Saturday, February 10, 2007

Journal Entries

Two Journal Entries

By John Taylor; 2007 Feb 10

8 February, 2007

Yesterday Stu held the first session of his six week introductory chess course in our local library. I acted as a teaching assistant, making sure that everybody had chairs and a worthy opponent. When there was an odd man out, I played him. I had given a copy of the library's poster to Silvie's teacher and he had it mentioned in their morning announcements. As a result, the room was packed, though most arrived late. In the first few minutes only a handful were there and Stu announced that this was a beginner's course, that if you know the names of the pieces and how they move, get lost, he will be giving an intermediate course next year. But his discouraging words were in vain, since it turned out in the end that two thirds of the room put up their hands when Stu asked if they were intermediates. So these quietly played as Stu gave his basic lesson to the end table, moving large felt pieces across a felt panel hanging from the wall, explaining how to play the pawn game, a simplified version of chess that he uses for teaching purposes. It was just as well that some early comers were daunted and left, for I had trouble finding seats for everybody.

All present were boys, or fathers of boys, except for two seven-year-old girls and three women, two of whom were seniors there to learn something new to stave off Alzheimer's disease. Afterwards I was disgusted with the male sex; we come out in droves if it has anything to do with sports or games, but to serious and wholesome causes we are indifferent and religion is anathema. For our monthly Baha'i public meetings in the same room we have trouble getting a half-dozen people to come out.

9 February, 2007

As if to refute my frustration with men and their frivolous obsession with sports yesterday, it was mostly men who turned out for our Philosopher's Cafe meeting last night.

Perhaps because of the testosterone in the air, but also probably because of the subject, Sustainable Environmental Strategies, this was our most raucous meeting yet. Everyone had an opinion and was reluctant to sit back and allow others to express theirs. We have all been steadfastly ignoring the hand-wringing articles in the press about the environment for decades and now all of a sudden everybody is reading them as if our lives depend upon it, which of course they do, and, I think, we all suddenly feel the lack of a forum for public, face-to-face dialectic. Many ideas and proposals were aired, bruited about and left aside while we leaped to the next issue. If future generations give a name to this generation it will probably be "Rip Van Winklers," for ever since Silent Spring in 1956, fifty years ago, we have slept and now we awake only to find that Rome is burning, Nero is fiddling, and what are we going to do?

The first question that we threw ourselves against was the old one about whether we the people have any power at all. There were two schools of thought. One held that the puppet masters do it all. The other thought that the little guy does have power and that all the little improvements we can make will amount to significant change. Are we even in crisis all pawns in somebody else's chess game? One guy thought so, he knew a guy high enough in elite circles to say with confidence: "There are about a hundred executives in Canada who decide public policy and dictate the agenda that the media follows. And most people follow the media." One of the two Marks said in support of this that when the Gulf War started he and his siblings could not persuade their mother, who gets her opinions from the television, that there was any moral problem with that war. “If it is wrong, why are they not saying that in the news broadcasts?” was her response to every argument. Those of us who held that the little fellow matters kept returning to one thing, the question of plastic shopping bags.

I would have thought that plastic bags would be a trivial detail, but we kept coming back to it. I suppose its interest comes from the various possible ways of dealing with the problem. Some upheld personal responsibility. We should bring our own bag to the supermarket and ignore their free ones. One, a consultant with experience advising governments on energy issues, held that the state should pass a law decreeing that plastic shopping bags are now ten dollars each. That ten dollars, if anybody buys them, would then be pumped into retooling the economy for, well, economy. He also held that politicians should raise the price of gas and electricity sky high (meaning their actual cost, their price in Europe) and thus force people to scramble about to economize. Easy for him to say, his privates are not in the vice of fickle public favor!

I piped in, partially agreeing, saying that the reason that supermarkets can afford to give plastic bags away for free is that the price is subsidized. The oil interests recoup all their costs from extracting oil by selling the energy portion of a barrel of crude; the quarter of the barrel that goes into making plastic is for them essentially free, pure profit. So all we need to do is stop subsidizing drilling and exploration, let the real costs of crude kick in, and then plastic will stop being so dirt cheap that plastic bags can be given away.

At root, our problem is that folly pays. Corruption is profitable while knowledge is not. The higher knowledge is the more integrity and sacrifice it demands. We refuse to make ourselves worthy of knowledge by sacrificing, by forgetting narrow interests and remembering universal ones. Corruption biases the mind against reality. This very misevaluation happened in spiritual matters long before its stink and corruption sank into our earth and environment. Consider what Baha'u'llah says about the refusal of religious leaders to take hold of knowledge’s "sure handle" in the Kitab-i-Iqan:

"Clinging unto idle fancy, they have strayed far from the Urvatu'l-Vuthqa of divine knowledge. Their hearts seem not to be inclined to knowledge and the door thereof, neither think they of its manifestations, inasmuch as in idle fancy they have found the door that leadeth unto earthly riches, whereas in the manifestation of the Revealer of knowledge they find naught but the call to self-sacrifice." (Iqan, 29)

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