Worker's Constitution and Obedience to Government
By John Taylor; 2008 Aug 11, 11 Kamal, 165 BE
The reason we all have global warming to deal with right now is simple. Imagine how Los Angeles is run today, under the combined hand of an urban, a state and federal government. Imagine how much worse it would be in L.A. if its sole authority were its notorious street gangs. Lawlessness, a reign of terror, drive-by shootings, anarchy, would prevail and mere survival would be the best that its residents could hope for. That gives you an idea of what it is like on the international scene. When it comes to protecting the air and oceans, it is hopeless. Anybody can dump their effluent to their heart's desire and no central authority can say boo. Anybody who dares care about the environment had better become a world federalist. It is either that or join one of the gangs. A pundit recently wrote,
"multipolarity means that more groups have effective veto power over collective action. In practice, this new pluralistic world has given rise to globosclerosis, an inability to solve problem after problem."
My flow of essays has been slowed severely this summer but not stopped entirely. A reader pointed out yesterday that she has not received anything since the end of July. I have done a few essays and posted them on the blog, but it seems that some technical glitch in my mailing program has been keeping them from going onto the list. I will solve that problem ASAP. Meanwhile, check out badiblog.blogspot.com to get the full poop. Today let us go through some remainders and reminders of various series of essays featured recently on this Badi' Blog.
Two essay streams written over the past year converged in the following point, which combines and resolves them both. One was about the Baha'i principle of obedience to government, the other consisted of speculations about a future constitution for workers and the workplace. Like two tributaries combining into a single flow near the mouth of a great river, these two series converged and ended in the following thought of the Lord of the Age. First, recall that the Will and Testament (Kitab-i-Ahd) of Baha'u'llah was named by the Master number three in importance among the works of His Father,
"The principal works of Baha'o'llah are the Kitab-ul-Ighan, the Kitab-ul-Akdas, the Kitab-ul-Ahd, and numerous letters or tablets addressed to sovereigns or to private individuals." (Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets, vol. 3)
One of my purposes not only in these series but as a Baha'i scholar generally is to remind my fellow believers of the importance of this brief but crucial document. It is easy to get buried in detail and forget how important the principle of obedience and subservience to government is. In the Ahd it is laid out in no uncertain terms,
"O ye beloved of the Lord! It is incumbent upon you to be submissive to all monarchs that are just and to show your fidelity to every righteous king. Serve ye the sovereigns of the world with utmost truthfulness and loyalty. Show obedience unto them and be their well-wishers. Without their leave and permission do not meddle with political affairs, for disloyalty to the just sovereign is disloyalty to God Himself. This is my counsel and the commandment of God unto you. Well is it with them that act accordingly." (Abdu'l-Baha, Will and Testament, 14)
Furthermore, we are enjoined to love and pray for our leaders. If we speak negatively of a leader we should take it as a sign that we have not been praying sincerely or ardently enough for that leader and that we should move that soul higher up on our prayer list. We should take it as an axiom: it is impossible to speak ill of someone we have prayed for ardently enough. This is of the essence of our reason for being in the universe, for if anybody ever was one, God is a leader. He first of all is sympathetic to the difficulties of leadership. To meet God is to come away with an appreciation of the lofty calling of guiding and helping our fellows. Baha'u'llah reminds us clearly that knowing and meeting God is the big reason He brought us into existence.
"The purpose of God in creating man hath been, and will ever be, to enable him to know his Creator and to attain His Presence. To this most excellent aim, this supreme objective, all the heavenly Books and the divinely-revealed and weighty Scriptures unequivocally bear witness. Whoso hath recognized the Day Spring of Divine guidance and entered His holy court hath drawn nigh unto God and attained His Presence, a Presence which is the real Paradise, and of which the loftiest mansions of heaven are but a symbol. Such a man hath attained the knowledge of the station of Him Who is `at the distance of two bows,' Who standeth beyond the Sadratu'l-Muntaha. Whoso hath failed to recognize Him will have condemned himself to the misery of remoteness, a remoteness which is naught but utter nothingness and the essence of the nethermost fire. Such will be his fate, though to outward seeming he may occupy the earth's loftiest seats and be established upon its most exalted throne." (Gl XXIX)
So, if God, Baha'u'llah and the other Manifestations of the Divine are leaders too, when we meet them too must appreciate and love leadership and followship, and mention our own, living leaders today, however inadequate we feel they may be in the face of what confronts us in this era. If they are inadequate, it is our fault first of all, for good followers make for good leaders, or, as the saying goes, "A people gets the leader they deserve." If we want better leaders, become a better person first, and the best and quickest way to become a better person is to know and meet God in prayer and reflection...
The best place to show better leadership and followership is in the workplace. All work, and all have a chance to act on this where they work. This location should ideally be seen as a place of worship, for we all know that work is worship if done in the right spirit. There should be a constitution for all workers to assure that work can be worshipful. But this very constitution should apply to companies and corporations too. If it does not, it would not be worth the paper it is printed on.
The first line of that worker and corporate constition should be the words of Jesus, "The sabbath is for man, not man for the sabbath." If any group or job violates the purpose of all groups, the common good, it should be immediately dissolved and expunged from memory. That should be article one. George Monbiot suggests some more rules for corporations, rules meant to stop their present gang rape of the majority of mankind,
"There are, however, a few standards we might wish to add to the list. One of the prerequisites of justice, for example, is that producers and consumers should carry their own costs, rather than dumping them on other people. Those who do the dumping tend to be the rich and powerful, while those who are dumped upon tend to be the weak and indigent. Environmental and social 'externalities', in other words, typically represent the theft by the wealthy of the natural and material wealth possessed by the poor. They amount to a monumental subsidy for the rich. It is a source of constant astonishment to me that those who profess to support free market economics routinely overlook this distortion." (Monbiot, Age of Consent, p. 230-231)
"This theft has reached so great a scale that it is arguable that the majority of the world's large corporations depend on it for their continued existence. The American professor of business administration Ralph Estes found that one took into account only those costs which had been properly established by authoritative studies in 1994 corporations in the United States were permitted to inflict 2.6 trillion dollars worth of social and environmental damage, or five times the value of their total profits. Many companies object that if they were forced to pay the full price for the resources they use and the damage they cause, they would be driven out of business. To this the only sensible answer is `good.' Wealth, in this case, would cease to be stolen from the poor and handed to the rich. The price of the most damaging goods would rise enormously, but this should surely please the practitioners of free trade, as it provides a classic `market response' to a social and environmental problem. Unlike localization, it punishes only those who cause the damage, and offers relative rewards to those who export less harmful goods." (Monbiot, Age of Consent, p. 230)
But a turning to God also would wipe out the intransigence of workers too. Corporations exploit, but lazy, slavish contentious workers probably cost the world's economy even more trillions of dollars in losses even than cynical, ruthless corporations do.
A few days ago I took on the boring job of picking the currents from our bountiful black and red current bushes. While picking them, I listened on the old iPod an old address by the recently deceased Alexander Solzhenitsyn, given at the start of his exile in the West. I well knew that if I did not keep my mind occupied I would soon give up again, and the currents would rot on the branch. Postcasts are a great way to overcome one's own fickleness, and one of my favorites is a series of famous speeches reenacted. The Solzhenitsyn speech was one of these. Most of the way through his speech I felt a growing sense of annoyance. Clearly, here is a contentious fellow, a Russian dissident proud of the superior spirituality of his nation, lecturing the West on its materialism. Buried in politics, urging on a course of action that, for better or worse, Americans have taken on, largely as he suggested here. But then, just towards the end, he suddenly proved how well he really understood what spirituality is. I have never seen it better and more succinctly summed up than he does here. Arguing against godless communism and godless capitalism at once, he says,
"If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President's performance be reduced to the question of how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism."
While I was pleased to hear the great man express this point so well, my question was, why did he leave this point to the end? Why indulge in petty squabbling first, and leave this all important thought as an afterthought? I suppose if he had said this first, his talk would have had to go where the Master took His talks, to spiritual things, to obedience to government rather than blind opposition. Anyway, here is how the great novelist and opponent of communism ended this very important speech,
"It would be retrogression to attach oneself today to the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment. Social dogmatism leaves us completely helpless in front of the trials of our times. Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction. We cannot avoid revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man's life and society's activities have to be determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity?
"If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era. This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but -- upward." ("A World Split Apart" an Address by Alexander Solzhenitsyn at Harvard Class Day Afternoon Exercises, given June 8, 1978, http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/solzhenitsyn/harvard1978.html)
In the same podcast there is a speech given at around the same time by then-president Jimmy Carter laying out a series of bold goals as part of a ten year plan to end America's dependence on foreign oil. This "lofty" goal has been mentioned by every President since Nixon, but it is surprising to hear how strong and determined Carter sounded.
One cannot help but wonder what would have happened if Carter had been able to carry out this determination. "Not one drop of foreign oil shall be imported after ten years." Imagine how much further we would be right now in our fight against global warming. Nor was this an impossible undertaking. A spate of articles by the press is featuring Denmark, which made the same determination in the 1970's to end its total dependence on oil and actually carried it out. Now their economy is flourishing and their industry cannot keep up with demand for its green technologies. All America had to do was summon up the spiritual resources to help their leader Carter carry out this goal when he proposed it, and they would not be in their present tailspin to oblivion. It is just as Baha'u'llah said, obey a just leader. Just leaders must have good followers or nobody gets anywhere.
I still remember the day Reagan won the election and Carter and goals like this were rejected. I remember it because at the same time somebody drove by our house on Upper Paradise Road and chucked a brick through our front window. I remember looking at the destruction in our living room and thinking that surely now the world is going down the tubes. It has happened slower than I expected, but with global warming baking us all well done, I do not think I was wrong in that gut feeling. If only we had prayed harder for our leaders we might be in a universe where our bacon was not cooked.
The effect of our prayers for our leaders would be, among other things, an increase in our "followership" abilities. John Lock wrote,
"If we look into the causes of our problems, we find that they come from the fact that people are able neither to govern nor to be governed. They do not know how to govern others, and they do not know how to govern themselves. They do not know how to be governed by others; they do not know how to be governed by themselves." (unfinished General Treatise on the Remedy of Human Affairs, De Emendatione Rerum Humanarum Consultatio Catholica)
Lock's sentence structure implies that leadership and followership act as mirrors to one another, each amplifying the other with each refraction. The story of the Manifestation, retold repeatedly on holy days throughout the year, gives just such a feedback effect.
The perfect demonstration of ignorant leadership and followership is in our ubiquitous habit of gossipping and backbiting one another. A journalist from Wired Magazine recently featured an interview with a "troll," an insidious variant of a hacker. Trolls take advantage of the wild west world of cyberspace to persecute and harass anybody they decide not to like. This troll, who uses the handle "Fortuny," demonstrates the perverse logic behind the troll's urge to attack and justify the attack. This urge and this logic we all use sometimes,
"We walked on, to Starbucks. At the next table, middle-schoolers with punk-rock haircuts feasted noisily on energy drinks and whipped cream. Fortuny sipped a white-chocolate mocha. He proceeded to demonstrate his personal cure for trolling, the Theory of the Green Hair.
"You have green hair," he told me. "Did you know that?"
"No," I said.
"I look in the mirror. I see my hair is black."
"That's uh, interesting. I guess you understand that you have green hair about as well as you understand that you're a terrible reporter."
"What do you mean? What did I do?"
"That's a very interesting reaction," Fortuny said. "Why didn't you get so defensive when I said you had green hair?" If I were certain that I wasn't a terrible reporter, he explained, I would have laughed the suggestion off just as easily. The willingness of trolling "victims" to be hurt by words, he argued, makes them complicit, and trolling will end as soon as we all get over it.
This Wired journalist points out that the internet is built on Postel's Law, "Be conservative in what you do; be liberal in what you accept from others." The troll, and the backbiter, takes the opposite philosophy in dealing with others. The result is a constant state of low level war. Since God is love, this anarchy is the direct effect of rejecting Him.
One ill effect of rejection of God is not only that we reject his presence, but also his knowledge, and knowledge in general. An essay by one of my favorite economists, Paul Krugman, recently introduced me to the "knownothing" movement. The history of this kneejerk, racist movement in American life is given here: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Know_nothing). It is given a broader meaning by Krugman,
"... know-nothingism (is) the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and that there's something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise - has become the core of Republican policy and political strategy. The party's de facto slogan has become: `Real men don't think things through.'" (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/08/opinion/08krugman.html?ex=1375848000&en=6db4d4511be41efb&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink)
Krugman sees this attitude, not of rednecks but the ruling class in Washington, as the real reason behind this decade's Iraq attack,
"Why were the elite so hawkish? Well, I heard a number of people express privately the argument that some influential commentators made publicly - that the war was a good idea, not because Iraq posed a real threat, but because beating up someone in the Middle East, never mind who, would show Muslims that we mean business. In other words, even alleged wise men bought into the idea of macho posturing as policy." ("Know-Nothing Politics By Paul Krugman, New York Times, August 7, 2008)
This is at the heart of all war: know nothing but do all as a bully, intimidate, attack, besmirch. Forget about leading by example, if you do not whack somebody around you are not going to have an effect.
Right now the American President is basking in the Olympic sun while Putin is taking advantage of that distraction to attack Georgia. How can the American leader respond to an attack like that, with righteous indignation? Attacking another sovereign nation, in any other time that would be a capital crime worthy of vigorous action in defense of world order. But not now. Putin kicks at the international house of cards and the superpower dare not object. Before the house of cards topples, let us all learn to pray for leaders, for leadership, and for ourselves as followers. Let us be worthy of the vision of Abdu'l-Baha for us all in this age,
"One of the great events which is to occur in the Day of the manifestation of that incomparable Branch is the hoisting of the Standard of God among all nations. By this is meant that all nations and kindreds will be gathered together under the shadow of this Divine Banner, which is no other than the Lordly Branch itself, and will become a single nation. Religious and sectarian antagonism, the hostility of races and peoples, and differences among nations, will be eliminated. All men will adhere to one religion, will have one common faith, will be blended into one race and become a single people. All will dwell in one common fatherland, which is the planet itself." (Abdu'l-Baha, quoted in WOB, 204-205)