Mental at the Table
By John Taylor; 2008 Apr 26, 17 Jalal, 165 BE
Our interest today, as always lately, is in the environment. I have been reading the following book, though it is harrowing at times.
"Earth Odyssey, Around the World in Search of our Environmental Future," by Mark Hertsgaard, Broadway Books, 1998, 352 pages
Its account of Ethiopia and Darfur, written ten years before the present atrocities, is amazing. Even back then the Dinka were undergoing sufferings that would be rejected as unbelievable in a work of fiction. You read about the misery, homelessness, illness and hopelessness that they go through and it just silences you. How can anybody keep plugging on in abject poverty in the middle of a war zone? After a while you just give up feeling sorry for them. You actually start feeling admiration, and humility. These desert dwellers make me feel unworthy to call myself a human being. If they can go through gross oppression with such stoic courage, well, thank God I am a member of the same human race as them.
My only question is, why are the rich not going there on pilgrimage to find out the secret of these amazing people? Where did they get such fortitude? Why not ask them on the speaker's circuit telling their astonishing story? I would rather hear from one of them than a dozen huckster self-help gurus who charge ten thousand bucks a pop to spout regurgitated truisms.
The world-traveling author of this book, Mark Hertsgaard, has an interesting presence in the blogosphere. In an article on his website <http://www.markhertsgaard.com/> he wrote last year,
"The oil giant (Exxon-Mobil) ... announced in February that it would stop funding (some of) the climate deniers it had previously supported and it pronounced itself eager to join discussions on Capitol Hill about new legislation. It's understandable that Exxon-Mobil would want a seat at the table for such negotiations. To quote an old Washington saying, "If you don't have a seat at the table, you're on the menu."
Take it from the world's largest and most powerful corporation, that is why we need to consult: if you are not at the table, you are on the menu. That is why we do not have anything like real democracy. If most people did have a seat, the poor of the world would not be on the menu.
Here is an idea. Instead of going to all the trouble of forming a world government, just give everybody a vote on Exxon Mobil. Make them the world government. They are already far richer than any other body, governmental or not. They already pull the strings. They are the main guys keeping us from decarbonising the world economy. They already have us all on their menu. So for our own survival, call the chairman of their board the president of the world. Make it open and official before we are all swallowed whole.
I have been getting too intense, I know. I must concentrate on the positive, avoid negativity. It must be as hard for you to read these Poverty of Environmentalism essays as it was to write them. But we are talking the survival of the human race, or, failing that, the looming death of billions of souls. Please forgive me if it bears down heavy.
Fortunately, we are all friends here.
One kind reader wrote to comfort me for not having a paying career, making the very good point that my disability gives me the rare leisure to become fully involved in the education of our children, and that this is the most important work of all. I would have laughed at this a year ago, but last fall they quit scouts and piano lessons and were home all evening. This emboldened me to try teaching a Baha'i class in the evening, and it is working out, though I have a lot to learn about being a teacher.
Eight-year-old Tomaso did not miss my lack of teaching experience and lately, unprompted, made up and filled out a sort of spontaneous teacher evaluation form of his own design. It consists of about eight charts, showing a spiky line graph of what my class looks like now, and in beautiful rounded curves what he thinks the class would look like if I added activities to the mix. I get the hint, more like the classes he gets in school. Thinking about how I spontaneously settled on this strange way of presenting the daily class, I realized that the technique I use, spiky as it may be, is the same thing I used to keep sane through my decades of illness. I would set up a pile of books by the side of my bed, including Baha'i Writings, the Qu'ran, the Bible, a science book, and so forth, and every morning read a page out of each, one book after the other, every day. No matter how dense and boring the book, and no matter how scattered my thought processes, I could endure a page of it, at least. Then later on I would write out the marked passages by hand and later cut them out and put them under whatever Baha'i principles and other categories they seemed to fit under. Crazy as this sounds, I was able to make unexpected links between bodies of knowledge that had rarely been connected together.
These Badi' Blog essays are the fruit of that idiosyncratic study methodology. Now that we have search engines to plow through the Writings in one bite, much fruit picking can be done easily and quickly -- too quickly, the old codger in me says. I am glad that I paid my dues the hard way by reading the books in hard copy, and collating the best of it over long years. Thank God the Web came along, but thank God it did not come earlier in my search, for it would have created a different, lazier, more superficial student.
God willing, one day these young ones will grow into a position to take over what I call my absorption system. I think of the old cartoon image of the industrialist father looking out the window at his factories, saying: "One day, my son and daughter, all this will be yours." Okay, mine is an intellectual legacy and not an industrial one, but it is rich nonetheless. It is a leg up onto the shoulders of giants.
As for the Baha'i classes right now, I plan to introduce more activities, as Tomaso's charts recommend, but doing what we do now, simply reading from (right now) the Virtues Project, our prayer book, a Hidden Word, and the Book of Matthew, is the best foundation. In spite of the spikiness of it, how many kids in Tomaso's grade school class have read a book out of the Bible in the context of divine virtues and the Baha'i teachings? Reading and discussing the original texts will always be the backbone of our classes, I think, however much turnover there is in the texts themselves. Last week they noticed that we were not studying other religions, so I read a short chapter from the Qu'ran, to give them a taste. I asked which faith tradition (I like Deepak Chopra's term, "wisdom tradition" the best) they would like to study next, and they both agreed upon Buddhism. So that is on deck, as are the Ruhi lessons, both the children's and the adult versions.
Jimbo, the friend who was so foresighted and generous as to give us our book on the Virtues Project as a gift long before we had children writes about something I said in Poverty of Environmentalism,
"Hi John! Pretty soon even forming a world government, though needed, is going to fall short of helping the world find effective solutions to our environmental woes. We already have an infallible World Institution put there by God just waiting to be used by us earthlings. We, the Baha'is, had better ask the Universal House of Justice the right questions very soon and then show the world how perfect those answers are. Do you follow my drift? Or, as you say, we will all be spinning our wheels deeper into oblivion. Generations down the road will look at us in wonder at the chance we missed."
This is an interesting idea, using the UHJ as an oracle! In future, world leaders may well use this resource to help solve their problems, even if all they come away with is a sense of inspiration and assurance.
I was intrigued at this idea of an oracle, in Baha'i terms. Will Mount Carmel one day perform the same role that Delphi did in Hellas? I did a search for the word "oracle" in Ocean. It does not turn up in the writings of the Central Figures. Certainly, the House is "protected from error," but they themselves do not claim to know everything.
I get this question in our Baha'i class a lot. For example, when Mirza Yahya poisons Baha'u'llah's rice bowl, they ask, "If Baha'u'llah knew everything, why did He eat it?" The answer is that the human side was not all knowing, I guess. More philosophically, this world is inherently unknowable by the dianoetic faculty -- the power of the soul which reasons scientifically. Because reason operates using principles, and principles cannot be derived from chaos or evil, the latter worldly details are invisible and unimportant, like the speck in the eye of a dead ant. So the human side of Baha'u'llah may have missed it; or maybe He saw and ate anyway, I do not know. But yes, we can all get a lot out of intermittent dialog with the Supreme Body.
"Generations down the road will look at us in wonder at the chance we missed."
My worry is that the way things are going there might not be any future generations to look back on this one. Baha'u'llah assured us that there will be a future, I know, and when He did He certainly was speaking in the voice of God. But He also said that humanity has a choice. Evil choices are being taken while the miasma of hell creeps into our nostrils. It is hard to think we are going to make it through this mess.
On an earlier occasion, Jimbo wrote,
"Hi John! I don't know if I qualify to be an environmentalist or not, but here is a couple of songs I have written on environmental issues if you're interested. The first one is called `Earth's Rainforests,'
The second one is called "Turn Around Global Warming,"
"Also, if you are more specific in your google search like for instance Baha'i Global Warming, you can get some pretty interesting results."
Jimbo referred to this passage in a Badi' essay called "No Matter How Small", "Am I the only Baha'i interested in saving the environment? I did a lonely little Web search for other Baha'i environmentalists..." and wrote the following,
"Searching for other Baha'i environmentalists on the Internet is like searching for Baha'i fathers or husbands. It does not mean they do not exist. It is just that the standard of good qualifications for these roles are a little daunting to say the least. Talking about the environment is almost like talking about the weather but in a deeper fashion. Everyone seems to have a different opinion of what we can do to help the environment. My wife is proud to say that her showers last under five minutes and she challenges everyone else in the family to do the same to save our most precious resource. Is she an environmentalist?"
"A new car called the Tato Nano is going to be a big hit since it is going to be affordable to the masses unlike most other vehicles,
"MUMBAI, India: Tata Motors' ultracheap car will be the least polluting vehicle on Indian roads, the company's chairman said, refuting criticism that the 100,000-rupee (US$2,500) car would add to traffic chaos and carbon emission."
"What is confusing is - Will it add to the world's pollution or take away overall? If we all traded in our gas guzzlers for this new one, we'll yes. But if they sell millions of them, then we have achieved what? Environmentalists must be scratching their heads... That's why you can't find any of them anywhere."
I like this little environmental challenge to take showers in less than five minutes, and challenging others to do the same. Not as good as a functioning rainwater and brown water recycling system, but it is a start. As the writings say, let our actions be prayers...
On "Poverty of Environmentalism" a semi-anonymous reader using the initials SMK commented in part,
"While I agree a world playing field will be a strong aspect to solving the problems of environmental degradation and changes we start but may not be able to live with, it's hard to credit your analysis/reaction when you state,
`The same applies to the environmental movement. Like all "isms," environmentalism is non-science. It notes that our world is deteriorating, but when it comes to actually solving the problem, the only answer is silence.
"There are plenty of references to solutions out there. One of the largest was a massive presentation through Scientific American on a solar energy system that could massively change our relationship with the world we are building and living in. There are other examples..."
I agree that there are many references to solutions out there, but references do not butter any parsnips. Until we devise legal and political mechanisms for practical action on a world level, that is all they will ever be, references, pipe dreams. Geo-engineering projects to regulate climate, for instance, cannot be done for free. That means somebody has to pay taxes to a world government. In order for such enterprises to happen, the first step is a United Earth. Thinking about anything less is a waste of precious time and energy. The reader continues,
"But the noise is mostly where the argument is and plenty of people still argue if global warming is happening or not, or actually good for us, or beyond our control one way or the other. I suggest your analysis is narrowed by focusing on that aspect."
Agreed, except the part about narrowness. An analysis has to be narrow in order to be focused. If our eyes cannot focus, we are legally blind. This is the most difficult problem in history and we have to focus in on what has worked in the past. It is well known that countries with a strong central government are far more prosperous than those that do not. So a strong, democratic world government working in the interests of the entire human race is our only hope to turn away from a nuclear Mad Max apocalypse.
"But again, there is a broader world that will play a role in estimating the danger and damages and our goals and methods.
If by "broader world" you mean civil society, yes, everybody has a right and duty to participate in forming a world government. It must be what Baha'u'llah called a "universal assemblage of man." Environmentalists need, as the Gospels put it, to repent. Nothing less than this has the remotest chance of success, since whatever else we can touch is part of the problem, not the solution. Here is what I wrote earlier in the comments section of the Badi' blog in response to this overall communication:
"Here is a question for you, SMK:
"Who is going to get to the moon, somebody who talks about attitude shifts or somebody who plans and builds a rocket (or, preferably, a space elevator)?
"It is absurd to talk about planetary solutions without talking world government. Only a world government is going to get you there. That is why I say it is futile and dishonest to mention the environment out of the context of the only way we will get there.
"The technical fixes, however wonderful and hopeful, will only solve part of a huge, multi-pronged situation, one bordering on anarchy."
Let us give the last word to Baha'u'llah, who urged us to repent too, to rely only on the remembrance God, prayer and study of the Text, and not on worldly frivolities that soon will pass into nothingness.
"The days of your life are far spent, O people, and your end is fast approaching. Put away, therefore, the things ye have devised and to which ye cleave, and take firm hold on the precepts of God, that haply ye may attain that which He hath purposed for you, and be of them that pursue a right course. Delight not yourselves in the things of the world and its vain ornaments, neither set your hopes on them. Let your reliance be on the remembrance of God, the Most Exalted, the Most Great. He will, erelong, bring to naught all the things ye possess. Let Him be your fear, and forget not His covenant with you, and be not of them that are shut out as by a veil from Him." (Summons, 5.42, Suriy-i-Muluk, 202-203)