This eventually persuaded "smart charity" groups like the Gates Foundation and that of George Soros to finance it around the world.
The local, community-building approach of Paul Farmer reminded me of our local, non-Baha'i Persian physician in Dunnville, Reza Kazemi, who has started a community based organic farm. Every week I go there and pick up fresh veggies from the farm. Anyway, after I finished reading Kidder's book, I passed my copy on to Reza to read.
Since I am fascinated with democracy, I chose the following amusing incident that took place when Paul Farmer was in Russia, trying to arrange a loan to pay for TB drugs for prisoners there.
The chief of the Russian doctors -- a colonel -- laughed. A woman doctor said gravely, "We have lots of TB and no labs." More toasts, more vodka. The colonel reached in his pocket, began to take a pack of cigarettes from it, then paused and asked Farmer,
"Is America a democracy?"
Paul's face grew serious.
"I think whenever a people has enormous resources, it is easy for them to call themselves democratic. I think of myself more as a physician than as an American. Ludmilla and I, we belong to the nation of those who care for the sick. Americans are lazy democrats, and it is my belief, as someone who shares the same nationality as Ludmilla, I think that the rich can always call themselves democratic, but the sick people are not among the rich."
I thought he was done, but he was only pausing for the interpreter to catch up.
"Look, I'm very proud to be an American. I have many opportunities because I'm American. I can travel freely throughout the world, I can start projects, but that's called privilege, not democracy."
As Farmer had talked, the colonel's face had begun showing signs of exertion. Now he let his laughter out. He said,
"But I only wanted to know if you would permit me to smoke a cigarette."
Goldfarb made a face.
"Paul. He wanted to know if he could smoke, and you gave heem a speech on socialism and democracy."
"But the speech was marvelous," said the colonel, smiling at Farmer, who seemed on the verge of falling asleep.
Goldfarb turned to the colonel. "Tomorrow Paul will represent your interests at the World Bank."
Farmer shook himself alert.
"The only thing wrong, I don't think it should be a loan. But for the international community of healers it will be a good thing.
"I pray," he put his hands together in a steeple, "that it will go well." (Mountains Beyond Mountains, Tracy Kidder Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York, p. 229)
I have expressed this opinion before on this blog: if we had real and open democracy, without candidature, if there were any justice in the world (this is just two ways of saying the same thing), then Paul Farmer (and others of his moral caliber) would be elected to the parliament of the Americas, even if he did not "run" for office. Once you get people like him representing us all, then you would see government start doing good, start being good. Farmer is the perfect choice for office. First of all, his activism follows the divine principle of "go for the greatest need." That is why God chose the places that He did to receive His Manifestations.
That, consciously or not, is why Farmer chose to concentrate on Haiti.
Go to the poorest, treat them, and if it works there the treatment will work anywhere. To prove oneself capable of office, one must do so by helping the poorest, most desperate place. Anybody who does not succeed, or does not try, is a poseur, unworthy of the high station of leadership.
For another blogger's view of this book, go to:
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Restoring Street Wisdom
By John Taylor; 2010 Nov 23, Qawl 01, 167 BE
For generations now, streets and intersections in urban areas have been the exclusive domain of thundering trucks and honking automobiles. It is the same in the country. Rural roads are deserted, machine-only zones where any wildlife that wanders onto the pavement rapidly becomes road kill. Pedestrians in the suburbs, when permitted at all, are shunted onto sidewalks that are ugly, smelly and noisy. Meanwhile, annual deaths from traffic accidents are higher than war and terrorism combined. Vehicles own our common spaces, their fumes and cacophony making the Res Publica, the public thing, a wasteland. Our entire built world accommodates this mechanical tyranny. Many new houses are garages with homes attached. Suburban sub-divisions are designed as motorized thoroughfares with housing tacked on as an afterthought.
This is not a new phenomenon. Before the machine age, horses pulled an assortment of carriages and wagons through streets, highways and byways. As commerce increased and the population of cities grew from thousands into millions, so did the numbers of horses. In major cities around the turn of the 19th Century, workhorses threatened to bury roads and streets in excrement. As a result, for many decades after cars and trucks took over, they seemed to be a cleaner alternative. Only when smog obscured the horizon and evidence of global warming mounted did the dangers of the less visible and tangible pollution of motorized vehicles become evident.
Bad as the soot and emissions are, perhaps the worst kind of pollution produced by this transportation system is mental, and especially political. The automobile is a singularly isolating technology. It enables drivers to commute the whole route from home to work without a single face-to-face encounter with another human being. Paradoxically, the more crowded traffic is the more isolated are the individuals caught in the deadlock become. Thus cut off, the basic social skills required by democracy are becoming lost arts. Even the most fundamental political quality of all is, the willingness to put the interests of the whole before those of the part, is often forgotten. The result? An atmosphere of selfishness and truculence pollutes the public discussion as badly as the physical air.
Centuries of expulsion from thoroughfares has affected our speech. The word "civilization," started off referring to the good effects of city life, declined from a proud badge of hard won progress to a dirty word. Expressions like "street wise," and "street smarts" have nothing to do with wisdom or philosophic understanding; they refer rather to someone with the cunning to survive in the hostile, crime-ridden wasteland that our city streets have become. The greatest accomplishments of the Ancient world were the result of a different kind of "street smarts."
None living today remember a time when people were not banished from streets, corners and city squares; yet we know that there were times when streets actually invited city dwellers to come there to learn, work and converse together. Vital, high-density settlements allowed citizens to live close by their workplace. Rather than wasting their lives commuting, they had energy and leisure time left over to relax together and engage in open, spirited public discourse.
Residents on well-designed streets relished spending their day in a place that offered a full spectrum of activity, from trade to recreation. Teachers gave classes outside, merchants plied their wares and tradespersons their crafts in open air markets; artists and dramatists created great art and the "peripatetic" (walking) philosophers of Athens made memorable discoveries about the human condition in the open street. The Cynics of Hellas and the Stoics and Epicureans in the streets of Alexandria became the first leaders of thought who had a mass audience. The Roman Republic built elaborate public baths, held triumphal parades and built impressive public buildings in the street. Centuries later, the broad streets of Baghdad became an intellectual melting pot of intense activity. Streets in Renaissance city states were just as frenetic, but they exuded a charged atmosphere that inspired great art, literature and the birth of both science and the modern nation state.
Even today, great cities like Paris, London and New York continue to benefit from an older style of mixed use layout. Such great metropolises retain their preeminence by attracting creative people from near and far, and providing them with optimal conditions for discovery. They tend to discourage car ownership by providing integrated, efficient public transit systems. Integrated public transit and mixed use zoning helps foster diversity and creativity in public spaces.
Stoas, Street Smarts and Social Insulation
One of the time tested secrets of old fashioned designs was the use of a sort of social insulation that allowed diverse functions to work side by side without interference in a small, dense, high population area. The original name for this insulation was "stoa," which is Greek for "porch." Long before pedestrians were overrun by vehicles, the stoa was not only a "freestanding ... covered walkway" but also served many of the functions that shopping malls do today, except that they were centrally located and very much a part of the Public Thing; that is, they were not privately owned or run. They,
"lined marketplaces and sanctuaries and formed places of business and public promenades. Rooms might back onto the colonnade, and a second story was sometimes added. The Stoa of Attalus in Athens (2nd century BC), a large, elaborate, two-story building with a row of shops at the rear, was a prime example." (http://www.answers.com/topic/stoa)
Throughout the ages the stoa remained the cornerstone of street life. Porches were not restricted to private homes. Public buildings were often surrounded by columns, creating a space where citizens could mix together on neutral ground and discuss public issues. The first stoa were little more than sheds with columns, but they evolved over the centuries and millennia. The stoa became,
"... a roofed colonnade or portico with a wall on one side, erected as a separate building near temples or gymnasia or in market-places as a sheltered place in which to walk and talk or hold meetings. The wall was often decorated with paintings or inscriptions. Thus the Stoa Poikil (painted colonnade) in the agora at Athens, built c.460 BC, was adorned with frescos by famous artists, including one by Polygnotus representing the destruction of Troy."
Stoa had a surprisingly great influence not only on art history but also on philosophy and science, especially in Athens and Alexandria. It gave its name, "stoic," to the first philosophy to gain mass popularity throughout the ancient world. The Stoic school was so named because their founder, Zeno, was in the habit of discoursing with his followers in and around the painted stoa of Athens. Eventually stoas served not only business but also acted as a sort of public interface among art, religion and politics.
"Later stoas were often immense, running to two stories, each with a colonnade of a different order and having a ridged roof supported on internal colonnades; rows of shops or offices lined the back wall, which was sometimes decorated with paintings. Such stoas surrounded the agora or marketplace of every large city and were used for public meetings."
The porch on houses is the last surviving remnant of the stoa. Although the garage fronting new homes recognizes the reality before them, the mark of older houses is that they retain a veranda at their front, a quaint relic of an age before air conditioning and electronic screens drew people indoors, a time before motor vehicles spewed carbon monoxide, smog and noise throughout every street and its surroundings. The few porches that remain are mostly used for storage or decoration. Only architectural historians remember that the verandah was once a place for extended families to relax in a cool breeze, converse with passersby and, often, to entertain guests. Porches served as the main transition zone between the public and private spheres. Today only a brave few sit in their verandas, surrounded by ugliness, partly asphyxiated by fumes and smog, their shouted conversations drowned out by traffic.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Corruption and Misemployment
By John Taylor; 2010 Nov 19, Qudrat 16, 167 BE
So far we have two new institutions for Cosmopolis Earth, the stele and the worker's palace. Each is a technical aid in applying justice and other principles of Cosmopolitanism. The stele is a robotic mediator and an aid in stake-holding, fitting individual effort into the overall plans of Cosmopolis Earth, and vice versa.
As we saw, the spread of steles will establish a new right to advice, an expectation on the part of all to be properly guided at every stage of human endeavor.
The second institution is an adaptation of Flora Tristan's worker's palaces, a tool for equality between women and men at the grassroots level. More broadly, the worker's palace, to be built in each locality or neighborhood, would fulfill a major social goal that is now largely neglected, to assure that everyone has a hand in the world of work, preferably by plying a trade or profession. As everybody enters fully into an organized calling, the main source of corruption in human affairs will be cut off.
The Root of Corruption
In Panorthosia, John Amos Comenius holds that the root of corruption is lack of organization. Reforms cannot last until we somehow eliminate corruption. In a prayer "for the reformed age," Comenius wrote,
"So many efforts at reform have been attempted in all ages, often apparently reaching the brink of success but always relapsing into the former state of corruption, that we mortals are now as in the past as hapless as Sisyphus, and without thee [God] our efforts always have been and are and ever shall be doomed to failure." (Panorthosia, Chapter 27, p. 248)
For Comenius, fecklessness and idleness -- what we now label as unemployment -- are both causes and results of a vicious circle of disorganization. Every time work halts or jobs are lost, a random, disorganizing element is injected into our lives. Fewer hands can touch the reins of power, wealth concentrates into fewer pockets and a vicious cycle of centralized power accelerates. So dangerous is it that he would have made unemployment socially unacceptable, indeed illegal. Nor, as he points out, was he the first to think this. He cites many precedents in history where legislators laid down obligatory work laws.
"The Egyptians of old had a wise law, like the Chinese of today, forbidding the deaf, the blind, the halt, the maimed, and even the victims of gout, from going idle, regardless of their wealth. Solon, the Athenian lawgiver, passed a special law against the idle and indolent, giving everyone the power to bring an action against them. Also God in His holy word passed the law: 'If any will not work, neither shall he eat.' The Romans had no temple to Fors Fortuna, the so-called patron goddess of the idle and unemployed, inside the city, but built one across the Tiber to demonstrate that idleness must be kept away from the boundaries of a well-established city." (Panorthosia Ch. 24, VI, pp. 103-104)
Of course, one can be overemployed as well as unemployed. Like everything in life, work is beneficial only in moderation. There is a sweet spot where one's service is fulfilling but not overwhelming. When it blocks out leisure, it is excessive because leisure is necessary to a reflective, examined life. On the other hand, too much leisure and too little work breeds dissipation and excessive pleasure seeking.
As it is, the workplace is plagued by unemployment and the threat of unemployment and, worst of all, misemployment or crime. Comenius explains what true full employment would mean,
"No-one in the state should be allowed to be idle, in the sense of failing to make an honest living for himself and his family by serving society in general through farming, craftsmanship, trade, or politics. My argument is (1) that no-one should learn to misbehave through having nothing to do. Therefore this should be prevented in the individual's own interests; (2) that others should not be corrupted by this bad example; (3) that there should be no occasion for begging or sharp practices; (4) that in such circumstances the idle body does not nourish any of its parts."
The wisdom of this is clear. When society fails to involve young people very early in a productive trade, criminals willingly step in. Youth gangs and organized crime get a stranglehold on the lives of adolescents by offering entry positions as petty crooks, preying upon the common good. Full employment from the earliest age would help end one of the great blights on humanity, crime and misemployment, within a generation. Of course none of this would be possible if the local community did not make every effort to provide semi-skilled work for young apprentices. This would be one of the goals of Flora Tristan's worker's palace. Even if entry level jobs were heavily subsidized at first, the community would still profit overall from the savings of a steep drop in the crime rate.
Needless to say, the educational system has a central role to play. Its first duty should be to assure that every child in the world learns a trade. Having a balanced, fruitful career organizes one's life and makes it easier to hit an optimum level of work and leisure. It canalizes effort into meaningful investigation over the long term.
Vocational training must therefore start early, in primary school. Each pupil should be fully apprenticed in at least one trade upon graduation from middle school. This was commonplace until the mid-twentieth century but it for spurious reasons it was abandoned in favor of over a decade of sitting in a classroom.
Taking vocational training up once more would help both society and the youths themselves, since recent research indicates that adolescents need working relationships as early as age 15. Plying a trade would improve the general happiness and even brain development of adolescents. (see, Joe Allen and Claudia Worrell Allen, Escaping the Endless Adolescence, as discussed in, http://www.newsweek.com/blogs/nurture-shock/2009/11/05/why-teenagers-are-growing-up-so-slowly-today.html)
Once we have full employment, wisdom will become an attainable goal. Wisdom, Comenius believed, will mark our collective coming of age, the very consummation of human evolution. Once we enter into the cosmopolitan condition, it will even be possible to attain what he called pansophia, universal wisdom.
"For in the final age of the World man must come to the highest stage of all. Therefore philosophy, or the love of wisdom, is not sufficient; wisdom itself must be present, and not its shadow but its body, and its body in whole and not in part; therefore it is not merely wisdom, but Universal Wisdom, that we need. Similarly politics or poliarchy (skill in governing cities or kingdoms) is not enough; this final age requires Universal Rule, or wisdom in maintaining any human society at any time in peace and prosperity. Lastly, religion is not sufficient; what we need is Universal Religion, binding all souls to God in every way with all His virtues." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 10, Para 43, p. 169)
In the next section we will look at an institution designed to enable universal wisdom, the stoa.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
by John Taylor; 2010 Nov 17, Qudrat 14, 167 BE
God as Conservative, Liberal and Progressive
The nature of time is such that people orient themselves around three possible worldviews, each of which is rooted in the past, the present or the future. Conservatism is all about the past, liberalism the present and progressivism the future. In essence, each is a type or phase of love. Each is love playing itself out at a certain beat to the dance of time.
Conservatives Love What is Dead and Gone
Those who put the past first tend to be conservative. Conservatism is concerned with the ghost of culture past. It takes on the daunting challenge of learning from the experience of the Great Majority (it is estimated that, in spite of the recent spurt in human population, at least seven persons lived and died in the past for everyone living today). A conservative wants to carry the lessons of history into both present and future. Unless we do that, there will be no good at present or the future.
The prototypical agent of conservatism is the teacher. Many teachers, indeed perhaps most teachers may be liberal or progressive in personal taste and outlook, but professionally their burden is to see to it that the essentials in past knowledge are not lost. Imagine what would happen if all teaching and learning somehow stopped today. There would be a sudden collapse of civilization followed by a massive die-off. If any humans survive at all, they would be hunter-gatherers numbered in thousands rather than, as now, billions.
Who wants to be a conservative?
Conservatism is attractive to the powerful, anyone insulated from questions of brute survival. A conservative tends to be wealthy, since the rich are free to make many minor decisions in the here and now, choices that are rarely matters of life and death, at least not for themselves. Conservatives are happy with how life is treating them. They have enjoyed a prosperous life in the past and have secure prospects for the future. Anyone content with where they come from and where they are going will tend to be conservative. This is why conservatives tend to be older, and usually come from the dominant culture and speak the language of the majority. For them, the greater part of the struggle for influence and hegemony is already won.
What is the Conservative Value?
I think that wisdom is the great value that conservatism teaches. As one ancient philosopher puts it,
"Wisdom is a condition in a being that possesses repose. Think what happens when one has accomplished the reasoning process; as soon as we have discovered the right course, we cease to reason. We rest because we have come to wisdom." (Plotinus, qi Wisdom, Mortimer Adler, the Great Ideas, p. 939)
Liberals Love the Here and Now
The characteristic ability of intelligent beings is the exercise of free will. No decisions, no rational mind. If one cannot decide freely and independently, one is not entirely human. Decisions, right, wrong or indifferent, are part of our very reason for being. Our goal in life is to express ourselves, to exercise our personal freedom, and by that means to become fulfilled.
And when are decisions arrived at? Right now. Spend your time with the ghost of time present. That is the only time when it is ever possible to exercise the will. It is impossible to decide about what happened before or about what we think may come about sooner or later. That is why we ought to adore the present most of all. We should maximize what can be changed in the here and now. If everybody makes a sound free choice now, all other goods must come together for the best. Look to what is important at this moment and past and future will take care of themselves. Try to make free choice the default for every issue, for each social concern.
They tend to be individualists, happiest when alone with their own thoughts, living a solitary life of the mind. Personal choices matter more than socially derived decisions, if only because the latter cannot be done at this instant while social mores take a long time to determine. Like a ponderous, slow-turning supertanker, group decisions take even longer to alter course.
Who wants to be a liberal?
Liberalism is attractive to those who did not inherit great goods or lands from their ancestors, to anybody who is not nostalgic and has few memories, good or bad. That is, to youth. The decisions of the young have the greatest, longest lasting results. The old have already made the most important long-term choices, for better or worse.
Liberalism is also attractive to intellectuals. The learned are not heavily invested in past goods or future windfalls. They discount as uncertain the prospect of better things to come. Thought is more real than memories or expectations. They are confident that knowledge can make up for shortfalls in past or future. They delight in abstractions, look down on worldly goods and are willing to invest everything in the fleeting will-o-the-wisp that is the present moment.
What is the Liberal Value?
The virtue for liberals is justice, for what good is a decision if it is not the right decision? Justice takes in all other virtues, except for the conservative virtue, wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to see what was right in the past, justice is what is right at the moment. It is, as Baha'u'llah puts it, a kind of torch to be shone on what is right now.
"The light of men is Justice. Quench it not with the contrary winds of oppression and tyranny. The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets, 66-7, Kalimat-i-Firdousiyyih, 6th leaf)
Progressives Love What is Coming Our Way
The belief in progress assumes that things now are better than they were, and we can make our future better than things are now. The future is the soul of past and present; whether we want to or not, we only see the past or the present in terms of what good it will do in future. Anyone who accepts such presuppositions as valid -- or at least desirable -- will value the future more than the past or present. Forced to make a choice, they will pick the future.
Progressivism, then, is a kind of optimism. However, a progressive does more than idly hope for a better future. He or she works to assure that the best is yet to come. Furthermore, a progressive believes that we spend our time most productively if we are anticipating future good and ameliorating what we have now. This means sacrificing what we had in the past and what we have now for future benefit. This is not easy to do. It is far easier for a progressive to show cowardice, to drop out or slip into hypocrisy than for a conservative or liberal.
Who wants to be a progressive?
Progressives have often had a miserable past. They tend to be excluded from participating in decision making in the here and now. They have good reason to invest everything in the future. The poor majority of humanity, I think, are progressives. Hence the saying, "Blessed are the poor." God is a progressive. The supreme example of a progressive is the Manifestation of God. Baha'u'llah said, "My object is none other than the betterment of the world and the tranquillity of its peoples." (Gl 286)
What is the progressive's virtue?
When we have wisdom and justice established in heart and mind, we can turn towards our ultimate purpose, the love of progress. Baha'u'llah makes it abundantly clear that whereas in the dispensation of Christ "God is love," today in effect, God is progress. The virtues that progressivism calls for are, socially, wisdom and justice. But for the individual, they are the "female" virtues of dignity, forbearance, mercy, compassion and Muhabat, or loving-kindness.
"All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty bearest Me witness: To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth." (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings, CIX, p. 215)
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
The Primal Three Musketeers
By John Taylor; 2010 Nov 16, Qudrat 13, 167 BE
This is sort of a review of a humour book I just read:
Scott Adams, Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!: Cartoonist Ignores Helpful, Portfolio, 2007, pp. 252-253
I say sort of a review because I will also be talking here about some political ideas recently posted by Adams on his Dilbert blog. That is where the material for this book came from originally as well.
I was very glad to have a funny book like "Monkey Brain" to keep my spirits up during the past month, during which I suffered a seemingly endless severe cold or flu. Part of the misery for a talkative fellow like me was that every time I opened my mouth to talk I would go into coughing fits that threatened to drown me. I was feverish and voiceless, and I needed something to laugh at.
I enjoy Adams' twisted ideas and often cruel, power-mad sense of humour. You never know what he is going to come up with next. I have read most of his previous books with great pleasure, and I am realizing now that his ideas about politics have influenced me more than I imagined. His jokes are like a hammer that drives in some highly pointed ideas.
Adams watches and reads the news constantly, and comes up with half-cocked ideas that often have a touch of genius. He is a non-believer in God, but no anti-theist; he has as little patience for extreme skeptics as for dogmatic believers. Nevertheless, at times I found his lack of a grasp of the fundamentals of faith quite bothersome. This negated some of the benefit of the humour.
One good thing about Adams is that he sees how pathetically broken the political system is and tries to come up with suggestions. All are original, some are totally facetious, and others are serious and certainly deserve lengthy treatment. I am addressing some of them in the book I am writing -- especially my planned third volume, which will be on ways to improve democracy.
One essay in Monkey Brain in particular touches on issues that are very important to me; it is called "The Future of Voting." Here he suggests the idea of a law preventing any kind of political advertising.
"... we should ban all political advertising. I realize it's an issue of free speech, but ... freedom has always had lots of restrictions. For example, you can't libel someone, and you can't lie about your product's effectiveness, and you can't yell "Fire" if there's no fire. If a political ad sways an election and causes an unnecessary war (just to pick an example), then it's a lot like yelling "Fire." We routinely limit free speech when the alternative is worse." (Scott Adams, Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!: Cartoonist Ignores Helpful, Portfolio, 2007, p. 253)
Here we see a confusion about freedom of speech that seems to be coming to a head in the U.S. It is the puss in a festering boil of corruption that is destroying their entire political system. The question that should be asked first is, "Free speech for whom?" Liberty of expression begins and ends as an individual right. It cannot be a group right.
As soon as you let entities -- groups, corporations, governments, organizations -- have an equal right to free speech along with individuals, then by that very fact you crowd out and nullify the right of individuals to say whatever they are moved to say. How can one voice compete against many? How can one voice compete against money, against vested interests, against even one other opinion? It is impossible.
A single mind and the opinions it forms are valuable if and only if they come out of the spirit of truth. Unlike groups, only an individual mind can investigate reality directly and come up with something new, be it through prayer, reflection, science, work experience, or whatever. A group can either amplify that genius or block it out. The amplification is what J.C. was talking about when He said, "When two of you gather in my name (i.e., in His spirit) then I am the third ... if three, I am the fourth, and so forth... " The trick of consultation is to let that spirit speak, and to follow that. And only an individual voice can stumble over the way the spirit wants to take us.
Adams, in a blog posting, tentatively suggests that political parties should perhaps be banned outright. Like a lot of others these days, he thinks that maybe we should be scientific about investigating the possibility.
"Imagine a democratic political system in which no one is allowed to be a member of a political party. How would things be different? My hypothesis is that confirmation bias, or cognitive dissonance, or something of that nature, influences voters to irrationally agree with the platform of their own party no matter what the facts suggest. My hypothesis is easy enough to test. All you'd need to do is come up with a phony issue and present it to your test subjects as something to which their party agrees, or disagrees, and see if party affiliation influences opinions. I think the effect would be large." (Scott Adams, Dilbert Blog, "Eliminating political parties," Nov 5-6, 2010 <http://www.dilbert.com/blog/entry/eliminating_political_parties/>)
In this suggestion, Adams is coming close to the total ban on politicking that is a rule for Baha'i elections. As a Baha'i, I used to jump up and down when I heard such suggestions, but now I am realizing that my viewpoint was too narrow. This ban on loose tongues at voting time is much older than the Revelation of Baha'u'llah.
Hellas had a systemic bias against politicking. This put it in the perfect position to invent democracy. How so? Religion was part of the political process -- in a good way. That is, priests themselves did not interfere, but they had the all important role of acting as hosts for many political functions. We forget that in Ancient Greece drama, banking and elections all were religious activities that often took place on holy ground, at the local temple. In other words, the location itself forbade loose tongues. You did not cheat in your banking or tax payments because the local god and oracle were right there, looking right over over your shoulder as it were.
Same thing for free speech. There was no need for legal sanctions in Hellas. What people said was limited by an inherent sense of the sacred. There could be no jostling for power, attacking others, all the garbage that is now fair game in elections if you were standing on holy ground, if, to use a Jewish analogy, you were standing in front of the burning bush and you were standing on cold earth, with your shoes off. Verbal vitriol is destroying democracy today, and the worse it gets the less and less people can appreciate the sacred nature of voting. The solution is simple. Forbid any talk at all about whom to vote for except on your ballot itself; then stage the election on the holiest ground available. Anybody who shoots off their mouth there will be committing sacrilege, limited by their own sense of shame.
Recent research has found that this effect has a tremendous influence on people, irrespective of what they believe, irrespective even of what they are thinking. In one study they left out a cup of coins along with coffee, relying on the honour system for paying. Some did not pay, some helped themselves to the money. But when they put up a poster with an image of eyes -- not even a face, just eyes -- looking right at you, suddenly the number of cheaters and freeloaders dropped drastically.
In other words, if you held a vote in the local synagogue or Buddhist monastery, it does not matter if voters are Jewish or Buddhist, they would feel the sacredness of the place and act accordingly. Another study found that children left alone cheated far less at a game if it was suggested that an invisible fairy girl was in the room with them. Whether they believed that this fairy girl existed did not matter. The suggestion that she was there all but wiped out cheating.
So, if voters said a few prayers together before the ballot is cast, probably this effect would multiply, even for atheists.
The most important thing to do is to unite religion, science and politics into a single process of investigation of truth. We forget that this ultimate goal is why conflict and arguing was tolerated in the American model of politics in the first place. The clash of opinions under free speech is supposed to act like a scientific experiment that squeezes falsity out and leaves standing only the right ideas.
Adams in his defense of banning political advertising points out that the spark from the clash often shows how to solve the root problem.
"Finding fault is how you usually determine whose job it is to shape up and fix things. But sometimes, as in this case, the people who can fix it are not the ones at fault." (Scott Adams, Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!: Cartoonist Ignores Helpful, Portfolio, 2007, p. 253)
For Adams, the invention of the Internet is what has changed the situation and made political parties and political advertising obsolete. Instead we should invent a sort of political Facebook to iron out the flaws of the present political order.
"Lots of voters don't use the Internet, especially the elderly. But that will change over time. And elections are often so close that it wouldn't take much movement to improve the results. ... I think a couple of twenty-somethings with Web skills could alter the face of democracy forever. And maybe make a few billion dollars for themselves along the way." (id.)
Of course, when argumentation is done poorly or is taken to an extreme, all three, science, religion and politics, are destroyed. All that is left are inflammatory verbal wars. This is something that Plato realized and agonized over, as do I. Think about it. A democratic regime killed Plato's beloved mentor, Socrates. Yet as I slow-read his last work, the Laws, I notice that here Plato is, at the end of his life, toying and experimenting with democratic methods. In spite of his famous suspicion of what democracy could become, he was not throwing it out. He knew that any future government for all time has to have a democratic element.
For example, over and over Plato suggests very much the same thing that Adams does, unknowingly, that we should experimentally combine democracy with polling and come up with something that I call meta-democracy. I'll talk about that in future.
Anyways, let us close with Plato's suggestion that the three goals of religion (sobriety), science (wisdom) and politics (love) are all, in essence, the same goal. They are the primal Three Musketeers, one for all, and all for one:
"You must reflect that when we say he must look to sobriety, or again to wisdom, or to amity, these ends are not distinct but identical." (Plato, Collected Dialogues, The Laws, 693c, p. 1282)
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Quotes on Agriculture from the Baha'i Writings in Chronological Order
By John Taylor; 2010 Nov 10, Qudrat 07, 167 BE
The LSA of the Baha'is of Haldimand asked me to prepare a couple of pages on the Baha'i position on agriculture for a talk by a non-Baha'i on a local agricultural initiative that is being given tonight. Unfortunately for the last month I have suffered from the worst cold or flu or whatever it is that I remember having for decades. I was going to have my daughter read the following quotes at the meeting, but she is coughing now too, and it would probably be unwise for either of us to attend. This is all I found on this subject. It seems pretty sparse, so please let me know if there any other quotes that I am missing about farmers coming first.
"O CHILDREN OF MEN! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory." (Baha'u'llah, Arabic Hidden Words, 68)
"Whoso cleaveth to justice, can, under no circumstances, transgress the limits of moderation. He discerneth the truth in all things, through the guidance of Him Who is the All-Seeing. The civilization, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences, will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men. Thus warneth you He Who is the All-Knowing. If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation." (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings, p. 342-343)
"Every man of discernment, while walking upon the earth, feeleth indeed abashed, inasmuch as he is fully aware that the thing which is the source of his prosperity, his wealth, his might, his exaltation, his advancement, and power is, as ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of all men. (Baha'u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 44)
Abdu'l-Baha on the tillage of soil being fundamental, in a talk given in New York City on the first of July, 1912.
"Difference of capacity in human individuals is fundamental. It is impossible for all to be alike, all to be equal, all to be wise. Baha'u'llah has revealed principles and laws which will accomplish the adjustment of varying human capacities. He has said that whatsoever is possible of accomplishment in human government will be effected through these principles.
When the laws He has instituted are carried out, there will be no millionaires possible in the community and likewise no extremely poor. This will be effected and regulated by adjusting the different degrees of human capacity. The fundamental basis of the community is agriculture, tillage of the soil. All must be producers. Each person in the community whose need is equal to his individual producing capacity shall be exempt from taxation. But if his income is greater than his needs, he must pay a tax until an adjustment is effected.
That is to say, a man's capacity for production and his needs will be equalized and reconciled through taxation. If his production exceeds, he will pay a tax; if his necessities exceed his production, he shall receive an amount sufficient to equalize or adjust. Therefore, taxation will be proportionate to capacity and production, and there will be no poor in the community."
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 217)
"The question of economics must commence with the farmer and then be extended to the other classes inasmuch as the number of farmers is greater than all other classes, many many times greater. Therefore, it is fitting that the economic problem be first solved with the farmer, for the farmer is the first active agent in the body politic. In brief, from among the wise men in every village a board should be organized and the affairs of that village should be under the control of that board." ('Abdu'l-Baha: Extract from a Tablet to an individual believer, October 4, 1912, translation corrected in the World Centre, December 1985 Compilations, Lights of Guidance, #1858, p. 547)
Monday, November 08, 2010
By John Taylor; 2010 Nov 08, Qudrat 05, 167 BE
Homemakers, the First Generalists
For millennia women were blocked from the workplace and public life; in that sense they were oppressed and could not live up to their full potential. However, it would be unjust to depict women in history as helpless victims incapable of contributing to those around them. Quite the reverse. We often forget that women as homemakers in the traditional extended family had a complex and extremely responsible management position.
A famous passage in the 31st Chapter of the Book of Proverbs pays high tribute to homemakers in the ancient world. It points out that her well-run household made a decisive contribution to the success of culture, and -- to use modern language -- it made women prime drivers of human evolution.
"Who can find a worthy woman? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband trusts in her. He shall have no lack of gain. ... She is like the merchant ships. She brings her bread from afar. She rises also while it is yet night, gives food to her household, and their task to her servant girls. She considers a field, and buys it. With the fruit of her hands, she plants a vineyard. She girds her loins with strength, and makes her arms strong. ... She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness." (Proverbs, 31:10-16, WEB)
In that age, women were generalists; they had a hand in every phase of economic activity, from clothing manufacture to import and export. But more than that, a homemaker played a leadership role, making major economic decisions all down the line. She managed the entire work of agriculture, from seed to field to dinner plate. Another passage mentions the superior generosity of women in helping the poor. "She stretches out her hand to the poor; Yes, she reaches forth her hands to the needy." (Proverbs, 31:20, WEB) That tendency persists among women, married or not, and has been confirmed by many studies comparing men and women's charitable donations.
Female managers were involved in every phase of manufacture, which enabled them to appreciate the world holistically. This gives a good sense of why so many cultures personify wisdom as a woman. For example, for the Hellenes wisdom was Sophia, who embodied the "female" attributes of the Godhead, such as kindness and compassion. A woman, therefore, could "open her mouth with wisdom,"
"Strength and dignity are her clothing. She laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom. Instruction of faithfulness is on her tongue. Her children rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also praises her: `Many women do noble things, but you excel them all.' Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain; But a woman who fears Yahweh, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; let her works praise her in the gates." (Proverbs, 31:25-31, WEB)
A wife and mother had to be a wise manager, since she had discretion over the well being of several people, what they ate, how they dressed and, no doubt, even their happiness. A wife or mother just had to look into the faces of her charges to see how diet and lifestyle were affecting their condition. She was fully in charge of putting food on the table, and could adjust diet, meal times and eating habits according to what she saw. She could respond to subtle dips in health. She made substantive decisions about what plants were grown, indeed whatever went into the mouths of her family.
Starting in the mid-Twentieth Century, women started to swing away from anchoring the home. They entered universities and took on full time jobs outside the home. At that time, obesity rates began to climb until now in North America the majority of the population is obese. This is happening around the world as the Western diet takes over, in both poor and wealthy nations. At the same time, women lost the control they once had over diet. Powerful corporations, whose primary concern was not welfare but profit, took over food production, preparation and service.
Their power was bolstered by corrupt science, Homemakers and children were inundated with propaganda, confused by a succession of fad diets and news of miracle ingredients in certain foods, from antioxidants to low fat yogurt. Industry reaped tremendous short-term profit, but the incidence of chronic diseases rose alarmingly with each decade that passed. We need but glance at a crowd of average people to see how many fat, flaccid bodies are among us, and how necessary the oversight of a competent homemaker once was for our health.
Work in Worker's Palaces
Flora Tristan planned her worker's palaces as a way to do the reverse of the trend that is now going on. They would be amplifiers of female leadership, not rivals or replacements. Far from exploiting human vulnerability, worker's palaces would be not-for-profit organizations located at the heart of each neighbourhood.
Flora Tristan proposed that worker's palaces particularly emphasize the equality of women vocationally, by allowing girls to enter their schools in equal numbers with boys, as well as industrially, by subjecting housework to the economies of scale that even in the 19th Century were commonplace in industry. Its kitchens would feed residents, and kitchen gardens could also grow vegetables. They could also deliver hot meals to households all around, reducing the cooking burden of local homemakers. Their prominent, central location in the neighbourhood would make quick, on-time delivery possible. They might also send out cleaning crews to area homes, as needed, at a low enough cost that everyone could afford it.
As mentioned before, the palace would make every effort to include and gain the support of everyone in the community. Children from rich families would study along with orphans and pupils from poor families. For residents of the worker's palace, and students in their schools, the daily schedule,
"would still permit time to give him proper care for his teeth, hair, and feet. His body would be strengthened through appropriate work, and he would be given food best suited to his temperament. Various diets would have to be followed: meat and wine for some; vegetables, fruit, and water for others. The Union offers such great advantages that everything seemingly impossible to us in our individual households becomes simple in such a vast organization." (Worker's Union, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1983, para 65, p. 122)
In this way palaces would lighten the burden of household tasks and free women to participate as much or as little as they chose in the workplace, the home or the local community. These palaces of labour would give women the chance to devote their entire life to a career or, alternatively, to follow in the old homemaker's footsteps by overseeing the entire food preparation process, from planting to serving dinner, without the drudgery (or, alternatively, the array of servants) that was needed for pre-modern household management. Similarly, a palace might enable them to oversee the design and production of clothing in its textile workshop.
Needless to say, erecting such palaces in every neighbourhood would be an expensive proposition. But since it would also house workshops for members of every trade and profession in the area, they, as part of her Worker's Union, would contribute from their wages and pension plans to the palace's expenses. Other sources of funding come from every level of society, as well as part of the profits from productive work done by residents of the palaces themselves. As hinted at last time, the cost of building palaces would be a sensible way to spend the vast reparations fund that the global financial system owes to women as compensation for centuries of exclusion from most professions.
Flora Tristan envisaged worker's palaces as a way permanently to end indigence, that is, what we now call homelessness and unemployment. Everything they do is dedicated to encouraging full employment and universal participation in the workplace, either as a volunteer or a professional. This is because, like many previous thinkers, notably Plato and Comenius, she saw the origin of corruption in the failure of society to involve everybody in some form of productive work.
As part of this project, palace schools would introduce every child, rich or poor, to labour, both skilled and manual. Applying the latest educational theories, they would train each student in no fewer than two manual trades. But the emphasis would be on following their own interests, not forcing them to work.
"As for vocational training, each child would choose the trade he feels the most suited for. Besides all the other work, he would have to do, upon leaving the palace he will have to be a competent worker in at least two trades." (Worker's Union, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1983, p. 122)
Although established in adult education, her idea that children too should be allowed to choose their own course of studies is rarely allowed by mainstream schools, even today.
Another reform Flora Tristan put forward was profit sharing, even for children learning and working in the Palace's vocational school. This is rare enough even for adults -- or at least it is outside of Europe, where cooperative companies are among the largest employers, especially in Holland and Spain. Furthermore, Tristan suggested that profits from their work be used to motivate the
vocational training of children at a very early age.
"In order for him to become interested in work, as of the age of ten the child will be eligible to share in the profits produced by the work in the establishment. This amount will increase every year until his departure at the age of eighteen. Half will be given to him as a trousseau made in the establishment and the other half in money." (Worker's Union, p. 122)
Writing before child labour laws, she suggested between the ages of six and ten that students would begin to be paid out of their share of the profits of their work. She also suggested that palaces maintain a steady flow of adult guests and boarders from diverse backgrounds. In this way young people would not grow up parochial or prejudiced as a result of having friends and acquaintances from a single mould. This also is a reform rarely attempted today, where age segregation throughout schooling is all but universal. By fearfully "protecting" children from contact with friends and co-workers of many ages and cultural backgrounds, we deprive the entire society of the benefits of wisdom, and we stunt the development of democracy.
This way, palaces would provide essential social services at the most local level possible. Their robust, face-to-face social services would endow homes, the neighbourhood, city blocks and wider districts with more prominence than we do now. Today, centers of wealth and power hide beyond the horizon, usually hundreds of kilometres away. The principle that it is most efficient and for social services to be done as close as possible to those who run and benefit from them is called subsidiarity, which we shall discuss in greater detail next time. Worker's palaces in every locality and region would give the body politic ballast, allowing a balance between the personal and the public, and local and global policymaking.
Thursday, November 04, 2010
This month’s topic of discussion:
Thursday, November 18
6:30 p.m. in the Library’s meeting room
• Everyone welcome. Drop in for a lively
• There is no fee to participate.
• No formal philosophy training required;
real life experience desired.
A second Thursday of the month destination
for provocative, insightful discussion
around ideas and issues that matter.
Wainfleet Township Public Library
19M9 Park Street, P.O. Box 118
Wainfleet, ON L0S 1V0
The Farmer Comes First
Baha’i teachings place agriculture first. This month Dr. Reza Kazemi will discuss the Dunnville Community Farm, a local initiative to make organic vegetables available to Dunnville residents year round. He will show how we can all get involved in this sustainable agriculture initiative.
Featured Speaker: Dr. Reza Kazemi
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Garfield Disher Room,
Haldimand Public Library
The Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Haldimand’s local media representative, Betty Frost, wrote the following letter to the editor about our monthly public meeting.
To the Editor
We are very pleased to let you know that Dr. Reza Kazemi will be speaking at our next meeting - Wednesday, November 10th at 8:00 p.m. in the Garfield Disher Room of Dunnville’s Library.
It will come as no surprise that he will be talking about the wonderful work he and his compatriots are doing to create a world where all people have access to nutritious, environmentally sustainable and fairly traded food. As one step in achieving this goal, a farm has been established with the mission of producing such food. Many people are already enjoying fresh vegetables and fruit on a regular basis from its produce.
The goal is not only to produce food but to promote pathways to maintaining a healthy and vibrant body, mind and spirit.
The Haldimand Baha’i community is happy to sponsor this talk as it conforms to teachings in the Baha’i Faith that "Special regard must be paid to agriculture". The Founder of the Faith characterized it as an activity which is "conducive to the advancement of mankind and to the reconstruction of the world." It has also been asserted that "The fundamental basis of the community is agriculture", and that should an individual "become proficient in this field, he will become a means of providing for the comfort of untold numbers of people."
It is especially gratifying to see some of the spiritual goals set forth in Dr. Kazemi’s "dream" - to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person; and to promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations. We could not be more ‘in sync" with such ideals.
We are eagerly looking forward to hearing his presentation and hope that many of you will join us.
Haldimand Baha’i Community
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
Flora Tristan, IV
Reparations for Women
By John Taylor; 2010 Nov 03, Ilm 19, 167 BE
I picked out Flora Tristan for many of the same reasons I chose in this book John Amos Comenius. Both at first glance seem old fashioned but upon further examination turn out to be ahead not only of their own time but of our time as well. We have looked in this way at Flora Tristan as an early socialist; far from being a footnote to history, good only for trivia questions, her contribution is as yet unappreciated. If socialists had followed her lead rather than that of the Marxist rebels who followed, our economy would be infinitely further advanced than it is today.
The same is true of Tristan as a feminist.
In the English speaking world modern feminists -- when they have heard of her at all -- honour Flora Tristan's status as a pioneer of equality for women. However, the actual content of her message tends to grate. They find it humiliating, for example, that she did not address other women but on the whole spoke to men, as power brokers, workers, husbands and fathers. Worse, she called not only for equality for women but also for a special "moralizing mission" for women.
Contemporary feminism did not follow this path. Why should women have any more concern for morality than men? Why, indeed. Flora Tristan would have been shocked that any woman would ask such a question. She would have young women actively trying to stamp out practices like imbibing alcohol or swearing, not exercising "equality" by drinking and cussing as much as young men do. Feminism tried this approach for a while but gradually learned to narrow the focus onto specific barriers to equality, for example, gaining votes for women, breaking the glass ceiling and enforcing wage equity laws.
Now that education is open to women and these goals have been attained, at least in wealthy countries, feminism in the public mind has receded into the background noise of a thousand other special interest lobbies. This is a serious problem, since an advocate for women is not promoting a special interest, she is defending the majority of the human race. Every bit as much as the modern socialist, feminists should be looking back at Flora Tristan and asking,
"Could it be that she had the right idea all along?"
As I write, for example, the news is full of a major study on the ill effects of various drugs and addictions. On a damage scale for individuals and society, where one hundred is the most harm and zero is no harm at all, alcohol scored a 60 while heroine, the next most noxious substance, heroine, scored only 40. Tobacco scored .... After almost two centuries Flora Tristan is still not far wrong in pointing to alcohol as a barrier to women's rights. She admonished working class men who fled their homes and spent their leisure drinking in the local tavern, then coming home drunk and embittered, and entering into a cycle of violence in the home. Today's solution is for women to join men in the bars, which only raises the place of alcohol on the damage scale. Although the link between inebriation and domestic violence is well established by social science research, activists concentrate only on the attacks on women, leaving them open to accusations of being anti-male.
The answer is for feminists to get off the ethical fence and do what Flora Tristan (and most of her contemporary feminists as well) suggested, push for abstinence, or at least temperance, from all addictive substances. Bereft of a broader moralizing mission, the rights of women sinks in the same truculence, parochialism and in-fighting that broke socialism.
However, Flora Tristan was far more radical than merely advocating the platform of the Women's Temperance League. Consider this prediction, which she made in The Worker's Union,
"By a very simple calculation it is obvious that wealth will increase indefinitely when women (half of the human race) are summoned to bring into social service their intelligence, strength, and ability. This is as easy to understand as that two is double one." (Flora Tristan, "A Passage From Flora Tristan's l'Union Ouvriere," Translated by Doris and Paul Beik, http://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hist255/at/tristan_text.html)
Tristan was quite correct in this prophesy. The amount of wealth in the world exploded right around the same time when women gained access to higher education and entered the workplace in droves. Nonetheless, women continue to own only a tiny percentage of land and capital, and almost all wealth continues to funnel into the hands of an ever smaller, mostly male, minority.
If the money is being produced by women in the first place, this raises a question that I had never thought of until I read her prediction. What about compensation? Tristan believed that women had been robbed over many centuries of their right to at least half of the world's wealth. How can humanity repay such a huge debt? In any court of law it would be found that this wealth disparity between men and women is no accident; undoubtedly, women were intentionally kept back. Surely, this is a great wrong, and they do have a right to reparations. What is more, today's economy is benefitting from a massive influx of money thanks to the full and equal participation of women in the workplace. Now is the time to start discussing this issue.
But what sort of reparations are in order? Even if, as is no doubt the case, the rise of women is only part of the reason why this wealth came into being, it would still be the right thing to do to redirect at least some of the massive profits being made back into the pockets of women, especially to those who remain in an oppressed, downtrodden condition.
It is not difficult to point at sources of revenue for a women's compensation fund. A Tobin tax on currency speculation, for example, would immediately cause an influx of trillions of dollars a year for the fund, while at the same time reducing the volatility of markets by dampening speculation. Taxes on international sales of weaponry, drugs, alcohol and even sugar would also introduce major revenue streams while benefitting humankind as a whole.
Needless to say, such a fund would have to be enforced and administered by a world government, and it would need to leave specific spending decisions to poor women themselves, on as local a level as possible.
Beyond that, the question they might well ask (considering her astonishing economic genius) is how to spend these trillions of dollars in a way that is in the spirit of Flora Tristan? I think that Flora Tristan would have had this money spent supporting women as householders. The home was and still remains the domain of women, though less exclusively now than then. Equalization payments could, therefore, go to introducing automation into domestic affairs, for instance by jump starting a domestic robot industry. This would reduce the menial labour needed for running a home and allow mothers to take on higher level tasks, such as early childhood education.
Of course, the drawback with this course of action is that it would redirect money away from unproductive dead ends of the global economy and towards the most productive root and branch of growth, the homes of the poor. Worse, high technology would stop flowing into the weapons industry and start flowing into homes. As better educators of the next generation, money will be redirected from short term to long term economic stimulus.
The probable result? The poor will get richer and more educated, creating yet more wealth, breaking all past records for prosperity. This might then lead to a realization that women deserve an even higher percentage of the world's goods. Demands for the women's reparation fund would soar higher, perhaps even to the heights that Flora Tristan contemplated: fifty percent of all capital assets. Of course, that just another relic of old fashioned feminism.
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
The Real Enemy of the People
By John Taylor; 2010 Nov 02, Ilm 18, 167 BE
Extremes and extremism divide and conquer efficiently, whereas Flora Tristan's message of moderation was too kind, too womanly and far too conciliatory. She called for a union of workers, not a violent slave revolt. She called for constructive cooperatives, not forced equalization. She believed in God, whereas Marx and Engel were atheists. Worst of all, Flora Tristan believed that the real enemy of the working class is poverty and ignorance.
She declared that in this fight all can participate. Workers, as the main victims, have the primary responsibility to advance their own lot, but Flora Tristan would have every level of society invested in their liberation. Since it was only war in a metaphorical sense, nobody died, no blood was spilled and everybody won. Victory would come of group study and by putting the manual skills of workers to work constructing what she called worker's palaces, cooperative social service enterprises in every locality. Tristan actively sought contributions for worker's palaces not only from laborers themselves but also the king, the nobility, intellectuals, artists, the church and business leaders. A large part of her manifesto, The Worker's Union, consists of letters of petition asking for moral and financial support from the various elements of society.
In light of subsequent events, outlined last time, the ruling classes would have been wise to heed her appeals and let workers share power. It would have been far cheaper to build palaces to manual labor than to soak workers until revolt soaked the streets in blood. Had she lived long enough to forge a Worker's Union and enlist the entire society in building palaces, there would have been no bitter aftertaste, no class war, no endless struggle, no chains to throw off.
Casting Off the Chain Paradigm
By contrast, the Communist Manifesto made the insulting assumption that workers are slaves, and, worse, that their only way forward is to think more slavishly than before. Workers can only liberate themselves by violent overthrow of the government, as the slaves of Haiti had done, and by forced appropriation of the means of production, as was later done in the Soviet Union. All-too-typical males, Marx and Engels stripped Tristan's plea for cooperative activism and religiously inspired socialism of its essence, an all loving God. They promoted a specious but stultifying and reductionist belief that capitalist exploiters care nothing for their fellow man. Human nature is greedy for material goods, and hates mankind, body and soul. As it went viral, it became a self fulfilling prophesy that the elite will do what nature intended, enter into an endless death struggle of oppressed proletarians pitted against their vicious oppressors, the bourgeoisie.
Flora Tristan treated workers as free men and women, capable of learning, of carrying their own weight and building up social support mechanisms on their own. Her religious convictions taught that the way to brighten a dark room is by "shining your light before men." Ignorance, iniquity and sharp class differences vanish as soon as laborers gain the knowledge and wealth to become entrepreneurs and owners themselves. As they learn to share in natural resources and run the means of production, ownership and profits will be distributed equitably, without violent struggle or confrontation.
For Flora Tristan, slaves, including wage slaves, are liberated by knowledge, especially by educating their own children. She would have had the schools housed in Worker's Palaces run by the best teachers, so that parents from the business class and the nobility would have wanted their own children enrolled there too. In this way, increased education would cast off workers' poverty and indigence in a generation or two. The lot of girls and women would have improved even more, and their influence would increase. The home is where educated homemakers tend to have the most benefit to society, as Tristan herself pointed out.
"Woman is everything in the life of the workers. She is their sole providence. If she fails them, everything fails them. Consequently it is said: `It is the woman who makes or unmakes the household,' and this is the exact truth; that is why a proverb has been made of it. But what education, what teaching, what direction, what moral or physical development does the woman of the common people receive? None." (Translated by Doris and Paul Beik, http://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hist255/at/tristan_text.html)
Recent statistical studies have confirmed Tristan's intuition in this respect. As soon as potential mothers become literate, in whatever nation, economy or culture they may live, there is a strong echo effect through several subsequent generations, improving everything from child mortality to income to social mobility. In spite of this clear benefit, Tristan's complaint that homemakers are left on their own is still largely true today.
Class Struggle As Red Herring
An unnoticed effect of radical Marxism was the elbowing out of family and religion. Traditionally faith groups and extended households took on many responsibilities for social support, such as educating children and caring for the aged. Communism and the threat of it set worker and owner at each other's throats; this distracted public attention and allowed a power vacuum to form. Opportunistic nationalist dictators, of whom Louis Napoleon of France was only the first, centralized power while ingratiating themselves by doling out what the people had before done for themselves. Slowly, the full range of social services were appropriated by a monolithic state. Even in parliamentary democracies the role of nanny shifted to large, faceless professional bureaucracies.
Worst of all, in spite of all the squabbling the rights of workers have still not caught up with Tristan's vision.
To this day, a single workplace constitution has yet to be officially adopted. Many workplaces are unionized but there is no overall union of all workers, as Tristan envisaged. Employees still rarely have a say in who leads them, or in how their company is run. They are laid off without accountability. Workers in wealthy nations compete with prison labor in authoritarian economies. While these workers are treated relatively well, on a global level the vast majority of workers are if anything worse off than in Tristan's time. Bosses exploit and bully them with impunity. In a pinch corporations can escape responsibilities simply by crossing the border, taking the jobs along with them. Wage gaps and concentration of ownership have worsened. At the same time, the basic right of humans to own and manage the planet's resources has been blocked for decades by a tiny elite with hegemony over the lion's share of the world's wealth.
If Flora Tristan's vision had caught the public imagination, everyone would be on the same side. Workers and owners would earn a fair share of the profits in whatever workplace they serve, and both would have a say in decision making. Eventually, everyone would become a worker, and for that matter everyone would become an owner and manager too. Rich and poor would be trained at a palace elementary school, and taught a skilled trade by local journey-persons from early adolescence. Young people who demonstrate a desire and ability to enter a profession could then pay for their continued education with wages from their original trade, without getting into debt. This would leave no room for rebellion or forced equalization -- basic characteristics of Marxism.
Tristan's palaces would be located in the center of the local scene. Families, religion and every community group would both contribute to and benefit from them. Financed and run by workers themselves, workers palaces would stand as prominent declarations that everybody works and all benefit from the right and obligation to be employed. Local people would be directly involved in palace service projects in a variety of roles, and at every stage of life. Each neighborhood would display a palace as its badge of honor. As cooperative, not-for-profit institutions, they would avoid bureaucracy, buffer the economy in bad times and gently spread the wealth around. The widening gulf between worker, owner and manager, would start to narrow and disappear.
In spite of all this, Flora Tristan was no economist. She believed that women are at the heart of the issue. They have been called upon to moralize the world, and it is up them to make this vast project of reconstruction possible. Let us talk about this in detail next time.