I am an essayist specializing in the Bahá'í Principles. Essays come out every day or so. Contact me at: email@example.com
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Learning from Play
The School Issue: Preschool
Can the Right Kinds of Play Teach Self-Control?
By PAUL TOUGH
Published: September 27, 2009
Can imaginary play teach children to control their impulses — and be better students?
Financial and Metric Adjustments for the Constitution of Co-operatives
By John Taylor; 2009 Sep 30, Mashiyyat 04, 166 BE
(This incorporates a revision of a blog entry originally written Aug 05, 2008, called, "Continuing Monbiot's Apocalypse")
The leadership of a hillside neighbourhood is itself a cooperative real estate enterprise, as well as being a professional association for the family household, by nature the most basic and co-operative of all institutions. Within its boundaries a neighbourhood also supports and brokers a variety of subsidiary co-operative enterprises.
For example, we have just seen that Comenius advocated a free traveller's hospice combined with a speaker's bureau in every locality. Meetings held every month with visiting dignitaries, experts and tourists would facilitate communication and information exchange among neighbourhoods. In addition, co-operative workshops in a neighbourhood would allow hobbyists to express themselves. Residents would have a right to a workstation at informal workshops near their homes. This amateur activity, combined with trade schools and apprenticeship programs, would spawn new professional entrepreneurial endeavours in the neighbourhood.
In order for this co-operative activity to prevail in a neighbourhood, at least two serious deficiencies of co-operatives have to be corrected first.
In an essay called "A Vehicle for Equality," George Monbiot discusses the worker's cooperative, which stands as an alternative to what he calls "hierarchical capitalism," which is the normal variety everywhere. Although these coops were invented along with the division of labour, Monbiot attributes their formalization in modern form to Robert Owen, the 19th Century capitalist and social reformer. Monbiot points out that although Owen's worker communities collapsed, England still has many small coops and partnerships, and one large cooperative, the John Lewis Partnership. However,
"In several other countries, workers' co-ops, in which all the workers have a stake in the business and a voice in its decision-making processes, have flourished... Dutch and Danish farmers have survived the invasion of the superstores because, unlike British farmers, they process and market much of their produce cooperatively, and so can bargain collectively. They can also achieve economies of scale, which is why British people eat Danish butter and Danish bacon. The Mondragon co-op is now the biggest industrial group in Euskadi (the Basque country) and the 7th biggest in Spain, with 71,000 workers. Altogether, workers' co-ops around the world employ about 100 million people." ("A Vehicle for Equality," from George Monbiot, April 12, 2005, http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2005/04/12/a-vehicle-for-equality/)
Monbiot points out that although modern hierarchical capitalists are violently opposed to cooperatives, in the past few decades they in effect have been imitating them by paying upper management in shares, options and other ownership incentives. Hence the "central idea of the co-op is now a standard feature of corporate capitalism." This is because worker-owned enterprises have many inherent advantages.
In Argentina, for example, laid-off former workers took over about 160 factories that had been shut down and abandoned by their hierarchical capitalist owners. The new worker-owned enterprises have a long-term interest in the survival of their factories than their former owners, who were looking for the quick buck. Even in the short-term, the workers manage themselves better because they do not have to pay huge salaries to well connected "high-powered" executives.
As Monbiot puts it, "The money which would have been snaffled by the executives has instead been re-invested." Needless to say, the owner class is fighting this furiously, as a recent documentary by Naomi Kline demonstrates.
Monbiot brings up the received criticisms of coops documented by Harvard economist Michael Kremer. Kremer showed that dividends in a co-op tend to transfer wealth from more productive workers to less productive ones. Worse, worker democracy nullifies innovation and efficiency, which often demand harsh, unpopular sacrifices in the short run.
"The greater the capital investment, he shows, the greater the potential inefficiency, which could explain the scarcity of manufacturing co-ops. Co-ops, in other words, like hierarchical firms, suffer from conflicts of interest. There are other constraints too: the lack of access to capital (keeping the business in the hands of the workers means keeping absentee owners - and their money - out) and the lack of opportunities for capital (you can't move it around as freely as other shareholders can). The Mondragon co-op appears to have overcome both these problems, by establishing its own bank, which circulates money among its 200 affiliated businesses, and by encouraging diversification." (Id.)
The right regulatory climate, especially in a Universal Civic Society (the economy that would come about under a world government), would tweak worker-owned companies to get around such shortcomings and conflicts of interest. Why not have a tie to a cooperative banking system built into the constitution of every worker-owned company? It is already technically possible even for individuals to become their own banks, and the wealthy routinely become their own trusts. Why not make co-operative companies their own banks, connected all together through a cooperative system of credit, savings and loans?
A standard co-operative constitution for every company would have to put internal mechanisms in place to eliminate conflicts of interest and reverse the flow of capital from productive workers to unproductive ones. For example, metrics might measure statistical measures of a worker's productivity in real-time. Having this displayed on an AR dashboard would allow unproductive workers to see their productivity and make whatever adjustments are needed to become more productive. Such minor changes might allow co-ops and profit sharing schemes to succeed even in capital-intensive industries like manufacturing.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Cooperatives and Voyager
On Cooperatives and Star Trek Voyager
By John Taylor; 2009 Sep 29, Mashiyyat 03, 166 BE
A Note to Baha'is on Cooperatives
I do not plan to have any Baha'i content in the book that I have over the past few months been slowly writing here, but since I am talking about cooperatives now I cannot resist mentioning a blog posting, including a well chosen quote, that has influenced me. A Dutch Baha'i living in England, by the name of Ineke posted this on July 3, 2009 on her blog "Fewness of words, abundance of deeds," which is at:
She points out in this posting that the 1st Saturday in July is the International Day of Cooperatives. "Of course as a Baha'i, I am quite used to cooperatives since our whole Administrative System is based on cooperative decision making." (http://wordanddeed.wordpress.com/2009/07/03/international-day-of-cooperatives-international-dag-van-cooperaties/) She cites the BIC, who say that Baha'is "devolve decision making to the lowest practicable level" allowing "grassroots participation." This is the principle of subsidiarity that I have been talking about so much here lately. The quote from the Master that she quotes is so apt that I cannot resist citing it here in full (note that, as always here, I use the pagination of the newest edition of Promulgation). If any Baha'is had any doubts about the merits of cooperatives, this would surely dispell them.
"The supreme need of humanity is cooperation and reciprocity. The stronger the ties of fellowship and solidarity amongst men, the greater will be the power of constructiveness and accomplishment in all the planes of human activity. Without cooperation and reciprocal attitude the individual member of human society remains self-centered, uninspired by altruistic purposes, limited and solitary in development like the animal and plant organisms of the lower kingdoms. The lower creatures are not in need of cooperation and reciprocity. A tree can live solitary and alone, but this is impossible for man without retrogression. Therefore, every cooperative attitude and activity of human life is praiseworthy and foreintended by the will of God." (25 September, 1912, Denver, Promulgation, 478-479)
A Note to Baha'i Trekkies on Cooperatives
Like most in my generation, I've always been a bit of a trekker, though I am far from the sort of fan who actually knows the difference between a trekkie and a trekker. The series left me behind long ago; it was impossible to keep up, especially after I gave up regular television. Sometimes I borrow a DVD of a season of the original series, TNG, DS9 or Enterprise from the library. I recently did that for the fourth season of the Voyager series. Not only I, but both kids too were intrigued, so I shelled out some big bucks and bought the whole series of seven seasons. It is something we can all do together -- my first choice would be do something outdoors, but my daughter has an aversion to bees and mosquitoes, and they are especially bad this year. The Voyager series is certainly well written, surely the best Star Trek series so far.
While I like far more than I dislike about Star Trek, I will be negative today and talk about what I do not like. In spite of there being aliens all around, it is pretty clear that the future of planet earth as depicted here is dominated by White Americans. Even the aliens are Whites with a little dab of make-up or a ridge added here and there. I keep longing for a corrective series, maybe one where the star ship is staffed completely by Aboriginals or Pygmies.
I keep imagining that Star Trek series with its diminutive crew in a Pygmy-sized ship. Everybody is small, except one crewmember who is a Bantu, or whatever that tribe is who are the tallest people in the world. I imagine the Pygmies making fun of the Bantu crew member as he lies down with his back on a skateboard and rolls himself through the doors and hallways of the ship.
The thought of somebody other than White Americans representing the human race, which must comprise at least eighty percent non-Whites, is somehow comforting to me. The next Star Trek should cast only from Africa. In fact, the genetic diversity of Africans is so great -- studies found that there is far more variation among native Africans than there is among the totality of the human race -- that you could probably write an "Africa Trek" without ever leaving that continent, much less the planet. There are so many highly diverse tribes that their interactions would provide great interest -- you would not even need aliens.
Another thing that bothers me about all the Star Treks so far is the unvarying military/naval model of the ships. You might think that Americans, with their pretensions to freedom and democracy might imagine a future Federation of Planets that at least makes a nod at democratic process.
This is especially noticeable with the woman leader of Voyager, Captain Janeway, who frequently must reassert her authority and often repeats to her crew: "This is not a democracy." She makes all decisions for them. Even with half her crew being Maquis, a mild sort of pirate, there is no attempt to find an alternative to what my father, who as a WWII conscript hated every minute he spent in the military, calls a "dictatorship within a democracy." At one point Voyager finds a promising human colony that is already thriving. Many crewmembers take a tour and consider giving up their voyage home and staying on to make a life for themselves. Janeway has to decide whether to allow them to do so, since if too many stay there will not be enough to fly the ship and everybody would have to stay.
Should they have a vote?
In the end she tries a simple but risky expedient. She announces, "Everybody who wants to stay, meet me in Cargo Bay Four." Fortunately for her, nobody turns up. Myself, I would have devised a complex election with a secret ballot that also kept track of who had voted to stay. This would have allowed them to do so if and only if the yes votes were not too numerous. At the same time, I would have tried to recruit young people from the colony to take the place of those who stay.
But my point is that the writers have little _interest_ in democracy. This interesting decision is tacked on at the end of an episode dealing mostly with a revival of Amelia Earheart -- who, by the way, stayed a few days at the Lalor Inn here in Dunnville before being abducted by aliens and taken 70,000 light years away to the Delta Quadrant of the Milky Way galaxy. A little local angle, showing that it is a small universe after all.
I am not saying that a purely democratic ship would survive long. Even Plato used the model of a ship's captain to show the flaws of letting the people decide issues that involve expert knowledge. Indeed the Voyager series is meant to explore the limits of the expert model, since the good space ship Voyager is thrown way off to the other side of the galaxy and removed from contact with the Federation. As such, Janeway is forced to be more than just an expert leader.
Would the corporate model work better? What if they had a "board of directors" and general meetings of shareholders, or shipmen, who made broader, long-term strategic decisions, leaving day-to-day decisions to the CEO, or captain? Even if the spaceship had an all-Baha'i crew, I think that is essentially what they would do. They might call their board of directors a House of Justice and have its chair act as captain, and they might elect the members of their House of Justice, but other than that there would be little difference. I cannot see a Baha'i ship taking command authority away from the learned as the order of Baha'u'llah does from the learned in order to eliminate a clergy.
Imagine the doctor not being able to order the captain to take a break from her ceaseless work schedule!
On the other hand, maybe I have been misunderstanding the Order of Baha'u'llah as a model. Baha'u'llah clearly does not take authority away from experts and specialists in anything but a purely religious context. Only God has authority in matters of conscience, but if anything he strengthens the authority of figures like parents, police, lawmakers, etc. Indeed, even friends and strangers, as long as they are servants of God, have a certain power, as witnessed by the Hidden Word, "refuse not my servant should he ask anything of thee..." That is a pretty strong mandate. It is a pretty gross distortion to imagine that "there is no authority in the Baha'i Faith." Perhaps it is closer to the truth to pick your words and say "there is no authority in Baha'i qua Faith." In the role of social conditioner, there is tremendous authority; a prayer begs of God to make us "submissive" servants.
I have heard Baha'is criticize the early Star Trek because it does not see a place for religion in our future. On the whole, this is true, though it was corrected to some extent later on, especially in Deep Space Nine. In DS9, though, religion is more a negative than a positive factor in society. The religious groups in DS9 make me want to vomit. That is all I want to say about them.
Voyager depicts religion in the usual Western way, as a limp, emasculated, wholly personal emotion. It is devoid of vigour or social relevance and does not come near to affecting command decisions -- though Janeway comes close sometimes with her repeated invocations of principle, even at the price of their lives.
Personal faith is strong in its second-in-command, Chakotay, who is a sort of latter day adherent of Native Spirituality. Indeed he is quite inspiring and I am pleased that this character is introducing my kids to this religion. A few other characters have strong faith, but there is no faith that connects society as a social sinew, as a Baha'i would expect. Indeed, if Star Trek is all about hope for the future, so is the Baha'i Faith, and perhaps Star Trek and Baha'i are therefore rivals, incompatible.
But what if they were not?
In a Baha'i Star Trek crew faith would be not only a social factor but an organizing principle. Baha'is would not just reflect and pray before they consult, they would consult before they act -- assuming that they were not pressed by imminent Kazon attack. As well, I think they would not interpret the Prime Directive as severely as Janeway does, in view of Baha'u'llah's own prime directive to teach, teach, teach... And that teaching directive alone, not to mention that of search for truth, would assure that power and decision making would not be nearly as concentrated as it is on Voyager. On the other hand, we are only at the third season right now, maybe things will change later on.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Neighbourhood Finance, Part II
By John Taylor; 2009 Sep 28, Mashiyyat 02, 166 BE
Neighbourhood as Institution
Provenance of Neighbourhood Co-ops
More on the Neighbourhood as an Institution
The cornerstone of hillside architecture is the interposition between the family and the city of a new level of government, the neighbourhood. As we increase the power, independence and freedom of the family, so the potential influence of the neighbourhood, the immediate surroundings of families, must grow correspondingly. We noted yesterday that the inter-familial institution of the neighbourhood combines certain official governmental functions with a cooperative real estate trust and, among other things, a professional association of households living in that locality.
Strong leadership at this grassroots level would enable hillside architecture to come into existence in the first place. But ignoring that, it is clear that even in the present order vigorous neighbourhood leadership would allow a pooling of resources on a level that is bereft of financial leverage. A strong neighbourhood could target funds, including both grants and low interest loans, at improvements to neighbourhood infrastructure that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive for residents and too small for urban governments to undertake. Many of these projects are far from luxuries, they are crucial to protect the environment and reduce waste. Some that have proven successful in many places of the world are transportation initiatives like neighbourhood garages, car sharing programs, and other cooperative ways to reduce dependence on the automobile. Energy efficiency measures include geothermal installations, wind turbines, wind towers for cooling, and solar collectors.
To cite a recent example, one neighbourhood group near Washington, D.C. got together for the express purpose of financing and purchasing solar panels for every homeowner in the area who wished to participate. According to the organizer of this initiative, this idea was new and unfamiliar and required a great deal of persuasion. However, today several dozen homes in his area have solar panels, lowering electric bills for residents and reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the world. Economies of scale and greater purchasing power enabled the neighbourhood group to purchase and install PV panels at a much lower cost than homeowners could have done on their own.
Once neighbourhood government becomes a familiar institution, much more ambitious initiatives will become routine.
Provenance of Neighbourhood Co-operatives as an Idea
This essay series is the result of a cross-pollination of my ideas for adapting construction and architecture to the demands of climate change with the Panorthosia, or Universal Reform, of John Amos Comenius. At this point I wonder: Where did I get the idea of neighbourhood government? Is it my idea or his? The chapter titles of Panorthosia talk about affiliating world government with individuals, families, schools, churches and politics, but there is no separate treatment of neighbourhoods as such.
However, in the opening paragraph of the chapter on family he hints that family itself is an outcome of the individual's need to become an agent for change in his or her immediate surroundings, since "virtue begins by exerting its influence on its immediate neighbourhood..." (Panorthosia, Chapter 21, Para 1, p. 29) In the 24th Chapter, on politics, he discusses measures for improving communications, including offering free accommodation to travellers and visiting officials, who would attend regular neighbourhood information meetings to exchange ideas with locals.
"The tribes in every city should communicate through tribunes, who should assemble every month and confer about the happiness of the neighbourhood." (p. 122)
As for the neighbourhood institution being a cooperative, Comenius earlier in this chapter discusses an essential attribute of cooperatives, the fact that they are open, share in assets together, and are constitutionally opposed to exclusion and monopoly.
I have only ever heard of anti-trust laws as a recent phenomenon, so it is a surprise to read Comenius lumping monopolies along with severe political injustices like, "Politics, anarchy, tyranny, monopoly, violence ... instead of learning, prescriptions, imprisonment, execution, and warfare..." In fact, Comenius derives the beginning of the principle of eliminating monopolies from Mark 4:38, where the disciples reported that they had forbidden rivals from practicing miracles, and Jesus broke the "monopoly" on miracles by telling them to "forbid them not..." Indeed, Comenius coins a word, "oligopoly," meaning a broad, unofficial monopoly by the rich, in order to be sure to include iniquity and bullying by the wealthy, which usually does not fall under the strict definition of "monopoly."
"Monopoly and oligopoly" should likewise be done away with all over the world. This blot on our history whereby a number of people set up monopolies in our cities and kingdoms and exclude others from the right to trade, grabbing the first share of the cake, as it were, must be abolished in the reformed age. For just as we must not tolerate the confusing system under which a number of people force their way into everything by an order which determines who should undertake each enterprise, so it is equally intolerable that any work which more people could do better through the interplay of honest effort and mutual competition should fall into the clutches of a single individual, certainly a catch for him, but just as certainly a costly trick at the expense of the state. ... Everything should be common property except insofar as is necessary to preserve order and avoid confusion between parties. The same rule should be observed in the church and in schools." (Comenius, Panorthosia, p. 106)
Sunday, September 27, 2009
The Rocker, Trailer
This film, The Rocker, was not well reviewed, but it has the distinction of being the only one I have heard of that has a Baha'i star, at least not since Carole Lombard, in the 1930's. Coincidentally, she was also a comic actor.
"Carole Lombard became one of Hollywood's top comedy actresses in the 1930s. In comedies like Twentieth Century (1934) by Howard Hawks, My Man Godfrey (1936) by Gregory La Cava, for which she received an Academy Award for Best Actress nomination, and Nothing Sacred (1937) by William A. Wellman, she proved a marvellous comedic talent..."
Cornerstone Room in Wilmette Temple
Bread Line by Baha'i Centre
|From Drop Box|
from: WSJ.com, September 22, 2009, Arthur B. Laffer, Opinion: Taxes, Depression, and Our Current Troubles
Promise of World Peace
TO THE PEOPLES OF THE WORLD
A STATEMENT BY
THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE
The Promise of World Peace explores the beliefs and origins of the Baha'i Faith, which has become the second most widespread religion on the planet. Weaving together interviews, historical documents and footage from around the globe. This documentary takes us inside the Baha'i way of life and daily struggle to promote unity in a conflicted world.
Part II: http://www.vimeo.com/5333018
Part III: http://www.vimeo.com/5346104
Neighbourhood Economics, Part I
Nature of Neighbourhood Governance
By John Taylor; 2009 Sep 27, Mashiyyat 01, 166 BE
We have already discussed our ideas about the financial arrangements of households in a hillside housing development. Today, I want to give a quick review of the structure of a hillside development, then later go on to economics on the neighbourhood level, especially how credit and banking fit into it.
Depending on circumstances and location, a neighbourhood consists of anywhere between a dozen to a hundred households that reside along the streets of a city block. Its headquarters are centrally located, featuring a large "War and Peace" conference room with a large, interactive display of statistical and other data feeds about the locality. Residents and entire households visit this room in order to make their plans while viewing a simulation of the wider consequences of their actions.
The neighbourhood has a strict constitution with a charter that gives it monopoly control over and ownership of all real estate on its street. As a cooperative, every resident owns a fair share of its public assets. But as an institution it does not deal with individuals. Rather, it farms out responsibility for specific tasks to member households.
A neighbourhood is neither a government nor a private corporation but a combination of both. It is an open cooperative, owned and operated by member households for their benefit. But it has many features of a government, including the power to determine and collect taxes and the duty to uphold inalienable voting rights to all residents.
From an accounting point of view, the neighbourhood is both a publicly-held corporation and an association of many companies, since each household is a company in its nucleus and may run one or more subsidiary commercial services or enterprises. Unlike a government, though, all property of neighbourhoods is divided into stocks that are traded at an urban or regional stock and bond market.
In order to form or move in, member households must join the neighbourhood cooperative and purchase a minimum number of bonds and shares in the neighbourhood. Shares are bought and sold freely, but a minimum number must be retained by a household as long as it resides there. Similar arrangements apply for local banks and insurance companies. Unlike individuals and other economic entities, though, a household cannot reside or own property in more than one neighbourhood. This assures two things: member households will have a stake in the long-term stability of the locale, and will always give their whole attention to its prosperity.
Some jobs and administrative functions are rotated among households, others are appointed, chosen by lot or elected by secret ballot. The administration of the neighbourhood does not legislate, though it can sanction member families, usually with positive dividends and rewards, such as allowing a household to move to a more choice location. In rare, extreme cases of malfeasance, a neighbourhood may demote or banish member households, but it cannot dissolve them.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
The Comenian Cure to Fundamentalism, I
By John Taylor; 2009 Sep 26, Izzat 19, 166 BE
There is no need for me to prove to anybody that religious fundamentalism is a virulent force for evil. Like the poor, fundamentalists will always be with us, and as long as they are, our world will remain a dangerous, violent place. The fact that fundamentalism seems perennial and intractable did not stop Jan Amos Comenius from devoting his life to ending it. In his early spiritual masterpiece, The Labyrinth of the World, Comenius used literary devices like symbolism, parody and satire in hopes of shaming fundamentalists into recognizing how extremism and nitpicking rot the core of their own most dearly held convictions. In a chapter called 'The Pilgrim Beholds the Christian Religion,' Comenius wrote,
"Then going outside of this railing, lo! I see that this church had many little chapels, to which those went who had not been able to agree when before this touchstone, and behind each of them followed a number of men. They gave the people rules as to how they should differ from the others; some said that one should be marked by water or fire; others, that one should always have the sign ready at hand and in the pocket; others said that beside the principal image, at which all should gaze, men should, for greater perfection, carry with them also as many small ones as was possible; others said that when praying one should not kneel, for that was a thing of the Pharisees; others, again, said that they would not endure music among them, as it was a wanton thing; others again, said that one should accept the teaching of no man, and be content with the innermost revelation of the spirit." (cited in, Daniel Murphy, Comenius, A Critical Reassessment, 141)
As a leader of the Moravian Brotherhood church, Comenius made every effort to re-unite the split in the Western Church that had begun during the Renaissance and worsened during the Reformation. Quixotic as it sounds, for many in his time reunification of all Christians did not seem a hopeless dream. The Irish scholar of Comenius, Daniel Murphy, explains that,
"The Moravians saw religious intolerance as one of the most widely manifested corruptions of the Christian doctrine of love. (Comenius) profoundly condemned the Churches for failing to reconcile their differences. ... in "The Bequest of the Unity of Brethren", (Comenius) held out the hand of friendship to all other Christian communions, even to the Roman Catholic Church which had persistently harassed and persecuted the Moravian Brethren throughout the first two centuries of their existence." (Id.)
At the heart of fundamentalism is arrogance, "I know and nobody else does," and intolerance, a hypocritical and insidious presupposition that we are right and everybody outside is deluded. This goes beyond failure to love our neighbour, it is a narrowness of soul that leads to ignorance and folly. The solution to ignorance and folly is wisdom and understanding. In support, Comenius often cited the proverb,
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding," (Prov 9:10, KJV)
At the same time, fervent as Comenius was in his belief that religious fundamentalism needs to be expunged, he was not so narrow and guilt ridden as to imagine that it is the only serious form of bigotry. Political prejudices and superstition masquerading as science also block progress, inflame violence and cause wars. Rather than point fingers by arguing over which brand of prejudice is most harmful, Comenius proposed in his final work, Panorthosia, or Universal Reform, to institute mechanisms designed to eradicate all three in one fell swoop.
The first step to reform always starts in the schoolroom. This is is the only certain way to remove fundamentalism. We should change our education to train the next generation in virtues like courtesy and humility, which lay the groundwork for productive discussion among adherents of widely varying beliefs. Comenius anticipates some of objections right away. Fundamentalists of all stripes, however much they dispute with one another, may well unite in arguing against the reforms of Comenius:
"Everybody who thinks, tries to come up with answers and when he does, he is a fundamentalist. That means that in a sense we are all fundamentalists. Of course I disagree with others, and those who think like me dispute with one another. We agree to disagree. This is necessary, you have to get the fundamentals straight first, then the Kingdom is added unto us. I would not be so enthusiastic about this if I did not think it was the truth, and that this truth will help others. Therefore, if I see somebody peddling a doctrine that is clearly false, I am obliged by conscience to do everything I can to minimize the harm that that error will do in the world."
Here, in his own words, is how Comenius addresses such concerns.
Someone will raise the question, How is tolerance to be shown to those who peddle and defend goods that are manifestly false as if they were true?
"My answer is, first, you must stop attacking them, then the other will stop defending them. Secondly, do you know for certain that they are false? Are you not rushing too hastily into judgment? Lastly, supposing that they are notoriously false, it is still better to have them tolerated than thrown into conflict.
"For the experience of many centuries makes it clear that there is nothing to be gained from conflict except increasing contradiction. But everything encourages the hope that there will be much to gain from tolerance and the wise pooling of opinions, and even from futile and false opinions themselves.
"For vanity and falsehood cannot exist anywhere alone and unaided, because they would not hold together; but they will contain some element of good which may be taken out of its evil context and increase the common treasury. In fact an admixture of evil will give us good reason eventually to separate the truth and fortify it correctly, so that there is no loophole for error in future."
(Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 24, p. 118)
Next time we will look at the systematic, worldwide program and publicity campaign that Comenius proposes for the elimination of the actions and reactions and the immoderate attitudes that make religious fundamentalism into a force for evil rather than good.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Trees for Survival and Crime Against Terra
Two Short Essays on the Environment
By John Taylor; 2009 Sep 24, Izzat 17, 166 BE
Trees for Survival.
Crime Against Terra
Trees for Survival.
Trees are essential to our survival. Once world government is taken care of, planting new trees is one of the cheapest and simplest things that we can all do for the environment. Forests are dying off in massive tracts in remote regions of Western Canada, a sign of global warming and the tree-killing pests that it unleashes. Jared Diamond's books demonstrate how devastating it is to a civilization to cut down its trees.
"I have often asked myself, 'What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it?' Like modern loggers, did he shout, 'Jobs, not trees!' Or: 'Technology will solve our problems, never fear, we'll find a substitute for wood.' Or: 'We don't have proof that there aren't palms somewhere else on Easter, we need more research, your proposed ban on logging is premature and driven by fear-mongering"? Similar questions arise for every society that has inadvertently damaged its environment." (Collapse, 114)
I remember one of my professors telling us that he was there when France and other colonizing nations left Algeria and other new nations in the Middle East. With great emotion he told how the first thing the new leadership did was chop down all the trees, in spite of the fact that Muhammad forbids cutting down trees as a war crime. Entire regions that were turning green suddenly returned to the desert.
Cutting down trees is, in a subtle way, a crime against humanity, a crime against the planet, and it is happening everywhere, especially in the Middle East. The only place that did not cut down its trees is Israel, and it is the sole green oasis in the area. The difference between the green inside its borders and brown outside is visible from airplanes and satellites, as is the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
For this reason, I have become interested lately in the Baha'i environmentalist Richard St. Barbe Baker. On the 18th of September I wrote some brief entries in the Badi' Blog summarizing details of his life, at:
In 1980 I met Richard St. Barbe Baker in Ottawa, not long before he died. In his talk to the ABS health conference at the University of Ottawa, he told us that if you plant trees, the entire climate around the tree will change for the better. In effect, he said "If you plant them, rain will come." I always thought that however inspiring this sounds, it must be a little far-fetched. Then last year the science press reported that this is true, with the proviso that you start at the coast and work inland. Trees on the coast change the airflow and allow for planting further inland. And of course, we all now know about carbon sequestration, and that trees protect against global warming just by holding onto the CO2 that otherwise would be warming the planet. Baker also showed that it is possible to plant crops between newly planted trees, giving a dietary boost to poor peoples who participate in forest reclamation.
But what interests me more than anything else about him is Baker's plan to reclaim the Sahara desert. This can be done, he said, by taking the standing armies of the world -- soldiers who essentially do nothing but stand around in peacetime -- and putting them to work planting trees across that vast wasteland. I would love to find the details of what he proposed, and I will be ordering some of his long-out-of-print books in order to find out. I have no doubt that as soon as a world government forms and we start seriously looking at how to reverse global warming, that Baker's proposal will suddenly start looking like the smartest thing to do, and not only for the Sahara but the Gobi and any number of other deserts around the world, all of which are spreading along with global warming.
Not Forming a World Government is a Crime Against Terra
A nationalist order can never have a single focus of authority beyond the borders of a single state. Nations may negotiate agreements among themselves, but what does that accomplish? So far they have only demonstrated how impotent they are to do the only thing that would prove they are competent to run the world: halt greenhouse emissions and ease the impact of human habitation on the environment. And little brother is no smarter than big brother. I cannot keep still when environmentalists go on about "them" doing this or that to ease the destruction of nature. I want to shout, "Who is `them'? Nobody!" A vague recognition that some kind of global institution will someday have to protect our natural environment is not nearly enough. We need a world government, and we need it now.
The freedom of large international corporations to pick up and move anywhere while individuals and regions remain tied to national borders gives them disproportionate power and influence. An individual has to get passports and meet the approval of immigration officials to move to another nation, but corporations do not even need a license to trade. With such huge profits at stake, they are the last to encourage discussion of the only conceivable solution to environmental problems: world government.
We should not be surprised when they act so irresponsibly that an individual doing the same thing would end up in jail. The result of anarchy is lawlessness. Oceans are dredged and over-fished, while local communities even in the richest places are routinely blackmailed by companies that can put factories wherever they please.
Imagine walking down the street in a slum where you have to negotiate whether you are mugged, raped or murdered. You may avoid it yourself, but someone weaker or less lucky will have to suffer sooner or later. That is what it is like dealing with the increasing expenses of environmental responsibility.
That is what is happening on the international level. World disorder leads directly to out-and-out environmental crime. As George Monbiot pointed out in his most recent column, poor, chaotic places like Somalia are becoming dumping grounds for toxic waste for any company that wants to avoid paying disposal fees for its effluent. The notorious Somali pirates, by a strange twist of the natural order of things, have become defenders of their coasts from toxic dumpers who slip unmolested among the warships sent there to protect the shipping lanes from their kidnappings. This unpublicized story was voted one of the top ten most censored news stories of the past year.
Meanwhile, organized crime has turned from old standbys, mostly crimes against individuals like theft, drugs and prostitution, to crimes against the environment. Recently, for example, a barge packed with nuclear waste was scuttled by Mafiosi off the shores of Italy. As Monbiot points out, this atrocity against the environment attracted the attention of the press only because it took place near a rich country; they are routine in poor areas.
Once we have world order, once there is a world government with affiliations on every level of society, then we can not only talk but actually do something about saving nature and the world. That is what I have devoted my writing career to over the past decade.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Idea for Ruhi Groupies
Here is a talk about technology. Can you make Baha'i ideas and principles this interesting in five minutes?
Run the Government: A Primer for Online Citizens
A talk about feedback to government using this format.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Panorthosia, The Religious Principles
By John Taylor; 2009 Sep 22, Izzat 15, 166 BE
John Comenius is best known as an educator but he was also a leader in his Moravian Brotherhood Church, and his heartfelt religious ideals pervade the Panorthosia. In the next few essays I want to discuss his vision of the role that religion would play in the world government he proposes in this book. In the 13th chapter, Comenius proposes a unified religion for all mankind, as explained in the title:
"Concerning a truly universal new religion, designed to bring the human heart to a state of perfection." (Panorthosia, p. 194)
This universal new religion would not perhaps be a formal hierarchy or organization, but simply an agreement by everybody upon certain basics that are to be found in every major religion, such as love, the Golden Rule, and so forth. He foresees a similar common agreement coming about in the other two branches of the world body, the scientific and the political. A universal philosophy will be devised by scientists and educators that will be taught in schools and universities, and the political branch of the world governing institution would similarly promote a common consensus about the need for a firmly enforced peace among nations. A common faith, a common philosophy and a common resolve for peace would permit all to work together wholeheartedly to cement the perpetual covenant of unity.
"When human affairs are so reformed that our Philosophy, Religion, and Politics are all truly universal, it will be the task of scholars to collect and purify essential truths and transplant them into the minds of men, of churchmen to attract men's souls away from the world in the direction of God, and of politicians to maintain peace and tranquillity everywhere, competing with each other, as it were, in holy rivalry to make an outstanding contribution in their respective spheres to the salvation of mankind." (Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 15, para 1, p. 216)
At one point, Comenius puts forward an apt image of how the happy combination of a universal faith and a universal philosophy might act as a sort of "key of David," a skeleton key that opens all the doors that formerly had been closed to either science or religion, "as if one man who lived in a castle had separate keys for each of the rooms, and another had only a single key which opened them all." (Panorthosia, Ch. 11, para 22, pp. 184-185) Old knowledge let you into one room only, but a common faith and common philosophy for all would give freedom to enter anywhere in the castle of human endeavour. This would surely change the nature of both religion and science, and would allow both to better bolster the political goals of peace and unity.
Although he is not always clear about it, Comenius does not seem to envision an instant mass conversion of all believers from other persuasions, notably Jews and Muslims, to Christianity. Indeed, the 18th Chapter, "Concerning the Universal Bond of the Church, The Ecumenical Consistery," (p. 237) provides for their coming together to form the religious wing of the Comenian world government. This body would represent all believers, everywhere, who presumably will agree upon the platform of common beliefs that he had put forward in Chapter 13.
The 23rd chapter of Panorthosia he calls "The particular interim reform of churches." (Panorthosia, Vol. II, p. 58) Comenius suggests here that in the interim period before all come to Christ that Christians should make every effort to eschew their present factionalism in order to make themselves worthy of the millennial events foretold in scripture that he believes the formation of a world government would set in motion.
There are many aspects of Comenius's program for religious reform that are either identical to or compatible with Baha'i religious principles. The only one that I have not found at all is the admittedly bold principle of Abdu'l-Baha that religion is a remedy, that is, if a certain belief causes harm or is superstitious that it is a religious act to reject and expunge it.
Other than that small lacuna, though, Comenius has clearly put a great deal of thought to the problem of fundamentalism and religious prejudice, which was if anything more intense and violent in his day than now. That is what I want to start into next time.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Reflecting on Purity of Thought and Body
When the time came for me to declare my belief, I walked to the lip of the Hamilton mountain, drew in my breath, raised my hands on high, and hesitated. A dark thought came over me. How can I call myself a believer when I fart so often? It must be a dozen times a day I perform that undignified act. I went down and lived my life as before for many years. Then I read somewhere that the average person farts an average of eighteen times a day. I felt better. Maybe I should climb up again and declare my faith. So I returned, my hands were raised, my head thrown back and I was about to commit when another thought crossed my mind. How can a person who picks his nose have a claim to holiness? Sadly, I climbed back down.
By this time, though, the Great Google Oracle had been erected in every computer. I asked it if I was the only one to do the dirty like this. No, it told me, I was not. The average person picks their nose an average of four times a day. This did not entirely quiet me, though, for I had to admit that I commit that undignified act more than four times a day. Maybe even more than five times. Still, this study, I suspect, had really found only that the average person _admits_ to picking their nose four times a day. How often they actually do it may be something more like my tally.
I am ashamed to say how often I have climbed that escarpment, thought about a disgusting thing I do regularly and come back down again. Each time I raise my hands, a dark thought comes over me and I trudge back down, my head hung low. Once, I raised my arms and to my surprise I could think of nothing to offend the sensibilities of my Lord. Then I took a whiff. It was right back to square one, googling about the number of offensive bacteria that reside under the average person's arms. O God, purify my thoughts!
"If ye keep not your breath sweet in prayer,
Go, desire a prayer from the Brethren of Purity!"
For this cause spake God to Moses,
At the time he was asking aid in prayer,
`O Moses! desire protection of me
With a mouth that thou hast not sinned withal.'
Moses answered, `I possess not such a mouth.'
God said, `Call upon me with another mouth!
Act so that all thy mouths
By night and by day may be raising prayers.
When thou hast sinned with one mouth,
With thy other mouth cry, "O Allah!"
Or else cleanse thy own mouth,
And make thy spirit alert and quick.
Calling on God is pure, and when purity approaches,
Impurity arises and takes its departure."
(Rumi, Mathnavi, Vol. 3, E.H. Whinfield tr.)
"Blessed is he who keeps firm in the Path and stands for the Cause of thy Merciful Lord -- a firmness like unto the lofty mountains... Verily, I pray God to sanctify thee from the material and thus clothe thee with the garment of holiness and the mantle of purity and send through thee the glad-tidings of thy Lord from the Kingdom of Heaven." (Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha vol. 2, pp. 269-270)
"Obligatory prayer causeth the heart to become attentive to the Divine kingdom. One is alone with God, converseth with Him, and acquireth bounties. Likewise, if one performeth the Obligatory Prayer with his heart in a state of utmost purity, he will obtain the confirmations of the Holy Spirit, and this will entirely obliterate love of self. I hope that thou wilt persevere in the recitation of the Obligatory Prayer, and thus will come to witness the power of entreaty and supplication." (Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, XI)
Prayer is effective, the Bab says, only according to the amount with which we offer it of four virtues, spirituality, radiance, detachment and purity.
"The most acceptable prayer is the one offered with the utmost spirituality and radiance; its prolongation hath not been and is not beloved by God. The more detached and the purer the prayer, the more acceptable is it in the presence of God." (The Bab, Selections, 78; Persian Bayan, VII, 19)
Here is how the "I" becomes a Baha'i:
"One thing and only one thing will unfailingly and alone secure the undoubted triumph of this sacred Cause, namely, the extent to which our own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendour of those eternal principles proclaimed by Baha'u'llah." (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha'i Community, 28)
Sunday, September 20, 2009
AR and Smart Cards
By John Taylor; 2009 Sep 18, Izzat 11, 166 BE
Friday, September 18, 2009
Richard St.Barbe Baker, Man of the Trees
Shining Lamp; A Baha'i who served humanity with radiance
From: Brilliant Star Magazine, May-June, 2005, p. 24
Richard St. Barbe Baker, Father of the Trees
From Badi Blog
Richard St. Barbe Baker in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1953, ready to plant trees and encourage others to join him.
Did you know that many living creatures need to have at least one-third of their skin to survive?
Richard St. Barbe Baker said that trees and vegetation are the "skin" of the earth. Much of this skin has been destroyed by humans, and Richard was determined to replace it. From the time he was a child, Richard loved trees. He worked in his family's orchard and played in forests near his home in England. In college, he studied forestry.
In 1920, he went to Kenya, Africa, on his first work assignment after college. He found that parts of the land, once covered by great forests, were nearly treeless. The soil was being washed away by rain. Richard decided to plant trees, and grow food in the rows between them. But he needed help. So he did something unexpected for a white person in Africa in those days, because of prejudice against the native Africans—he consulted with the Kikuyu clans.
At first they told him that trees were shaudya mungu —God's business. Richard knew that the Kikuyu people had dances for the planting and harvesting of their crops. He suggested holding a Dance of the Trees. On a hill, 3,000 Kikuyu gathered around a solitary tree for the dance. Richard challenged them to plant and take care of trees. Those who agreed were called Watu wa mitil or Men of the Trees. They called Richard Baba wa Miti, Father of the Trees.
Soon 9,000 men joined in the effort. The land began to heal. The Kikuyu decided to make Richard a member of the Kiama, their council of elders. He was the only white man given this honor.
After returning from Kenya in 1924, Richard became a Baha'i. As he traveled the world for his forestry work, he introduced the Baha'i Faith to thousands of people.
In 1929, Richard was invited to what is now Israel to start a tree-planting effort. There he met with Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Band'i Faith. Shoghi Effendi became the country's first life member of the Men of the Trees.
Over time, the Men of the Trees—which includes men, women, and children—has helped 108 countries and saved trillions of trees.
Richard said he dreamed of "children of all nations planting trees to express their special understanding of the earth as their home . . ." He died at the age of 92 in Canada. The Universal House of justice called him a "DISTINGUISHED DEDICATED SERVANT" and praised his "NEVER CEASING EFFORTS" for the best interests of mankind.
RESEARCH AND PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL MANTLE
From Badi Blog