Friday, November 30, 2007

p12 why inevitable?

Why A World State is Inevitable

By John Taylor; 2007 Nov 30, 2007, 08 Qawl, 164 BE

In the academic world the most extraordinarily trivial debates are commonplace. Experts take sides over just about any obscure distinction, real or imagined, cogent or moot, that you can name. No matter how abstruse or obscure, inevitably they find a way to take sides over it. But in one specialty -- and it is by far the most vital in the world -- there has been pretty much universal agreement. I am speaking of the liberal consensus in international relations that the idea of a world government is unworthy of consideration for any of three reasons; one, it is impracticable, two, it is undesirable or three, unnecessary. Crushed by these three horsemen, the idea that world government is a natural and inevitable stage of human development does not get a chance to raise its head.

Then in 2003 the social constructivist theorist, Alexander Wendt, wrote a paper called, "Why a World State is Inevitable; Teleology and the Logic of Anarchy." (European Journal of International Relations 9, 4, 491-542) Here he holds that a planet-wide state holding a global monopoly on the legitimate use of force will within a century prove to be unavoidable. As soon as I heard of this document this week I chased it down on the Web and waded into it, in spite of utter lack of qualifications or even nodding familiarity with the discipline of international relations. It is so rare to come across anything like this line of argument -- it is of course woven into the very fabric of Baha'u'llah's world view -- that I was moved by an impulse I could not resist to look into it.

Wendt starts off by saying that even if you push what is about to happen a century into the future, the fact that it must come to pass still has relevance to decision makers today.

"My guess is that a world state will emerge within 100 years, which makes the process potentially relevant to policymakers and scholars today."

Wendt is convinced that the reason a world state must come about is that it is predicted by self-organization theory, a combination of micro-level dynamics with macro-level boundary conditions; this hybrid science (presumably it uses mathematical or computer simulation), he says, demonstrates how systems tend to develop towards stable end-states. Whatever the contributions of individuals, system theory predicts on a broader level human organization is a staircase with steps that cannot be avoided. In the words of the paper's précis,

"At the micro-level world state formation is driven by the struggle of individuals and groups for recognition of their subjectivity. At the macro-level this struggle is channeled toward a world state by the logic of anarchy, which generates a tendency for military technology and war to become increasingly destructive."

The behavior of states, then, is like a giant rugby pileup. If you jump on, do not expect to stay on top for long. Everybody below will want to fight his way up top too. The guys on the bottom sooner or later will dump you off and a new top guy will take your place. In a similar way, leading superpowers will always be challenged by smaller ones who want their worthiness to be recognized by the world. As soon as one state or group of states gains hegemony, the others who are shut out will struggle for the best place in the sun.

Wendt traces five stages of overturn in international relations, starting with a "system of states," that proves unstable; this collapse leads to stage two, a "society of states," then a "world society" stage, then a "collective security" stage, and finally a "world state." Each failure leads to the next, and there is nothing that anybody can do to change it, any more than a baby can fight the process of growing into an adult. The stages are built into the structure of organisms in the same way that the atoms of a table determine what it is made of.

The question is, why has this glaringly obvious observation been shut out for so long? Wendt's explanation is that the very DNA of evolutionary science has intentionally blocked it out.

He takes the reader all the way back to Aristotle's four causes, saying that the fourth or final cause (teleology) of Aristotle was unnecessarily rejected by science, and especially by evolutionary theory. Thus, while it seems ridiculous to say that the stage of adolescence "causes" a baby or child to become an adult, nonetheless that is how complex systems do tend to organize themselves. Wendt points out that,

 "... self-organization theory ... is emerging as an important challenge to the orthodox neo-Darwinian theory of evolution. Self-organization theory hypothesizes that order in nature emerges not only through the mechanism of mutation-selection-retention, but spontaneously from the channeling of system dynamics by structural boundary conditions toward particular end-states."

 There is a kind of purpose in nature, and to deny it is to miss out on most of what biological organisms are about, and to deny the collective political evolution of the human race is to misapprehend what Aristotle's "political animal" is all about.

 Put it another way, Darwinian theory with its rejection of teleology without realizing it all but excluded consideration of Baha'u'llah's central teaching of Progressive Revelation (itself an alternative, God-centered theory of religious relativity and evolution), which holds that humankind is coming of age and that sooner or later a world federation must result from that.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

p01og Introduction to Search

Abdu'l-Baha's Advice on How to Introduce Investigation

By John Taylor; 2007 Nov 29, 2007, 07 Qawl, 164 BE

Regarding an Address of Abdu'l-Baha given 20 September 1912; Promulgation, 325-329

Day after day I have been going over with a fine toothed comb the above talk the Master gave in Minneapolis on search for truth. At least that is what I thought it was about when I started out. Now though if pressed I would categorize it under proofs of deity. Certainly His thesis is that if you want to seek truth, start with the existence of God. As often happens with the lesser talks in Promulgation, the material looks good from afar but falls apart in your hand when you try to pick it up.

The address was, I think, interpreted rather than translated, for the wording is confusing and the terminology inconsistent. Words that make sense on a quick first reading become obscure on closer examination. For example, on this occasion the interpreter evidently decided to translate the Master's word for "science" with what was an old fashioned term even then, "natural philosophy." This I deduced after hours of puzzlement. Other passages I still have not got a handle on, and maybe never will. Some of the Master's talks in America and Canada were re-translated in the new edition of Mahmud's Diary. That offers a second shot at His meaning, but no dice on this talk. Mahmud only briefly mentions one that may be this talk, which is probably an indication that he was not the appointed translator on this occasion. Too bad, because he was one of the competent of the Master's secretaries.

I was on the point of giving up my arduous and unrewarding study of this garbled talk when I realized that perhaps I was drawn to it for good reason. Being forced to paraphrase it in order to make it more comprehensible may be a good thing. Working it over makes it my own. I can make it into a sort of template for an introductory essay or talk of my own on search. At the very least I can now see why He says that search must begin with the question of the existence of God.

Abdu'l-Baha was speaking to a group probably made up mostly of Baha'is in the private home of Albert Hall, a lawyer and prominent believer in the twin cities. Judging by what is said, I think it is fair to speculate that He was not trying to prove his points there and then (as He did before large audiences at Columbia and Stanford Universities), but rather He was aiming to show us believers how we can appropriately approach the question of search for truth, what to deal with in the minds of the general public.

In this talk the Master suggests that we explain search for truth by starting with the thesis that humankind has progressed materially but neglected its moral advance. This was essentially what Lester B. Pearson said in his 1956 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech forty years later, and you could probably say it today before any audience and it would seem new. Sad but true, the thesis is not outdated and all too few of us realize it. We studiously neglect the inner side of our reality and fret over every wrinkle that appears on our body. Most of us do not realize that we even have a spiritual side, much less pray in the words of the Psalm,

"Examine me, Yahweh, and prove me. Try my heart and my mind. For your loving-kindness is before my eyes. I have walked in Thy truth." (Ps 26:2-3, WEB)

The Master's thesis that progress has become disjointed would be an excellent starting point for any discussion today. It is undeniable that if we are ever going to stop global warming we will have to do just what He says here, readjust our priorities and changed and educate hearts as well as bodies.

So without further introduction, here is a paraphrase of the Master's talk in Albert Hall's digs.

Act One of the Disquisition

Scene one starts off, as experts on rhetoric recommend, by orienting the audience, reminding them of who they are and why they are here. He declares that unlike other meetings this one is special, it is held by seekers and for the sake of spirit.

"Praise be to God! This is a beautiful and radiant assemblage. ...our spirit and motive are solely for the manifestation of divine bestowals."

As always, He sees the highest motives possible in everybody He meets. I just read something Goethe said that perfectly describes the psychological method of the Master: "If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that." But at the same time, even if Abdu'l-Baha was speaking to a confluence of angels, their challenge is the same: the people we Baha'is meet in a worldly setting are not in anything like a spiritual mind set. So, by starting off with this praise He seems to imply that if we want to do what He praises us for, to manifest divine bestowals, we will need to learn how to bring these bestowals about first in ourselves, and then in others. Like fire starting, we first learn to light one and then teach others how to produce it with us.

But how to do this? First we have to understand that we have a choice to show one of two kinds of virtue: material or ideal. This is a reflection of the fact that we possess both inner and outer faculties; our spirit (the text avoids the word "soul") has its inward senses and the body has its outer senses. He cites the following examples of inner and outer faculties of human perception:

Example one: sight is a material sense but insight is spiritual

Example two: hearing is a physical endowment but memory is ideal

Example three: cogitation ("ideation") is material, love is spiritual

He mentions several more ideal virtues, evidently without physical counterparts; these are intuition, the emotions and our power to apprehend God. Our very ability to acquire the reality of phenomena (consciousness, presumably) is an "ideal virtue." Then there is morality; the "realization of moral standards and the world of discovery involve virtues essentially ideal." The Master was describing a bias that may have been hard to make out then but it has grown since 1912 into a grotesque distortion. Now the very word "moral" has systematically been wiped from the public slate.

We now go on to Scene Three, the unbalancing point where the speaker describes the need or lack to be addressed. The Master's analysis of the problem is that material virtues have outstripped ideal ones. Our material virtues have attained great development, but our ideal virtues are left far behind. This general imbalance in the history of Western civilization is an indicator of how we are doing within; as individuals we are overdeveloping outer virtues at the expense of inner ones.

This takes us to scene four where the speaker seeks to rebalance the tension created in scene three, to look at the desired future and ask: what do we want to see happen? Abdu'l-Baha says that what we need to do is to renew and reform human morals that are undeveloped and neglected.

"It is now the time in the history of the world for us to strive and give an impetus to the advancement and development of inner forces -- that is to say, we must arise to service in the world of morality, for human morals are in need of readjustment."

So, to shift development toward inner powers we advance the world of morality. We strengthen our powers of perception and the world of the mind, and as our powers of reasoning grow we will shine forth the ideal virtues in the social realm that are so sorely lacking.

Needless to say, it is no easy job to make such an extreme about-face.

The final scene of Act One is scene five. This is all we have time for today. Here the speaker asks, "How do we get there from here?" The audience asks, "What solution does the speaker recommend?" Here Abdu'l-Baha plays the "God card." He says that discovery and the realization of moral standards requires ideal virtues and they are all but invisible to most people today. Therefore, to play catch-up with ideal virtues, we will have to set up reasonable proofs of everything that pertains to deity. So, begin by removing each of three possible objections, one, does God really exist? Two, so what if He exists? and three, what do I have to do with Him? So, to start off we prove the existence of God.

"Before a step is taken in this direction we must be able to prove Divinity from the standpoint of reason so that no doubt or objection may remain for the rationalist."

This of course is the principle of the Oneness of God. But we cannot stop with that, or else all we would have on our hands would be lukewarm deists. Our next step is to establish the potency of God, the principle the Master called elsewhere the Power of the Holy Spirit. We prove that by demonstrating that His bounty encompasses humanity and transcends all we can see or touch. Finally we prove that the soul is immortal, and that it is the true but invisible font of all virtues, even material ones.

So, the fulcrum of the final scene that will inform the entire Second Act is this proposition: our age demands that we shift away from materialism and serve morality. We do that by putting God, and our power of knowing God, first. This is what is required of believers at this point in world history.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Kindness to Animals Video

Treat animals with kindness

Here is the announcement on youtube for our new video: "Unlike others, our children love animals! Strange, eh? This is a music photo montage with Nancy Ward's kids song. The animal pictures were mostly taken by our kids. We just got a new iMac and this is our first project with it."


Three Arguments for a Terracratic Order

By John Taylor; 2007 Nov 28, 06 Qawl, 164 BE

My father asked me to purchase and install a large screen television for him, as well as to arrange the installation of cable television, in preparation for HDTV, which has captured his imagination (personally, I think it is a crock, entirely unnecessary). In spite of my inner reservations about the plug-in drug, it is his whole life since he retired from golf so I had no choice but comply. Thus began what it soon became evident will be a much bigger and longer job than expected. He still has not made room for this huge monstrosity in the rat's nest he calls an apartment, and it sits in the garage, obstructing my daily exercise machine, a half-folded table tennis table. Missing my exercise routine, combined with terrible weather, has meant an on and off death struggle with the migraine devil.

On top of all that, the revision of the last Badi Blog essay on the Day of the Covenant, combined with the Herculean task of learning two new computers, both operating system and software (I bought an Imac and installed "Mint," a distro flavor of Ubuntu Linux, on an older machine) took up even more time and energy over the past few days. It became evident that I was not going to be able to write anything specifically to commemorate the Ascension of the Master, which of course is today.

But as I worked an alternative sprang to mind. Why not write on the arguments for a world government? That is an appropriate way to remember Abdu'l-Baha. And so it came to pass, until, you guessed it, listing the arguments for a world government proved to be far more work than expected.

So, undeterred, here is my overall plan. I want to set up a website called Earth Order using the domain name, "," which I started renting last spring but have not had the chance to make into a website yet. I want to use this forum to feature the final version of my essays (yes, the Badi list is just first drafts) that propose improvements to world order. One of the first things I will put there is an argument for world government. So, without further preliminaries, is draft one of "Arguments for World Government."

Earth Order: Arguments for World Government

"What profit is there in my destruction, if I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise you? Shall it declare your truth? (Ps 30:9, WEB)

Argument One: Only a world government can aspire to the highest perfection.

This is how Dante put the argument many centuries ago, but now matters are so pressing it can be boiled down to a more urgent appeal: only a world government allows us to aspire to continued survival.

This is a structural argument that has been repeatedly rejected because until recently the structure of our planet Terra was all but unknown. In fact, as the extremely important recent announcement by a body of marine scientists points out, we still are inexcusably ignorant of the oceans. But one thing most of us do, or at least should, know that most of our planet is covered in water and over 90 percent of the oxygen we breathe is produced by phytoplankton in its oceans. This constitutes an irrefragable structural argument for a world government with a mandate over all natural resources, and especially the oceans.

Not having a world government, these vast areas of our planet are now nothing but free-for-all zones for dumping, pollution and irresponsible exploitation. The marine scientist report that they have discovered that all oceans have degraded far worse than imagined, and that we may have crossed a tipping point to total collapse of life in the oceans, and for that matter everywhere else.

Argument Two: "No lesser form of organization than a world government can address global warming."

Asking our present institutions to deal with the environment is like having your house burgled by a neighbor and then knocking on his door asking for information to track down your missing goods. Putting hope in assistance from nationalists is vain self-delusion that fails to recognize the obvious solution. Nations are not saviors, they are the perpetrators. We are like the oppressed surfs of Imperial Russia, pathetically hanging to naive faith that the Czar would give them relief if only the bad people surrounding and deluding him were removed and somehow learned their plight. History has let the secret out: the Czar was an oppressor like any other. Same thing now with global warming: it is pointless going to our neighbor and knocking on his door again and again. He is the thief and he is not going to help. Anything less than world government is not only incapable of saving the planet, it is unwilling to do so because it is guilty, hopelessly implicated in terracide, the murder of an entire planet. This brings us to the next argument.

Argument Three: By any standard, conditions are such that no lesser government than terracracy can put a legitimate claim on justice or democracy.

Only a world government, backed by a mandate from the entire human race, would be powerful enough not to be bullied or corrupted by international corporations, or by the military-industrial complex. In other words, both peace and order can only exist under a world order.

What is more, only a world government can aspire to democracy for the same reason: monied interests can and do corrupt elections on a regular basis. And even if fair national elections were possible, which they are not but if they were, that would only reinforce an inherently unfair system where a tiny, wealthy minority of the human race dominates and muffles the voices of the huge majority. Democracy that does not give all humans an equal say is an excuse for further violence and oppression.

Anything short of universal government is not just susceptible to corruption, as long as it is unaccountable to the representatives of the whole of humanity it will continue to be an inherently corrupting force in itself. Anything short of world government will act in a tyrannical manner over lesser levels of government.

I will leave for next time what is for me the most emotionally satisfying argument, the technical argument for world government.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

illustrated Badiblog posting

As part of learning our new computer I made up a visual version of the
last badiblog posting. Unfortunately Blogspot does not allow pdf file
uploads so I have to send it to you as an attachment. Some of the
text was revised as well. Enjoy.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Covenant Comments

Day of the Covenant; Covenant Comments

By John Taylor; 2007 Nov 26, 04 Qawl, 164 BE

Today is the Day of the Covenant, so I really have no choice but to write about this crucial juncture in our Baha'i Calendar. By the way, speaking of the calendar, if you have not done so already, go to and install their excellent calendar program. It has been life transforming -- well, maybe life enhancing -- for me to be greeted first thing when I turn on my computer in the morning with a "live" version of the Badi Calendar. Feasts no longer creep up unannounced, they are part of a coherent scheme; and now I am aware of the actual Holy Hays --the real times, not just the days on which our local community happens celebrate them -- these are not always the same, especially in a small community like ours, and especially on this the Day of the Covenant, which is perhaps the most flexible of all. It took me a while to get used to Jalal, Jamal, Kamal instead of Saturday, Sunday, Monday, but that is all to the good. Now the Badi' week is a living thing, an organic part of my life.

Yesterday, Sunday, since the choir was singing there our entire Dunnville contingent of believers attended Hamilton's celebration. I took pictures, so if you are getting this by email and want to see photos of the action as well as reading about it, go to the Badi' Blog at and read this there; the web gallery should be up by Tuesday. Also, especially lately, that is where more corrected, proofread versions of these essays are to be found.

The Day of the Covenant celebration started off with the junior youth giving a play about their role in the world and in the Baha'i community. I was struck not only by their hard work, but also their sincerity and seriousness. They seemed buoyed but also weighed down with the heavy role that Baha'u'llah has given for youth in this time; when the play climaxed with their gathering in a circle and raising a globe high in the air, they were not acting, they offered no empty gesture but a heartfelt commitment to the Lord of the Covenant.

 Life has a way of weighing you down, and I was inspired by the uplifting comments, most recited directly from the Word of God, of the morning's keynote speaker, my spiritual brother, Joe. Afterwards I talked with him and Joe was kind enough to share some of his notes and quotes for the talk, so insofar as the following general comments about covenant have merit, it is his; insofar as it is frippery worthy of being relegated to the limbo of vain illusion, yoo-hoo, that's me.

 Comments about the Nature of Covenant

 Joe started out saying that covenant means an agreement, a contract, a marriage bond between our heart and our God. Covenant means a standard, an agreement to set standards and actualize them for the well-being of the world. It is pretty clear, however, that ours is a world that does its best to avoid standards, worldly standards as well as divine. Baha'u'llah laments this pigheadedness on our part,

 "How long will humanity persist in its waywardness? How long will injustice continue? How long is chaos and confusion to reign amongst men? How long will discord agitate the face of society? The winds of despair are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divides and afflicts the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appears to be lamentably defective." (Baha'u'llah, quoted in, Shoghi Effendi, World Order, 32)

 At the same time, no matter who we are, we cannot avoid making agreements in everything we do. Any fruits we bear in life come out of the covenants we make in our contact with others, contracts both small and large, frivolous (a joke is a contract) and sacred (marriage and religion are contracts), both temporary and eternal.

 Whenever we open our mouth to speak we enter into an implicit contract with our listeners. On the most basic level we agree to use the same language, in this case English. A language is nothing else but an agreement that a specific set of sounds mean something. Its linguistic conventions demand that the sounds come together in arbitrary ways that assign both denotative and connotative meaning. If we did not make this implicit covenant I could never get an iota of meaning across to you, nor you to me. This centrality of language gives a hint at how crucial words are when uttered by the Almighty. Baha'u'llah puts great emphasis on this:

 "Every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God is endowed with such potency as can instill new life into every human frame, if ye be of them that comprehend this truth. All the wondrous works ye behold in this world have been manifested through the operation of His supreme and most exalted Will, His wondrous and inflexible Purpose." (Gl 141)

 We also constantly make covenants in our economic life. Whenever we enter into a financial transaction with others, unless it is bartering which in modern times is fairly rare outside of close relationships, we must use money. In order to use money, we have to agree upon a kind of money. Whatever currency we choose, it is the result of another, broader covenant. Every use of money makes an implicit vote of confidence in the issuing institution. Whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not, every purchase we make demonstrates trust. Both parties trust that the body that issued that common currency will back it up.

 Similarly, the Manifestations of God in every age create a spiritual language, a spiritual common currency. Who is their backer? God, and God only. Unlike the lesser contracts that create and uphold language and money in a worldly way, the divine covenant, both the lesser and the greater covenant, constitute a contract of love. God's covenant only works through voluntary commitment within and among believers. But -- and this is why we have commemorations like the Day of the Covenant -- the fact that God does not force it upon us does not in any way make it weak or option. For the obligations of love are the heaviest of all, as our oppressed brothers and sisters in Iran and Egypt are reminding us every day.

 As parties to this divine covenant we, God's creatures, make a vow to our Creator. This starts deep in the heart; I say, as the Psalm puts it, "I have chosen the way of truth. I have set my heart on your law." (Ps 119:30, WEB) Thus I commit to the only thing that I know deep down will save the world, God, His Word, and the holy Teachers who utter it.

 I participate in it personally, and you do, and everyone who reads, prays and acts. By doing so we are building a spirit language, an invisible currency based upon the Holy Word. Who knows what will result?

 The deeper understanding of covenant that we are striving for today calls for no empty affirmation of belief. Goethe was right when he said that, "Knowing is not enough, willing is not enough, we must apply." It commands our motion in and through the Word of God, for truth seeking is truth making.

 "Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness. Your law is truth." (Ps 119:142)

 The House of Justice has offered us four core activities and assured us that if we place them first our covenant will bear fruit in a new language, a new currency of spirit. So let us get to it!


Friday, November 23, 2007

musical brains

Two Books about Music and the Brain

2007 Nov 22; 19 Qudrat, 164 BE

My present audio book is Oliver Sacks' latest work, "Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain." Wiki does not yet have an article on this book, but you can see a televised lecture where Sacks discusses it at:

It gives a strange feeling to listen to Sacks, who is not only an essayist and migraine sufferer like myself, but also a neurologist with many stories to tell, some of his own but mostly of his patients and correspondents. Dr. Sacks continues here as in the past with his anecdotal or case study methodology, but at the same time he seems to be doing a good job keeping up with the huge discoveries made over the past decade mapping the regions and machineries of the brain.
His stories demonstrate that when a part of the brain shuts down, be it by poison or lightning strike, other parts take over, and when they do not, strange things happen. Victims lose parts of their musical abilities selectively, their ability to discern pitch, or harmony, or timbre, etc. It is really amazing how selective abilities corresponding with the parts of music can go wrong. After decades of investigation, Sacks has begun to suspect that auditory hallucinations are more common than was thought in neurology. Listening to the case studies I realized that I have experienced auditory hallucinations too; but they were always of voices, not music, and always after long conversations and during the reverie that precedes sleep.
My impression from Sacks' stories about weird and wonderful brain malfunctions is that our brains are not so much machines as radio towers. Brain regions are a set of receptors and transmitters that pick up songs of spirit and deal with them as they happen wire themselves up. What we call "natural abilities" or "brain damage" are just ways the brain happened to connect its wires. Each region acts as a sub-antenna to pick up signals from somewhere else, or sometimes to transmit and broadcast elsewhere. When we say someone is "intelligent," "inspired," or "spiritual," does that just mean that their brain is plugged into a sort of unseen Internet behind worlds this world? How else to explain cases like the non-musical fellow who is struck by lightning and suddenly appreciates music, and even feels impelled to write and perform the piano?
Overall, the feeling I get from hearing Sacks' musings about brain breakdowns is hope, hope that we can rewire ourselves in more effective ways to overcome intractable problems. If we systematically introduced music, along with reflection, meditation and prayer, into our daily lives as part of a problem solving methodology we could resolve any number of quandaries we now think of as permanent to the human condition.
A couple of months ago I audited another popular book about music and the brain called "This is Your Brain on Music," and the findings described there supplement Sacks' book quite well. Talking about the latter book, not long after I read "Brain on Music" a rather deadly overall criticism of the author's thesis struck me.
"Brain on Music" starts off by saying that only recently in our evolution has music become a professional activity where most people passively sit back in silence and listen to a tiny minority of gifted experts who alone write and perform. Until a few centuries ago, it says, everybody sang and made music as a part of their daily routine. Music making, not music listening, filled a void in our auditory world. Now, of course, that void is filled to overflowing by any number of electronic media.
But then the book forgets this fact of human evolution and assumes that the regions of our brain that musical instruments stimulate developed under the stimulus of music as we now conceive of it. Instead, researchers should be testing aboriginals still living close to our oldest traditions. If we watched their brains react to participating in ancient lifestyle songs we would get a more accurate picture of how the brain got to what it is, and to how it naturally reacts, rather than just examining modern, passive listeners or professional music specialists.
What we need, and by we I mean researchers and lay alike, is a more comprehensible way of visualizing the mechanisms of the brain in action. We need a sort of interactive, visual brain game to bring many people together to see it in action, perhaps an online simulation like Second Life. Also, I suspect that the terminology we have for the regions of the brain, words like "temporal lobe" and "corpus callosum," is inadequate to what we now know it to be. Our terms are obsolete and unenlightening. Now that we have an idea of what brain regions do we should give them names to reflect their function.
Actually, maybe that is too conservative.
As our understanding of the brain grows the brain itself could become a model for the optimum human language. Specialists in neurology, linguistics and computer science can cooperate on devising a direct brain based language, perhaps taking advantage of how music effects every part of the brain. An international language might come out of a direct brain-computer interface. As we study how existing human languages light up various brain regions we will understand how how brain evolution can be taken to the next step. Tonal languages, like Chinese, already use an element of music to convey meaning. Much more could be done.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


On Mislaid Predicates

By John Taylor; 2007 Nov 22, 19 Qudrat, 164 BE

I have been bogged down forever at the confluence of justice and search for truth. Late last night I thought I might break the jam by reading Mortimer Adler's essay on truth in Britannica's Syntopicon, which starts off with Josiah Royce's definition of a liar as "one who willfully mislays his ontological predicates."

 That set me to thinking about our two kids. That is how I philosophize when it is that late at night.

 Whatever else you may say about them, and unlike just about every other child I have ever heard of, our offspring never lie. Even at that young age when toddlers discover they can lie, these two never tried out their new muscle, at least not that I can recall. To this day Silvie and Thomas remain surprisingly scrupulous about not intentionally mislaying their ontological predicates. They keep them close to hand. Thomas surprises me in particular, what with his being a headstrong, rambunctious, energetic eight-year-old boy, yet for all his mischievousness I could not recall a single occasion when I had caught him out in a lie.

 So this morning before they went off to school, I spontaneously awarded Thomas the same prize I give for getting an "A," twenty "rekompenso poentoj" -- exchangeable for a dollar, because he has been so truthful. I planned to give the same prize to Silvie to keep it from becoming invidious. So when as expected she protested at not getting anything I asked her, "Of course, you never lie either, do you?" Her response was more guarded than I expected. "Eble..." ("Maybe.") I realized that I had almost pushed her into committing the liar's paradox, which, when spoken by any but the Most Great Truth Teller, would probably create a spatial anomaly with unforeseeable consequences. Like her mother, she is if anything over-scrupulous about adhering to the literal truth. For her to say "yes" to that question would mean she never told a lie, ever, something only the likes of Abdu'l-Baha could boast of (and as we saw in a recent essay, boasting of sinlessness is itself a betrayal of truth). Her circumspection alone made her believable, and I awarded the same twenty points.

 Thomas's reaction to the reward was not gratification, as I expected, but puzzlement. "Is it a lie when you promise someone not to tell, when you are keeping a secret?" We gave the correct parent's response, that one must balance loyalty with truthfulness, and that all bets are off when it is a question of immorality, criminality or child abuse. But I have to admit that although I do not believe in being a literalistic truth teller as my wife is, I am often troubled about this very issue. Thomas proved his integrity just by bringing the issue up.

 My research is not the sort of thing where I have employers clamoring to force me to sign confidentiality agreements, but I often ponder over whether such contracts should even be allowed by law. I will come back to this.

 I think the reason both our kids are so truthful is not so much that their parents are so all fired truthful ourselves, but mostly because we are both such marshmallowy personalities. We do not go out of our way to call them out or accuse them of wrongdoing. And we are around them virtually all the time; there is not much kids can do wrong under such constant supervision. But mostly, we are wimps, willfully so. If they jump on the furniture or draw on the walls once in a while, so what? The furniture is junk and we will paint the walls someday anyway. As the Master said, the origin of wrongdoing is attachment; when it comes to children's wrongdoing, most of it boils down to the attachment not of kids but their parents, to putting love second to ephemeral material possessions.

 A bad attitude on the part of governments and parents provokes defensive lies; but it is all their own doing. The quickest way to create a liar is to condemn, to be overly accusatory. This in itself compromises love and truth. What non-wimpy, non-marshmallowy authority figures love the most is the inquisition. "Did you do it? Tell the truth, or else." The "else" offers the sadist the greatest pleasure. Both the Bab and Baha'u'llah were subjected to such inquisition backed up by the bastinado. And of course Jesus, when his answer to the high priest was not to the liking of his goon, was struck across the face. He responded,

 "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?" (John 18:23)

 Few have the grit to stand before a tyrant and tell the truth as openly as that. Unbelievably, many Christians forget this shocking example of twisted corporal punishment applied to their Lord and take the saying "Spare the rod and spoil the child" literally. But recall what Jesus had just said before being struck, "In secret have I said nothing." (18:20) This was quite true, as his frequent use of parables attests. The parable is the ultimate literary way to combine inner, hidden meanings behind an outer shell, rather as the world does.

 The fact is that avoiding lies and the violence in which they fester is not just a matter of personal integrity; it is the foundation of public order and security.

 In any case, Thomas was perfectly correct, the need to keep information confidential often does force you to willfully mislay your ontological predicates. Hence my aversion for confidentiality agreements. To me, signing such a thing is the same as explicitly promising to mislay your ontological predicates. It says, I am a liar, and thus calls the black cloud of the liar's paradox onto your own head. It is to declare, "Not only am I a liar, but I promise to be a worse liar in the future." The very fact that a company or other entity asks you to sign such an agreement is implicit admission that they do not trust your discretion; they expect and invite betrayal.

 Worse, like all secrecy, formalized confidentiality agreements not only willfully lay aside their ontological predicates, by so doing they actually embrace and invite wrongdoing.

 The Master once was asked how to avoid telling a lie; his answer was simple, never do anything wrong and you will never have to tell a lie. Any contract, therefore, which compromises our ability to speak the whole truth restricts our freedom and tends to be noisome of immorality and mendacity. This is because the very existence of confidentiality contracts is a standing temptation to increase wrongdoing. This lesson was learned the hard way among states in the Great War. They realized afterwards that a rat's nest of secret pacts had turned a local dispute in Serbia into a global death struggle. So secret treaties were emphatically banned.

 But this lesson has yet to be learned in the workplace.

 The very existence of confidentiality agreements threatens not only the integrity of the parties privy to the agreement, but also society at large. How do I know that any answer anybody gives me about anything has not been mischievously altered by some unknown contract they signed in the past? Secrecy breeds criminality, and criminality breeds yet more secrecy. And there is a fine line between confidentiality and secrecy. They breed in mutual dependency.

 As it is, corporations are permitted to keep secret pretty much whatever they please, even when it is a threat to public safety. For example, they have a right to keep the specific chemicals in the flavorings and preservatives that we all eat to themselves, since these are protected trade secrets. Same way, computer chip makers keep microcode as a trade secret. As reported in the press last week, an Israeli scientist warns that this creates a hardwired vulnerability in Intel chips to hacking, and this puts our entire banking system in imminent peril of collapse. Every electronic money transfer could be hacked by spies or criminals. And of course, what with confidentiality agreements rampant in industry, there is no danger that any whistleblowers will lightly expose such fatal flaws to broader scrutiny in the public interest. That would mean breaking their confidentiality agreements.

 Of course, it is undeniable that all power relations require some degree of confidentiality. I have been reading about the birth of the Baha'i administration, and in the early years, until at least 1907, the local Assembly held its meetings entirely open to community observers. If you had a private matter to discuss with them I guess you were out of luck. Later the Master's teaching that the Assembly should be like a loving parent to the community must have kicked in, requiring that the Assembly be like parents and consult privately in order to offer some degree of confidentiality both to themselves and the community, their children, both separately and together -- now the administrative section of the Feast acts as consultation En Famille, excluding outsiders.

 As a member of our local Assembly I am conscious that confidentiality acts like a belt constricting my usual all-too-open frankness. Ditto with being a parent and husband. But I appreciate that at least I do not have to sign any restrictive confidentiality agreements, and that I am trusted. The writings are there for all to read, plain, not even protected by parable. I appreciate the trust and try to live up to it. -- Oh, no! Look at what I just did. By writing what I just did I made up my own confidentiality agreement without even being forced to do it. Dang! So starts the slippery slope to mislaid ontological predicates.












Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Towards an Anti-Aesthetic Globe

 By John Taylor; 2007 Nov 21, 18 Qudrat, 164 BE

 Note: I revised yesterday's essay and re-posted the improved version to the Badi Blog at: When I mess up this way I feel like the manager of a malfunctioning sewage processing plant. He is forced to announce that people probably should not drink their tap water for a while, or they will die. You may not die, but still, do not read your emailed copy of yesterday's blog entry. It may not be contaminated but in its own way it is crap. Just go out and read the version on the Badi Blog.

 Yesterday we exposed the root of the world's corruption. It is not so much threats of terror as it is mollycoddling from within, particularly in youth. We are victims of what the Master called "love inversions." One way of reversing the deadly heat wave of unhealthy love is to start with self-discipline, and then to enter into consultation about how to solve the real problem. True, mature love plus knowledge lead to action.

 One of the most important grassroots discussion processes for effective action is the Earth Charter. In response to the Charter I have been slowly going through a book called "The Earth Charter In Action, Toward a Sustainable World." An early essay, featured here before, explains that the Earth Charter is effectively a new pillar of the United Nations. The Charter of the United Nations was a first step, dealing with relationships with and between governments, then came the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, aimed at improving human-to-human relations. A third object was economic, but economics grows from the roots we extend into the natural world, and that was long ignored. One essay in this book, by Mirian Vilela and Peter Blaze Corcoran, explains how this gradually changed.

 "...three major goals were identified for the UN - to ensure peace and world security, to secure human rights, and to foster cooperation for social and economic development. It was only in 1972, as the result of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, that environment protection was considered as the fourth main preoccupation of the United Nations. Furthermore, it was not until the 1980s that the concept of sustainable development emerged, raising the need to address these various preoccupations with an integrated approach and justifying the need for a new charter." ("Building Consensus on Shared Values," Earth Charter in Action, p. 332)

 The Earth Charter, as yet still unofficial, will soon become the shiniest pillar of the United Nations. Last week the UN tentatively recognized its responsibility for the environment by daring to admonish the world's two greatest polluters, the US and China. This is a good sign, but far from enough.

 Anybody who opens his or her eyes has to be worried about how far our relationship with nature has degraded. What to do? Rather than sitting back and stewing over pollution and the thousand other natural shocks that nature is heir to, we should actively promote this Earth Charter. My book on it was commissioned by the body responsible for the Charter, and it has been a great help. It offers essays by writers of diverse backgrounds. Their varied points of view about how to implement better environmental policies at the grassroots level are stimulating to a dreamer like myself. Discussion leading to this document started back in the 1980's.

 "... the Earth Charter derived from the 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development report Our Common Future. This report called for ... `a new charter to guide state behaviour in the transition to sustainable development,' and also stated that the charter `should prescribe new norms for state and inter-state behaviour needed to maintain livelihoods and life on our shared planet.'" (Ib., 332)

 As with all progressive ideas, this process was opposed by reactionary, vested interests from day one. Truth is, as somebody said, inconvenient. In spite of that, masses of thinking people demanded some kind of a show of action and, around the centenary of Baha'u'llah's Ascension, the gathering known as the Earth Summit took place. It was subverted of course, flouted in its face by the biggest nationalist, capitalist power brokers, who resented the pressured to be there at all. Nonetheless, there were good outcomes.

 "The idea of developing an Earth Charter was then included as part of the preparatory process for United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) - the Rio Earth Summit. In 1990 and 1991, several preparatory meetings for the conference took place at the international and national levels, which identified elements for such a charter. This effort sought to develop, through intergovernmental negotiation, a charter which was to provide the ethical foundation upon which Agenda 21 and the other UNCED agreements were to be based."

 From a philosophical point of view, the gradual implementation of the Earth Charter will require a move from the first to the second levels of Kierkegaard's three spheres of human existence. These, you will recall, are first the aesthetical, second the ethical and third the religious. The aesthete is concerned only with liking and disliking, pleasure and boredom. Right now both our elites and masses are embroiled in some kind of hedonistic rat race.

 The aesthete cannot cut it when it comes to saving the world. To survive and implement the Earth Charter we each and all must put moral considerations first. This same history of the fate of the Charter at the Earth Summit continues:

 "The possibility of such an ethical foundation generated significant enthusiasm, which led a number of governments and non-governmental organizations to submit recommendations and proposals on this subject."

 Rather than go over what they suggested, here are some ideas of my own.

 How about a goal for every teacher to carry into every classroom a globe, and relate every lesson, every lecture in some way to that physical reminder of our global responsibility? You can pick up an ordinary globe for what? Twenty or forty dollars? It is not that expensive, and is hardly a radical move, since globes in classrooms are traditional items. But most globes are defaced by national coloration. I am talking about a globe showing the world as it is, without borders. The effect of that would be limitless.

 But it should not stop there.

 I notice that many stores are advertising improved world globes. A Toy World brochure kicking around our house advertises a computerized globe display, including games and lessons for all ages, called the "smart globe." It costs a hundred dollars and has the advantage of being re-programmable according to the needs of a particular lesson. Another product is "Magic Planet;" here is their site:


 Here is how they describe their doodad:

 "The Magic Planet is a digital video globe that allows you to view and explore dynamic digital media of the earth and other planets, as well as to watch and interact with marketing, promotional or entertainment media.  The Magic Planet is a projection display device - it is a computer display with a sphere-shaped screen. It's controlled by a PC or another video source such as a streaming media server, so it can display any global image - it's tremendously versatile. It allows you to present global information and global context in the most compelling way possible."

 Such initiatives are significant steps to what we really need, a round computer monitor. Using that, connected to Google Earth, you could plunge into our globe in ways that nobody can imagine until it is done. To get an idea of what such a round I/O device might reveal, go to:


 The artists who made these data displays up gave their traveling art show a great name, the "World Processor." The World Processor gives a glimpse of what interactive, dynamic displays of our globe might do for education. If teachers had a world processor of some kind they could put the Earth Charter and its objectives into a persuasive display right before them. I think such display technology could take us from an aesthetic sphere to a moral one, for an aesthete is only concerned with found pleasures, as found on an analogue globe, but the moral sphere is inherently digital, it seeks out the good and displays that. Although He was speaking of the next level up in the Kierkegaardian scheme, the religious sphere, the Master's words to teachers of Baha'i classes could also apply to moral teachers of the Earth Charter:

 "Then when they grow up most astonishing results will be produced because the map of their whole lives will be drawn with the hand of the spiritual educator." (SW, Vol. 7, No. 15, p. 142)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Love Inversions, and other things
By John Taylor; 2007 Nov 20, 17 Qudrat, 164 BE

Time is limited today, so let us do a roundup of loose ends.
One song I always liked is "Spirit in the Sky," since it combines a stirring guitar riff combined with a Christian message; and so a couple of weeks ago I found it on Youtube and put it onto the old Ipod. One verse of it goes, "I am not a sinner, I have never sinned. I have a friend in Jesus." This sentiment grated on me, contradicting as it does the central Biblical teaching that "all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of the Lord." After several more listenings I started to think maybe this is acceptable, since the guy is persuaded that Jesus has washed away his sins and all that. Then I ran across this, which asserts that even if He has made you clean, you have no right to go around boasting about it.
"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (John 1:8, WEB)
My output has been cut back for the past couple of months because of the return of rainy weather, but also partly because I have been trying to rearrange my study. Books I need at hand are packed away in a box somewhere and I am discombobulated half the time. Now I find that even the improvements I made are not good enough, I should have chosen a desk at which one can work both standing and sitting, but mostly standing. That is because of this study:
"Sitting may increase risk of disease."
They found that "sitting had negative effects on fat and cholesterol metabolism," and that "physical inactivity throughout the day stimulated disease-promoting processes, and that exercising, even for an hour a day, was not sufficient to reverse the effect." My favorite site of late, Lifehacker, staged a contest to address the need exposed by this study for an adjustable desk at which you can stand at as well as sit, and this was the winner:
Here an example of Confucius's wisdom, a quote I refer back to often,
"It is Man who is capable of broadening the Way. It is not the Way that is capable of broadening Man." (Analects 15:25)
That is true, but if you think about it, a sedentary lifestyle certainly is a way that is capable of broadening man, and burying him. On the other hand, the good news is that if you manage to take sitting for long periods out of your lifestyle, it is easy to improve health. Another way to reduce idleness I tried was to get rid of our living room couch. I tried it and it worked for a while, but the pressure of other members of the household forced me to backslide.
Sitting on the couch last night, Thomas insisted on watching a couple of old Bugs Bunny cartoons. One of them, made during the rationing and travel restrictions of World War II, ended with Bugs jumping off a train saying, "Of course I had to get off, there should be no unnecessary civilian travel." The kids were silent and uncomprehending, and it was with a chill that I realized that that joke should still work; what with global warming and the need to reduce our carbon footprint, there should be a huge campaign for every individual to avoid unnecessary jet travel. George Monbiot makes this point in his book "Heat." He points out that especially jet air travel should be discouraged, at least until technology makes it less harmful to the biosphere. But sadly there is no such consciousness, no publicity aimed to reduce unnecessary travel. Most are unaware of this easy way to help the environment. And of course, the moneyed interests that run the media are not going to bend over backwards to lose money. It would take a war to get people going on such basic economy measures to slow climate change. Bugs Bunny's last joke should still go over, but sadly it does not.
Put these two topics together and you realize that both are forms of mollycoddling. We spoil ourselves by sitting on the couch or the office chair too long, and we mollycoddle the wet-nurses of society, corporate oil interests, by encouraging jet travel rather than banning it, but these are really aspects of the same problem, a problem the Master called "love inversion." We are all familiar with temperature inversions, when weather traps the heat of a city and it chokes and slow-cooks the inhabitants below. The result is what is popularly called a heat wave, and it is well known that far more people are killed every year by heat waves than by all other weather related deaths, including hurricanes and tornadoes. You would never know it from the headlines, but it is a fact.
But even worse are love inversions.
We flatter ourselves and think that love is always good, but it is not. A love inversion in some form or other is the root reason we cannot summon up the discipline to address clear and urgent survival needs, such as reducing carbon emissions. All this explains why the following passage of the Master should be better known than it is, for what He says goes beyond what it ostensibly discusses, the mollycoddling of a particular mother. Hate does terrible harm but it is harder to defend against excessive, ignorant, smothering love. Too much love causes, in the Master’s phrase, an inversion or bear hug that smothers the victim to death as effectively as a heat wave a city. Our defenses to this are weakest early in life, during our formative years. I warn our kids, the greatest danger you will face in life is not assaults from without but temptations from within. Only tough love for self can withstand it. Society does not think of permissive parents as child abusers but the harm they do is far worse and longer lasting than the violent variety of abuser. This is especially true in wealthy areas of the world.

Love Inversion (Abdu'l-Baha, cited in Sohrab's Diary)
The fathers, and especially the mothers, must always think how they can best educate their children; not how to fondle and embrace them and thus spoil them. By every means at their disposal they must inculcate in their growing bodies, souls, minds and spirits the principles of sincerity, love, trustfulness obedience, true democracy and kindness toward all the races; thus hereafter the world civilization may flow in one mighty current and the children of the next generation may make secure the foundations of human solidarity and good will. From the tenderest childhood the children must be taught by their mothers the love of God and the love of humanity; not the love of the humanity of Asia, or the humanity of Europe, or the humanity of America, but the humanity of humankind. There are some mothers who have a strange, inexplicable love for their children.
One may call it the inversion of love, or as we call it in Persia "bearish love."
This kind of love does more injury to the child than good. When I was in Acca, during the life of Baha'u'llah, I entrusted the son of one of the believers to a German carpenter. After a month, his mother went to Baha'u'llah and lamented and bemoaned, "I want my son, because he is unhappy with this carpenter, who curses his religion. Baha'u'llah told her to "go to Abba (the Master) and whatever he says, act accordingly."
She came to me, and after she had told her side of the story I told her: "The Germans never curse anyone. They are not accustomed to it," She went away, and after another month she came again to Baha'u'llah with another complaint that this carpenter had forced her son to carry on his back a load of wheat. Again I told her that if he had done so it was for discipline. I quieted her, but she was murmuring inwardly. A few months rolled by, and she returned with another set of complaints, frankly confessing that she did not want her son to be away from her, that he was the apple of her eye.
Realizing how selfish her love was for her son I told her at last that I would not take him away; that he must stay with the carpenter for eight years until his apprenticeship was over. Well, she yielded to the inexorable situation. After eight years of study he left his master, and his mother was very proud of him, everywhere praising his industry because his work was demanded on every hand. In short, the mothers must not think of themselves but of the progress of their children, because upon the children of today whether boys or girls depends the molding the civilization of tomorrow." (Star of the West, Vol. VII, No. 15, p. 143

Friday, November 16, 2007

p19st Justice

Justice and the Investigation of Reality, Part One

By John Taylor; 2007 Nov 16, 13 Qudrat, 164 BE

In this series of essays, begun in January of 2007, we have been considering justice. Although we tend not think of justice as a Baha'i principle, it is certainly one of the most fundamental and indispensable of all. Perhaps we do not notice it for the same reason that when we look at someone in the street wearing a tee-shirt we tend to notice its shape and color, or we may read the message written on it, but rarely do we ask what of what material it is made, whether it is cotton, wool or polyester. Justice, that is, is so woven into the fabric of principle that it becomes invisible.

In what was covered so far we have considered definitions of what justice is and how it applies to the Oneness of God and other spiritual principles, such as power of the Holy Spirit, covenant and love. Now is a good time to turn to the social principles. As always, we will systematically walk through each of the dozen odd Baha'i social principles. Today let us look at justice and search for truth, proceeding more or less chronologically.

 The principle of search for truth is nothing more nor less than justice in the individual. Personal life reflects justice insofar as it intersperses mediation, reflection and self-assessment into daily life. Justice is investigating reality by establishing feedback between reflection and experience. Chinese teachers understood and taught this as forcefully as any world tradition. Confucius, for instance, records in the Analects,

 "The philosopher Tsang said, `I daily examine myself on three points: -whether, in transacting business for others, I may have been not faithful; -whether, in intercourse with friends, I may have been not sincere; -whether I may have not mastered and practiced the instructions of my teacher.'" (Analects, 1:7)

 Once one lives up to these three inner requirements of an examined life, faithfulness, sincerity and tractability, the next step is to lay the fruits of service before the powers that be, for service is truth, and truth service. Confucius taught that the first requirement when standing before authority is so to order one's existence as to be able in such a situation to speak truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

 "Tsu-lu asked about the way to serve a lord.  The Master said, `Make sure that you are not being dishonest with him when you stand up to him.'" (Analects, 14:22)

 Aristotle thought along the same lines when, asked what he gained from the study of philosophy, he answered, "(I learned) to do, without being commanded, what others do from fear of the laws." (Diogenes Laertius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, C.D. Yonge, tr.) Similarly, the Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius admonished himself,

 "Neither in writing nor in reading wilt thou be able to lay down rules for others before thou shalt have first learned to obey rules thyself. Much more is this so in life." (Meditations, 11:29)

 This new understanding of justice as truth's inner command, as a process of voluntarily internalizing the highest requirements of law and right, is characteristic of those geniuses from around the world who sprung up in the Axial age, about five hundred years BCE. For instance, Plato in the Symposium vividly recounts Socrates' story of being taught in his youth the principle of love by Diotima. She held that love is not a god himself because he lacks all good, but he joins with the good by his lack mixed with longing and desire for the good. This attraction between highest and the lowest, divine and material links otherwise polar opposites. Justice is itself an axial principle that mediates personal and social, divine and human.

 Plato, in his great work on justice, The Republic, explained how justice revolutionizes the world of external appearances by a process of education. To teach this he used his famous parable of the den or cave. To be unjust is to sit back and watch a false, contrived shadow play on a cave wall, and to imagine that is all there is to reality. But to be just is to turn away, to escape and join in the self-contemplation of the divine. The just walk out of a dark, shadowy world and see the sun of the good. They break free from the chains of tyrannical illusions. This is painful and causes temporary blindness, and invites violent reaction from the ignorant shadow puppeteers, who have a vested interest in the Status Quo. But Plato stressed that justice is not just going out into the daylight for a direct, intense vision of reality, rather it is turning around, going back into the cave to rescue the majority, who remain enslaved to falsity. It is the mixture of individual enlightenment with social reform.

 The Platonist school of philosophy emphasized Plato's idealistic side, his definition of man as one who participates in self-contemplation of the divine, as the Good reflected in our reflection, and popularized it across the Greco-Roman world. For instance Plotinus wrote,

 "Of things carrying their causes within, none arises at hazard or without purpose... All that they have comes from the Good; the Supreme itself, then, as author of reason, of causation, and of causing essence -- all certainly lying far outside of chance -- must be the Principle and as it were the exemplar of things, thus independent of hazard: it is, the First, the Authentic, immune from chance, from blind effect and happening: God is cause of Himself; for Himself and of Himself He is what He is, the first self, transcendently The Self." (Plotinus, Six Enneads, 14)

 It can be seen that the best aspects of this, consciously or not, came out of the Jewish tradition and its teaching that God is no absentee landlord but a loving, concerned, involved Being Who creates man in His own image. According to this, justice demands complete involvement and immersion in the divine Law.

 "I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad. O how I love thy law! it is my meditation all the day." (Ps 119:96-97) "I will meditate in thy statutes." (Ps 119:48)

 Unlike for Platonists, the Jewish idea of contemplation of the divine did not confine itself to cogitation and theory but is primarily concerned with moral obligation, with the responsibility that reflection entails. "From man in regard to his fellow man I will demand an accounting." (Gen 9:5) For the first time, Jewish law restricted legal responsibility to the individual; one could only be put to death for his own crimes, not those of a son, father or other family member (Deut 24:16).

 Similarly, reflection was understood as a social as well as personal activity. It should not be undertaken only in isolation but in groups, for example at holy day celebrations, and as part of the work week (the Sabbath), as well as in work. Each must have a career, producing independence and beneficial service. "Ye shall eat of the fruit of the labour of your hands." (Ps. 128) Creation was understood essentially as an act of love that demands of those who contemplate that they strive to love and forgive others, as God loved and forgave them.

 "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD." (Lev 19:18)

 The self-assessment of personal search, essential as is to progress, cannot end in perfection, as God's self-contemplation does. Our personal perspective will always be flawed. "He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him." (Prov 18:17) Thus the examined life is enhanced and perfected by social interaction and regular contact with other seekers. This was fulfilled in the prophesy that the first shall be last, and the last first. We shall look at the contribution of the Christian revelation to our understanding of justice and search next time.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Unity in Diversity, Our Grand Climacteric

By John Taylor; 2007 Nov 13, 10 Qudrat, 164 BE

Unity in diversity is not window dressing; it is key to our survival, stability and security. Here is why.

We are all painfully aware of the fact that climate disruption is destroying unique species of plant and animal life. Scientists for decades have been discovering exotic animals that go extinct the moment they are discovered, including a phosphorescent toad in a rain forest and in Australia a frog that somehow used its stomach to gestate its young. At the same time, for reasons not unrelated, we are losing forever much of our former human diversity, both cultural and linguistic. In a recent interview Noam Chomsky reverted briefly to his area of expertise, linguistics, though in this case his concern for democracy and political diversity meshes in as well. He said,

"Every time a language disappears that means the disappearance of the historical tradition, of cultural wealth, of an aural literary tradition, of a way of life; a piece of humanity is gone. It's not just the words. Languages are part of a living society. So a large part of humanity is being destroyed. It's tradition and it's cultural wealth. It's happening all over, people are not too aware of it." <>

The unplanned, unofficial spread of English, the language of cultural imperialism, along with the New York - Hollywood information juggernaut, is snuffing out diversity on the local level every place it touches. This is why it is urgent that we adopt an official second language to be taught from early childhood along with a local language in every school in the world. In this way an auxiliary language -- be it Esperanto, English, or any other agreed-upon tongue -- would reverse the processes of uniformity. By working from bottom up as well as top down, this approach would allow unity in diversity to enter the linguistic equation.

 It would be suicidal to sit back and watch as the number of languages and biodiversity in the natural world dwindles. The environmentalist George Monbiot lately pointed to a dystopic novel called "The Road," which he says is a nightmare vision of where we are headed. The Road is what might be called a road tragedy, a world where pollution has killed almost all plants and animals, and then famine, disease and warfare killed most of the human race; only a few surviving humans remain. They are divided into scavengers (the good guys) and cannibals (the bad guys). The scavengers head down a long road, hiding from hungry human predators, in hopes of reaching the ocean, which is now a poisoned, dead sea.

 This frightening scenario shows where we are headed if we do not address the root causes of language loss, global warming and other manifestations of disunity in uniformity. A reversal of fortune is what we need, one that would put unity in diversity in all our hearts and minds.

 This is not a new discovery. Profound thinkers have long recognized that seeking unity in diversity is the basis of world citizenship. Confucius put it at the center of his search for truth and the educational programs he set up.

 "The Master said, "`Ts`ze, you think I suppose that I am one who learns many things and keeps them in memory."
 Tsze Kung replied, "Yes, but perhaps it is not so?"
 "No," was the answer, "I seek a unity all-pervading." (Confucius Analects 15:2)

This goal marks the difference between world citizenship and the fractured, impotent, mindless consumer culture we have today. A world citizen seeks unity all-pervading, not cookie cutter uniformity.

 The fact is that the only way unity could ever become all-pervading would be if each individual everywhere did not have to be forced to see oneness in our core values, if he or she identified voluntarily with the One, and loved the diversity of His creation. Just as plants nurtured by one sun show creative diversity, people who turn to God demonstrate this by flourishing in diverse states and conditions.

 This is the effect of knowledge, this is the result of light. For, as a character in Shakespeare declares, "There is no darkness but ignorance." That character was Malvolio, the heavy in Twelfth Night. When he is fooled and humiliated by frivolous pranksters who carry a joke too far, Shakespeare imperils the comic lightness of the play by putting the following protest into Malvolio's mouth.

 "I am not mad, Sir Topas: I say to you, this house is dark. Clown Madman, thou errest: I say, there is no darkness but ignorance; in which thou art more puzzled than the Egyptians in their fog. ... I say, this house is as dark as ignorance, though ignorance were as dark as hell..."

 Malvolio had been proud and presumptuous, but his anger is not entirely unjustified; his opponents are superficial beings whose attack was born in alehouse gossip and raised in backbiting. But mostly his belief that ignorance is darkness, and conversely, knowledge is light, is as astute an observation as any ever made about the human condition. Malvolio fails to bring about a Peripeteia in his own fortunes, but almost. More generally, I think the spreading realization that darkness is ignorance and knowledge light marks something even more significant for us all than a sea change; it marks a grand climacteric.

 Climacteric is my favorite new word since I ran across it in a book about slums a few weeks ago. I have been stumbling over the term with eerie frequency ever since. It comes from the Greek word for rung or step in a ladder, and signifies, according to the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica,

 "a critical period in human life; in a medical sense, the period known as the `change of life,' marked in women by the menopause. Certain ages, especially those which are multiples of seven or nine, have been superstitiously regarded as particularly critical; thus the sixty-third and the eighty-first year of life have been called the "grand climacteric."

 The Wiki definition says in part,

 "The first climacteric occurs in the seventh year of a person's life; the rest are multiples of the first, such as 21, 49, 56, and 63, the last of which was called the grand climacteric, with the dangers here being supposedly more imminent."

 I have been haunted by a sort of climacteric film series by the English director Michael Apted, the latest of which is called "49 Up." Every seven years he comes out with a new version. The project started when a Canadian filmmaker was assigned to perform a social experiment to test the rigid class structures of Britain. He interviewed a specially chosen cross-section of society, a dozen or so seven year old children on their seventh birthday. The initial questions were, "Is the future of these children determined at birth? Is the Jesuit saying "give me a child until he reaches age seven, and I will have him for life," true or false? Apted was hired as a researcher for the first, "7 Up," and later continued with "14 Up," and so forth, a new update every seven years. Since I am only two years older than these subjects, I cannot help but compare my own ephemeral existence on earth with theirs. I am both looking forward to and dreading seeing the latest installment, which I understand is being shown on American PBS television. (

 Baha'is are familiar with the term "climacteric" since it was used a while back by the Universal House of Justice in the concluding paragraph of a letter dated 31 August 1987.

 "At this climacteric of human history, we are called upon to rise up in sacrificial endeavour, our eyes on the awe-inspiring responsibilities which such developments will place upon Baha'i institutions and individual believers in every land..."

 As far as I can determine, it was George Townshend who was responsible for introducing the idea that Baha'u'llah's fulfillment of the millennial expectations of older religions marks a grand climacteric in our collective fortune.

 Specifically, the first chapter of the Hand of the Cause's "Promise of All Ages," written in response to Shoghi Effendi's World Order letters, puts the thesis forward that our collective coming of age, what Confucius might call the "all-pervading unity" of history, is a kind of climacteric. Interestingly, he does not cite Biblical sources exclusively but gives due attention to other traditions, including Confucianism. In the following, for instance, Townshend describes the theme of the Spring and Autumn Annals (now thought to be only edited, if at all, not written, by Confucius), which divides history into three stages.

 "In the first, which he called the Stage of Disorder, the social mind was very crude; there was a sharp distinction between one's own country and other countries, and hence attention was paid more to conditions at home than abroad. In the second stage, the Advancement of Peace, there was a distinction between civilised countries on the one side and those uncivilised on the other; the range of civilisation extended and friendship between nations became closer. The smaller people could make their voices heard. In the third and final stage, the Supreme Peace, there was no distinction at all between the nations of the world. All became civilised and met upon the level. Righteousness prevailed and the world was unified." (George Townshend, Promise of All Ages, George Ronald, Oxford, rev. ed., 1948, p. 23)