Thursday, December 04, 2008

Comenius on Family escutcheons; last installment

Conclusion to the Chapter on Family Reform

By John Taylor; 2008 Dec 4, 11 Qawl 165 BE

This fall we have gone through a set of proposals for reforming family households put forward in the 1500's by Jan Amos Comenius in his master work, Panorthosia, or Universal Reform. 

Comenius saw three main missions for every family, three ways to perpetuate itself, that is, to function as a small church, a state and a school, each producing a set of written rules for junior members displayed strategically throughout the domicile. As for enforcement, Comenius saw reward playing a greater role than punishment, as does Baha'u'llah.

"But punishment must be imposed on anyone who ventures to default, and those who are specially trustworthy and industrious should be recommended for a reward, bearing in mind that children or even servants should occasionally be allowed to have fun and games and parties, particularly if they have diligently performed the serious duties falling to them, for example, at the time of the harvest or the vintage." (Panorthosia, 36-37)

Comenius assumes here that families are autonomous and will assert their right to make local decisions about what affects them. He sees families making their own recreation and entertainment and using it to encourage responsibility and diligence.

Today, rest and recreation are shunted off to professionals employed by the main rival of family, the company. A multi-billion dollar industry feeds off passive, powerless families no longer capable of do-it-yourself, amateur festivities. These professional entertainment industries include broadcasting, Hollywood and, richest of all, the video game industry, each of which has a vested interest in seeing to it that families shirk their job as entertainers.

Commercialism competes with directly with family values and, by means of advertising injected into the home, does everything in its power to undermine family sovereignty. 

Corporations profit by every breakup of a marriage, since the greater the number of households the more of their products must be purchased. Every commercial injects an attitude of selfish entitlement highly corrosive to the spirit of service that lubricates a successful, united family.

In the 18th and last paragraph of this chapter on "The Particular Reform of Families" Comenius continues with the theme of family probity upholding family honour,

"To put it briefly, the behaviour of all the inhabitants within the household should be so orderly that nothing but Virtue and Decency can shine forth to the outside world. (Cf. I Corinthians 14:40: 'Let all things be done decently and in order.") Husbands and wives should live in perfect unity; parents should be conspicuous for their affection towards their children, and masters should be on the most friendly terms with their domestic staff. All members should be thoroughly upright in their outward life and conduct, and notable in the sight of God and His Angels for their inward piety, so that the household which is reformed according to God's pleasure will earn the right to have this inscription over its door:
"THIS IS THE DWELLING PLACE OF VIRTUE, ORDER, AGREEMENT, AND GOD AMONGST MEN! Therefore let nothing that is evil ever enter it!"

This escutcheon is similar to badges proposed by Comenius to be displayed by all levels of society, from the individual on up to a world government (we shall be looking at these in more detail later). Being open and standardized on a world level, the family escutcheons would be guaranteed to be familiar and recognizable to all; they would thus inspire the sort of brand loyalty that corporations now spend huge fortunes to build for themselves. Better still, the quality of a family escutcheon would not be bought with money but could only be earned by the piety and merit of its members. This would make escutcheons a much more effective and economical way than commercial branding to heighten the prestige and appeal of the institution. A good escutchion would effectively channel family prestige directly towards the encouragement of merit on the part of its members.

Compare this to the decreasing ability of companies to influence the world, or even motivate their own minions. The moral bankruptcy of corporations (which preceded their literal bankruptcy by some decades) is shown by the astronomical rise in pay and bonuses of their managers. A study by behavioral economists of bonuses in the corporate world reported in the New York Times found that the use of large amounts of money to motivate actually does the reverse of what it is intended to do.

"We found that as long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance. But when we included a task that required even rudimentary cognitive skill, the outcome was the same as in the India study: the offer of a higher bonus led to poorer performance. If our tests mimic the real world, then higher bonuses may not only cost employers more but also discourage executives from working to the best of their ability. ... So it turns out that social pressure has the same effect that money has. It motivates people, especially when the tasks at hand require only effort and no skill. But it can provide stress, too, and at some point that stress overwhelms the motivating influence." (Dan Ariely, "What is the Value of a Big Bonus?," November 19, 2008)

If the same money and scientific scrutiny that now goes into improving companies were put into families and their mini-schools, mini-governments and mini-churches, who knows what improvements might be made in families, the foundation of society? Comenius's escutcheon proposal seems to be a good place to start.


John Taylor



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