Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Lying Cheerleader

The Lying Cheerleader; or, Why I Would Not Be An Atheist Even If I
Were An Atheist

By John Taylor; 30 November, 2005

Dear friends, let us speak today of truth telling and lies, of good
and evil, and how one can devolve into the other, truth into
deception, and deception into what Plato called "true lies." In Some
Answered Questions, an authoritative text vetted and approved by the
Master Himself, there appears a passage that has always puzzled and
stimulated me. Concluding an explanation of His concept of the
non-existence of evil, he mentions an exception to the normal rule
that one should always tell the truth. Let us consider carefully --
both in its entirety and in part -- the exact words that the Master
uses in explaining this startling exception that proves the rule:

"Then it is evident that in creation and nature evil does not exist at
all; but when the natural qualities of man are used in an unlawful
way, they are blameworthy. So if a rich and generous person gives a
sum of money to a poor man for his own necessities, and if the poor
man spends that sum of money on unlawful things, that will be
blameworthy. It is the same with all the natural qualities of man,
which constitute the capital of life; if they be used and displayed in
an unlawful way, they become blameworthy. Therefore, it is clear that
creation is purely good. Consider that the worst of qualities and most
odious of attributes, which is the foundation of all evil, is lying.
No worse or more blameworthy quality than this can be imagined to
exist; it is the destroyer of all human perfections and the cause of
innumerable vices. There is no worse characteristic than this; it is
the foundation of all evils. Notwithstanding all this, if a doctor
consoles a sick man by saying, "Thank God you are better, and there is
hope of your recovery," though these words are contrary to the truth,
yet they may become the consolation of the patient and the turning
point of the illness. This is not blameworthy." (SAQ, 215-216)

Interesting and crucial here is His picture of human and divine virtue
as funds, the "natural qualities of man, which constitute the capital
of life." Virtues, then, are one's life's savings; they fund or
finance acts and words. Virtue is like capitalism, it funds and
enables whatever one is after in life, for better or for worse. Money,
or virtue, can pay for crime, or it can promote beneficial ends. So,
the first example He adduces is a good rich man who donates money to a
poor but evil person, who turns around and misspends the money for
unspecified immoral ends. A God-given good turned to evil purposes;
evil has no positive existence, it is just goods and bounties misspent
and abused. Clear enough.

The Master's second example is the reverse, a good man, a doctor with
the good of others in mind, who resorts to telling a lie to his
patient. Under normal circumstances, He avers, a lie is the worst of
all immoral acts. But the doctor does it, not for his own benefit but
for that of the patient. "You are all better, guy, rest assured," he
says to the sicky, though in his heart and mind he well knows that by
all indications he is dead meat. The Master says emphatically that
this kind of lying is "not blameworthy." So, even though it
contradicts the truth, it does not qualify as lying.

But what puzzles me is this: What absolves the doctor of lying, his
good intentions? Or maybe the fact that the lie, properly told, can
and often does in medicine act as a self-fulfilling prophesy? (That
is, the placebo effect, a sugar pill that the doctor mendaciously says
is a real cure) Or maybe both? It is clear that if you accept only the
former answer, that good intentions justify telling a lie (a so-called
"white lie"), a whole Pandora's Box of moral ambiguities and
compromises is opened up. Just about any lie can be justified with,
"Oh, I meant well." I think it is pretty clear that He could not have
meant that, especially since in the following Tablet He makes it very
clear that He believed that being truthful is an essential for the
good physician:

"For the physician the first qualifications are: Good intentions,
trustworthiness, tenderness, sympathy for the sick, truthfulness,
integrity, and the fear of the Lord." (Tablets, v2, p. 419-420)

So, when that doctor bursts joyfully into the room declaring,

"You are cured, you hang in there, you are going to make it! You go for it..."

He cannot then walk out of the room and as soon as the door shuts
continue his sentence saying,

"…you hopeless loser, if I don't have you in the morgue and under my
scalpel on the autopsy table tomorrow afternoon I am going to shred my
med school certificate because then everything I learned there would
be utterly useless."

No, the guy would have to be sincere in his lying, he would have to
show not one but all of those virtues the Master mentions above as
essential to a good doctor, good intentions, trustworthiness, etc. He
has to mean it to the bottom of his heart and still lie through his
teeth all day long, as long as there is a chance that it might effect
a cure. And why not? There is lying, and then there is lying; there is
truth telling, and then there is truth telling. A lie that leads to
life is "truer" than a truthful assertion that kills you.

Think of it. Why have a human being in the loop in the first place? It
would be cheaper and in many ways better just to have a bunch of dials
and charts displayed before the patient telling exactly what is going
on in his or her body. Okay, the monitor also might include a Google
feed to answer any questions about what the data all means. The
displays and search engine would tell the patient everything he or she
needs to know. Then you would get the same "truth" that you hear from
the weather report every morning,

"You have a thirty percent chance of being rained on tomorrow morning."

Thus the live feed direct from your body, backed by medical databases,
might tell you in plain English:

"There is a ninety percent chance that a clot will reach your brain
tomorrow morning and turn it into a mushy mess that your doctor will
find very interesting to examine on the autopsy table tomorrow

But if you know "for sure" that the chances are 90 percent that
knowledge alone might up your percentages of dying to, I dunno, maybe
99 percent. But what does a percentage mean, anyway? It means that we
do not know. Nobody knows for sure. Maybe if a cheerleader instead of
a doctor came in dressed as a doctor and did a big song and dance
about how great things are, about how those charts and Google do not
know a danged thing and that you should consider yourself on the road
to recovery, maybe that would raise your chances of non-survival to
eighty or seventy percent. And hey, psychological studies have found
that the way you present data means a great deal to people. All the
cheerleader need do is turn the numbers around and say the same thing,
but that your chances of living have gone from ten percent to thirty
percent. That is a three times increase! And we did it just by
switching the numbers around. Introducing a non-medically skilled liar
into the loop might just be worth it. Would this cheerleading imposter
justify her pay by doing that song and dance? I should think so. Then,
just imagine what a skilled, respected physician could do to your
chances of survival, especially if she had the power to take away the
charts and the Google feed if she deemed it advisable?

Why all this talk of cheerleading liars? Well, I read yesterday on the
Net that pharmaceutical companies are actually targeting cheerleaders
as the best possible recruits for selling their drugs. The exaggerated
motions, the extreme, affected enthusiasm that these zero percent body
fat, prancing minions display before a huge crowd is perfect
qualification for promoting Big Pharma's latest concoction. That being
so, in view of the latest findings, maybe medical schools would be
well advised to elbow into that recruitment feeding frenzy for the
cheerleading squad. Consider this headline, to be found at

"A new spin on the placebo effect; Expectations can trigger physical
healing, scientists find."

What researchers are finding -- now that improved instrumentation
allows them to actually monitor the brain as it turns its cogs -- is
that doctors should be cheerleaders for every drug they prescribe. If
the physician does not act as if this prescription is the greatest
thing since sliced bread as they write it out, the drug has no effect.
They do just as much good talking about the percentages of rain today
as filling in a prescription pad. That is, nill. Researchers look
inside the patient's brain and see the drug not working. But if the
doctor does sell the patient on the drug, the researchers can look
into their brain and watch as it takes its intended effect.
Astonishingly, in many cases they observe that the placebo has more
effect, that it distributes more "drugs" (generated by the body
itself) in greater quantities to the body than the "real" pill, an
artificial application of outside drugs, does.

Other specific findings: as soon as an Alzheimer's patient's mental
processes decline to the point where they cannot remember to expect
that painkillers will relieve pain, the drug immediately stops
relieving pain. Same physical treatment, different expectation.
Parkinson's patients who are lied to and told that there is an implant
in their brain to stop the seizures, actually respond better than
those who actually have that implant stuck in under their skull.

Given all that, the Master Himself was not above -- if I may be
forgiven for saying so – playing the true-lying cheerleader. Consider
what He said in Maiden Speech His maiden public speech in London,

"In the Hidden Words Baha'u'llah says, `Justice is to be loved above
all.' Praise be to God, in this country the standard of justice has
been raised; a great effort is being made to give all souls an equal
and a true place. This is the desire of all noble natures; this is
today the teaching for the East and for the West; therefore the East
and the West will understand each other and reverence each other, and
embrace like long-parted lovers who have found each other."

What? If you want to speak the strict and naked truth, England was
sunk in class tensions and would be for fifty years, after which it
would switch over to racial tension, as America was already number one
in the world at already. It was running a huge empire preaching free
trade among European powers but practicing feudal mercantilism in
relation to its colonies. That is justice? The West generally was a
powder keg of bigotry about to explode into two bloody world wars,
wars that the Master himself foresaw better than anybody, predicting a
"100 percent chance of war in the next couple of years." But there is
no hint of that in His public talks. Not a shadow of a hint. Why not?

Because the Master was not there to speak the strict and naked truth,
He was sent of God to speak of our chances for life, to speak words
that promote our cure. Curing is not filling in a prescription pad, it
is acting, it is pretending, it is conjuring up the reaction that
leads to healing. It is cheerleading. Consider the last words of this
maiden speech, how he does not mention the word "Baha'i" (he rarely
does in public talks), but He puts front and center the word "God,"
the real Most Great Cure-all.

"There is one God; mankind is one; the foundations of religion are
one. Let us worship Him, and give praise for all His great Prophets
and Messengers who have manifested His brightness and glory. The
blessing of the Eternal One be with you in all its richness, that each
soul according to his measure may take freely of Him. Amen."

This is why I say, even if I were an atheist, I would not be an
atheist. God is the cure, praying to, cheerleading His Order, that
will lead us out of the darkness of unbelief and animalistic
tendencies. Take freely of this prescription, my friends, and do not
worry about whether it will work physically, because the real work is
done of belief, of faith, anyway. Sis, boom, bah.

John Taylor

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Wisdom of Crowds

The Wisdom of Crowds

By John Taylor; 29 November, 2005

Back on the first of June, 2004, in an essay entitled, "Covenant and
Search in an Age of Responsibility" I briefly summarized a review of a
book by James Surowiecki called "The Wisdom of Crowds." Working
through my present book-in-progress, whose present working title is,
"Mound Architecture," I kept returning in my mind to Surowiecki's
book. I felt deep down that I could not go any further in this
exploration without coming to grips with "Wisdom of Crowds." I went to
the library and they did not have it, it is too new. So in a move
almost without precedent in my El Cheapo research methodology I
actually went out to Chapters and bought the book right off the shelf
and then read it from cover to cover. I have been digesting it almost
a week now and will comment on it today, but first, here is what I
wrote about the book in June of last year:

"There is a thought provoking new book out this year that explains how
this spirit of search for truth can work its way into the opinions of
a collectivity. By one James Surowiecki, it is called "The Wisdom of
Crowds." As he himself points out, he only traces recent research that
confirms the wisdom of a very old saying.

"Where there is no counsel, plans fail; But in a multitude of
counselors they are established. Joy comes to a man with the reply of
his mouth. How good is a word at the right time!" (Proverbs 15:22-3,

"Surowiecki points out that the popular television show, "Who Wants to
Be a Millionaire?" demonstrated how very accurate a crowd can be.
Overall it was found that when a contestant asked for help from an
expert, the expert was right about 60 percent of the time. When a poll
was taken of the audience, they were correct well over 90 percent of
the time. Other examples he cites are the uncanny ability of a random
crowd at an agricultural show to guess within a pound the dressed
weight of a cow. Then there is the spot-on guess within a few hours by
the stock market as to which contractor was responsible for the
Challenger shuttle disaster. The stock price of that company dropped
and stayed down while other contractors' prices fell but recovered
shortly afterwards. Months later expert investigators (including our
hero, Richard Feynman) confirmed what the market guessed right away,
that this company's O rings were brittle in the cold.

"This collective ability to divine the truth tends of course to
confirm the value of both democracy and free markets, both happy
combinations of individual and group judgment. But as Surowiecki
points out, this wisdom only works when four factors characterize the
crowd, diversity, independence, decentralization and aggregation.
Diversity of opinion means that each person should have some private
information, even if it is an eccentric interpretation of known facts.
Independence requires that the opinions not be determined by those
around you, in Baha'i and Platonic terminology, "imitation."

"This independence factor points to what I have long thought, that
there is a great future for the voting devices that were built into
the seats at the set of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?," or as many
teachers are now doing, building them into personal remote controls
that each student keeps at hand during lectures. These devices input
your opinion without influencing it by knowledge of what those around
you think. It is also testimony to the brilliance of the Master, who
so often spoke of the necessity of "unfettered" and "independent"
search for truth.

"Decentralization, the third requirement, means that people can
specialize and draw on local knowledge. I'll have to read the book
rather than a review of it to know exactly what this means, but it
certainly seems to indicate what Baha'is call consultation, where the
expertise of a small group enhances the specialized training of
individual experts by "rounding off" their inevitable blinkers and
biases. Medicine itself is no longer relying on a single diagnosis but
in recent years is taking a team approach of several experts to handle
the most serious health care problems.

"The last factor, aggregation, refers to the need for an agreed upon
mechanism for turning private judgments into a collective decision. I
need not go into how this is done in Baha'i administration and will
only note that in the case of personal problems, "aggregation" is left
up to the individual. That is, if I ask an ad hoc group to consult
about whether I should jump in the lake, the final decision as to
whether to take the leap is still left up to me, whether a majority of
consultants lean one way or not -- though an exception seems to be in
medical consultation where I am obliged to obey a wise doctor's
counsel; of course I still decide whether she is wise or not. Giving
the individual final say in personal consultation, I suppose, pays
obeisance to the supremacy of search for truth.

Okay, now that I have read the book and given it due attention and
thought, I can comment a bit more coherently, I hope. The most
striking anecdote Surowiecki gives is the case of the consultation
that led to the second shuttle disaster. Like most business meetings
in most business contexts, the NASA administrators did not trust to
the wisdom of the committee and subverted it by turning it into a
sounding board for the bosses' opinions. The shuttle was orbiting with
unknown damage and the Debris Assessment Team boss asks for an opinion
on the damage from the ice-foam. Upon hearing that it is
"significant," she then sums up their "consultation" in these
memorable words,

"And I really do not think that there is much we can do so it is not
really much of a factor during the flight because there is not much we
can do about it." (Wisdom of Crowds, 174)

As it turned out after the crew had gone down to its fiery,
spectacular death, there were at least three ways that they could have
been saved, if only that committee had taken this issue seriously. But
who is going to challenge your boss when the boss's opinion is built
into the sentence like that? It is nailed onto the front of the
summary, and in case you did not notice it there, it is tacked onto
the end of her summary! You read this and then you sit back in awe at
the wisdom of the Guardian, who told Assemblies when they form a
committee to just let it function, do not try to dominate or intervene
or micromanage its decisions, unless of course principle is broken or
they go egregiously astray. Only now are studies, admirably collected
together in this book, confirming that a small group on the spot,
operating under the proper conditions, is demonstrably smarter than
the smartest of its members. All we need is the faith to place our
whole trust in that wisdom, and let them go at it.

This anecdote is just one example of why this is such a very, very
important book. I cannot recommend it too highly. It will have a huge
impact on the way things will be run over the next several decades,
for it is living proof, far more effective than any parochial
sectarian could produce, of the power of Jesus' words:

"Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as
touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of
my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered
together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matt 18:19-20,

John Taylor

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Mound Diet

The Mound Diet

By John Taylor; 6 November, 2005

Mound developments are a proposed application of Buckminster Fuller's
"comprehensive design science," that designs essential human needs
into the basic structure of our environment. This implies putting
agriculture before every other human pursuit, since by that we derive
all our energy and nourishment from the earth and the sun. Mounds
would therefore give the choicest locations, especially the south
facing slope, to farmers and agriculturalists. Once done the other two
primal professions, medicine and teaching, would have first say in the
overall design and their workplaces would have the ground floor, the
choicest and most central locations within the mound. Today I want to
set aside teaching for the moment and go into more detail on how
farming and public health would contribute to the organization of

As the book "Fast Food Nation" and the film "Supersize Me!" make
abundantly clear, the faddish proliferation and ubiquity of fast food
restaurants is chiefly responsible for the epidemic of obesity
afflicting both rich and poor lands over past decades. Yet fast food
restaurants fill a legitimate need. Far too much productive time is
required by food preparation, particularly by women. Mound are
structurally designed to provide the best of both worlds, a maximally
nutritious diet that is quick, economical and places minimal demands
on the time and acumen of consumers. The most salient way that it
would accomplish this is through facilitating local grocery producers.

The present infrastructure of food production, deranged as it is by a
thousand hidden subsidies, actively discourages locally produced food,
though local produce is inherently the cheapest, safest and most
nutritious choice available. As the setup is today, those few who have
attempted to eat only food grown within one hundred miles from where
they live have been presented with some strange dietary choices. One
couple in British Columbia who took rather elementary challenge were
forced to eat only sandwiches with two slices of turnip instead of
bread. ("(100) miles away from a perfect diet," Toronto Star, 10
November, 2005, A3) As a result, some local diet advocates loosen it a
little and suggest a more realistic compromise, to adopt a diet whose
origins average out to come from one hundred miles (or one hundred and
sixty kilometers) away from the point of consumption.

There is no doubt that mound housing in all but rural settings would
be very high density housing; with hundreds of residents under its
roof it would clearly be impossible to provide a full subsistence diet
using only its south-facing slope. The fields, gardens and greenhouses
on the mound itself would instead concentrate only on the most
perishable items, such as tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, celery, cucumbers,
and other "greenies" -- the familiar term for them used at the
Scott-Amundston research station at the South Pole. Researchers at
this remotest of locations, in consultation with NASA, are pioneering
strictly scientific ways supplementing their diet with locally grown
greens that should be applied everywhere else, that would certainly be
central to mound planning.

Local produce is the first step to a scientific diet because it is not
only fresher, cheaper and more nutritious than imported foodstuffs, it
is also superior environmentally, since trains, planes, trucks and
boats all burn fossil fuel. Local nutrition sources also contribute to
security, since in the event of a civil emergency, breakdown in
transportation, crop failure or bio-terror, mass famine would be
staved off. With basic foodstuffs available from local gardens urban
areas would be semi-independent and able to adjust with more
resilience than at present. Comprehensive public supervision in mounds
would permit close monitoring of the food production cycle as a whole,
from crop to sewage disposal, which should make for greater robustness
in both security and public health.

How would all this affect the design of the mound itself? As
mentioned, gardens and greenhouses, as well as glass roofs, would run
up the sunny side of the mound. Either attached to or close by mound
gardens and greenhouses would be a collective kitchen, processing and
preparing the produce just seconds after being picked. These kitchens
in turn would be located near a transportation hub, so that the cost
of delivery of other foodstuffs and the time spent unloading it would
be minimized. Following the local food imperative, most dietary
staples such as grains and starches would be grown in nearby rural
fields and shipped into these nearby semi-collective kitchen
facilities. That way the goal of an average of one hundred miles from
the point of origin to point of consumption would be easily attained,
even should a large proportion of residents take full advantage of the
variety of non-staples and other luxury foods coming in from around
the world.

These gardens and large kitchens would prepare fresh food from
scratch, from seed to salad dish, using both professional and
volunteer labor. Encapsulated tubes would then rapidly deliver
finished dishes directly to the eating place, be it a dining room in a
home or a cafe in a public space. The local kitchen would achieve
greater efficiency of scale by serving both permanent residents and
the local day workers in mound workshops and factories. This would
allow delicious, nutritious meals that are as cheap, efficient and as
quick as fast food, without any of their notorious dangers. Unlike
fast food restaurants currently serving addictive food designed only
with good taste as the sole criterion, the contents of mound foods
would be tailored by computer to present medical needs of each
consumer, who would be under constant biometric monitoring. Swiping a
smart card would both pay for and decide much of the content of the
meal that each client receives.

Generally speaking, agricultural subsidies are rank corruption, an
unwarranted interference in free market food production. They result
from bribes and lobbying and result in abject poverty in poor regions
and epidemic obesity in wealthy countries. Nonetheless there is one
place where subsidies are warranted, not in food production but in its
consumption. That is, meals eaten alone should be made to cost much
more than family and group meals. Eating on the run should be actively
discouraged for health reasons alone, since a litany of studies have
found it harmful. Those who socialize while eating are known to
consume less and avoid obesity more effectively. But the chief
justifications for group meals are psychological and political.

Mealtime through the millennia has been the major civilizing force in
every society. Common meals make mere food consumption into part of a
balanced education. It is a cornerstone of democratic consultation,
since mealtime provides a unique chance during the day for single
people to broaden the variety of their contacts with young and old,
rich and poor, and for family members to engage in free information
exchange. Mealtime intercourse provides information vital to the
functioning of every human institution and should be supported by all
means, even by subsidies.

The layout of the houses under the mound roof would therefore accede
to this design parameter by sporting oversized dining areas and small
to non-existent kitchens. Studies in Sweden have found that domestic
kitchens are not only extremely wasteful -- most were found to throw
out more produce than they actually use (since fresh produce rots so
quickly only the most organized cook can avoid massive spoilage), but
also that cooking itself spews out a surprising amount of volatile
organic compounds. These fumes produced by cooking turn homes into a
toxic breathing environment just when all its members are gathering

A large, permanent collective, shared kitchen serving many homes and
places of business in the mound would have sufficient capital to
invest in the latest equipment to deal safely with problems such as
wastage and noxious effluent. The need for something like this is
already being answered in enterprises being called "meal assembly"
businesses. Certain entrepreneurs in California make a living in this
way: they supply their clients with recipes, food supplies and a well
stocked kitchen in which to spend an evening in group food
preparation. For about 200 dollars and two hours of labor customers go
home with as many as 12 dishes for four to six people. They do the
cutting and dividing of the dishes then freeze the final result. Then,
just before the meal clients can take out a spiced and prepared dish
and cook it. (Time Magazine, "Gourmet Stockpiling," Canadian Edition,
2 May, 2004, "Your Time," p. 61)

There would be other benefits to the intermixed, full service food
preparation facilities of a mound. Having every stage of food
production so near at hand would allow greater contact between farmers
and urban dwellers. People would get used to having a personal farmer
in the same way that we have a personal tutor or doctor. Children
touring the gardens as an integral part of their education would be in
close touch with where food comes from their earliest years. At the
same time women and mothers, who have traditionally taken on the
tremendous burden of time and effort that it takes to put three
balanced meals onto a family's dinner table every day would be freed
to participate as much or as little of this activity as they deem
necessary. Many, especially mothers of young children, may feel that
this is time better spent directly educating their charges during
their most impressionable years. In a word, mound design is the
physical infrastructure that would implement true, full equality
between the sexes.

John Taylor

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Gay Paradox

Big Horn Sheep, Religion and the Gay Paradox

By John Taylor; 13 November, 2005

I just lost some dear friends, a lovely couple who were serving the
Faith with great devotion. They did not die, what happened was that
they resigned from the Faith in a very abrupt and public manner. I
know from experience that however much one may resolve to the contrary
even the closest friend who makes that dire divorce from their
convictions sooner or later ends our relationship too. It is sad for a
part of myself to go into the trash like that and the really
frustrating thing is that they resigned from the Faith out of
misguided loyalty to their son, who is in a gay relationship. As they
made clear in an open letter, the recent policy change discouraging
enrolling gays who are maintaining same-sex unions, as mandated by a
recent letter of the House of Justice, was too great a test for them.

What can I do about this? Nothing, I suppose, but I have been moved to
dust off an argument I set out in a 2003 essay. I have been told that
it is not unpersuasive. I am renaming it:

The Gay Paradox

It is one thing to start a fad and quite another to propagate a belief
over several generations. All major religions and living philosophies
teach that good behavior is desirable and bad behavior is, well, bad.
This for very good reason. Let us imagine a religion or creed that
taught that good is bad and bad is good. Their followers become
notorious for doing evil and hating good. What would happen? Sooner or
later, that group would extinguish itself. It might take a day, like
the spectacular mass suicide at Jonestown, or it might take a
generation or two, but their own beliefs would doom them. This
happened with the Shakers and their policy in the 20th Century of
excluding new members. That alone doomed their creed; they did not
have to teach that good is bad, they just stopped teaching and, by
separating men and women completely, their converts did not reproduce
either. End of the road.

In any belief system both new converts and old believers alike find it
good, useful and attractive to try to be good, and to pay particular
attention to applying that to reproductive relationships. The belief
in good and morality propagates itself, and the followers reproduce
themselves effectively. That spread is proof of validity. The teacher,
the teaching and the application of the teaching among many followers
are judged in a competitive marketplace of ideas. In time good ideas
live on and the bizarre, the useless and the harmful are weeded out.
Success among millions of people over many generations is pretty much
by definition what makes a major religion major.

All religions that have endured longer than a few centuries share the
same position on sexual purity and are strongly opposed to
homosexuality. So it is natural to to ask, why? Why do lasting faiths
condemn homosexuality?

There is no need to pretend that this is exclusively Baha'i. It is
most emphatically not, it is the belief of the vast majority of
humankind and all enduring creeds, now and throughout history. And, as
economist Jeffry Sachs points out, the vast majority of mankind
throughout history have been dirt poor. That is to say, families with
this faith have endured and propagated under the toughest conditions
imaginable. The distaste of most cultures for homosexuality is not a
passing prejudice, it has real, proven survival value.

As I say, it is a red herring to take the argument against
homosexuality as distinctly Baha'i, except in one way. Baha'is, even
more than Muslims, believe in the harmony of science and religion. And
in spite of the stereotype of traditional religions being behind the
times, if anything faith-based distaste for homosexuality is
reinforced by the latest scientific findings about the role of
sexuality in evolution.

Now let us say that a belief, any creed or system, embraces
homosexuality. I don't care if it is religious, scientific, or
whatever, that system would immediately subject itself to the same
evolutionary pressures that now are bearing down on big horn sheep and
elephants. This sad tale is told in a Reuters story dated Wednesday,
10 December, 2003. The headline reads, "Trophy Hunting Depletes Genes
for Big Horn Sheep." Scientists are finding, the journalist reports,
that there are fewer large horns on the males of this species of high
mountain climbers, just as there are more and more tusk-less male
elephants being born. Why is that? Because for God's sakes we shoot
them all! No wonder the gene pool is starting to say, "Hey maybe it is
a good idea to forget about producing these huge horns and tusks now
that it confers like, zero percent survivability." In the words of the

"`Unrestricted harvesting of trophy rams has contributed to a decline
in the very traits that determine trophy quality...' Although revenue
from hunting is used to conserve populations of bighorn sheep ... so
far little attention has been paid to the potential evolutionary
consequences of hunting."

So, dare I say that little attention has been given to the
evolutionary consequences of homosexuality?

From an evolutionary standpoint, homosexuality is a form of dumb birth
control. I say dumb because the more intelligent, social animals find
ways of voluntarily cutting back on births in times of deprivation; in
a wolf pack, for example, only in very fat times are any females other
than the Alpha allowed to mate. In humans it is known that with every
boy a mother produces the greater the chances become that he will be
homosexual. This seems to be a way of limiting the geometric growth of
a population explosion. A dumb way to do it but that is the end

Again, from a genetic standpoint (which is the perspective of time)
there is no difference between a homosexual and a dead man. The bigger
big horn sheep that are selectively killed have no more chance to
reproduce than a gay person. Their genes do not make it to the next
generation. In the long perspective, any group that encourages
homosexuality among its members will be cutting down on its own
chances of surviving, much less spreading to future generations.

This leads to what we can call the gay paradox. Who loves gays more? A
gay lobbyist who promotes gay pride or a member of one of these long
standing, future oriented religions who encourage people with gay
leanings to reproduce, to jump into the gene pool? The gay advocate
may not hate gays but without realizing it his beliefs have the same
effect as a trophy hunter on big horn sheep. He encourages gays to
behave in ways that cut them off from the gene pool.

Religion, on the other hand, asks that a gay person go against
powerful physical desires and personal inclination. That is hugely
difficult, nobody doubts that. But nothing worthwhile is easy. In the
long run their affiliation to a faith group helps gays propagate their
genes, as well as more freely influence the next generation with their
wonderful, creative, unique spiritual qualities, given to them --like
all tests -- as a gift from God. So again, who really stands for gay
people as people, those who defend homosexuality or those who defend
their place as full agents in forming the future of humanity?

John Taylor

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Aqasi's Spawn

Expunging Aqasi's Spawn

By John Taylor; 9 November, 2005

It is late Tuesday night and in this gloomy night of despair I turn to
Thee, as instantiated in the Tablet of Ahmad. That holy tablet is the
story of my life, it is all in there, there is nothing that is JET
that is not to be found in that brief tablet. Especially I turn to the
promise at the end, my friends, the promise of an end to all this
misery and the hopeless futility of existence in this ringing, empty
sphere ... for here is a promise in no uncertain terms that there will
be a meaning, somewhere, somehow. It orders me to learn it well, not
to keep my pathetic flagging soul back, to recite it on a daily basis,
and I do, mostly. When I don't, the putrid odor of this life soon
drives me back to its daily repetition. I missed a few days and, just
now, I woke in the literal and figurative darkness of a very late
night and said it once more and it comforted, as it always does.

I return to thee, TofA, as a lover, a more faithful lover than any
worldly one can ever be, for you give me peace in my dark nights. But
before you give the Big Promise, I'll call it the Big Promise, the
Most Great Promise, the daily devotional crumb that keeps me, like
Hansel and Gretel, on the Path, ever hopeful when there is not a trace
of outward success in work and career. The Ahmad tablet gives me that
as the kicker: "that thou mayest be of those who are grateful." It is
why it is there, for gratitude is key, it is why God gives the bounty.
Grateful I am for the light and the dark, for the brilliance and dark
shadows of morning's light, for noon's overhead light above and total
shadow below, for evening's light on my other side and the long
shadows again, and for total dark everywhere again now, now that night
gives me this chance to be alone with you again, O Tablet of O Ahmad.
Grateful for it all. I am.

I am grateful to Jim for inviting me to the fireside, to Nancie for
persuading me to convert that late Tuesday night, and I am grateful to
Gordon for marking the occasion soon after by reciting the Tablet of
Ahmad by heart. So impressed was I with his feat of memory that I was
given the gumption to memorize it too, a mental feat that I have never
been able to repeat with anything else since then, but I am grateful
for this. I thank God that I made that effort for it made this Tablet
into a sort of invisible mark, a semiotic, a divine, invisible
signature of the enduring gift of faith that I was given that late
night. And I am grateful for the lesser gifts of this life too, gifts
of light and gifts of dark too.

Gratitude for my life no doubt is the first door I have to get through
in order to get to the Most Great Promise that comes next. But there
is another one too. Sincerity. Not my weak, fleeting will o' the wisp
kind of sincerity but absolute sincerity, the kind of iron quality
that only God or His Delegate can stand up to. "By God, should one who
is in affliction or grief read this tablet with absolute sincerity..."
Read it with His sincerity. The sincerity of the One who takes the
sins and suffering of the world upon His back. The one who takes the
crushing burden of the guilt of this age, and need I remind you of the
extent of that guilt? What is the running count now? A baby dies every
three or four seconds needlessly, a young, pure life snuffed out for
nothing, easily avoided if only the hypocritical moneyed nations would
live up to their own promises of foreign aid to Africa. Only He can
wash off that negligent, collective guilt.

The Bab mentions absolute sincerity too, in His letter to the fellow
who I believe is now considered the Anti-Christ of His revelation,

"O Minister of the Shah! Fear thou God, besides Whom there is none
other God but Him, the Sovereign Truth, the Just, and lay aside thy
dominion, for We, by the leave of God, the All-Wise, inherit the earth
and all who are upon it, (Q19:41) and He shall rightfully be a witness
unto thee and unto the Shah. Were ye to obey the Remembrance of God
with absolute sincerity, We guarantee, by the leave of God, that on
the Day of Resurrection, a vast dominion shall be yours in His eternal
Paradise." (Selections, 42-43)

This Prime Minister, Haji Mirza Aqasi, was a wheedling snit who had
brainwashed Muhammad Shah in his youth when he was his tutor. He
manipulated the sovereign endlessly and mercilessly when he attained
to power. When the Resurrection Dance began to play he did the worst
thing possible, he turned his young mind slave away from true, sincere
belief just when the Shah was swinging to within an ace of meeting
with and then surely accepting the Bab. It was an evil deed, and no
doubt its infamy has bred and festered until now world leaders and
their advisors, Aqasi's spawn, prance their hypocritical dance around
the summit table as innocent babes die minute by minute, second by
second. Same story then as now, power monger give up your power, step
aside and let the Sovereign Truth, the Just, take over.

That is the ticket. Sincerity means never having to bother with
running what God alone is worthy of controlling. You cannot be
absolutely sincere and hold for a second to corruptive power. Just
pass the hot potato. If I were successful and powerful like those
summit dancers, would I be turning to you, TofA, in the middle of my
night of despair? Not a chance. All power is God's, and it must be
passed back to him; that is what the passage from the Qu'ran that the
Bab cites above says:

"But warn them of the Day of Distress, when the matter will be
determined: for (behold,) they are negligent and they do not believe!
It is We Who will inherit the earth, and all beings thereon: to Us
will they all be returned." (19:39-40, Yusuf Ali)

Or, in Rodwell's incomparable rendering:

"Warn them of the day of sighing when the decree shall be
accomplished, while they are sunk in heedlessness and while they
believe not. Verily, we will inherit the earth and all who are upon
it. To us shall they be brought back."

John Taylor

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Location for Medicinal

Shifting Location for Medicinal Ends (Fourth in housing series)

We fashion wood for a house,
but it is the emptiness inside
that makes it livable.
We work with the substantial,
but the emptiness is what we use.
(Tao Te Ching, Lao-Tzu, J. H. McDonald, tr., 11)

The world was shocked this fall of 2005 at the tremendous loss of life
from the earthquake in Kashmir, followed by millions of homeless
exposed to the elements just as winter set in. How can we avoid such
disasters in future? In three essays so far I have been speculating
about how a radical redesign of our built environment to allow a more
robust response to nature's fury. Today I want to look at how the
three design factors mentioned so far in these essays, one, structure,
two, transport and three, services, might be made to interact with one
another for a safer, healthier, more robust and disaster-resistant
lifestyle for surface dwellers on this tempestuous planet.

The first in this series, "Mound Architecture in an Open World,"
proposed an alternative to separate, "freehold" buildings, that work
and living space be enclosed in long furrowed mounds built over and
around our present publicly-owned road system. In urban and suburban
settings, mound structures seen from an airplane might resemble the
furrows in a freshly plowed farmer's field. The second essay in this
series, "Capsulated Tube Transit," looked at the transport
infrastructure built into mound structures, an integral, containerized
cargo and transit system that would displace legacy technologies such
as airplanes, roads and automobiles with more efficient alternatives,
such as pneumatic tubes for local, short runs and trains running in
evacuated tubes for express, long distance transport.

"The Full Service House," our third essay, suggested that the full
range of services presently available only to a small wealthy elite in
North America who can afford to live in luxury apartments be made
universal for dwellers in mounds. Our model was the full service
"Kollektivhus" housing development, a partly-communal, semi-private
arrangement of apartments relying partly on volunteer labor for its
full complement of services. This has been tried and proven popular in
over a hundred housing developments in Denmark and other Scandinavian
countries over several decades. In mound developments an amorphous
combination of organizations would use rented facilities to cook,
clean, launder, provide daycare and other services to both rich and
poor, singles and families on an equal, universal basis.

All three of these factors, structure, transport and services, would
be part of an effort to design everything from the ground up for the
welfare of residents. The shared use of constantly updated high
technology facilities alone would attract large numbers of people to
live there and access them regularly. By gradually reducing subsidies
and allowing the property tax structure to reflect the real costs of
our present isolated existence in dangerous, inefficient,
non-sustainable free-hold buildings, it should not be difficult to
induce widespread adoption of mound architecture without a hint of

It should be possible to persuade many to come live in mounds by
emphasizing and organizing basic health needs alone. Studies over many
decades have found tremendous benefits in health, both physical and
psychological, from living in a neighborhood of mixed residential,
industrial, educational and commercial zoning. The diversity of
activities in such areas encourages people to use their legs often, to
get out participate in a panoply of activities, or just to relax and
walk around observing the vital drama of human endeavor. Life in
automobile dependent suburb, on the other hand, takes away on average
two productive years from resident's lives just by offering nowhere to
go on foot.

Let us get a sense of what it might be like to stroll around a mound
structured neighborhood, first by taking a walk along the laneway
between mounds.

Walking eastward down the path a pedestrian looking to the right would
see the north side of a mound, the northern, shady face (in the
Northern Hemisphere) that would be devoted to artificial building
facades, open air structures, balconies, windows and ivy covered
outside walls. Parts might resemble cliff dwellings or Montreal's
Habitat, other sections the outer face of an ordinary factory or
apartment building, albeit covered in ivy and other clinging plants.
Looking to the left-hand side, the sunny northern side of another
mound would look greener. Parts would be transparent glass or, at
times, a hillside parks and orchards interspersed with gardens, paths,
greenhouses and solar panels.

At its end the lane would enter into a neighborhood mound crossroads.
These corners where several mounds intersect would be domed over to
form a multi-use neighborhood square. This commons or public meeting
space would shelter a farmer's markets, stores, a park, play
structures, theatres, libraries and a variety of attractions forming a
single, large people space.

Should our pedestrian turn and enter a mound itself they would see
from the inside a hollow, often transparent shell with many shifting
mobile homes, shops, pods and other enclosures arrayed below. To left
and right would be strong dividers extending up to the ceiling made of
a mixture of structural foam, packed earth and perhaps grancrete -- a
newly developed spray material several times stronger than structural
concrete. In the event of an unpredicted earthquake the superstructure
above would flex and bend rather than collapse en masse. The shell
directly over residential sectors would have two layers of transparent
safety glass enclosing an insulating aero gel; should this point be
ground zero for the tremor the mobile housing units would be designed
to shift around to absorb the shock and the glass above would shatter
and shower the homes below with gel and glass, but little serious
damage would be done.

The space under the mound's roof would embrace a variety of activities
taking place at the same time in close propinquity. Judicious
placement of electronic sound deadening devices now allows busy, noisy
industrial operations to go on right next to hospitals, classrooms,
parks, residences and other places that thrive only in a quiet
atmosphere. This would enable work and leisure places to be located
more flexibly, to move to an optimum locale based upon different, more
dynamic formulae than in static built environments. What should these
formulae be?

Human needs and requirements have been understood and remain unchanged
since the ancient Greeks. Since we all have a body, mind and soul we
know that we can balance the three in shifting between work and
leisure. The problem is that a static environment puts the onus on the
individual to make every change, often with great expenditure of
energy. The broad variety of activities available in a small area in a
mound -- and the ability to shift one's place of residence closer and
further from our main places of work and leisure -- would allow
constant application of principles first laid out by Aristotle,

"...we should introduce amusements only at suitable times, and they
should be our medicines, for the emotion which they create in the soul
is a relaxation, and from the pleasure we obtain rest." (Politics,
Book III)

When biometric and statistical indicators hint that an resident is
swinging out of balance among body, mind and soul that person's
surroundings would subtly coax and push that person to do what it
takes to put themselves back in joint. One whose stress levels are
soaring or whose psychological health is compromised by a known life
change (birth, marriage, mourning) might have their mobile residence
shifted closer to a garden or place of worship. A person who is
working too long would find themselves located close to leisure spots
and further from the shop or office. As Aristotle says,

"...amusement is needed more amid serious occupations than at other
times (for he who is hard at work has need of relaxation, and
amusement gives relaxation, whereas occupation is always accompanied
with exertion and effort)" (Id.)

In a mound the study of psychology would go from theory to an applied
science. Psychological researchers have found measurable indicators
that give insights into the nature and needs of various personalities.
For example, a person tested out as an introvert might find living in
a mound that her bedroom is periodically moved into a dark, private
location to give tranquility and a chance to restore their psychic
resources; an extrovert on the other hand might find herself moved
into the center of a hubbub of stimulating activity. The lonely would
subtly and naturally be introduced to more human contacts, while the
bored might find themselves located close to entertainment. Persons
lacking intellectual stimulus would be moved into a university campus
or nearby the stoa or soapboxes where philosophers ply their

As for physical well being, if indications are that a person's body is
getting less than its optimal amount of exercise, that person's
dwelling unit would automatically shift further away from the work and
play place, perhaps to a location accessed only by stairs or steep
paths. Such a shift would force them without realizing it to walk
further in their daily routine. Many small things like this in the
long term can be crucial in avoiding obesity, disease and other
threats to a long, full life. The services of the mound would be
designed to restore a person's physical balance without undue
distraction or expenditure of energy making resolutions or applying
will power.

Thus where a person lives, works and plays in a mound would not be
left to arbitrary whim, be it of individuals, planners or decision
makers at any level. It would be worked out precisely by computer so
that personal, state and other group interests would all be variables
in complex equations. Using "open systems" software techniques their
and the public's interests would calculated and negotiated over a
supercomputer network whose output would be displayed on a huge screen
in the neighborhood town hall's "war room."

While most people might be content to leave their physical environment
to work itself out automatically, anyone would still have the right to
enter the war room and plug in their handheld computer's interlocutor
to it and question its reasoning to their heart's content.
Understanding what went into the recent motions of their mobile
residence would allow them to influence future moves. An institutional
building or a family mansion under a mound would move slower than
dwellings of singles but would have greater strength, like an island
in a raging stream moving ineluctably to its ideal location.

All this is the application of the democratic principle, "one person,
one vote." Worked as an equation into a common computer network it
would give sway to united groups that would look on the display like
stable islands in whitewaters of change. The formulae, however, would
never allow one group or individual to dominate unjustly. If it gives
close genetic relations preference, this would tend to strengthen
family units as institutions and give an incentive to families to live
and consult together, thus presenting a forceful, united front to the
networked "apartment superintendent" computers in a neighborhood war

John Taylor