Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cosmopolitan Leadership

Cosmopolitan Leadership; Summation and Prospect

By John Taylor; 2010 Dec 30, Masa'il 19, 167 BE

clip_image001

Panorthosia addresses many questions that are being skipped over in our globalizing but still un-cosmopolitan world. We have gone over Comenius' answer to the question: how do we eliminate corruption, fanaticism and partisan thinking? Other crucial questions are: how would a cosmopolitan leadership involve everyone in universal concerns? Even assuming that we are all sober, balanced, sincere and vigorous citizens, how could we coordinate our efforts efficiently? For reasons of his own, Comenius does not detail in Panorthosia how exactly to go about this. Nor does he even attempt to outline a global plan. Instead, he concentrates on the process, on how to devise the mechanisms for reasonable action at every level of leadership.

As we saw in our discussion of corruption, the most salient feature of Comenius' answer was to separate governance and social organization into three parts, and to distribute the guidance of each semi-independent part to each level of society, starting with that of the individual. The logic is something like this: In our lives every one of us is called upon to avoid the perversion (which literally means "turning away") that gives rise to corruption by facing adequately our three responsibilities and reasons for being: the good of self, that of our environment and our progress through time and space. Once we get that right, we express harmony through three chief relationships, with nature, with our fellow man and with our God.

Earlier I suggested -- in the spirit, I hope, of Comenius -- that open planning software be designed to aid cosmopolitan citizens in maintaining such a balance. This I called steles, automated, interactive displays that would be erected in every important location, starting with one's bedroom and personal work space and proceeding to every crossroads of public intercourse.

clip_image002

Using such steles, every world citizen could work on becoming a more effective contributing member to each of the three guiding institutions, the College of Light, the Dicastery of Peace and the Consistory of Holiness. The college is an institution dedicated to education, science and philosophy, the dicastery to peace and practical politics, and the consistory to ethics, faith and universal existential well-being.

Last essay, "Planning for the Supreme Law," suggested that, once personal good is established by individuals in communion with their stele, the good of the people, that is, of all humanity, be upheld as our universal first principle. This follows a suggestion of Frances Bacon in his essay, "Of Judicature,"

"Judges ought, above all, to remember the conclusion of the Roman Twelve Tables, `Salus populi suprema lex.'"

The welfare of the world's people, then, would become the supreme law not as defined by an unseen, faceless bureaucracy (the welfare state) but as worked out by every healthy world citizen.

In this way we would form a truly cosmopolitan government, not a mere monolith, a supreme autocracy that arbitrarily dominating earth and all its dwellers. Cosmopolitan leadership is not political in the narrow sense that we understand politics today. Instead, its ruling principle is just that, principle, not dictatorial authority. Its division of powers derives from our essential purpose and our three basic relationships, relation with self, with others and with one's God.

clip_image003

Each separate institution acts as a tripod, each leg independent of yet supporting the other two.

Although the members of the continental and world government may at first be appointed, as they become democratically elected these three parliaments will comprise the first institution in history with a comprehensive mandate to oversee the progress of all humans by all humans, comprehensively, everywhere on the planet.

Next time I will look at the Cyclical Decade Plan, a plan that Comenius only hints at but which I think could become the tune to which cosmopolitans sing the song of unification.

R. P. Feynman and the difference between knowing the name of something a...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dr. Gabor Maté on ADHD, Bullying and the Destruction of American Childhood

A spike in diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other mental disorders has fueled an unprecedented reliance on pharmaceutical medications to treat children, with long-term effects that remain unknown. We speak with Canadian physician and bestselling author, Dr. Gabor Maté. He argues that these responses are treating surface symptoms as causes while ignoring deeper roots. Dr. Maté says children are in fact reacting to the broader collapse of the nurturing conditions needed for their healthy development.

 






Dr. Gabor Maté on ADHD, Bullying and the Destruction of American Childhood

Planning for the Supreme Law

The Precedent of U.N. Planning Years

"Salus populi suprema lex." (Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.)

clip_image001

The United Nations in the fifty-plus years of its existence has so far succeeded in staving off the ultimate disaster, a nuclear war among states. By this criterion alone, it justifies every penny spent on its upkeep. Although the UNO comprises one of the larger bureaucracies in the world, its resources pale in comparison with its main sponsor, the United States. As financial historian Niall Ferguson points out, the UN's,

"resources are so much smaller than those of the U.S. government that its functions can never be more than complementary to American power. To be precise, the annual budget of the United Nations is equivalent to around 0.07 percent of the U.S. federal budget, 0.4 percent of the U.S. defense budget and 17.6 percent of the U.S. international development and humanitarian assistance budget. In the words of the former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright, who from 1993 to 1996 was the American permanent representative to the UN, the annual budget of the United Nations is `roughly what the Pentagon spends every thirty-two hours.'" (Niall Ferguson, Colossus, The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, Penguin, 2004, pp. 134-135)

In spite of the flimsy resources at its command, the United Nations can boast of at least one further accomplishment, its planning years and decades. These plans are devised after painstaking consensus building among concerned parties. On the whole, they constitute the second great success story coming out of the international institution in the first half-century of its existence.

These years and decades publicize important but otherwise overlooked global needs and issues. They focus the attention of policy makers on positive measures to solve the problems, both independently and through cooperative action on a regional basis. Examples of recent planning years and decades include the International Year for Freshwater (2003) and the Literacy Decade (2003-2012). Such broad themes orient governments and NGO's around specific goals. The publicity surrounding the event encourages them to vie with one another in fulfilling their promises.

clip_image002

Unfortunately the press largely ignores these plans, as it does the existence of United Nations itself. Whereas the slightest dip in the stock market or the latest sports scores, or the tiniest variations in the weather are given meticulous attention by broadcasters, the plans of the United Nation make little impression on the popular mind.

Right now, press outlets themselves are large media corporations. They in turn depend upon profits coming from advertisements paid for by other corporations. They are thus doubly shackled. As a result, it is an open secret that these corporate media conglomerates instruct publishers, and editors instruct journalists, to ignore the plans of the United Nations. Such deference to the interests of owners is paid, in spite of the tremendous potential benefit that we all would derive from such publicity. I for one would rather hear on the radio what the international plan is for this year, and how my nation is doing in fulfilling its promises in this regard, than, say, an hourly update in hundredths of a cent on the fortunes of the American dollar.

These, however, are not the only reasons why the U.N. years and decades do not inspire the attention, much less the hope that they could. The planning years restrict themselves to specialized measures by national governments and NGO's. They are of interest, by and large, only to specialists and policy makers at high levels. They rarely tie in to the everyday concerns of the average citizen. In relation to one another, the plans are narrow, disconnected and incoherent. The accomplishments of one year do not lead naturally to the next. One decade is wholly unrelated to all other decades.

Perhaps most important, the plans are not written into a world constitution, and as a result they are lacking in moral and legal authority.

The reform proposals that John Amos Comenius puts forward in Panorthosia would change the entire equation of global planning by placing universal concerns into the hands and minds of all.

A Comenian world order would never permit politics and the press to be mischievously manipulated by unseen interests, as they are now. The plan of humanity must be open and transparent at every stage, from theory to implementation. The public therefore must own every organ of publicity, since through this means arises an intelligent consensus of opinion, and out of that all effective action proceeds.

"Let us restore all things to all men through reforms which are universal to make for universal justice, easy to make for simplicity, and agreeable to make for easy acceptance." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 10, para 48, p. 171)

Press outlets should be trusts, independent of advertising, run by agencies sanctioned and heavily influenced by Comenius' three branches of government, respectively the college (science and education), the dicastery (peace and politics) and the consistory (faith and ethics). Although the members of the press need to be free and independent in one sense, they cannot be free in the sense of being divorced from the supreme law, which is Salus Popoli, the benefit of humanity.

clip_image003

The first step in world planning, Comenius proposed, should be before all else to enlist everyone's attention to the question at issue. The basis of this is encapsulated in the Latin proverb at the head of this essay, what the Romans considered to be the supreme priority, the good of the people. And surely the first and best defenders of this supreme goal must be the people themselves. Therefore, the average person must cast aside all distractions and give full attention to what benefits all.

Fostering this is the first duty of the press, and indeed the entire publishing industry, including Internet publications. They must do all they can to aid the public in this noble but difficult challenge. As Comenius wrote,

"It is true that there are very many people whom you would not desire to pay extraordinary attention to things, but they should at least have the necessary knowledge. `For they only know how to attend to things that are amusing, vain, and unimportant, but in serious matters they are apathetic. If an actor makes the least movement out of step,' says Cicero, `or if he speaks a line one syllable too short or too long, he is hissed and booed off the stage.' (Cicero, Paradoxa, 111, 2, 26) You see how critical the common people are towards the subtleties of even the most trivial things! And the same attention is paid to rhythmic dance-movement accompanied by music as to spicy foodstuff and the sensual, earthly, and transitory things. But confront a man with serious, intellectual, and religious matters and you will soon see that he is apathetic. Therefore human effort has its shortcomings, mostly where we can least afford them." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 9, para 4, pp. 144-145)

The Story of Electronics (2010)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Raccoon and the Jevons Paradox

Moving Like Raccoon

(revision of an early chapter of Cosmopolis Earth)

By John Taylor; 2010 Dec 20, Masa'il 10, 167 BE

When my children were young, they had a favourite toy which they called their "raccoon" -- we got it second-hand but I later found out that this toy is marketed as a "Weazel Ball". Raccoon consisted of a yellow plastic ball with a fluffy, brown and white "tail" connected to it. When placed on a smooth surface and they flipped its switch, it vibrated furiously, rolling forward, sideways, every which way. In the midst of its erratic spurting and wobbling, there was no way to guess which direction it would go next, much to the consternation of Malley, our cat, and the delight of the children.

Thus the gyres and gimbals of Raccoon amused the childish mind while exasperating the ordered feline imagination; as Hamlet put it, Raccoon made the "unskilful laugh but the judicious grieve." I was pestered to explain how Raccoon got that strange, stutter step, so when its batteries ran down we opened the yellow sphere to find the secret. The erratic stutter-step came from a clever design where an off-center electric motor did nothing but vibrate, while opposite it were its batteries, which acted as a counterweight, spinning its center of gravity alternatively into balance and out of balance.

Raccoon's intentionally crazy mechanism is an apt metaphor for the incomplete globalism that puts the times out of joint. Quicker transportation encourages free trade across borders, making the economy more global. But hearts and minds stay glued to one location, one nation surrounded by impermeable borders, firmly set in past ways. At the same time, the Internet spins hearts and minds into instantaneous motion through cyberspace.

Like Raccoon, we spin around our own batteries, the burning of hydrocarbons, instead of the true center, our humanity. The economy accomplishes miracles of productivity and green food revolutions one second, and the next turns around to destroy the environment and set the positive feedback mechanisms of global warming in motion. The ordered mind expects thought and actions to synchronize and roll the world straight forward. But some invisible misalignment within forces a derangement.

Our sources of energy align with a vibrator, not the true center of gravity. Fanatics and partisans proliferate, earnestly upholding causes which, one way or another, contradict one another. Our global center spins, bursts forward, halts and turns in a completely different direction. Instead of world order, everything resolves into flittering Brownian motion.

If education does not produce balanced citizens, if it trains only narrow-minded specialists who are sophisticated technically but clueless in ethics, philosophy and spirituality, is it surprising that lives are unbalanced and politics disruptive? Institutions and interests will always work against one another in a crazy spin. It will always be impossible to say in what direction events will roll.

Even if education were turning out well-rounded citizens by the billion, there would still be an unavoidable need for moral courage.

This is demonstrated in a phenomenon known as the Jevons paradox. Instead of improving the overall situation, an increase in efficiency makes it worse. Automobiles that run on cheap fuel, that do not require much maintenance and that are safe and comfortable to ride in will only encourage drivers to drive them more, not less. In a seminal 1865 book, "The Coal Question," William Stanley Jevons asserted that it is a "confusion of ideas" to think that economical use of fuel will result in less consumption. Almost a hundred and fifty years of experience have proven Jevons correct in his paradoxical prophesy. He concluded that Britain had a choice between "brief greatness and longer continued mediocrity" in its use of energy.

A recent article by David Owen points out that by "mediocrity" Jevons meant what we now call "sustainability." Here (The Efficiency Dilemma, by David Owen, The New Yorker, December 20 & 27, 2010, p. 78) he adds that energy policymakers imagine that they are getting a free lunch by pushing fuel efficiency. They find that it is not contentious to suggest greater efficiency rather than hard choices, which demand sacrifice, responsible behavior and restraint. They avoid discussing higher taxes, legal protections for the environment and the inevitable switch to renewables. Instead they take the easier course, which Jevons proved is only oiling the wheels on a handcart to hell. The only way for decision makers to delve deeper into the mechanism and come up with a design that will set us on a smoother equilibrium. Such a design will include energy, but in order to avoid the Jevons paradox it will have to include everything in the scope of humankind.

On Phlegm and Our Nightly Study Session

Exchange with Thomas

This happened last night. I was in the middle of some routine maintenance task -- we have four people in the upper level of this house, with five computers, one television and a total of eight screens here in this living room. In spite of that there is always a line up with severe competition for one of these screens. I am almost always fixing something that has gone wrong. Last night, for example, as often happens, I was awakened in the wee hours by my father's nocturnal activities in the kitchen; when he had gone, I came out of the bedroom and noticed that all of them had been left on. I noticed that it took me over an hour to finish up what was on each of the computers and to shut them all down. Anyway, I was pretty absorbed in what I was doing when eleven-year-old Tomaso interrupted, asking:

"If somebody were to give you a million dollars for it, would you take a bath in phlegm?"

"Yes, yes, I probably would."

"I would do it too, but only if it were my own phlegm. Not somebody else's."

I found his observation very funny and could hardly stop laughing. He asked, "Why are you laughing?" I could not explain at the time, but I suppose it was because I have spent some fifty-five years on this planet and the possibility of taking a bath in phlegm had never crossed my mind, much less the question as to whose phlegm I would be bathing in. Such are the rewards of living with a little guy like him.

Old Children's Class Report

A bit over a year ago I wrote the following mini-report on our occasional just-before-bedtime children's study class.

2 December, 2009

Our daily children's class has become nothing more than reading from Brilliant Star Magazine. I pick an article, Silvie picks one for herself, and Tommy picks one, and we read them together.

Today, for some reason they got the urge to draw while I read, so I picked all three articles this time. One of them was about the life of Baha'u'llah. I told them a few stories about His life, including the one about Mirza Yahya when the holy family were in Bagdad and Baha'u'llah had gone off for two years to the Sulaymaniyyih mountains. It is in God Passes By, as I recall, and tells of how Mirza Yahya would scoff the shoes from the pilgrims inside the shrine of Imam Hussain, and then try to fence them.

Tommy was so amused by this outrage that he drew a cartoon of Mr. Y setting up a kiosk selling the stolen shoes back to barefoot pilgrims coming out of the shrine.

For some reason, (perhaps my defective teaching) the kids find the Baha'i Judas more a figure of fun, rather than a betrayer like the Christian Judas...

::

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Epidemiology of Corruption

Plato, Power and Corruption

clip_image001

Proportion Prevents Corruption

Absolute or disproportionate power leads inevitably to corruption. As Lord Acton famously put it, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." In this short sentence Acton sums up succinctly the thesis of Plato's much maligned final masterpiece, the Laws. In earlier works, Plato had held that the virtue of individuals is writ large in the state. In the Laws, he pictures law as a sort of writing tool to improve the state by bettering its citizenry, and vice versa. What stands in the way of this, Plato holds, is "absolute and irresponsible power," which always leads to corruption. Corruption destroys the body politic by stripping leaders of their principles, and citizens of their virtue,

"... if he (a leader) be possessed of absolute and irresponsible power, he will never remain firm in his principles or persist in regarding the public good as primary in the state, and the private good as secondary. Human nature will be always drawing him into avarice and selfishness, avoiding pain and pursuing Pleasure without any reason, and will bring these to the front, obscuring the juster and better; and so working darkness in his soul will at last fill with evils both him and the whole city." (Plato, Laws, Book 9)

Power corrupts not because it is bad in itself but because in concentrated form it distorts vision, eradicates the sense of balance and upsets the natural order of things. Power, like a powerful drug, is a good only when meted out in carefully prescribed doses. Small and diffuse measures of power allow the metabolism of imperfect humans to bear under without being poisoned. He writes,

clip_image002

"If we disregard due proportion by giving anything what is too much for it, too much canvass to a boat, too much nutriment to a body, too much authority to a soul, the consequence is always shipwreck; rankness runs in the one case to disease, in the other to presumption, and its issue is crime." (Plato, Laws, 691c, Collected Writings, p. 1286)

Here he compares political corruption to inappropriate technology and to overeating. With startling prescience this predicts what is happening right now.

A sailing ship with too large a sail will be manhandled by the slightest contrary breeze, and a stronger wind will upend it. Similarly, the energy that present-day technology uses is derived from the combustion of hydrocarbons, a practice that experts and leaders have known since the 1980's releases greenhouse gasses that cause global warming. Worse, the knowledge of how dangerous this is seems only to have stiffened opposition to change, and worsened our dependency. Our addiction to burning shows that technology could not be further from Plato's "due proportion."

As for "too much nutriment to the body," obesity is the emblematic illness of the past half century. It spread so quickly that in most nations, poor and wealthy, a large majority are now clinically overweight. When Plato says that "rankness runs ... to disease" in the body, he may have been referring to the now familiar tendency for the obese to succumb to a disease that was not named "cancer" until modern times. In any case, the intent of Plato's metaphor is clear.

"Rankness," translated into political language, is "partisanship," "rebellion," "war" and "treason." Unrestrained power in any one place metastasizes like a tumor, from one location to the entire organism. The malignancy grows without restraint, infiltrating and allocating precious bodily resources to resistless expansion. What it cannot grow into it poisons. In the same way, elites take more than their fair share of power and wealth, and thus spread envy and wrongdoing among have-nots.

The third disproportion that causes the ship of state to founder is what Plato calls "giving too much authority to the soul." The terminology of Abrahamic religions describes this as an idol, icon or image, anything that arrogates to itself the total adoration and absolute sovereignty that are the exclusive domains of God.

clip_image003

Indirect, Participatory Democracy

What would avoid concentration of power? How is this even possible? The answer that Plato puts forward in the Laws is an improved version of Athenian democracy that might be termed indirect, participatory democracy.

Many, basing their judgment solely on the Republic and earlier dialogues, imagine that Plato, himself a member of an aristocratic family, was against democracy. It is true that he held a grudge for many years against the democratic regime that executed his beloved teacher, Socrates. However, a careful reading of the Laws shows that Plato would have retained many elements of his native city's democratic experiment in his ideal lawmaking process.

Lawmakers, judges and even school trustees, he held, should be chosen by a combination of rotation by lot and indirect election. By election, he meant a nomination-free vote that chooses the hundred or so whose names that appear most often on the city's ballots. These elected citizens in turn serve in a ruling counsel on a rotating basis; they also actively serve themselves, rotating on a weekly or monthly basis. In order to reduce bribery, the citizen who serves at any particular time is determined at random, by drawing lots.

This combination of rotation and indirect elections would involve the entire population in maintaining justice.

Universal participation in the process would spread power into as many hands as possible. Those who do have power would not keep it long, nor could they predict when they will have it in future. They would, however, benefit from experience, both practical (as judges, say) and in a management capacity (as lawmakers and members of the ruling counsel).

The first job of lawmakers, then, is to immunize the population from corruption, since once it catches hold it becomes almost impossible to eradicate. Plato's way of preventing power from concentrating reminds me of a modern technique of epidemiologists.

clip_image004

Only about a hundred years have we known that diseases like malaria are caused by mosquito bites. Since then we have learned that an effective way of reducing the incidence of mosquito-born epidemics is to see to it that water cannot collect after a rain. By eliminating standing water wherever it is found, mosquito larvae cannot breed, and the disease vector stops dead.

In the same way, a better lawmaking process would edify the citizenry by encouraging them to participate directly in the lawmaking process. At the same time, the dangerous, addictive sort of power broker -- which Plato called drones -- would not have enough access to power to be able to breed and spread corruption.

We shall discuss Plato's suggested structure of direct democracy in greater detail in the third volume of Cosmopolitan Earth.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Corruption Series, Part One

Thoughts about Corruption

By John Taylor; 2010 Dec 10, Qawl 18, 167 BE

First of a Series of Essays on Corruption

We had our annual meeting celebrating Human Rights Day this Wednesday, featuring this time Mrs. Mehri Muvaddat, from Toronto, who spoke of her suffering under the sadistic hands of the Mullocracy. During the early years of the Iranian Revolution she had the honour of being elected to a Local Spiritual Assembly, which meant a spell of several months in Evin Prison. As a lawyer, she had the contacts to get herself bailed out, but she did not succeed in saving her husband, a brilliant refrigeration engineer, who was shot.

Since I read a lot of science, I have been stumbling over certain nonsense written by members of my former "religion," atheism. As a result, I could not resist asking one of their questions, "What kind of a God would allow this kind of thing to happen? Was not your faith tested when they all but destroyed your family?" She admitted that it was a test and followed up with a pretty good answer, citing Abdu'l-Baha's teaching that we are better off when religions do harm, but that much good can come of it when it is done right. Then I asked, "Why do you think they are doing this to minority faiths?" Her answer was more than adequate, eloquent even. It can be summed up in one word: corruption. And one more word, lust for power. Okay, three words.

Anyway, I have been going through and editing what I have already written for my book. I am snagged right now on the chapter about just that, corruption. In search of background and inspiration, I have been going over what I have collected on that topic, which I call "p22cor," or political corruption.

To my surprise, one thing I noticed is that I evidently have only written a couple of essays directly on corruption over the years. So maybe what I will do over the next week or so is to write a few rough essays about corruption, using some of the relatively rich store of material I have saved up here. Unlike my normal writing for this book, I will be free to use Baha'i material, which, believe me, makes it a lot easier for me.

clip_image001

I have glanced over some of what the internet has to offer about corruption. Transparency International, an NGO from Germany that monitors corruption in governments around the world, offers a colour-coded map of the levels of corruption in nations around the planet. You can look at it at:

http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2010/results

The first thing I noticed was that Canada, along with Australia and a couple of other countries, was the squeaky cleanest country in the world. I felt pride mixed with some confusion at that news. It is true that Canada follows the Master's advice in Secret of Divine Civilization not to underpay one's bureaucrats. We treat them well, and their unions, CUPE and others, are among the most powerful interest groups in Canada. They make sure that employees of the government are well treated. To skimp on pay for officials, especially police officers, is a golden invitation to corruption.

Low pay is one invitation to corruption, but not the only one.

Last night at our Philosopher's Cafe at the Wainfleet Library, we had a broad ranging conversation ostensibly about "Advice." One of our regulars, Stan, arrived late and was bewildered to find that from the innocuous conversation starter of "advice," we had wandered way over to the excesses by the Toronto Police Services at the recent G20 summit in Toronto -- at the price of over a billion dollars taxpayers got the largest mass arrest and worst violation of human rights in Canadian history. In the early 1970's Canadians were traumatized by Trudeau's invocation of the War Measures Act in response to terrorists in Quebec. But at least Trudeau had taken the question to Parliament. This travesty at the Toronto G20 summit was done in secret. Even most Ontario politicians did not know that an obscure law had been invoked until jails and holding cells were packed with crowds of innocent victims. Somehow, the secretive cabals in power today have managed to make Trudeau at his darkest hour look good! By bypassing due process, modern power brokers transgress worse than Trudeau did almost no protest and trauma on the part of the public. Surely this is corruption to a high degree.

clip_image002

Amusingly but also tragically, one of these incarcerated suspects happened to be named "Adam Nobody." Seriously. This Nobody guy was being roughed up by three cops, when they asked him his name, as is required by law before an arrest takes place. Thinking that by giving the name "Nobody" he was flouting their authority they beat the living daylights out of him. Since the TPS thugs-in-uniform had had the foresight to cover their name tags, these three cops thought they would get away with this assault. But thanks to the ubiquitous cell phone camera, they were identified and are now up for the wrist-slapping that unlucky cops who are caught red handed sometimes receive. Similarly, the all seeing eye of Little Brother noticed that some of the "protesters" who were breaking windows and lighting police cars on fire were wearing police issue boots. Hmm.

What are the causes and solutions to this sort of corruption? First of all, there has to be financial oversight and transparency all the way down the line. There is no way that a billion dollars should be spent like that behind closed doors, without consultation with the public and their representatives. Every proposal for a large expenditure must be brought to a broad cross section of society and decided openly and correctly. And here’s another idea: make secrecy illegal. We should have done that as soon as the song came out: “Evil grows in the dark… under rocks and trees…” And behind closed doors.

clip_image003

One of our Philosopher's Cafe members expressed dismay that Canadian police officers are going to Afghanistan and Haiti to teach proper police procedure when they can perpetrate what was done in Toronto during that summit -- that is, to requisition two old police cars, strip them of equipment, and then offer them as "bait" to protesters, who started them burning. These old cars were used as pawns in a game of spin doctoring. The cops stood by as they burned for days, causing a media frenzy that justified in the mind of the public the extraordinary expenditures that had been made. If our leaders had any sense or backbone, heads should be rolling at the Toronto Police Services Board for setting up a ploy like that.

A big cause of this mentality is the closed ranks of the police. Every organization, when it is not diverse in makeup and their sources of information are too narrow, sinks into groupthink and corrupt practices. Especially cops. Petty mindedness is surely a major cause of corruption.

clip_image004

One good sign that this is being addressed that I have noticed is that, in Hamilton at least, police officers are volunteering for the new "living book" program at the Hamilton Public Library. A living book is when a member of the public can book a half hour interview with a person of their choice, say an astronaut, carpenter or firefighter, and ask them whatever they want. This sort of contact is just what the average police officer needs, since their job puts them in contact mostly with a narrow cross section of society, literally the lunatic fringe, which creates stereotypes and habitual reactions that are parlous at best.

Next time, some guidance from scripture, Baha'i and earlier, and wise thinkers about the causes and solutions of corruption.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

A Portrait of Me, By My Daughter

clip_image001

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Philosopher’s Café: Advice

This month’s topic of discussion:
“Advice”

Thursday, December 9
6:30 p.m. in the Library’s meeting room

Wainfleet Township Public Library

19M9 Park Street, P.O. Box 118
Wainfleet, ON L0S 1V0
905-899-1277 www.wainfleetlibrary.ca

Philosopher’sCafé• Everyone welcome. Drop in for a lively
discussion.


• 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.

Justice Leaks Out

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.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Annual Human Rights Talk in Dunnville

Baha’i Principles Series

clip_image001

Human Rights Day

Our speaker survived cruel persecution by Iranian authorities, who are against followers of the teachings of Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i Faith. She was a lawyer in Iran and a member of the Local Spiritual Assembly in a large Baha’i community. For this she was sentenced to solitary confinement in the notorious Evin Prison.

Featured Speaker: Mrs. Mehri Mavaddat

clip_image002

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

8 PM

Garfield Disher Room,

Dunnville Branch,

Haldimand Public Library

clip_image003

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Portrait of Grampa: 4 X 10 to the 3rd

A Note for my Book, on the Oneness of Humanity

Since the mid-1990's tremendous advances in genetics have filled in many crucial details about when and where modern humans came into being. So new are the facts about the human story that no adult living today can grasp its full implications. We should have ingested it with our mother's milk, heard it told and retold in early childhood. We should, throughout our schooling, have thought long and hard about the implications, but we could not do so because the story was so sadly incomplete.

clip_image001

To make an extremely long story short, genetic markers in the male "Y" chromosome indicate with a high degree of certainty that the branches of the human family split off and became isolated from one another far more recently than the most wide-eyed idealist could have imagined, as late as sixty thousand years ago. Archeologically and genetically, this is a mere blink of an eye, a mere two thousand generations. This makes every one of us very closely related to one another.

That is the good news. To express the same thing in another way, though, this shows that the human race at that time came within a hair's breadth of extinction. A major ice age was at its height. Global cooling had frozen much of the world's oceans. As the polar ice caps advanced southwards, the world's shorelines receded many kilometers backwards. With less precipitation, equatorial Africa, although still fairly warm, suffered severe draught, worse than anything we have seen in recent record.

This turned into a great extinction event that killed off not only most of Homo Sapiens but also our many rivals, varied hominids that for millions of years had evolved along with us, including the stronger, larger Neanderthals. All were wiped out in this cataclysm. Only as few as a single village of Homo Sapiens, about sixty individuals, remained alive somewhere in southern Africa. This happy few survived, and gradually repopulated the planet.

Although most traces of this story were long ago expunged from the archeological and anthropological record, the power of genetic tracing has painted a very clear picture of what must have taken place. We are fortunate that after so many ages have passed, the direct descendants of these original survivors remain, their language, culture and technology still intact. They are known as the Khoisan Bushmen of South Africa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khoisan ); they still live in the Kalahari desert, under the same dry conditions that were the undoing of similar hominids surrounding them so many ages ago. We know that, unlike their neighbors, who used wooden arrows, the Khoisan learned to hew arrows out of bone. Although small and delicate, these arrows are deadly to the largest animal because the Khoisan smear them with a poison that they find in local plants.

clip_image002

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/32/San_tribesman.jpg/200px-San_tribesman.jpg

Now that we know who these people really are, one gazes into their faces and discerns traces of every branch of the human tree as we know it today. A Khoisan face has it all. It has the regular features of the first wave of emigrants, the Aboriginals who travelled east and eventually inhabited Australia. It has light brown skin, which hints at the lighter skin of those who later emigrated north in a second wave, the antecedents of the Asian and Caucasoid peoples. These emigrants travelled across Africa, and into central Asia. Here, a single family living north of present-day Afghanistan, with members still alive today, were the ancestors of peoples who spread north, then branched into Europe, and south into China, and through the Bering Strait to the Americas.

::