Monday, June 30, 2008

p06 Followership

Towards an International Workplace Constitution, I

By John Taylor; 2008 June 30, 07 Rahmat, 165 BE


Market fundamentalists have a strange idea that business is efficient and government is not. This, as any fan of Dilbert knows intuitively, is utterly false. Ignorance, greed and folly do not congregate exclusively in any special corner of the economy. Corporations are as laden with bureaucracy as any government office. And, as Chomsky points out, in a democracy the people at least can influence policy decisions their government makes, while nobody but a few managers and board members question what a corporation does. Shareholders rarely know what is happening and when they do, their vote is a sham.


Without the shared worker ownership proposed by Abdu'l-Baha in the Montreal address to socialists just added to Promulgation (the talk that was recently shared here), a strange schizophrenia and psychopathology will continue to be kneaded into corporate DNA. Workers (since the end of aristocracy, we are all workers) are divided into warring camps of owners, clients, government, managers and blue collar "Larry the Cable Guy" types. All their interests are divided artificially, a situation designed to provoke opposition.


George Monbiot in his Manifesto suggests a simple way on the international level to rein in autocratic corporations to the same rule of law that as individuals we all have to obey. As it is, companies are by and large exempt because, lacking a world government, they have no international overseer. The result, Monbiot points out, is unavoidable: piracy. "International trade without international rules, as hundreds of years of colonial exploitation show, is piracy." (Monbiot, Age of Consent, p. 189) How do you keep business from piratical practices? The solution, according to Monbiot, is just to require that they apply for a license in order to trade internationally. That way, when (not if) they exploit workers in poor nations, they will have to answer for it. Most companies pride themselves in being good corporate citizens, but that responsibility stops as soon as they cross borders. Most are guilty of criminal violations of labor codes, pollution, dumping, and other irresponsible behavior. To change this Monbiot suggests a simple answer: an international Fair Trade Association.


"So the first function of what we might call a Fair Trade Organization is surely to prescribe and enforce the standards to which corporations wishing to trade internationally must conform. It could, in this respect, function as a licensing body: a company would not be permitted to trade between nations unless it could demonstrate that, at every stage of production, manufacture and distribution, its own operation and those of its suppliers and subcontractors met the specified standards." (Monbiot, Age of Consent, p. 227-228)

The laws and rules are already there. International institutions cannot be criticized for not addressing the theoretical requirements of economic justice.


"Nor do we need to devise an entire set of new regulations. Since 1919, the International Labour Organization has been developing standards by which we can judge the fair treatment of workers, and has produced a comprehensive set of `principles concerning multinational enterprises.' The United States Commission on Human Rights has drafted a collection of `guidelines for companies.' The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has developed similar standards." (Monbiot, Age of Consent, p. 229)

Beyond international order, the real problem is simple. Just see that the law is obeyed. Monbiot is surprisingly optimistic about this challenge as well, since the mechanisms are already there.


"Nor do we need to start from scratch when devising a means of enforcing these rules. In most nations, health and safety inspectors must approve an industrial premises before it is permitted to operate. If the company's procedures are found to be unsafe, it is put on notice: it must take immediate steps to change them, or cease operating. If it breaks the rules, it can be fined; if, in some countries, it breaks them persistently or exposes its staff, its neighbours or its customers to a grave risk, it can lose its licence to trade and its directors can face prosecution. We merely need to apply that well-established national principle at the international level. To prosecute company directors, we could seek to expand the mandate of the International Criminal Court. No longer would governments such as India's be left impotently to wave writs which will never be served upon such people as the chief executive of the Union Carbide corporation, who can avoid arrest and prosecution on charges of culpable homicide following the catastrophe at Bhopal simply by staying away from India. If corporations operate internationally so, surely, should the rules. By restraining the corporations, we prevent them from restricting the democratic choices of the countries in which they operate." (Age of Consent, 229-230)


Of course, as their criminal acts indicate, the underlying problem in our economy on the micro-economic level is, by and large, sloppy, incompetent management. And that boils down to poor leadership.


A recent issue of New Scientist magazine has a fascinating article about the evolutionary origins of leadership that sheds a great deal of light on our sorry situation in the workaday world. Most corporations rely on one person with one skill set to be the boss permanently. In reality it would be wiser to be more flexible by not one but a whole series of leaders with a variety of abilities to be put in place when conditions are exactly right. The article points out,


"... our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have deferred to different leaders depending on the nature of the problem at hand. Yet today a single individual is often responsible for managing all aspects of an enterprise. Few leaders have the range of skills required, which may account for the high failure rate of senior managers - in corporate America it runs at 50 per cent (Review of General Psychology, vol 9, p 169).

"Surveys routinely show that between 60 and 70 per cent of employees find the most stressful part of their job is dealing with their immediate boss. This may be partly because ancestral leaders only acquired power with the approval of followers, whereas in modern organisations leaders are usually appointed by and accountable to their superiors, while subordinates are rarely allowed to sanction their bosses.


(note from JET: in an oligarchy leaders are appointed from above in order that the lion's share of wealth will continue to be directed into their hands. Only an egalitarian system can afford to consider alternatives to top-down appointments.)


"What's more, our psychology equips us to thrive in smallish groups of closely related individuals, which may explain why many people feel indifferent to large organisations and their leaders. Finally, in ancestral societies there would have been minimal differences in status between leaders and followers. In the US, average salaries for CEOs are 179 times those of their workers." "Follow me: The origins of leadership, by Mark van Vugt, New Scientist, 11 June 2008


This article points out that the most effective corporations in the world right now tend to follow the ancient hunter-gatherer model that is most natural to our human nature. Companies like Toyota and Virgin break workers up into semi-autonomous teams of one or two hundred workers who get together and elect their own bosses, supervisors and managers from among their own number. That way, I suppose, if a boss is criticized he can respond with words I heard the elected president of the Ontario Esperantist Association say, "If you do not like what I am doing, why did you elect me?" Workplace democracy would surely eliminate most of the tensions, neglect and abuse endemic among bosses and workers.


The same article also points out that evolutionary psychology is starting to pay attention to something that we do not even have a word for right now, "followership." They are asking, why do people defer to leaders? The best answer they have come up with is that obedience is a good strategy, if only because it gives others a chance to step in later on as leaders. I think it is fair to say that most of the virtues and teachings of the Baha'i Faith are directed more at "followership" than leadership, which makes sense, considering that even the boldest among us follow far more often than they lead. Followership is also the most important and overlooked necessity for change; if we want better leadership we all must improve our "followership skills" first.


Next time I want to continue this theme, then go into some specific proposals for a workplace constitution.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

thea p22 obesity and cities

Two Short Theses


More on Potlucks
The Urban Baha'i Environmentalist


More on Potlucks


Yesterday was pool party day at Tala and Tim's place in St. Catherines. Ron lent me his van, so along with my kids, Silvie and Thomas (my wife, Marie, works evenings), we took four Chinese aviation students along (the van did not have 121 more seats, or I would have gladly taken all the Maylan Flight School pilots living in our small town). A feature of the evening was a dreaded pot luck.


I have written before what I think of these affairs. "Occasions for gluttony that should be banished from anything to do with the word Baha'i" about sums up my former position. This is the religion of the Golden Mean, and I do not have the self-control to limit myself when surrounded by food. So the likes of me cannot be a Baha'i and a potlucker at the same time. Nor am I alone. I once mentioned my low opinion of potlucks and a relatively new Baha'i burst into tears, saying that since she declared her weight problem has gone from severe to morbid, and that she has found little sympathy for her plight among other believers.


Anyway, our hosts graciously supplied our guests from mainland China with chopsticks. For the first time in my life I found myself surrounded by people eating their whole meals with delicate sticks instead of prongs and miniature shovels. I had observed on my visits that these guys really do use them at home on a daily basis -- I had imagined that the practice might be something like mead, suits of armor and damsels in long pointy hats are for my English ancestors, a tradition long ago abandoned. Anyway, seeing their example, eight-year-old Thomas wanted to learn, so we requested a pair. He tried without much success. I knew how to use chopsticks but had never seen the point of it. They slow you down to a crawl. Why crawl when you can fly?


Now I see the point of it.


I recalled a Chinese saying I just found in a search I just made through old editions of Star of the West Magazine: "Eat less, taste more." This bit of wisdom is something that this culture takes seriously.


I took Tomaso's abandoned chopsticks in hand and started eating. It was not as glacial as I feared it might be. After a while I took upon myself the challenge of finishing my plate of mostly rice off completely with this unfamiliar handicap. It took a lot of ingenuity. I learned to maneuver the dry, crumbly rice into the more liquid foods. Major brain-strain that distracted from the conversation. However, to my surprise actually is possible to do this, though it took at least three times as long as it would have with a spoon. I was immensely proud when I cleaned my plate completely. Only later did I realize that I had completely forgotten to do what I normally would have done, that is, go back for thirds and fourths and fifths. Now I know why obesity is unknown among these hundred or so young students walking around town. In a comparable number of Western students dozens would be waddling rather than walking. Chopsticks force you to eat slow enough that your natural sense of satiation has a chance to kick in while still on the first helping, and you do not feel the urge to overeat. No need to exercise willpower, restraint comes naturally. I am going to buy a bunch of chopsticks and take them to every potluck I attend in future. I am not at the point where I waddle rather than walk, but my doctor is expecting me to lose weight over this summer. I might even throw out my forks and use chopsticks on a daily basis.




The Urban Baha'i Environmentalist


Shoghi Effendi, envisioning a united world, wrote,


"A world metropolis will act as the nerve center of a world civilization, the focus towards which the unifying forces of life will converge and from which its energizing influences will radiate." (Shoghi Effendi, World Order, 203)


This shows, in spite of the Central Figures' opinion that the country is the land of the soul and the city of the body, that a Baha'i influenced civilization will never say "Goodbye city life" completely. In fact high-density city living is the most environmentally friendly way for humans to live. This is because large numbers in a small space allow economies of scale to kick in. In addition, as Jane Jacobs proved a decade after the Guardian passed on, city living is the most creative; ever since pre-historical times, innovation has always radiated out from the cities into the countryside, not the other way as some used to think. In Shoghi Effendi's image cities are like magnifying glasses where "energizing influences" radiate out from a central focus. This sun-like quality is of the nature of the soul itself, as Baha'u'llah taught,


"...the life of man proceedeth from the spirit, and the spirit turneth to wheresoever the soul directeth it. Ponder upon that which We have revealed unto thee that thou mayest recognize the Soul of God which hath appeared above the Dayspring of bounty invested with manifest sovereignty." (Suriy-i-Ra'is, in Summons, 2,33, p. 155)


This is all by way of introduction to an innovative slideshow about the many innovations on the drawing boards for the city of the future on the Popular Science website; it is called "plan for tomorrow's mega-city," and can be found at:

<> and



Here are a couple more interesting sites that suggest creative uses in the future.


Sound candy wearable motion triggered sampler,



This project looks like something that somebody less lazy than myself could make that would be of use in Baha'i meetings,


Build a Portable Screen

"I do a lot of projection installations, in unique locations, usually with about zero setup time. When I looked into buying a professional 10x7 fast-fold screen, I was blown away by how much they cost. Instead, I decided to design my own, using easy to find materials."


Saturday, June 28, 2008

p23 puppet play introductory story

The Play of Sultan Salim

By John Taylor; 2008 June 28, 05 Rahmat, 165 BE


A few weeks ago a speaker at Mrs. Javid's fireside, Foruzandeh Masrour, had the challenge of introducing the Baha'i Faith to several people who knew little English and next to nothing not only about the Faith but about religion as well. I thought she made a brilliant choice when she introduced both religion and Baha'i at the same time by giving central attention to one of the two known formative experiences of Baha'u'llah's childhood, the Play of Sultan Salim. This incident changed the direction of the young Mirza Husain Ali's life from one of refined pleasure to a religious life of sacrifice. The about-face took place after an entertainment that took place at a brother's wedding -- as Foruzandeh pointed out, upper-class Persian weddings of that day were like Polish weddings of today, they lasted for several days and had entertainment not just for adults (as often is the case in Western celebrations) but for children as well.


The entertainment consisted of a miniature puppet play going over a series of incidents in the Turkish court, leading up to a full-scale war. It was intended to be vastly impressive on a small scale, which heightened the irony of the wonderful grandeur of a rival court -- any satire of the equally vast retinue and pomp in the Shah's court would hardly have been politically correct in Teheran. While most adults would have understood it as a political send-up, Mirza Husain Ali and most children, I think, would catch the real, existential meaning, the lesson that this life on earth, impressive as it is, will soon be folded up and put away forever. Like a mirage in the desert, everything we value will soon be gone without trace.


I recalled writing about this play several years ago, but the details escaped me. Later I went back over my older material and found that I wrote about it just after 9-11, on 1 October 2001. I had many questions and comments at the time, some but not all of which were answered when the new translation of Summons of the Lord of Hosts came out a few years later. Since time is scarce, I will do today what I did back then, first share the source material and then discuss my remaining questions in a subsequent essay. As a bonus, I will include at the end some comments of the Guardian on the inherently spiritual nature of the religion that resulted from one Child seeing this play and then hanging around to see what happened afterwards. It explains, I think, why Foruzandeh had such a good idea telling this story as an introduction to Baha'i and to God at the same time.




The Sultan Salim Play in the Lawh-i-Ra'is


The latest translation of the puppet play anecdote comes from the Lawh-i-Ra'is, Summons of the Lord of Hosts (para 3.10-3.17, pp. 165-168) According to the David Ruhe biography of Baha'u'llah, "Robe of Light," the Tablet that contains this anecdote was written to Ali Pasha. Ali Pasha was the Sultan's prime minister -- and he had the vehemently anti-Baha'i Persian ambassador as a close friend. This ambassador once took a tantrum, and refused to speak to Ali Pasha for seven days, which made Ali Pasha feel obliged to order the continued banishment of Baha'u'llah from Baghdad. (David Ruhe, Robe of Light, The Persian Years of the Supreme Prophet, Baha'u'llah, 1817-1853, pp. 29-30) Baha'u'llah writes in this Tablet:




Have ye fondly imagined your glory to be imperishable and your dominion to be everlasting? Nay, by Him Who is the All-Merciful! Neither will your glory last, nor will Mine abasement endure. Such abasement, in the estimation of a true man, is the pride of every glory.


When I was still a child and had not yet attained the age of maturity, My father made arrangements in Tihran for the marriage of one of My older brothers, and as is customary in that city, the festivities lasted for seven days and seven nights. On the last day it was announced that the play "Shah Sultan Salim" would be presented.


A large number of princes, dignitaries, and notables of the capital gathered for the occasion. I was sitting in one of the upper rooms of the building and observing the scene. Presently a tent was pitched in the courtyard, and before long some small human-like figures, each appearing to be no more than about a hand's span in height, were seen to emerge from it and raise the call:


"His Majesty is coming! Arrange the seats at once!"


Other figures then came forth, some of whom were seen to be engaged in sweeping, others in sprinkling water, and thereafter another, who was announced as the chief town crier, raised his call and bade the people assemble for an audience with the king. Next, several groups of figures made their appearance and took their places, the first attired in hats and sashes after the Persian fashion, the second wielding battleaxes, and the third comprising a number of footmen and executioners carrying bastinados. Finally there appeared, arrayed in regal majesty and crowned with a royal diadem, a kingly figure, bearing himself with the utmost haughtiness and grandeur, at turns advancing and pausing in his progress, who proceeded with great solemnity, poise and dignity to seat himself upon his throne.


At that moment a volley of shots was fired, a fanfare of trumpets was sounded, and king and tent were enveloped in a pall of smoke. When it had cleared, the king, ensconced upon his throne, was seen surrounded by a suite of ministers, princes, and dignitaries of state who, having taken their places, were standing at attention in his presence. A captured thief was then brought before the king, who gave the order that the offender should be beheaded. Without a moment's delay the chief executioner cut off the thief's head, whence a blood-like liquid came forth. After this the king held audience with his court, during which intelligence was received that a rebellion had broken out on a certain frontier. Thereupon the king reviewed his troops and dispatched several regiments supported by artillery to quell the uprising. A few moments later cannons were heard booming from behind the tent, and it was announced that a battle had been engaged.


This Youth regarded the scene with great amazement. When the royal audience was ended, the curtain was drawn, and, after some twenty minutes, a man emerged from behind the tent carrying a box under his arm.


"What is this box," I asked him, "and what was the nature of this display?"


"All this lavish display and these elaborate devices," he replied, "the king, the princes, and the ministers, their pomp and glory, their might and power, everything you saw, are now contained within this box."


I swear by My Lord Who, through a single word of His Mouth, hath brought into being all created things! Ever since that day, all the trappings of the world have seemed in the eyes of this Youth akin to that same spectacle. They have never been, nor will they ever be, of any weight and consequence, be it to the extent of a grain of mustard seed. How greatly I marveled that men should pride themselves upon such vanities, whilst those possessed of insight, ere they witness any evidence of human glory, perceive with certainty the  168  inevitability of its waning. "Never have I looked upon any thing save that I have seen extinction before it; and God, verily, is a sufficient witness!"


It behoveth everyone to traverse this brief span of life with sincerity and fairness. Should one fail to attain unto the recognition of Him Who is the Eternal Truth, let him at least conduct himself with reason and justice. Erelong these outward trappings, these visible treasures, these earthly vanities, these arrayed armies, these adorned vestures, these proud and overweening souls, all shall pass into the confines of the grave, as though into that box. In the eyes of those possessed of insight, all this conflict, contention and vainglory hath ever been, and will ever be, like unto the play and pastimes of children. Take heed, and be not of them that see and yet deny.




The Guardian Defines the Religion that came out of this play


The problem with which you are faced is one which concerns and seriously puzzles many of our present-day youth. How to attain spirituality is, indeed, a question to which every young man and woman must sooner or later try to find a satisfactory answer. It is precisely because no such satisfactory reply has been given or found, that modern youth finds itself bewildered, and is being consequently carried away by the materialistic forces that are so powerfully undermining the foundation of man's moral and spiritual life.


Indeed, the chief reason for the evils now rampant in society is a lack of spirituality. The materialistic civilization of our age has so much absorbed the energy and interest of mankind, that people in general no longer feel the necessity of raising themselves above the forces and conditions of their daily material existence. There is not sufficient demand for things that we should call spiritual to differentiate them from the needs and requirements of our physical existence. The universal crisis affecting mankind is, therefore, essentially spiritual in its causes. The spirit of the age, taken on the whole, is irreligious. Man's outlook upon life is too crude and materialistic to enable him to elevate himself into the higher realms of the spirit.


It is this condition, so sadly morbid, into which society has fallen, that religion seeks to improve and transform. For the core of religious faith is that mystic feeling that unites man with God. This state of spiritual communion can be brought about and maintained by means of meditation and prayer. And this is the reason why Baha'u'llah has so much stressed the importance of worship. It is not sufficient for a believer to merely accept and observe the teachings. He should, in addition, cultivate the sense of spirituality, which he can acquire chiefly by the means of prayer. The Baha'i Faith, like all other Divine religions, is thus fundamentally mystic in character. Its chief goal is the development of the individual and society, through the acquisition of spiritual virtues and powers. It is the soul of man that has first to be fed. And this spiritual nourishment prayer can best provide. Laws and institutions, as viewed by Baha'u'llah, can become really effective only when our inner spiritual life has been perfected and transformed.


Otherwise religion will degenerate into a mere organization, and become a dead thing.


The believers, particularly the young ones, should therefore fully realize the necessity of praying. For prayer is absolutely indispensable to their inner spiritual development, and this, already stated, is the very foundation and purpose of the Religion of God.


(Shoghi Effendi, 8 December 1935 to an individual believer, published in "Baha'i News" 102 (August 1936), p. 3)


Friday, June 27, 2008

p27 Manifesto for a New World Order

By John Taylor; 2008 June 27, 04 Rahmat, 165 BE


I have plunged into the China question. This blog, in the immediate future, will have China as a focus. One of my main goals is to write a summary of the Baha'i principles comparing the principles as expounded in the Writings to the thought of the sages in the Chinese tradition. In my research covering the most accessible sources of Baha'i information (Ocean, Star of the West) I have found relatively little about China. If any readers know of a pamphlet or anything off the trodden path about the connection between China and the Faith please tell me. Meantime, let us finish off our coverage of George Monbiot's Age of Consent.


Age of Consent


George Monbiot, The Age of Consent, A Manifesto for a New World Order, Flamingo, London, 2003


We have been reviewing this book intermittently over the past month. For all its shortcomings, the topic of this book gives it disproportionate importance. Few, if any, intellectuals have the guts to approach world problems from a universal perspective, and you have to hand it to Monbiot that he does not shirk from our prime responsibility to do so. First, I want to emphasize that Abdu'l-Baha, although He wrote Secret of Divine Civilization for his homeland, was not a national reformer only, He was universally concerned. In the following, he states this clearly, reacting against the nationalist agitation in which some Iranians had become embroiled in at the time.


"However, we have nothing to do with these proceedings and counter-proceedings. We are commanded to quicken the souls, to train the characters, to illumine the realm of man, to guide all the inhabitants of the earth, to create concord and unity among all men and to lead the world of humanity to the Fountain of the Everlasting Glory. The reformation of one empire is not our aim; nay, rather we invoke from God that all the regions of the world be reformed and cultivated; the republic of men become the manifestors of the bounty of the most glorious Lord; the East and the West be brought nearer together; and that the Turk and Tajik, Iran and America, India and Arabia, Japan and Persia, China and Germany; in brief, all the nations and peoples of the world become as one soul and one spirit, in order that strife and warfare be entirely removed and the rancor and hostility disappear so that all become as the waves of one ocean, the drops of one sea, the flowers of one rose-garden, the trees of one orchard, the grains of one harvest and the plants of one meadow." (Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha v3, p. 489)


Another universalist reformer was the 16th Century Czech genius, Jan Amos Comenius. He wrote,


"Also previous reformers have confined themselves to some particular task and concentrated on the removal of some abuse encountered here or there. In some cases they have lacked the means to obtain their ends, but too often their efforts are a tale of conflict and increasing disunity, not only in politics, but in schools, and most abominably in the church (`for verily the abomination stands there in the holy place.' -Matt 24:15-16). Therefore, in our present situation we desire not simply orthosis or reform but Panorthosia, which is universal. General and full reform of all people, in all things, in all ways." (Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 1, para 7-8, p. 49)


Monbiot's concern is to confront injustice and environmental destruction head on, by instituting universal, political reforms, which he lays out in Age of Consent. I think his proposal deserves far more attention than it is getting. Monbiot puts forward a startling suggestion for ending the current planetary oligarchy. Just stage a global free election. Do not worry if national governments do not sanction it. Elect a world body anyway. With the entire population of earth as its constituency, it would rapidly have prestige and influence enough to make the effort worthwhile.


If the whole world's population picked about seven hundred representatives to serve on what would amount to the first democratically elected parliament for the whole human race in history, then even if the major players on the international scene openly rejected it, it would still exercise a powerful moral force. It could legitimately say that it speaks for everybody. No existing international institution today dare make such a claim. What passes for democracy in the West is a joke, a device cleverly designed to flout the will of the people rather than act as a channel for it. Monbiot sees an initially powerless world parliament working solely by moral authority, but eventually becoming an official ruling body with all the prerogatives of government.


Monbiot points out that this was done at least once before, when the Roman Republic was founded. He writes,


"We already possess an example of a people's parliament built on moral authority, which managed to bring the world's most powerful government to heel. In the fifth century BC, Rome was governed by consuls, drawn solely from the patrician, or aristocratic, class. Theirs was an oppressive government, exercising absolute power over the other social classes. The record is a little hazy, but it seems that one day in 494 BC, prompted by issues which would not be unfamiliar to today's global justice movement (debt, unequal access to land and arbitrary treatment by the authorities), thousands of the plebeians, the working people of Rome, suddenly "disappeared.' This event came to be known as the 'first secession of the plebs'. They had agreed to meet on the Sacred Mount, a hill outside the city. There they arranged themselves into a people's parliament - the Consilium Plebis - and elected two tribunes, or representalives. All the people on the hill swore that anyone who harmed the tribunes, irrespective of class or power, would be killed.

"At first the tribunes of the plebs had no constitutional powers; they could merely urge the authorities to recognize the needs of their constituents. But, backed by huge numbers, they were hard to ignore and impossible to kill. Gradually, the scope of the Consilium's powers began to increase, and in 449 BC, after a second secession of the plebs, it was officially recognized by the state. The tribunes, now ten in number, were granted a right of veto over the business of the government. The resolutions adopted by the Consilium Plebis (known as plebiscites) gradually began to be passed into law. The plebeians also elected a number of officials - the aediles - whose purpose was to record all proceedings of the Senate (the patricians' parliament), ill the hope of being able to hold its members to their word, and to establish a body of written law which would protect the plebs from arbitrary treatment by magistrates.

"The power of the plebs lasted for about a hundred years. By 367 BC, at least one of the tribunes had been admitted to the Senate as a consul. But (and there is surely a lesson here for all democratic movements) the transformation appears to have been rather too successful, for the tribunes began to accumulate so much power that they ceased to identify with the powerless..." (Monbiot, Age of Consent, pp. 96-97)


Lacking world governance, a strange rule applies, the richer you get the more selfish you become. The truly spiritual can see that with spiritual wealth, the reverse applies, the richer you get the more selfless you become. Even a quasi-physiocrat like Buckminster Fuller understands that this principle should apply to material goods, but sadly in the mind of the plutocrats, it does not.


"Man has now completed all the plumbing and installed all the valves to turn on the infinite cosmic wealth." (Quoted in, Buckminster Fuller: At Home in the Universe, Alden Hatch, Dell Publishing, New York, 1974, p. 227)


When materialism spreads to large numbers, the selfishness that it breeds is amplified. Thus, the nation state is far more cynical than most rich individuals, who often retain their self-respect by offering a small amount to charity, and avoiding cheating the poor. Such is not the case on the international scene.


"The problem is simply stated. Most of the world's purchasing power resides in the hands of the people who need it least, while those who need it most, for such necessities as food, clean water, housing, health and education, have almost none. If no means is provided of shifting some of that money from those who have more than they need to those who have less than they need, the world will continue to be a miserable place for the majority of its people to inhabit. This redistribution is simply not going to happen through aid.

"Nations, like people, appear to become more selfish as they get richer.

"The biggest economy in the world, the United States, offers a smaller proportion of its national wealth in the form of aid than any other substantial donor - a mere 0.1 per cent of its gross domestic product - and this has declined as its economy has grown. Overall, the money given by the rich world to the poor world diminished, in real terms, by $7.1 billion (or twelve per cent) between 1992 and 2000. But even if, in a sudden fit of compassion, the rich world were to start pouring its money freely into the hands of the poor, this would merely trap the poor nations in patronage, dependency and blackmail. Their people would neither respect themselves nor expect to be respected by outsiders. (Monbiot, Age of Consent, p. 186)


Worse than the selfish, short-sighted motives that run the world's agenda is the fact that the whole system is set up to cheat the poor of their natural resources. Most international regulations boil down to open theft.


"The world's most powerful governments claim that the economic relationship between nations is governed by a single formula, which they call `free trade'. In reality there are two formulae. One of them is the market fundamentalism to which the poor nations have been forced to submit... The other is the way the rich world lives. (The rich world promised to respond in kind) but ... has responded by breaking every promise it has made." (Monbiot, Age of Consent, p. 189)


Without democracy on a universal level, there can be no consent. Without consent, we are all reduced to slaves or slaveholders. The way it is set up now assures that the slavery and suffering of most of the human race is hidden behind a cloud of statistics and monetary complexity.


"Poverty can appear to many of the rich world's nations as something of an abstraction. It might be easier to understand when we recognize that the immediate cause of famine is not drought or crop failure, but the poorest citizens' lack of purchasing power. As food stocks decline, the price rises, and even if there is in absolute terms, enough for everyone, the poor have no means of obtaining it. Poverty, for many of the world's people, means death by starvation or one of the diseases associated with it." (Monbiot, Age of Consent, p. 188)


Lie, cheat and steal from the poor and give it all to the rich. That is how the world works right now. In spite of that, a great deal can be done if we iron out some of the structural injustices in international exchange that keep poor areas poor.


"Besides giving and spending, it is hard to see how money can be extracted from the hands of the rich. Theft has served the powerful nations well, but the poor are in no position to reciprocate. If giving is destructive of respect and independence, then we are left with nothing but spending. Trade has, so far, proved an improbable answer to the problems faced by most nations -but it is the only possible answer." (Monbiot, Age of Consent, pp. 186-187)


Monbiot puts the reform of currency high on the agenda of the elected world parliament that he says we should elect very soon. Why are we not moving on this?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

trl Role of the Learned

On the Importance of Eliminating Credentialism


When I was in middle school, my father rented an old farmhouse surrounded by large fields right next to Mount Hope Airport. During the annual air show, our landlady used to come and charge visitors to park on the field, stand by the fence and watch, within earshot of the public address system, the planes doing their tricks overhead. After we moved away, the airport expanded and now the land we lived on is part of the runways of a much busier airport. My brother was inspired by our proximity at that time to get his private pilot's license, and since our father offered to foot the bill, I followed desultorily in his footsteps.


I took the low-cost introductory one-hour flying lesson and over several weeks went through ground school. The first serious lesson, though, involving as it did a landing that seemed crazy-dangerous and impossibly steep (my stomach floated up past my heart, then when we hit the ground it sunk down well into my intestines -- thinking back, the pilot may have hot-dogged it to impress a beginner that this was not easy and he knew what he was doing) persuaded me that maybe this flying is not the safe, normal activity that it is cracked up to be. You could not get me near a small plane after that. My marks in ground school were miserably low, but a few years later, an official phoned to say that a fire had destroyed their records and I could come down and write down for them whatever mark I wanted to tell them I got and they would count it. By then it was moot, my interest had passed, and I did not bother.


Now my interest in flying has been renewed. I am still convinced that private aviation is crazy-dangerous, far worse than its advocates make out (they rely on statistics that are twisted by commercial aviation, where professionals fly hundreds at a time), but I am hanging out with some of the 200 or so Chinese student pilots that have invaded our small town of Dunnville, also near a small airport, and their interest is infectious (I cannot help but notice that the Chinese government is not convinced either, otherwise, why would they be sending all their student airliner pilots over here to Canada, rather than starting up their own private aviation infrastructure?).


I dug out our junk pile the old "virtual pilot" flight simulator yoke (a steering wheel that you can push forward and back, like in an airplane) that my brother cast off years ago when his interest in computer simulated flight flagged, and I am working on setting up a little flight simulator in the garage. Combined with our LSA's video projector, I should be able to wow my pilot buddies with a large projected display of a flight simulator. Combined with the yoke, I might be able to help out Jason pick up the ropes faster; last time he confided that he is getting nervous that he is not getting enough time in the air.


Anyway, last night rather than go to bed I started watching brief YouTube video compilations of hair-raising landings by jumbo jets. "Dangerous landings" were the keywords, as I recall. Take my advice, if you are ever going to fly, do not watch these amateur films. What happens is that some people sit by runways, film every approach, then string together the wackiest, swingiest, swirliest landings, and give them names like "the best pilots in the world." Either that, or the drunkest, at least until they hit the ground. You will admire your pilot the more for seeing how they can approach the ground under adverse, crosswindy conditions, while the airliner does these unbelievable pitches, rolls and yaws (you see, I remember some of my flight school terminology) and still get you down in one piece. But the problem is that your heart will stop if you know what really is going on outside as you come down for a landing.


Finally, I latched onto this 90-minute chopped-up documentary called something like "The Worst Crash in Aviation History." I could not stop watching until way past bedtime. It is about a 1978 disaster in the Canary Islands where two state-of-the-art jumbo jets crashed into each other on the ground, several hundred dead. The film lists all the dozens of contributing factors to the collision, including a terrorist bombing of a larger airport, but it all boiled down to the old saying, "There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old bold pilots." In this case, hundreds paid for his error with their lives. The immediate cause of the collision was an arrogant mistake by a Dutch pilot who decided to take off in thick fog, without clearance from the control tower, while another plane was still on the runway before him. Boom. The whole roof of an American jet was torn off, but a few of the passengers managed to jump to safety. The Dutch passengers were not so lucky; in a plane just loaded with fuel, they had no chance when they hit the ground.


I had read about this blunder before. It seems that this Canary Islands collision prompted a major, permanent change in the political decision-making processes of flight crews. Now when the co-pilot and others have doubts about a choice the pilot is making, they are less likely to defer. They are trained to speak up.


In fact, as I watched the mistake being re-enacted, I could not help but think that this is a perfect microcosm of what Jane Jacobs called credentialism. This impolite, blustering and blundering Dutch pilot was no beginner, he was a star, the best pilot they had. Nobody had better qualifications than him, on paper. He was literally the poster boy for KLM, his face was on all their advertising. He had spent most of his time lately training other pilots, including his co-pilot. He knew what he was doing but impatience overcame knowledge. He pushed the throttle forward impulsively, intending to take off early, and the other crew members actually stopped him, reminding him that they needed to get flight clearance first (clearance to take of is the next step). Unfortunately, when he repeated the same slip a minute later, they were afraid to speak up. After all this guy had the best credentials of anybody. He did not suffer fools gladly. As a result, a fiery death was had by all.


The strange thing is that credentials, impressive as they may be, speak only of the past, not of right now. As long as we are human, we are liable to error in the present. Our expertise is directed at other things, not necessarily the self-knowledge and, yes, fear of God, that keeps one from slipping up or making that foolish move. The more absolutely certain we are that we are right, the less qualified we become to say that we are right. There is only one way to be right all the time and that is to be grovelingly humble and timorous of God's wrath. Hence all the admonitions in Holy Writ about fear of God being the start of all knowledge, the essence of wisdom.


This thought strangely reminded me of what the Guardian said in a pilgrim's note that I read the other day. He said something to the effect that this whole civilization is going down, but unlike the passengers on those planes, the mistake is generalized and willful. Its rejection of God comes from a large cross section of the population, so in a sense the whole shebang is guilty. We should not mourn it but concentrate on the new Order. This resonates with me still; I am sick of reading thinkers who are technically brilliant but still miss the mark. Thought about the environment especially falls short. We have been and still are being led astray by eminently qualified but very arrogant leaders of thought, all of whom have roundly rejected the only thing that is going to help, Baha'u'llah and His teachings.


Yesterday I made a few brief comments about p*o*s*t-m*o*d*e*r*n*i*s*m (henceforth known as the "p" word; I do not want word search engines to attract more flies to this blog). This provoked the most comments in a long time, and at least two of the commentators I know to be highly qualified academics.

 I invite you to look over the clever but fallacious logic that they use in concocting objections out of thin air; see the comments section at the end of yesterday's post. One mugwump decides that I am incongruously putting the Guardian into an argument against a philosophy that had not been born yet (actually the ideas of the p word have been around a long time but were regarded, for some reason, as spurious; they had not been baptized and grown to the height of fashion in the time of the Guardian). Another rightly asks for the source of that definition of the p word (the Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy, as I recall), but goes on trip over what is known as an intrinsic definition. The word "relative" means related to something absolute. Without an absolute there can be no relative, the word itself would have no meaning. Yet this poor fellow has been ingesting the poisonous food of controversy for so long that even basic propositional conclusions seem worthwhile carping at.


Clearly, this "p" buzzword is so fashionable in some circles that it has become a flag to every bull in the stable. An entire class of society is, in Baha'u'llah's phrase, "drunk with pride." Their arrogant negligence is identical to that star pilot who, utterly confident of his knowledge and past achievements, decided to make the rather basic error of taking off into a pea soup fog without clearance. However, the worst of it is that when people do not die directly from mistakes, they are not corrected.


The trade of piloting reacted immediately when that Dutch pilot killed several hundred people. How could they not? Their very jobs were on the line. But, to use one example that irks me more than most, universities throughout the west teach English Literature as if it were world literature, ignoring their basic responsibility to end the language barrier, which excludes most of the world from the forum of discourse, and dooms them to poverty. Yes, people are dying hundreds a minute from this greatest of structural injustices, but it is so spread out that English Literature professors can cash their paychecks without the slightest pang of guilt. As Buckminster Fuller said,


"I learned very early and painfully that you have to decide at the outset whether you are trying to make money or to make sense, as they are mutually exclusive." Fuller, Grunch of Giants,


As long as nobody's job is on the line and guilt is diffuse, nobody in the West will bother even to recognize that the language barrier even exists, much less see its ties to poverty, war and terror.


Worst of all are ethics professors. To take only the most recent example, in the May, 2008 edition of Scientific American is an article by Oxford ethicist John Broome called, "The Ethics of Climate Change: Pay Now or Pay More Later?"


"Weighing our own prosperity against the chances that climate change will diminish the well-being of our grandchildren calls on economists to make hard ethical judgments."



I tell you this: if academics came to the sudden, spectacular flameout that pilots do, this Broome person would be a smoking hulk on the runway. Better, his colleagues would have had the guts to prevent it being written before the disaster could take place.


I am not saying that he does not make some good points. I had never heard of the very interesting distinction between utilitarianism and prioritarianism that he makes here. But it is all moot.


His whole airframe is exploded by one question, "What is an ethicist doing even talking about this? Who is supposed to be making the ethical decisions that he imagines somebody making? There is no world government, so how can any decisions be made on a world level, ethical or not? He might as well be talking about whether angels are morally justified in accepting fairies to stand with them on the head of a pin. It is utter garbage, a total waste of time. Yet the world blithely accepts that our best-trained minds know what they are doing and would never waste their lives and careers blathering nonsense.


Imagine the common situation in films where the plane is flying high, the cockpit is empty and the flight crew all dead. Do the passengers sit around talking about whether they would be justified in doing this or that if this or that were to happen? No. If they want to live they ask one question: "Is there anybody here who knows how to fly an airplane?" When they find best-qualified person available she goes right behind the wheel, or I should say, yoke. Ask anything else and you might as well be killing yourself.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

p39, p30, p27, Three topics

Postmodernism, Equality and Reform




 A postmodern religion?

 Monbiot: Why are the prisons bursting?

 Comenius's Insight into Removal of Inequality



A postmodern religion?


Here is a question that has goaded me lately: "Is the Baha'i Faith Postmodern?" According to this definition, it most definitively is not postmodern, in fact it is diametrically opposed:


"[Post Modernism] the belief that direction, evolution and progression have ended in social history, and society is based instead upon the decline of absolute truths, and the rise of relativity..."


According to this "post-modern" is another word for an anarchist, since it is a basic premise of philosophic truth that there has to be something absolute to act as a standard in order for there to be anything relative. Yet the last part of this, about the "rise of relativity," is pretty much the distinguishing mark of the Baha'i understanding of religion. The Guardian in his definitive précis of Baha'i belief:


"The fundamental principle enunciated by Baha'u'llah, the followers of His Faith firmly believe, is that religious truth is not absolute but relative..."


But then he goes on to exclude postmodernism, and indeed any other religious system I can think of, when he says,


"that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process, that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony, that their aims and purposes are one and the same, that their teachings are but facets of one truth, that their functions are complementary, that they differ only in the non-essential aspects of their doctrines, and that their missions represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society."





Monbiot: Why are the prisons bursting?


I keep tabs on the British justice campaigner George Monbiot, who in his latest column for the Guardian talks about the strange fact that in Britain and the U.S., while crime rates are declining their prisons are filling up in record numbers. Having examined the statistics, he writes,


"Why, as this country becomes more peacable, does it become more punitive? I do not know. Nor, it seems, does anyone else. But one thing I have noticed is that many of the states with the highest number of convicts are also those with the greatest differential between rich and poor. Within the OECD nations, the US has the second highest rate of inequality. Mexico, which is the most unequal, has the third-highest rate of imprisonment. In the EU, four of the five most unequal nations also rank among the top five jailers. The correlation, though by no means exact, seems to apply across many of the rich countries." (Mind-Forged Manacles, June 24, 2008


Baha'u'llah said that this earth is one country and all men and women and children are equally its citizens under God. Yet the world today is an oligarchy, a world ruled by a tiny number of super-rich, super-influential people. Ultimately, the only way to maintain this gross inequity is to make liberal use of prisons to keep the underclass down. Monbiot continues, raising the not unexpected spectre of racism, which is at the root of much of the inequality in England and the U.S.


"This does not demonstrate a causal relationship. But there are three likely connections. The first is that inequality causes crime. This is what Anatole France referred to, when he claimed to admire the majestic egalitarianism of the law, which forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. But, while this has proved true at most times and in most places, crime is falling in England and Wales while inequality is rising.


"The second possible link is that prison causes inequality. The sociologist Bruce Western has shown that jail in the United States is a huge and hidden cause of deprivation. When people are locked up, they cannot acquire the skills and social contacts they need to get on outside. Employers are reluctant to take them on when they have been released, and they tend to be hired by the day or to get stuck in the casual economy, which is one of the reasons why so many return to crime. Among whites and Hispanics, wages for ex-cons are severely depressed. Among black people the effect is less marked: the stigma of imprisonment, Western suggests, appears to have stuck to the entire black underclass."


Finally Monbiot, in my opinion, hits the nail on the head. The existence of extremes of wealth and poverty directly causes the atmosphere of brutal punishment that pumps the prisons full of convicts,


"The third possible reason for a link between the two factors is that inequality causes imprisonment. I cannot prove this, and it is hard to see how anyone could do so. But my untested hypothesis runs as follows: the greater the wealth the top echelons accrue, the more ferociously they demand protection from the rest of society.


"They have more to lose from crime and less to lose from punishment, which is less likely to strike the richer you become. The people who help to generate the public demand for long prison terms (newspaper proprietors and editors) and the people who mete it out (judges and magistrates) are drawn overwhelmingly from the property-owning classes. Those who have built large fortunes, Max Hastings, who was once the editor of the Daily Telegraph, wrote of his former employer Conrad Black, seldom lose their nervousness that some ill-wisher will find means to take their money away from them. Money breeds paranoia, and paranoia keeps people in prison.




Comenius's Insight into Reforming Inequality


When there is overall equality in a society (I am thinking of the Nordic lands, and a few other places) it is far easier to think of all, including the poorest, as members of one family. Once that happens, reform follows from that premise. One family. Imagine a member of a happy family clamoring for death penalties, torture or the use of prisons and other cruel punishments to keep an unruly child in line! Such a thing could never happen. That is why the Master suggested a universal cure to this problem when He advised us to think of everybody as members of your family.


"Beware lest ye offend any heart, lest ye speak against anyone in his absence, lest ye estrange yourselves from the servants of God. You must consider all His servants as your own family and relations. Direct your whole effort toward the happiness of those who are despondent, bestow food upon the hungry, clothe the needy, and glorify the humble. Be a helper to every helpless one, and manifest kindness to your fellow creatures in order that ye may attain the good pleasure of God. This is conducive to the illumination of the world of humanity and eternal felicity for yourselves. I seek from God everlasting glory in your behalf; therefore, this is my prayer and exhortation." (Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 469)


There is no rational reason for the rich to act as they do. They suffer from an inner, spiritual illness that makes them love possessions more than the human family. If we could see them with our inward eye, we would see as ugly a sight as any hovel, slum or favela can display. What we need to do is try to reform not a part of the world, or a section of humanity, but all. If we fail to treat all equally, it will all fall down. This universality was central to the reform program of my latest hero, Jan Amos Comenius, who wrote in the mid-16th Century. He said,


"We wish ALL MEN to be made perfect IN ALL THINGS that form them into the full image of God, including their dealings with things, with their fellow-men, and with God, who is the fountain of their blessedness. Also, we wish to reform men IN ALL WAYS, and we therefore require a system of universal wisdom, universal religion, and universal politics, embracing the whole of mankind." (Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 1, para 10-11, p. 49)


The greatness of Comenius's vision of reform was that he saw what remains obscure to the world even today; I think only a Baha'i can appreciate his penetrating wisdom when he writes,


"`OF ALL PEOPLE' includes men of all classes, not the reform of one or two to the exclusion of others, but altogether, churchmen, scholars and politicians, not only in one place or nation but all over the world, not limited to any one group small or large but affecting all mankind so that they move towards the perfect fulfillment of human nature." (Comenius, ib., para 9)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


A Principled Principal's Address

By John Taylor; 2008 June 24, 01 Rahmat, 165 BE


Last night we attended Silvie's grade eight graduation. Only when they were in pyjamas and ready for bed did we finally have leisure to look at report cards. What a pleasant surprise! Both Silvie and Thomas showed progress over the past several months that can only be called spectacular. Especially Silvie. She even got a 100 percent in geometry, a mark I never came close to, ever, especially in math.


All through school, Silvie's teachers were saying to us that her shyness and extreme slowness in doing class work were keeping her back. Maybe the imminence of High School prompted her to work harder, to study for tests and start finishing homework assignments. In any case, at the graduation ceremony, she won the prize for most improved, for math and "literacy" (meaning English), and I actually felt a little aggrieved that she did not win valedictorian and other prizes won by more consistent performers. Judging only by this term's marks, IQ and Gauss test scores, and the fact that she alone was chosen for an enrichment program in robotics at another school, if it were a horse race she would have nosed by her brightest classmates at the finish line.


As I was leaving the ceremony, her teacher cornered me and told about her improvement, how often when he was marking her the answers were not in the textbook but they were right so he had to give full marks. What she had been doing was that instead of consulting the textbook she had learned to engage me in Socratic dialog, usually in the morning at the last minute when Mom was in her usual tizzy screaming that she should have been on her way to school five minutes ago. Fortunately for Silvie, she has a very opinionated father who reads science magazines and takes positions even on abstruse points of optics and microbiology. We consulted Wikipedia and other references when my general knowledge fell short. When the teacher told me about her unconventional sources of information, well, I felt like I had been engaging in a virtual intellectual fencing match with him, through her, over the past several months. I felt like adding: "Yes, and several times you marked her wrong when she was right and I can prove it to you." But of course I did not say that.


Many things helped the progress of Silvie and Tomaso but I could not help but give some of the credit to our evening Baha'i classes, which started last November after they had dropped out of scouts and music lessons and there was a sudden opening in their evenings. These daily lessons are directed not at improving their academics but at faith; I meant them to counterbalance the overly academic and short-term focus of their public schooling. But it seems that emphasis on spiritual education actually improves academics. As de Bible say, put the Kingdom first and gravy will be poured over you.


Anyway, what I wanted to talk about today was based on my thoughts about the principal Lindsey Williams' address to her grade eight graduates last night. She is the best principle at this school in the decade I have known it. I especially like her frank, unassuming manner, and how this school and its teachers in general have not caught the disease of intellectual pride and elitism. They are not pompous, as many of my old teachers were in the snooty Ancaster High (my father liked Ancaster for its high academic standards but I encountered so much prejudice there that the last place I would ever send my kids is to a so-called elite college). They are concerned with knowledge and their students, not lording it over anybody. They do not confuse pretension with academic excellence.


The only fault I could find in her address was a lack of attention to longer term academic goals, beyond the first few months of high school. So the question I woke this morning with was: what would I say to a grade eight class about the long term purpose of learning if I were in her shoes, that is, a public school principal who is not necessarily a Baha'i? Obviously, as a student of the Baha'i principles, I would structure my remarks around them, but what advice based on that framework would be best to give? Here is my best shot, at least for the first seven principles. Maybe I will do more later.


Search for Truth


If there is one thing you keep all your life after have come away from this eight years of primary schooling, it has to be this: seek truth. Investigate reality. That is the essence of primary education.


Truth does not come to you already cooked on a silver platter. You have to go out and make your role, forge a unique place in the world. Nobody, not even we your teachers can tell you what that role will be. It is not in you, it is not out there in the world, it is in both, a mystical equation combining outer circumstances and the eternal truths that you prove yourself worthy of upholding. In fact, the best word I can think of for your destined place in the universe is just that, "truth." The truth you seek is your truth; it is of the ages, but it is yours too insofar as you conduct your search with sincerity and diligence.


Go out on a clear night and look up at the stars. You and I may come to different conclusions about where this vast array comes from, but one thing we can be sure of, it is not the product of a whim. This is not the handiwork of an amateur. That starlight has been traveling in our direction millions, and sometimes billions of years. For that reason, I tell you: do not dabble in truth. It is not an entertainment, a game that you play one day and leave off the next. Do not be a dilettante, be a genuine seeker after truth. Give your whole life to it, because truth is the life in life and all that is human, good and real.


Investigate assiduously every day of your life. Think of yourself as the detective in a detective story. Devote your whole existence to uncovering your own whodunit. Can you imagine Sherlock Holmes giving up on his murder investigation and going off to watch television or play video games? No, we all have a purpose, a role we were brought into this world to play.


Never stop seeking. As long you are alive, keep going at this ultimate goal because I can tell you this for certain, the day you stop caring about truth is the day you die. This is a fundamental to wisdom, to know that we do not die when our body stops functioning, death comes the moment we quit seeking out the meaning behind the sham, when we lag in our quest to know the nature of things.


This is our one transcendent duty -- and privilege -- as human beings. This is what makes you different from your dog or your cat or your plants or that fly buzzing around your head. Our duty of seeking truth makes life tougher for us than for animals, for at root you know one thing that they will never suspect. You know that you will die one day. They can have no idea. And this takes us to the next principle,


The Oneness of Humanity


The first thing I find when I go out under a clear sky and look at the stars is that I am not the only one standing before truth. The truth is huge. Everybody stands before it. Thinking people have been looking up there for thousands of years, Socrates looked up, and Jesus, and everybody you will ever admire, and men and women will continue to do so until the end of time. Every seeker of truth is in awe, and comes away feeling a special bond with all intelligent life, with every human being on this earth. That is the first discovery of truth, that all men and women are essentially one.


So if there are just two things that you come away from your schooling let the second lesson be this: we are all world citizens. We are one. We have a sacred duty, born of our search for truth, to see one another as essentially the same and love one another, to treat everyone we meet as a brother or a sister, a mother or father, a son or daughter, for we are members of one family already, it is our heritage; our duty to search for truth is just there to make it clearer. We who are detectives seeking an answer, we who have looked up at the stars and asked questions like, "Why?" and "How?," how can we help but see our differences as externals, as points of beauty, not obstacles blocking us forever from reconciliation.


Oneness of Religion


No matter what you and those around you may believe about God or religion, sooner or later you will come across people who have a completely different understanding of what you thought was essential. This is not a bad thing. You are actively seeking truth and you are already persuaded that all thinking people are brothers and sisters. Having learned these first two primary essentials, you will be pleased to find differences and you will already be skilled in finding similarities in seeming opposites. Anything but diversity seems dull and boring to a seeker of truth and a world citizen. The multiplicity of human opinions cannot pose a problem because we all share a singular spiritual heritage. A seeker and world citizen has the tools to see the way through to an answer.


Harmony of Science and Religion


The first thing you will find out when you leave this place is that very few people you meet will remember the two bases of education that you just learned in primary school, that is, search for truth and oneness of humankind.


It is your duty as seekers and world citizens, to remind them.


You will find that instead people tend to latch onto one or the other, science or religion, and hold tenaciously to that as their worldview and indeed as their own personal property. But the fact is, if you seek truth and see all humans as one in essentials, you already have covered the essentials of both religion and science. You will see no conflict between them. Both are ways to truth, and both are intended to benefit all that is human.


Science is about truth here and now, and religion is about truth seen in the perspective of eternity. Neither can contradict the other and still be true. Both faith and science are part of our common history, and can, if we make them such, be clear paths to a better future. What is more, you will understand that as soon as anybody thinks science and religion conflict, they are betraying themselves and showing their own ignorance of the two primaries, truth and commonality.


Elimination of Prejudice


Prejudice is the most dangerous thing in the world. It is the root of disagreement, conflict and "politicization" of contrasting but otherwise reconcilable viewpoints. Prejudice is the ultimate cause of hatred and war. But what is prejudice?


Again, we need only go back over our two primary lessons to know exactly what it is and how to deal with it.


Superficial investigation fails to arrive at the natural goal of the mind, consciousness of our universal oneness. Half-hearted effort at grasping reality results in stunted, deformed mental products. Ugly as they may be it is our nature to be good mothers to our mental children. We seek to protect and nurture them, incomplete as they may be. These offspring fail to connect with truth as discovered by the greatest minds in history. They cannot resolve into our common human oneness.


Prejudice also grows in the dark area between what we just looked at, science and religion; failure to apply that principle causes an artificial gap between religious and scientific truth. If science and religion are not harmonious parts of one dedicated investigation, they misalign. A chasm opens between present truth and eternal realities. Prejudice breeds in that dark place like a writhing serpent's nest.


Prejudice is so dangerous because it is highly contagious. To use the new verb -- it "goes viral" without warning. Prejudice has sex appeal. It is quickly and widely accepted not on its own merits but because fractured understanding perceives a need based not on our true nature and destiny, but on urgent needs and perverse desires born in exile from truth and unity.


We have a sacred duty to truth, to humanity, to faith and to science, to refute prejudice wherever we find it. Snuff out the sparks quickly, before they can catch flame in violence, hatred and war.


Economic Equity


The computer industry recently celebrated its billionth computer sold. But what about the almost six billion other human beings who do not have a computer? This machine, connected in a vast web to  all other computers, has become an essential tool for both search and oneness during the thirteen years of your lives. Yet even now six out of seven human beings do not have access to a computer simply because they cannot afford it. Many cannot even pay for food, much less a computer. Beyond compassion for others in need, think of the brainpower that is being wasted! We could all benefit if these six of seven joined us in the great forum of human inquiry.


You, dear students, are among the privileged few, the one billion who have access to the most complicated, powerful machine ever built. A helpmeet for the brain. Do not fritter away your time playing frivolous games on your machine. Take your destiny in your hands and make sure that in your lifetime seven out of seven will have access to a computer, that seven of seven will one day soon know how to use this wonderful instrument, this amplifier of search and unity by one and all.


Promotion of Education


Do not imagine that what you have learned here comes free. Everything comes at a cost, and every real good comes with heavy responsibility. Live up to what you have learned, or it will slip out of your hands and be lost forever. How do you live up to what you learned? By sharing it with others. I tell you this: knowledge is useless, worse than useless, if it is not passed on to others. The more you learn, the more this principle applies.


You must all become teachers. I do not care what you end up doing, what your trade or profession ends up being, you still must become a teacher. If you are given the job of cleaning up the street outside, you will still have to learn and improve the job and teach what you learn there to a new generation. That is what knowledge is, a growing evolving thing, just as we are, deep down. Generally speaking, if our search and knowledge of unity does not grow and become more robust then it will succumb to the germs and viruses of prejudice. They lie in wait to attack, to take all that this civilization has accomplished and drag it down into a dark age.


I want to convey to you a message of hope today. It is a happy day when we go on to greater things. We all read about the destruction of the environment and the advance of global warming, and it is easy to get discouraged. Do not give in to despair. There is hope, but only if we all constantly go back to these basic lessons of primary school and seek truth, find oneness, harmonize it with faith and reason, and then go out and teach what we have learned. There is only one reason the world is in trouble and that is because people have betrayed these basic principles of our age. You can, you must, turn that around by learning principle, applying it, and then teaching principle to others.