Monday, November 03, 2008

Reform of Family in the Panorthosia

Domestic Registers
By John Taylor; 2008 Nov 03, 19 'Ilm 165 BE

We continue today going through Jan Amos Comenius's outline of family reform in the Panorthosia.
We already saw how Comenius placed the Householder's Psalm front and center in any future family constitution. Comenius uses this prayer as what we now might call the DNA for every other managment principle in his proposed reformed household. From it, as well as certain other religious principles, Comenius derives a family constitution strictly dedicated to protecting its members from evil and dedicating them, young and old, to a serious moral and educational mission. This contrasts sharply with the present home, whose main role is to furnish relaxation, entertainment and recreation. Today what learning, service and employment do take place generally occurs well outside the domestic hearth.
Before continuing, it is worthwhile to point out that the Baha'i understanding is entirely in harmony with that of Comenius. In fact, a case could be made that Baha'i teachings take his educative mission even further. For example, Baha'u'llah wrote,
"Man is even as steel, the essence of which is hidden: through admonition and explanation, good counsel and education, that essence will be brought to light. If, however, he be allowed to remain in his original condition, the corrosion of lusts and appetites will effectively destroy him." (Baha'u'llah, Compilation of Compilations, #561, vol. I, p. 247)
Morally speaking, what goes on in the family, then, is utterly serious; in fact, it is a matter of life or death, of purification or total destruction. The gradual destruction of both individuals and families we see everywhere, and the results are unavoidable, including crime, drug and alcohol abuse, prejudice, hatred, and so forth. On the upside, strengthening moral fibre through family reform promises to all but eliminate such blights forever.
Paragraph Seven
Here Comenius outlines just who is included in a family household.
"The people in the family are 1. husbands and wives, 2. parents and children, 3. masters and servants, and 4. lodgers or extra members of the household. Again, husband and wife are the married couple, the father and mother, the master and mistress; children are sons and daughters, servants include manservants and maidservants."
This includes everybody under a single roof, and would presumably cover a small family business as well. He points out that the specific duties and functions of each of these members were treated in detail elsewhere in his works on the moral world (Pansophia, Part IV); he proposes only to outline them here in general terms. Comenius wrote over a hundred and fifty books, and I do not yet have access to most, including the Pansophia. To my surprise when I first read this, the general sketch that he draws here seems entirely compatible with a modern, Internet connected family household. The first imperative is:
"They should all be well aware of their duties, which should be made clear to them either by means of a domestic register or by a special instruction."
Imagine a tiny fraction of the trillions budgeted for weapons construction, or the billions businesses spend on exploiting the family, imagine some of that money going into a software "domestic register," a virtual Vade Mecum that would not only remind us of family duties but also assess performance, offer rewards and compare each member's progress to others, within and without the family. Imagine the whole domestic universe being built around this tool. Comenius is showing just how it might be put to good use. He continues,
"Then to prevent them from forgetting, this should also be repeated regularly, or posted on a notice-board for all to see (in their own room or anywhere suitable)."
This PIM or organizing program could be uploaded to the personal robotic valets that will surely soon tag after us all day long, in the same way that in yesteryear a retinue of personal servants used to follow after members of the upper class. These elite in Comenius's time were provided with such powerful services, yet they became rudderless, effete and ineffective largely because they did not have a strict obligation to work and serve others. This Baha'is now have, which prepares us well for the soon to arrive age of robotics.
"There should also be daily repetition both in the morning when they must remember their duty for the day, and in the evening when they must check that it has been done."
Baha'is are familiar with the requirements of taking oneself into account, as well as morning and evening prayer and reading of Holy Writ. It is well to remember that this is not unique to our own religious teachings, it was the basis of every successful life and vital society in the past. Comenius shows himself well familiar with them.
Comenius then lays on the family an obligation to eliminate unemployment. Again, appreciating the desirability of full employment is not new, it was established in the Bible.
"None of them should be allowed to go idle; they should all be actively occupied, even children and infants, for although the latter cannot do any serious duty, it is better that they should play games rather than learn to misbehave through having nothing to do. (In a word, the household should be a hive full of bees without drones, so that it may become full of honey without fail, or a nest of ants,' where all the inhabitants are constantly at work)." (in reference to Proverbs 30:25)
The press has been full of the case of the 12-year-old boy in northern Ontario who, addicted to his X-Box, ran away from home and has not been seen again. This is unusual only in the age of the child involved. For at least three decades older youths have destroyed promising careers due to addiction to games. What Comenius is establishing here is a system that would eliminate this problem long before it got out of control. As soon as a child tipped away from optimum, moderate habits in the slightest, corrective measures, both within and without the family household, would kick in to bring him or her back to the straight and narrow.
Paragraph Eight
Comenius then turns to the design and layout of the home. He speaks in such general terms that what he says could be put into the latest issue of Modern Housekeeping and nobody would bat an eye.
"The things in the household include rooms, clothing, food and pieces of furniture and, in dealing with them, we must see that
1. the household is not stocked with anything that is superfluous;
2. nor deprived of any necessity;
3. there should not be much furniture, but it should all be useful, that is, all that is necessary should be such items as serve a useful purpose. It should not be expensive nor ornate, but designed for its utility;
4. there should be a place for everything, and everything should be in its place throughout the household, so that when the time comes to use anything, you soon know where to look for it, and you can see at a glance whether anything is in its own particular corner or not.
The only way I can see to improve on this would be to implement it with the "open systems" methodology that brought about the Linux operating system and the Wikipedia virtual encyclopedia. Every homemaker should have the advice and collective wisdom of many other homemakers, as well as scientists and experts, as she designs and remakes her domain. For example, a webcam could keep track of changes, and when mistakes are made suggestions would automatically be brought to a householder's attention through the virtual "domestic register."
Having dealt with the noun, the physical state of the household, Comenius proceeds to the verb, the motions and interrelations of those living there.
"The actions in the household consist of services mutually rendered by everyone and also of tasks separately demanded of each individual. To prevent confusion from arising, the following rules should be observed:
1. Every action required by the family group must be demanded of someone.
2. Every person in the whole household must have certain actions demanded of him.
3. These should be apportioned according to strength and ability, so that demands are only made on individuals competent to carry them out, and the amount of action called for is more or less according to their capabilities.
4. All duties should be so conveniently distributed that no-one hinders himself nor others, but everyone proceeds efficiently with all his duties for the good of the whole family.
Comenius is clearly an experienced householder. For example, step one would seem to a superficial observer be superfluous but I cannot count the number of times when I have been in meetings where high-minded resolutions were agreed to by all concerned but it all came to nothing because nobody was given the job of carrying it out, or if tasked, it was evaded.
The domestic register program would carry out the principle repeatedly invoked by Jesus Christ, for example in Luke 16:10, "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much." That is, it would insist that children from the earliest age carry out their resolutions, and that their progress both in school and at home be carried from there, step by step, from faithfulness in small things to justice in the large.
Comenius saw better than any other thinker I know of, in his age or any other, that the family is the world in microcosm. Since there are three main divisions to society, religion, science and poltics, he therefore assigned three corresponding tasks to the family. The specifics of how he did so will be the topic of our next essay.

John Taylor

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