Friday, October 30, 2009

Corrupion of the Cradle, I

Two Unworkable Pieces of Marble

By John Taylor; 2009 Oct 30, Ilm 15, 166 BE

Baha'is believe that the Manifestation of God always comes to the most corrupt place in the world. This is how God proves His expertise as teacher and reformer. It is like that messed up, split, dirty, ugly hunk of marble that ordinary sculptors found unworkable. They left it aside until along came the greatest among them, Michelangelo. He drags the block out of the dump and carves his masterpiece, the famed David. So it is with the cradle of the Baha'i Faith, the nation formerly known as Persia. Iran, from a religious point of view, was a sub-standard piece of marble, by far the most corrupt, bigoted nation in the world. This is obvious to all, whether they have heard of Baha'u'llah or not.

"All observers agree in representing Persia as a feeble and backward nation divided against itself by corrupt practices and ferocious bigotries." (George Townshend, introduction to Shoghi Effendi, The Dawn-Breakers, p. xxiv)

No human can do anything with a nation so embroiled in prejudice; only God, the supreme Reformer, could ever turn it into anything but a pile of rubble. The root of its corruption is a confusion between politics and faith. Religion is all but indistinguishable from politics in Iran, and has been for centuries. The Guardian describes how the Mullas find it convenient to persecute Baha'is in order to enhance their own power and influence.

"In the land of its birth, wherein reside the immense majority of its followers ... a civil authority, as yet undivorced officially from the paralyzing influences of an antiquated, a fanatical, and outrageously corrupt clergy, pursues relentlessly its campaign of repression against the adherents of a Faith which it has for well-nigh a century striven unsuccessfully to suppress." (Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 4)

The Iranian revolution kneaded religious opinion even deeper into the fabric of their administration. Still, one might think that this concern with religion might give its leaders the faith to reach out to stranger and trust the West. Unfortunately, revolutions, like the titan Chronos in Greek mythology, eat their own children. The power of Mullahs and parliamentarians alike is now permanently built on protest, negativity and reaction. Fear and xenophobia predominate, hatred, not love, suspicion, not trust. And, as often happens, the dislike has become mutual. Now the West has put Iran at the top of its enemies list. Take this sample headline from a recent New York Times article:

"Both Iran and West Fear a Trap on Uranium Deal; Iran is afraid of falling for a Western ruse to neutralize its `strategic reserve' while the West fears being lured into a plot to buy time for a nuclear bomb program." (David E. Sanger,

Contrast that with the trust and cooperation that Abdu'l-Baha promoted between America and Persia. When He spoke to the "Orient-Occident-Unity Conference" in Washington, He said,

"Tonight I am most happy in presenting myself before an audience such as this. I am an Oriental and have come into the West to meet the people of the Occident. Praise be to God! Upon the faces of those assembled here I perceive the light of God. This I consider an evidence of the possibility of uniting the East and the West, of establishing a perfect bond between Persia and America -- one of the objects of this conference. For the Persians there is no government better fitted to contribute to the development of their natural resources and the helping of their national needs in a reciprocal alliance than the United States of America, and for the Americans there could be no better industrial outlet and market than the virgin commercial soil of Persia. The mineral wealth of Persia is still latent and untouched. It is my hope that the great American democracy may be instrumental in developing these hidden resources and that a bond of perfect amity and unity may be established between the American republic and the government of Persia. May this bond -- whether material or spiritual -- be well cemented. May the material civilization of America find complete efficacy and establishment in Persia, and may the spiritual civilization of Persia find acceptance and response in America. ... Surely there will be great harvests of results forthcoming for Persia and America. In Persia advanced material civilization will be established and the doors thrown open wide to American commerce." (Abdu'l-Baha, Promulgation, 35)

Nor were the central figures of the Baha'i Faith silent before the authorities in Persia, antagonistic as they may have been. Although Baha'u'llah disdained to mention politics in His own Writings, He saw to it that the Baha'i position was available to those who sought it out. Not long after He revealed His Book of Laws, He commissioned His son, Abdu'l-Baha, to write down some suggestions for eliminating the "ferocious bigotries" afflicting His native land. This book, "The Secret of Divine Civilization," is in my opinion one of the greatest works of reform and political science ever written. Needless to say, it was ignored in Baha'u'llah's native land. In a recent letter to the Baha'is in Iran, the Universal House of Justice continues the story of what happened after Abdu'l-Baha wrote "Secret of Divine Civilization."

"Locked in the grip of an antiquated Qajar autocracy restrained only by its incompetence, Persia drifted ever deeper into stagnation. Venal politicians competed with one another for a share of the diminishing wealth of a country driven to the verge of bankruptcy. Worse still, a population that had once produced some of the greatest minds in the history of civilization -- Cyrus, Darius, Rumi, Hafiz, Avicenna, Rhazes and countless others -- had become the prey of a clerical caste, as ignorant as it was corrupt, whose petty privileges could be maintained only by arousing in the helpless masses an unreasoning fear of anything progressive." (The Universal House of Justice, 2003 Nov 26, To the Followers of Baha'u'llah in the Cradle of the Faith, paragraph 10, p. 2)

Next time I will talk about the other rock the workers threw out that, as Jesus prophesied, would one day become the corner of the foundation, that is, the administrative cradle of the Baha'i Faith, North America.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ethics, Reward and Finance

Money as Root of All Good

A brief theoretical interlude about ethics, reward and finance
By John Taylor; 2009 Oct 29, Ilm 14, 166 BE
In this series we are speculating on the possible introduction of local monetary schemes using three universal currencies based on trades and professions. Today we back off a bit in order to look at the right and wrong uses of money.
There are fundamentally three ways to get someone to go out of their way to do good or to refrain from doing harm: one is fear of punishment, two, hope for reward, and three, inherent value. Inherent value is another way of saying the "l" word, that you love the good and do the right thing for its own sake. Unfortunately, when speaking about moral behavior in a social context you have to ignore inherent value.
If I leave my diamond necklace in a public place, a hundred or a thousand people may walk by, valuing their own integrity above stealing, but if only one is tempted, I still lose it forever. Similarly, that one thief among a thousand saints may be perfectly moral in every other way, may do right for its own sake every minute of their life except the moment they glimpse my necklace, but that does not save me from becoming a crime victim.
Government and even religion do not have the power to impose love on everybody. Often one cannot order oneself to do what is for our own good; if we could, smoking and obesity, to name just two, would be unknown. And even if we could impose love, love in imperfect beings is never an absolute or a constant. All it takes is one fleeting moment of temptation in one in a thousand for that necklace to disappear.
That leaves the other two motivators, reward and punishment. Historically, rulers have been better at imposing punishments for wrongdoing than they at rewarding good deeds. Government as we know it today is obsessed with negative sanctions, such as war, fines and imprisonment.
There are good psychological and evolutionary reasons for this. For millions of years large predators lurked behind every tree, ready to pounce. This constant danger made our brains respond instantly and viscerally to any imminent threat of harm. No matter how much our ancestor hoped to better himself, no matter how sublimely he valued good for its own sake, his genes were not passed on if he did not respond instantly and ended up as dinner for a sabre-toothed tiger.
With the possible exception of agriculture, the two greatest human inventions ever were language and money. Among other things, they introduced into the social equation the two longer-term motivators, hope of reward and love of right. For the first time hope and love could equal and even surpass brute fear as prime movers. Language enabled communication, which permited humans to cooperate in their own defense. The new power of speech empowered a weaker species to scale the food chain and take on the largest, most fearsome beasts.
The invention of money gave birth to homo economicus. It is a practical fact that for most people most of the time, the most enticing reward is cold, hard cash, and losing it is the most repugnant sanction. Even the prospect of paying less than expected is an enticing prospect, judging by how often advertisers use the word "save!"
Why is money so powerful?
The biggest reason is that historically it permitted the division of labour to come about. With a reasonable expectation of fair recompense, it suddenly made sense to spend years learning a specialized skill and even longer working high priced masterpieces in that craft. In this sense, money is the root of all good, but only if it furthers professional virtues like thrift, knowledge and excellence.
Money, then, has become an even more constant motivator than fear. In effect, money pits a long period of time against a relatively brief chill. Whereas fear galvanizes the body for quick reaction, money impells us to delayed gratification. Much delayed. As the saying, Ars Longa, Vita Brevis, implies, an artist reaches beyond the grave, much less the next pay-cheque.
Language and money are so fundamental that we treat them like the air, we forget they are there. Distressingly, in spite of tremendous progress in just about every other area of knowledge, the two greatest accomplishments, language and money, easily the most fundamental inventions ever made, are being neglected. We act as if they were blind forces of nature that we cannot alter or improve. Yet the language barrier is widening the digital divide, and it remains the greatest structural cause of poverty and injustice. If linguists agreed upon a second language for everybody, we would remove it in a single generation.
Similarly, we treat finance and monetary issues as if they are fixed and forever beyond human purview. The result? Money ceases to motivate, and when it does move us, it does so in an unhealthy way, one that does not further peace, enterprise or expertise. As the Bible says, "the love of money is the root of all evil." If money becomes an end in itself, it loses the power to motivate good deeds, delayed gratification, for most people most of the time. Without engrossing careers, the source of good money is out of reach and ceases to motivate the masses. Fear and gross punishments again become the only thing that moves them. At the same time, the wealthy fear loss of their fortunes more than they hope for the far greater fortunes that could be made if economic equity were univerally applied.

Thus inequality is a churning maelstrom from which it is impossible to escape.

It is not a coincidence that countries with the highest income inequalities also have the highest rates of incarceration.
With little chance for the poor majority to better their condition legally, the only perceived way ahead is trafficing, pandering and other criminal activity. Even in supposedly egalitarian and freedom-loving democracies, a spirit of revenge proliferates. As punishment fails, and the authorities retaliate with even more severe punishments.

It is also not a coincidence that these unequal, punitive societies are also the most caught up in materialism, a worldview that concentrates on immediate motives at the expense of a longer view.

Next time we will continue with the question: What kind of currency and monetary policy would make money the root of all good again?


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Pause from the Three Terras; Eduterras, Ecuterras and Paxterras

Money As Motivator

By John Taylor; 2009 Oct 28, Ilm 13, 166 BE

This series asks what monetary policy might be like under a decentralized world government. We often forget that the extreme centralization of power that is the norm today is not inevitable. Rather, it is a symptom of the corruption and slow death of the sovereign nation, which jealously guards every jot and tittle of its own prerogatives.

A democratic world government would immediately shift the balance away from the sovereign middle. Without the need to maintain large armies or pay for weapons, there would be a great shift of wealth towards the world center. However, with Comenian organization the lion's share of the wealth would flow out to the periphery, towards localities, neighbourhoods and families. This is because the power to collect taxes, print money and, as a result, the power to manipulate monetary policy would be delegated to local levels of governance. The present fractional reserve system is designed to concentrate monetary policy in the hands of central banks, which then permit banks to create money through lending. Why cannot other, local institutions, including the trades and professions, do this too? They could create their own money by providing credit and taking out loans for activities that they know about best, enterprises promoting their own trade, such as training apprentices, funding research and promoting related charities.

In our present financial system money is the be all and end all, the overweening reward for all economic activity. The sole motive rewarded and reinforced by money is lust for naked profit. Worse, this profit is gained not necessarily by invention or productive activity but simply from growth. It has been calculated that high finance has gone from five to fifteen percent of GNP in only ten years. Lately these financial wizards have devised derivatives based on debt risk. This means that even our future growth is being systematically plundered. Since risk is by definition, well, risky, this model is inherently ephemeral and unstable, a house built not on sand but on financial bubbles. Responding to the current economic crisis, governments are even raising their stimulus funds by borrowing from private lenders. This was not how the miracle of the New Deal was performed. While this is highly profitable for a moneyed few, its cost to society is so great that at least one European banker, hardly a socialist, has suggested that the entire financial industry be officially nationalized and that these offending institutions be run as not-for-profit public utilities.

Meanwhile, the greatest factor of social as well as economic stability, income equality, continues to spin out of control. An often mentioned example is the stratospheric pay given to professional athletes. It has been calculated that an ordinary professional worker who makes the average starting salary of a university graduate, fifty-thousand dollars a year, would have to work for seventy years to make what the average professional hockey player gets in a single season -- and hockey is on the lower end of the pay scale among elite athletes. Meanwhile, those who do tremendous good to society, such as inventors, innovators and discoverers, must scrounge for funding.

An economy that allowed local institutions and trades and professions to manufacture money would see to it that those who work in fields that benefit society the most would merit the highest pay-rates. Those who innovate and discover new knowledge in these areas would stand to gain the most of all. What is more, their pay would be in a currency (the terra, a three pronged currency) that is best suited to their expertise, managed by a local and world public utility of high finance.

The great benefit of this localization would be an increase in administrative efficiency. One of the most brilliant advocates of local governance was Jane Jacobs. She deplored the present funding squeeze on the local level, especially for cities and towns, saying that, "standardization is the parent of stagnation." (Dark Age, 119) Large cities are sinking into decrepitude because the lion's share of the wealth and tax revenue they produce is "standardized," that is, pre-allocated by having strings attached to them by more "senior" levels of government.

"Healthy municipalities do not march in lockstep. At a given time, each has its needs and may also have its own particular opportunities for innovative solutions. These opportunities can be very valuable. Central planning, whether by leftists or conservatives, draws too little on local knowledge and creativity, stifles innovations, and is inefficient and costly because it is circuitous. It bypasses intimate and varied knowledge directly fed back into the system." (Dark Age Ahead, 116-117)

The worst effects of over-centralization are witnessed on the lowliest but most important level of all, that of the individual. Over past decades the relative share of wealth in the hands of the majority has diminished while the riches of the few concentrated beyond measure. Here, centralization is at its most extreme.

Advocates of the status quo argue that our economic stagnation would be worsened by giving everyone a standard, livable income as a human right. We need the threat of homelessness and starvation to keep the wheels of society turning. How else could bosses light a fire under their lazy employees? If the threat of destitution ever went away, workers would not want to work.
Next time I will argue that this fear is fallacious. It is born of ignorance of how to manage the most powerful human motivator, money. If local institutions and trades controlled the money supply, workers would be more motivated to work, not less. They would be concerned with something that really matters, progressive social change, not crass profiteering.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Voyager Ends

Voyager Notes

By John Taylor; 2009 Oct 26, Ilm 11, 166 BE

It has taken over a month but now at last we have viewed all seven seasons of Star Trek Voyager. On the day when we watched the last episode I dreamed a sort of fan-fiction Voyager scenario. There was a big explosion and one of the shuttles was obliterated, along with several central characters. Captain Janeway was about to move the star ship on when the Doctor objected that it would be immoral to just leave. He could send out nano-probes to act as markers. These will give the cells that are living a chance to gather together into clumps. These clumps of flesh may someday learn to live a sort of multi-cellular existence on their own. She was considering his suggestion when I woke up; only then did the absurdity start to sink in.

My original fear when I heard they were making Star Trek Voyager was that it would be horrible to watch. The plot of making one's way home across the galaxy is too similar to that excruciating TV Sci-fi comedy that blighted my childhood, Lost in Space, with its prescient robot crying: "Danger Will Robinson, danger!" Now that I have seen the whole Voyager series I am reminded more of Homer's Odyssey. Actually, this space opera is probably somewhere in between, though I think closer to the Odyssey than to Lost in Space. The writing is as good as it ever gets on television.

The effect of Voyager on the kids is even more marked than on me. Though I did not intend to do so, it looks like I am raising a couple of trekkers. 15 year old Silvie has decided that her costume for Halloween will be Ohura in the new movie version of Star Trek. Yesterday she and her mother bought a red miniskirt and black net hose, just like Ohura. All she needs is a com badge and a black turtleneck dickey, and maybe a deeper tan, and she will look just like the communications officer of the original Star Trek series.

Ten-year-old Tommy is now spouting pseudo-scientific Star Trek babble as his natural language. He carries around an unrecognizable piece of an old toy that now is his "phaser." In his grade five class he was assigned an outline of a turkey to colour for Thanksgiving. Instead of using crayons, he took a pen and drew cybernetic implants over one of its eyes. When his teacher asked what it was, he said that it was a Borg turkey. In response, she told him of a golf partner she once had who wore a flashing Bluetooth cell device behind his ear, which made him look eerily like a Borg drone. Ignoring the fact that the Borg would have disdained to assimilate a turkey, Tommy's Borg turkey is one of the most ridiculous looking creatures I have ever seen. If the earth were invaded by Borg turkeys we would at least go out with a laugh.

As the series ended for us, I heard news on the CBC science radio program, Quirks and Quarks, that the two real Voyager probes are travelling at two different points of a newly discovered ribbon of EM radiation at the outer edge of the heliosphere. The EM ribbon was discovered by telescope, and the two Voyager spacecraft cannot see it because it runs directly between them. Strange.

This morning before school Tommy was huddling on the couch under a blanket while his hot chocolate was waiting for him on the kitchen table. He made the following observation about Voyager, which had me rolling on the floor laughing. "You know with all the transporting they do in Star Trek, you never see them transporting a meal directly into someone's stomach..."


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Eduterras: An Educational Economy


By John Taylor; 2009 Oct 25, Ilm 11, 166 BE

Yesterday we broached the possibility of a Comenian world government instituting a world currency called the "terra," with three semi-exchangeable sub-types, the "ecuterra," the "paxterra" and the "eduterra." The first sub-currency is the ecuterra, a currency overseen by interfaith institutions at every level of society that are charged with overseeing faith groups and, more broadly, with the general religious, spiritual and metaphysical welfare of humanity. The paxterra is run by the political world parliament, whose chief goal is peace, the removal of injustice, and the immediate material welfare of all world citizens. The third, the eduterra, is the terra sub-currency overseen by affiliated institutions dedicated to philosophy, science, art, culture, knowledge and education. This is what I will discuss today.

While the idea of educators printing money seems foreign at first, it has great affinity to everything that teachers and learners do that. The desire to learn gainfully is deeply rooted in human psychology from the earliest age. As we shall see, teachers who are empowered to give students substantive rewards, short term as well as long term, will suddenly be far more effectual with their students and influential in society. So spectacular will be its success, I feel certain, that once eduterras are instituted the big question will be how educators ever muddled along without it.


Roland Fryer, an economist and head of Harvard's Education Innovation Laboratory, has been experimenting with "pay-for-performance" in education, where students are paid in cash or cell phone minutes for getting good grades. In a 2008 interview with Macleans Magazine he told how he realized that the reason why it is so hard to motivate children and youth to try hard at school is that the rewards are so distant, usually ten or twenty years into the future. Children complained that they are the last to be consulted on educational issues. Although results from his experiments are still tentative, Fryer told how he has already noticed how pay for achievement in class is universally popular among pupils and students.

"Part of the resistance (to pay for performance) echoes part of the [problem] with public education: we consult mainly adults, and do things that are comfortable for adults. I think if the answer lay there, we would already have found it. One thing we are trying to do at Ed-Labs to push the envelope is to ask children how schools can better serve them. And the most important thing is that I never met a kid who did not like it. Though in D.C. a few weeks ago, there was a kid who surprised me. He said, `I do not think we should be paid for school. I think I should pay to come to school, because it is such a valuable resource.' I was so impressed. An hour later, we were giving out the first cheques in the auditorium, and this kid's name was called, so I put his cheque in my pocket. He said, `What are you doing?' I said, `You told me you did not believe you should be paid, so I would like to honour that.' He looked at me in a way that only a 13-year-old could, and said, `I never said that!'" <>

I too have observed in my own son and daughter that money, even fake money like reward points, silly and insubstantial as they seem to someone old enough to take into account several decades of life, are extremely effective motivators. It was an economist, J.M. Keynes, who said that in the long term we are all dead. The brilliant invention of money acts as a constant reward for economic virtue. Meanwhile, educational values tend to be pie in the sky. As long as there are no immediate rewards for learning as well as working, for all intents and purposes it is not rewarded at all.

This initiative hints at what could be done with eduterras. Let us go over the numbers. Where I live, in Ontario, it costs the government an average of about ten thousand dollars to keep a child in a public school for a year. This expense is slightly above average for developed countries. Some nations, such as Belgium, attach that yearly sum to the child, so that whatever school the child decides to attend, be it public, parochial or private, and whether teachers are unionized or not, the money follows that child. This forces all schools to compete for pupils; reportedly, Belgian teachers take great pains to keep pupils and their parents happy. In any case, this ten thousand dollars a year amounts at five percent interest to the equivalent of a float of two hundred thousand dollars for the duration of a child's schooling.

In view of Fryer's findings, it would make sense to make at least some of this ten thousand a year available for pay for performance schemes, paid directly to children. It would be wise to earmark at least some of this money not for pupils to retain for themselves but to pay out to their peers, conditional upon performance, in this case on whether those peers show them kindness, cooperativeness and helpfulness in studying together. The power to reward others in this way would give children a degree of financial independence and would teach how to influence others in reaching their own educational goals. Of course, all this could be done with ordinary money.

The advantage of paying educational expenses in the world eduterra currency is that educational institutions would actually gain the ability to exercise monetary policy. They could leverage their budgets by tying education to not-for-profit revenue schemes. For example, eduterras could pay for tokens in video and internet games that are sanctioned and licensed by educators; they might be used to pay for educational books, toys and games. Under the present system, such new revenue streams could be used to increase the float, or reduce the yearly costs of school.

Under an eduterra scheme, this would be leveraged. That is, the extra eduterras are re-distributed directly to students, who in turn purchase more sanctioned goods, which increases the revenue further. Since children would have only marked eduterras in their pocket, it would be difficult for them to spend the money on illicit or non-age appropriate goods or activities. At the same time, any advertising or commercial outreach to children would have to live up to the standards of educators before earning the right to trade in eduterras.

This goes further than what Comenius actually proposed as sources of revenue for teachers in Panorthosia. However, in other ways Comenius went further. Here is the full text of paragraph 11, Chapter 22 of Panorthosia, which deals with pay for teachers.

"Proper salaries for teachers. Where the question may arise, whether it is better for teachers' salaries to be paid from public funds by the local Magistracy, or from private fees charged to parents, my answer is 'Both'. Modest salaries should be paid from public funds, payable in advance, to provide them with means of subsistence while teaching the poorer pupils free of charge. But fees should remain as an incentive to diligence, payable duly after a public examination at the end of a year's work, if the teacher has fully succeeded in bringing his Pupils to the proper standard. Otherwise he should receive nothing except disgrace for failing to perform his task. If these arrangements are made, there will be plenty of opportunities and incentives for diligence on the part of teachers and generosity on the part of parents." (Panorthosia, Chap 22, Para 11, p. 51)

It can be seen that he advocated multiple revenue streams for education, and, rather severely I think, advocated pay for performance for teachers, or, more exactly, no pay for poor performance of students in examinations. I know of no school where teachers get no pay-cheque if their students fail their final examination.

In his defence, he does seem to advocate an unconditional salary from the state. An under-performing teacher would be like a business that goes bankrupt; he or she would lose out on extra pay, but would not be faced with homelessness and starvation.

Parts of this are based on an essay originally written for the Badi' Blog dated Dec 10, 2008, called: "The Leadership of Knowledge; Beautiful Balance Sheets and Trade Money" (


Friday, October 23, 2009

Paxterras, Eduterras and Ecuterras

A Three Part, Unidirectional Currency

By John Taylor; 2009 Oct 23, Ilm 09, 166 BE

This is part of a series of essays on John Amos Comenius's idea of universal reform, or "Panorthosia," and how it might be applied today. Today let us continue our discussion of a Comenius-inspired idea for three new forms of currency.

John Amos Comenius proposed a world government unlike any other. He saw the routine, day-to-day work of legislation being handled by continental governments, while at the top, instead of a wholly political entity, there would be a three-chambered supreme court keeping education, politics and religion as three separate but equal partners. These three bodies Comenius called the College of Light, the Dicastery of Peace and the Ecumenical Consistory. Each has an independent sphere and runs autonomously, holding elections, maintaining its own budget through independent taxation and possibly, as we will speculate upon today, even print its own currency.

This tripartite partnership is not restricted to the world level. It is universal, meaning that it is a sort of franchise duplicated at every institutional level, from continental governments right down to faith groups and family households. It uses as foundation or model the individual, whose fundamental interests, Comenius maintained, are threefold: peace in the short term (politics), providence in the long term (religion), and the advance of knowledge from one generation to the next (science and education).
Such governance has no parallel in modern times. Even the most enlightened democratic politicians would shrink in horror at sharing money and power with scientists, educators and spiritual leaders. True, political leaders gladly take science and faith under their wings, as long as the purse strings and decision-making remain firmly in their hands. Even the United Nations tacked on Unesco only as an afterthought years after the U.N. formed. To find something similar, you have to go all the way back to Plato's "The Republic." Let us briefly summarize Plato's idea.

Plato compared society to a pastoral model run by a shepherd, who is served by sheepdogs, which in turn manage herds of sheep. These three functions of the state, wisdom, protection and production, are mutually exclusive, yet at the same time utterly depend upon one another. This can be compared to the world's simplest game, rock-paper-scissors. Just as rock breaks scissors, scissors cut paper and paper wraps rock, so it is with shepherd, sheepdog and sheep. The shepherd, or philosopher king, cannot eat without an income from sheep, nor manage sheep without a sheepdog. The sheepdog, the spirited, protective element of society, cannot restrain its passions without knowledge and guidance from the shepherd, nor are its natural abilities constructive without a flock of wandering sheep to keep in line. The sheep cannot fully concentrate on grazing or protect against predators without sheepdogs, nor do they have any long term hope of survival without serving the needs of humans through their shepherd.

As mentioned, the nation state of today is monolithic, with one shepherd, one sheepdog and one flock of sheep. The guardian or sheepdog is the laws, police and military, which protect and tax the people and their various enterprises. Nationalists justify their monopoly on power by pointing to the constant threat of attack from other nations, or from separatists, terrorists and insurgents within. Tension between nations creates a so-called balance of terror holding war at bay, even as nuclear weapons proliferate. One advantage of keeping almost two hundred separate nation states in the United Nations is that it does perforce maintain a degree of decentralization, though in practice it leaves even the strongest nation states open to undue influence from wealthy corporations, which are not tied down by borders.

In a Comenian UCS, all nations would unite under a single, constitutional, elected republic. As the government of all human beings ruling over all nations, its very existence would finish the threat of external attack forever -- or, at least until we experience first contact with intelligent aliens. As for the more insidious internal problems of discontent, insurgency and civil war, and the often worse threat of arbitrary countermeasures from the center, these would be removed by constitutionally decentralizing the world government, for example, by applying the principle of subsidiarity and shoring up the periphery, adding continental, neighbourhood and household governmental structures both above and below the level of the nation state.

Another important way to diffuse power in the center is what we are discussing here, splitting the central authority into three chambers, each holding its own elections, enforcing taxation and printing its own money. Just as nation states now require taxpayers to pay taxes in their own currency, each of the three chambers would require world citizens to pay their taxes in their own respective currency.

How might monetary policy work in such a system?

As discussed yesterday, the variety of local currencies could be collectively called "locas," and the global currency "terras." In a Comenian world order there might be three types of terra. The College of Light, charged with science and education, might produce an educational terra, or eduterra for short. The political body, Comenius's Dicastery of Peace, is charged with keeping the peace. A name for its currency might be "peace terra," or paxterra for short. The currency of the Ecumenical Consistory, responsible for inter-faith relations and fulfilling the spiritual needs of humanity, might be called "ecumenical terras," or ecuterras for short.
I am on so to speak Terra Incognita here I know, but I wonder if the world body might decide to limit conversion among these three kinds of terra currency, using Plato's pastoral game of stone-paper-scissors as model. For example, it is a major lesson of history that religious leaders do tremendous harm and provoke terrible persecution when they attempt to meddle in politics, so why not prohibit the conversion of ecuterras directly into paxterras? Similarly, the relentless creep of global warming demonstrates the harm that politicians do when they try to write the agenda of science. In order to prevent this, the constitution of the world government could forbid conversion of paxterras directly into eduterras.

Like the game of rock-paper-scissors, these two blocking rules force money conversions to circulate in one direction only, from eduterras to paxterras to ecuterras, not the other way around. So, religion must cross through science (that is, quasi-political or superstitious beliefs must be subjected to the systematic, reasoned scrutiny of the scientific method) in order to have a say in the arena of policy and politics. Similarly, politicians would have to subject their policies to religious values of mercy, love and reciprocity before they can speak to scientific opinion. Plus, scientists and educators must address practical policy before wasting time and energy fathoming the eternal, ultimate concerns of faith. Unless this due vetting takes place, not a penny, or whatever the smallest unit of the terra is called, can be spent in ill-advised boundary-crossing enterprises.

Next time, let us talk in more detail about how these three world bodies might work monetary policy using their respective currencies, starting with the eduterra.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Terras or Locas?

Three New Types of Currency

By John Taylor; 2009 Oct 22, Ilm 08, 166 BE

I have been looking for a precedent for the new types of money that I have been contemplating for the UCS, Universal Civic Society -- that is, the world after the concurrent formation of continental, global, familial and neighbourhood governments. Here is what I learned after wading through several Wikipedia articles on currency, including "alternative currency", "complementary currency," "fiat currency," and "private currency."

There is a startling variety of types of currency. Some are well established, some remain experimental and others are only proposed. The most common currency in actual use is fiat currency, the national government-imposed money that most people use most of the time. These are universal largely because governments back them up and demand that taxes be paid in this type of currency. There are, however, alternatives to fiat species. Many types of local or private schemes have been tried with varying success, some based on barter and others on commodities, like gold or silver. Many are local currencies that can only be spent in a certain place, and others are limited to a single company or industry (scrip, coupons or air miles).

Among the most interesting experiments in local currency took place in response to the hyper-inflation that afflicted Germanic countries after the First World War. They had various names, including the Schwundgeld. This local currency started with a private company and ended up as a project by urban governments. This local currency had a "best-before-date," which is to say that Schwundgelds devalued gradually; after a certain deadline they expired and were useless. Termed demurrage, or negative interest, this encouraged fast and furious spending in local stores and other enterprises. This shot of adrenaline was a strong but temporary stimulus to the economy. Some environmentalists, including the Green Party and George Monbiot, argue that demurrage, by discouraging cash holdings, encourages investment in long term resources, like forests, fisheries, and so forth.

Many other currencies have been speculated upon by futurists and science fiction writers based on units of energy, time, labour, carbon, etc. The Star Trek universe, at least in its early incarnations, contemplated a future society without need of money at all. Indeed, the nature of money would change as soon as a standard income covering basic needs is introduced. With a modicum of food, clothing and shelter guaranteed as fundamental rights, the threat of starvation and homelessness would not loom over economic relations; naked profit might not exert the addictive fascination that it does now. Other values and virtues would enter the economic equation if work and purchases were done more out of inherent interest rather than brute survival. Just as government-owned corporations are not necessarily restricted to brute profit as motivators, standard incomes would allow other financial agents to take on new spiritual, scientific and legal motivations.

The question remains, however: what kind of currency is the best? When a democratic world government comes about, should it retain unchanged the present monetary system run by national governments? Or should it encourage entire continents to take on their own currencies, as has already been done in Europe with the euro? Should there be an "afro," an "americo," and an "asio" as well? Or should the world authority establish right away its own fiat currency to replace the hundreds of currencies, fiat or otherwise, in use around the world?

A name has even been suggested for this world currency, the "terra," analogous to the EC's "euro." So, under a world government will every exchange of funds be in terras, or will the terra be restricted to travellers and diplomats while most transactions are done using various forms of local currency? What should we call them, since presumably every locality would have a different name for its currency. Collectively we could call the myriad local currencies "locas." So the question is, in a UCS should we pay our taxes and everything else in terras and keep locas as adjuncts, or should the loca be the main currency in use, with terras reserved for exceptional cases, such as intercontinental tourism?

I cannot begin to try to answer these questions. I expect that specialists using computer simulations could determine what currency or combination of currencies would be most economically viable on a regional or international basis. There seems to be a consensus of opinion that locas do offer a measure of security against hyper-inflation (whether that would be a problem in a cosmopolitan order I have no idea) and against over-investment in environmentally unfriendly enterprises, and that demurrage and Tobin taxes on currency exchange could be effective protections against hyper-inflation and overly heated speculation. But beyond that, not much is accessible to the non-economist.

Undaunted, I have an idea for three new kinds currency that, as far as I can see, has never been tried. To recap: In this series of essays on the Badi' Blog ( I have been exploring the idea of a three-chambered world government based on education, politics and religion. Since, as we have seen, these three already have their own elections and taxation, the question I am now interested in is: should each of the three branches print their own money as well? That is what I will try to answer over the next several installments in this series.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Other Baha'i bloggers have noted how this sheds light on the holy words: "A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men..."

Baha'u'llah on the Bab

Baha'u'llah on the Bab

By John Taylor; 2009 Oct 20, Ilm 06, 166 BE

On this holy day, the Birth of the Bab, it is helpful to recall what Baha'u'llah wrote about the Bab. In the Ishraqat, He wrote,

"Praise be to God who manifested the Point [the Bab] and caused to proceed therefrom the knowledge of all that was and shall be.... He is that Point which God hath made to be an Ocean of light unto the faithful among His servants, and a Ball of Fire unto the deniers among His creatures and the impious among His people. (Baha'u'llah, Tablets, 102)

Baha'u'llah, in one of His most important prayers, the Tablet of Ahmad, vindicates the Bab's power and glory, and challenges those who would question it, "If ye deny these verses, by what proof have ye believed in God? Produce it, O assemblage of false ones." Compare this to the following parallel statement in the Writings of the Bab himself, which declares that the very mercy of God is conditional upon this allegiance.

"O peoples of the earth! Bear ye allegiance unto this resplendent light wherewith God hath graciously invested Me through the power of infallible Truth, and walk not in the footsteps of the Evil One, [Q2:204] inasmuch as he prompteth you to disbelieve in God, your Lord, and verily God will not forgive disbelief in Himself, though He will forgive other sins to whomsoever He pleaseth. [4:51] Indeed His knowledge embraceth all things..." (Qayyumu'l-Asma', SWB, 48)

Baha'u'llah revealed one tablet especially for this Holy Day. It includes a special prayer for the occasion at the end. Here is a paragraph from that work,

"This glorious Tablet hath been revealed on the Anniversary of the Birth [of the Bab] that thou mayest recite it in a spirit of humility and supplication and give thanks unto thy Lord, the All-Knowing, the All-Informed. Make thou every effort to render service unto God, that from thee may appear that which will immortalize thy memory in His glorious and exalted heaven." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets, 234)

This seems to indicate what our goal should be for today, and more broadly for our whole lives. We should aim to do something worthy of "immortalizing" our memory in the heaven of the Bab. This may include a good deed, a visit to a person in need, a meal for the poor, a gift to the fund, a payment to the Huququ'llah, or even the thoughts and prayers we have about the Bab today.

In another late Tablet, written to a member of the Bab's family, Baha'u'llah says,

"Say: This is the Day of meritorious deeds, did ye but know it. This is the Day of the glorification of God and of the exposition of His Word, could ye but perceive it. Abandon the things current amongst men and hold fast unto that which God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting, hath enjoined upon you. The day is fast approaching when all the treasures of the earth shall be of no profit to you." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets, 231-232)

Speaking of the Bab in an early, mystical work, the Javahiru'l-Asrar Baha'u'llah discusses at length the station of the Bab. He was among other things the consummation of the 12 Imams or disciples of Muhammad, a lineage that started with Muhammad and continued to Ali, Hasan, Husain, and nine others. The Mission of the Bab, Ali Muhammad, was the consummation of that spiritual heritage.


 "But as to Him Who appeared in the year sixty, He standeth in need of neither transformation nor interpretation, for His name was Muhammad, and He was a descendant of the Imams of the Faith. Thus it can be truly said of Him that He was the son of Hasan, as is undoubtedly clear and evident unto thine eminence. Nay, He it is Who fashioned that name and created it for Himself, were ye to observe with the eye of God." (Javahir, paragraph 50)

 "It is Our wish at this juncture to ... extol His remembrance, that perchance thou mayest gain into all things an insight born of Him Who is the Almighty, the Incomparable. (paragraph 51)

 "Consider and reflect upon His days, when God raised Him up to promote His Cause and to stand as the representative of His own Self. Witness how He was assailed, denied, and denounced by all; how, when He set foot in the streets and marketplaces, the people derided Him, wagged their heads at Him, and laughed Him to scorn; how at every moment they sought to slay Him. Such were their doings that the earth in all its vastness was straitened for Him, the Concourse on High bewailed His plight, the foundations of existence were reduced to nothingness, and the eyes of the well-favoured denizens of His Kingdom wept sore over Him. Indeed, so grievous were the afflictions which the infidels and the wicked showered upon Him that no faithful soul can bear to hear them." (Paragraph 52)

 "... Indeed, should a soul be acquainted with these mysteries, he would grasp that which none other hath fathomed." (Paragraph 57)


Monday, October 19, 2009

Yet More Escutcheons

Groups, Boffins and Beauty

By John Taylor; 2009 Oct 19, Ilm 05, 166 BE

Escutcheons for Groups and Institutions

We have been looking mostly at personal escutcheons so far, but in reality that is only the beginning. Personal escutcheons are the foundation for a set of standard reforms to be introduced at every level of society, from the individual to the household, company, school, neighbourhood, city, region, nation, continent and the world.

Group escutcheons are a much more complex proposition individual ones. In a democratic meritocracy, groups depend utterly upon the initiative, goodwill and consensus of opinion among individuals in order to progress. Institutional escutcheons plug into the dashboard displays and escutcheons of many individuals, both within their membership and without. But they also interact closely with other groups at all levels of society.

Like a personal escutcheon, each family, company, government or other organization has some freedom to decide upon what plans, measures and criteria to display on their escutcheon, according to their current needs and priorities. However, whereas individuals design their escutcheons autonomously, setting up their own self-monitored goals and criteria of success, group escutcheons must adhere to many rules and standards imposed from within and without. Group policies must be open, their goals determined by free elections and progress verified by qualified outside parties.

As mentioned, the mottos and displays on escutcheons act as interfaces from one person or group to all others. Many of these interfaces are obligatory. Institutions, unlike individuals, are required to display their escutcheon in public. By law, schools, companies, faith groups, families, neighbourhoods and governments, must place their escutcheon in a prominent place over their door, on membership cards and their website.

Depending upon their purpose, an institution can earn the right to add certain features and distinctions to their escutcheon. Badges and emblems are designed to be a recognizable, open set of standards, determined by data gathered according to strict regulations. Badges are standard, audited by licensed specialists, and change automatically according to received criteria. Like a policeman's badge, the escutcheon serves as public notification of licensing and accreditation. Their visualizations are designed to ensure transparency, to discourage nepotism or favouritism in awarding grants and contracts. They assure that every bidder's qualifications are clear and accessible by the public, who have a right to view and analyze their escutcheon.

Rise of the Boffins

Future political scientists will surely look back on this time as having the biggest, most dangerous power vacuum ever. Our lack of leadership is staggering. Leaders at all levels do nothing but dawdle while temperatures and sea-levels soar and glaciers melt. It is unlikely that any individual leader, no matter how wise or charismatic, can possibly fit the bill. This is because the sort of leader we need today is not an individual at all.

Undoubtedly, we need good individuals to take the lead; we always have and always will. But pay too much attention to individual leaders. This is unhealthy and in fact contributes to the power vacuum. No, the real default of leadership today is not that leaders in themselves are lacklustre or inadequate, is in a sad lack of influence of experts and expertise. We leave our trades and professions forlorn, banished from the halls of power.

Everything comes of opinion, so it only makes sense that the opinion of our best experts should come before that of others. We cannot expect professionals to serve, advise and obey passively. The problem with the UN's Science Advisory Panel on Climate Change is that it is just that, an advisory panel. True, this body has increased greatly in prestige as more thinking people realize that stopping greenhouse gas emissions is vital to our collective survival.

What we really need are panels of experts with teeth. Give them power to tell governments what to do. Right now, the panel on climate change is telling the world: "Stop these emissions or we are all cooked, literally." But that is not enough. They need power to act directly, not just sit on the sidelines. Then the boffins can take the initiative and lead from the front lines in humanity's battle for survival.

What is more difficult, though, is that we need the opinion of some, those expert in important disciplines, to have more sway than others, whose knowledge is in areas that are less crucial to human survival. Some professionals, such as actors and celebrities, hog the limelight while climate scientists are allowed on only as extras. Nor is climate alone among sciences being ignored. It is just one of a thousand areas of expertise where we are not doing the right thing, or even the sensible thing. We need farmers, doctors, teachers and other experts not to be content with telling us what to do, they must be in unalienable positions of honour where they can take political leaders to task as soon as they begin to ignore fundamentals.

Here are some examples. There are thousands, if not millions of soldiers, arms merchants and spies for every expert in peace studies. The number of agriculturalists has dwindled from over half to less than one percent of the population in many regions. As a result, farmers have little influence and in their work remain dependent upon hydrocarbons for fertilizers. This threatens the world with famine at the first rise in oil prices. There are thousands of linguists, chroniclers of languages and literary lights for every educator working to remove the language barrier. The list goes on.

Beautiful Balance Sheets

In high technology industries official bodies come together periodically to adopt standards for the next generation of products. This use of the consensus of expert opinion is pretty much the definition of the scientific method. Yet this process has more influence in some areas of human endeavour than others. It is all but unknown in religion, for example, yet it is commonplace in rapidly advancing high-technology industries. The problem with the latter, though, is that technical standards tend to be comprehensible only to highly trained specialists. The lay public is not consulted.

For example, investors in stocks learn after years of patient study how to read a balance sheet. Assuming that the data are reliable in a year-end report, they can look down the listing of facts and figures about a public corporation and rapidly assess its health.

With escutcheons bodies of experts will similarly agree upon what data are important, but they will cross the line of specialist knowledge and ask what graphics could represent the meaning of this information.

Collaborating with artists, they will find ways of summarizing health that are so intuitively obvious that any untrained person using their aesthetic sense alone can tell at a glance how robust a person, company or other institution is. The financial part of an escutcheon, for example, may not display the exact amount of savings or where investments are, but it will show a graphic attesting that the party in question is in good economic shape and has adhered to accepted norms in the industry.

Of course, nature already does this with organisms. Usually any viewer can tell at a glance whether the body of a plant, animal or human is a pretty or ugly example of its kind. If it has good genes it will have a strong and elegant enough constitution to pass them on to their progeny. In such cases, the face, flower or body an organism invariably strikes the eye as beautiful. When it looks symmetrical and harmonious, then every law of evolutionary biology says that this organism will be a good bet. If it is ugly, its chances of survival are probably slim.


As it is now, organizations are expected consciously to manipulate their public face with paid advertising, in effect bribing the public to listen. This is done at prodigious cost, not only financially but to the truth, which is routinely distorted. Meanwhile, the public has little official, unbiased, verifiable information about what a company stands for, its qualifications and past achievements.

The advantage of escutcheons is not just that they bridge the chasm between specialists and lay, but mostly that they extend open standards to areas that have stubbornly resisted change for centuries. Some of the most hidebound include morality, religion, philosophy and politics. However, even accounting, a discipline where standards are highly advanced, would be revolutionized by escutcheons.

With an escutcheon display hooked into its balance sheets, anybody with minimal training would see the most important features of an organization's escutcheon at a glance, without referring to a single statistic or number. Right over its doorway a constantly updated graphic shows the relative well-being of an institution, whether it is keeping up to its stated goals and purposes, and so forth. As graphic standards are finalized for escutcheons, more and more indicators of an institution's budgetary and financial condition can gradually be incorporated into its escutcheon displays. As it is shown across the industry to be official and reliable, clients will be inclined to pay attention to each new indicator.

When a given badge has withstood scrutiny and feedback for a decade, it will be integrated into the world curriculum. In time, any educated person in the world will be able to walk through the portals of any institution whose escutcheon shows this badge posted over its doorway and gain an instant picture of its health, its plans and accomplishments. Passers-by who want more details can use HUD's or mobile devices to drill down using its wireless feed and pass beyond iconography to the raw numbers and statistics that form them.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dashboards and Escutcheons

More on Escutcheons for the Individual

Families and other institutions often connect themselves with medieval tradition by adopting a coat of arms, also called an escutcheon. This sometimes includes a Greek or Latin saying along with a set of symbolic images in the visual language of heraldry. In his posthumous work, "Panorthosia or Universal Reform," John Amos Comenius proposed that a world government take up certain mottos or slogans to place on the escutcheon of groups at each major level of society, from the individual to family, school, faith groups and, at the most universal level, the world government itself. Enhanced by sophisticated information technology, this device would make the goals and ideals of a cosmopolitan order more friendly, coherent and understandable.

For better or worse, the upcoming generation of children born after the advent of the internet are virtually all gamers. Electronic games are so compelling and even addictive for them because game designers long ago learned how to make what is little more than a display, a database and a data feedback mechanism appealing to young children. As an educational theorist, Comenius understood this psychology well. In his over 150 book oeuvre he often suggested ways that educators can make learning as natural and enjoyable as play. The mottos that he devised for families and governments in Panorthosia demonstrate that he understood how important this can be for governance as well as education.
Like a computer game or simulation, an escutcheon is nothing more than a display, a database and a set of feedback mechanisms. Unlike the augmented reality "dashboard displays" that we have discussed elsewhere, an escutcheon is permanent, official and relatively static. The escutcheon is a tally of the results of many lessons, games and simulations, both formal and informal. Like the list of top ten scorers in a computer game, it is essentially a record of goals accomplished and an emblem of the ideals, virtues and honours that one aims for in life.

An inherent part of the world curriculum, they begin in early childhood, starting with standard peer and parental assessments and report cards from teachers. However, with maturity they gradually become autonomous, self-regulated measures of virtue and self-education. They are the summary of a life displayed in as artistic a way as possible. Indeed as escutcheons are applied universally, they will create an entire industry for artists, graphic designers and illustrators.

An escutcheon has both a public and a private face. For an individual, the private face is a visualization designed to aid in reflection and meditation. It also acts as a memory aid and tool for the critical self-assessment that is essential to an examined life. The public face of an escutcheon shows to clients and employers qualifications and accomplishments gained in one's line of work.

The Difference between Escutcheons and Dashboard Displays

Whereas the dashboard display monitors dynamic lifestyle factors like diet and exercise, the escutcheon considers goals and accomplishments in relation to long-term measures of peace, health and well being.

For example, in personal finance a dashboard display features dials and graphs showing one's financial state designed to aid in budgeting and financial planning. If an investment portfolio is diversified, a display of a human face or figure takes on pleasing proportions. If it is less diverse or over-invests in a single industry, the figure loses symmetry or tilts to one side. Similarly, if spending is too munificent, income insufficient, savings too small or charitable giving not at recommended amounts, the figure might become too squat or tall, too thick or thin.

An escutcheon, on the other hand, takes a longer perspective of financial health. If a dashboard figure remains symmetrical and beautiful over a long enough period of time it begins to feed points, "energy" or "virtual money" into the escutcheon, depending on the type of game the user prefers to play. These, in turn, furnish colours and embellishments that artists can use in making up a beautiful escutcheon.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An Escutcheon of my Own

Beauty in the Escutcheon

2009 Oct 14

Let us return to one of the most important innovations of the 17th Century educational reformer and world federalist, John Amos Comenius, author of Panorthosia, or Universal Reform. In an earlier essay called "Escutcheons for Social Diversity" we talked about his suggestion that a world government use short mottos or slogans to spread knowledge, virtue and excellence to every level of society. Borrowing from the terminology of emblems and coats of arms that were proudly displayed by nobles and knights of old, I have been calling these slogans "Escutcheons." Our earlier discussion was concerned with how the use of escutcheons could help ethnic relations in a hillside development. Today I want to focus on the personal and financial repercussions.

Escutcheons for Individuals

At the most basic level, that of the individual, Comenius held that all self-improvement comes of a strict regime of self-examination that a rival religious leader, St. Ignatius of Loyola, called the "examen," a daily or twice daily session of self-criticism. Comenius saw all reform starting in personal reform, and all personal reform starting in an examen. This can be reinforced by tracking one's progress in written or graphic form by the use of an escutcheon tracking what a person wishes to stand for, the virtues they aim to display, and so forth. In at least two chapters of the Panorthosia, Comenius sums up with the motto "Here is a splendid image of God," that he proposes for the examen of every individual,

"Therefore no matter who you are, you must reform yourself according to God's good pleasure and with His help, so that angels and pious men are able, as it were, to read on your forehead the inscription: 'HERE IS A SPLENDID IMAGE OF GOD.'" (Panorthosia, Chapters 19 and 20, paragraph 24)

This "splendid image" of the divine differs from the Tabula Rasa or blank slate of Frances Bacon and John Lock. For Comenius, knowledge is written on the soul not as chalk on a blackboard but as images on a mirror. This scripturally based model imagines the mind and soul as a glass, finite but boundless, instantly reflecting the whole universe presented before it, without limit but also without control. That is, there is no limit to how much we can learn.

However, to be created as an image or mirror of God entails the heavy responsibility of keeping the divine ever before us. We have a mind and spirit as well as a reflective soul. This means that we must not imitate or reflect passively but be critical. We have to examine, sift and prove the truth from the fleeting images presented before us.
By "splendid image of God" Comenius meant, of course, a spiritual condition of happiness and harmony, brilliant enough to be perceived by all onlookers. The saying "a splendid image of God" formalizes this; it serves as a constant reminder to post in a place of mediation or a private area of the home. Seeing the motto posted there aids the personal assessment of the examen.

All successful people subject themselves to some sort of daily accounting or weekly self-assessment, but the escutcheon can enhance that using the latest technology. Along with the slogan, various graphics and dashboard displays can have a live feed into various statistical measures of physical and emotional health, as well as measuring the current state of one's budget in relations to the financial health of one's family and community. A regular habit of checking these data in times of tranquility would keep the reflective life on track with praxis.

In designing escutcheons we will need artists as much as technicians. They will need to design its graphics to become more beautiful as accepted measures mark improvements, and less beautiful as a decline sets in. The displays on a personal escutcheon are fully configurable according to taste. A user may switch themes according to preference among many visual themes, digital, analogue or iconic. However, for each of them beauty always varies according to aesthetic standards.

One person may want to see their physical and financial health as a representation of the face and body of a person or animal. If her habits are unhealthy, the figure would gain ugly proportions. As healthy habits register, her avatar is beautified. Thus beauty, if nothing else, would reward the sacrifice, vigilance, temperance and self-denial that a virtuous life demands.

This system of standard displays on an escutcheon applies both technological and philosophical wisdom to the spiritual process described metaphorically in Oscar Wilde's short story, "The Portrait of Dorian Gray." Wilde's fable describes a personal portrait that ages as its subject remains handsome and youthful. While he lives a dissipated and superficially successful life, his portrait, hidden away, gradually becomes old and ugly for him.
Unlike Dorian Gray's portrait, an escutcheon would do the reverse, be beautified by the outwardly painful, difficult and tempestuous life that all great artists, innovators and saints tend to live. If Dorian Gray had an escutcheon plugged into accepted measures of real accomplishment, creativity and innovation, it might well be ugly to start but as he learns to live a meaningful, examined life it would gradually be beautified. Indeed the escutcheon of a good man or woman might after death may well be proudly transferred directly to adorn the family sarcophagus or gravestone.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Money Tracers

Ending the Tyranny of Opinion, of Money and of Things

There are many kinds of imitation, prejudice and ignorance in the world but one of the most oppressive and difficult to eradicate is the tyranny of opinion. John Amos Comenius suggested a systematic, scientific technique for eliminating the tyranny of opinion that has a strange resemblance to what Immanuel Kant later called the Categorical Imperative. If we are to avoid recklessness, he says, we need "the trusty guidance of a true and clear philosophy. Come! let us hasten to acquire it." This philosophy would counteract fundamentalism. We can set up this universal science or philosophy if we refuse to accept things as arbitrary rules, but instead demand a good reason for every idea, course of action, even for every object in the world.


"The last remedy for recklessness in handling affairs will be for us all to begin to avoid all misuse of things and observe and follow all their true uses. We should therefore hear no more of the attitude of the tyrant which has hitherto been applied all too widely to men and things alike.

`This is my will, and this is my command. My will supplies the reason.'

Instead we should recite the holy line:

'This is the will of God and Nature: let my will be based on reason.'

In other words, the Reasoning of conscience dictates that things should not be used for other purposes nor treated in other ways than they themselves wish to be used and treated according to their nature, and this is what God commands and prescribes.

(Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 9, para 20, p. 150)


Here Comenius goes beyond Aristotle's definition of science as "knowing the causes of things" and adds a further requirement that one adduce a public reason for all things. Plants and animals should be treated as "they themselves would wish to be used and treated according to their own nature." This hierarchy of treatment would seem to rule out the massive cruelty of factory farming. Identification can even be extended to objects now that RFID devices containing large amounts of data about origin, nature, intended use and recycling instructions can easily and cheaply be implanted in every product and artefact. This allows the price of objects to reflect their real costs over their useable lifespan, including disposal and recycling fees.

This new ability of things to be rendered fully accountable is most needed for money.

Until now it has not been possible or even thought desirable to track the ebb and flow of cash. At the same time, organized crime is spreading alarmingly around the world, in part because on the international level the transfer of funds has been "liberalized." Criminals can easily launder cash and move it around the world at the speed of light. In many countries and even certain American states one can register a numbered company and open a bank account with only minimal identification.

Meanwhile, it is possible circumvent morality and responsibility without even breaking the law. For example, shipping companies burn the cheapest, dirtiest grade of oil, with the result that shipping lanes around the world are choked by thick smog. Since there are no locals on the open sea to complain about the air, savings are passed on in cheaper goods shipped from poor lands where labour is cheap. This is globalization, the result not of closer international ties for the benefit of all but of liberalization on behalf of a selfish few. Comenius's "reasoning of conscience" would eliminate this injustice by demanding a reason for every decision, by requiring an accounting from companies, money and possessions themselves.

In a cosmopolitan world order there would be a clear system of priorities made up by philosophers, confirmed by a religious parliament and enforced by a world political body bent on peace. Embedded microchips would fit each object into a clear hierarchy of possessions; this would include domesticated and wild animals, each of which would have rights defined by their own nature. As for objects, an individual would choose to own things according to a clear moral hierarchy. Anything that is local, made by themselves or by artisans in their household would come first. Then, each costing a little more to own, would be artefacts made in their neighbourhood, locality, town, region, and so forth. Lowest priority would be given for things bought with borrowed funds, with outside money, etc.

Complex as this seems, it is easier to dispose of material possessions compared with ideas. This is where we will have to expend most of our time and patience in future, for each of us must accept and reject far more ideas and opinions than we do physical things. Although reason enters in, very often these choices are made on aesthetic grounds. For example, the decision to burn cheap oil by shipping companies would not have been allowed if artists and monks plied the sea-lanes seeking the most beautiful seascapes and places of meditation. This leads us to one of the most important innovations of a Comenian order, which I call "beautiful balance sheets." That will be our theme next time.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Basic Incomes

Basic Incomes and Social Credit

By John Taylor; 2009 Oct 11, Mashiyyat 15, 166 BE

I have been mildly sick for the past few days. To keep my mind off my misery, I found myself listening over and over to the series of videos available at the Money Myths website. This guy, Brian Leslie, is an advocate of what I believe is called social credit. In most of his videos he offers an interesting explanation of what money is and where it comes from.

The bulk of his time is spent railing against what he calls our debt-based economy. Instead of spending their way out, governments are borrowing their way out of this recession. That is great for moneyed elites, not so great for everybody else. Instead of generating its money supply using its own resources, such as changing the fractional reserve rate, governments simply borrow from the banks. This assumes that the financial industry is the engine of productivity, but it is not. Even when governments have to bail out the big banks, they still borrow money to do so.

I am especially intrigued by Episode Six, which discusses what Leslie, the editor of Sustainable Economics Magazine, calls "basic incomes." I had heard of the idea, though the term I knew was "guaranteed annual income." In Canada we have a guaranteed income for seniors, but it is unfortunately not for the whole population. The idea of a basic income has always seemed sensible, since every other way of helping the poor, unemployed and disabled comes with so many strings that it all but criminalizes the disadvantaged if they try to perform the basic duty of working. Here is this economist's explanation of what a basic income would mean for society, taken from the transcript of the web cast included on this website.

"... being paid to everyone, Basic Incomes would replace most benefits such as Job-Seekers Allowance, Child Benefit, Working Families Tax Credit and State Pensions. Being unconditional, they would end the poverty trap, which means-tested benefits create. The current system makes it difficult for people on benefits to take on any paid work, unless very well paid, without being worse off through loss of the benefits. Even voluntary work is seen as a bad thing, as it makes the person unavailable for paid employment. The Minimum Wage legislation should be repealed when Basic Incomes are introduced. With Basic Incomes to fall back on, employees would be able to reject unacceptable terms of employment." (

As Leslie says, this idea of a basic income has a long history and has been put forward many times over the past century by politicians from all parts of the spectrum, from right to left. By making a basic income a human right governments would save tremendous amounts of money that is wasted confirming eligibility for dozens of support programs. I knew that, but some consequences of the idea for the labour market I had never thought of:

"The present system occupies most people in work that, with these changes, would no longer be needed. Persuasive advertising; telephone cold-calling; dealing with the mountains of paper waste caused by a system that is churning out an endless stream of deliberately short-lived goods instead of long-lasting, good quality and easily repaired goods; and so on... This (standard incomes) would lead to a change in the way that jobs are valued. Unpleasant but essential jobs would have to be well paid to attract workers, and easy, pleasant jobs would be less well paid. Basic Incomes would also make co-operatives and self-employment financially much more secure, and able to compete on more equal terms with the corporations  which would have to pay acceptable levels of pay to retain their workforce."

He contends that even back in the 1930's governments had enough money to pay out a basic income for everybody. The trick is simple, just switch from creating money out of debt to creating it directly out of the assets of the state.

"If the reform I advocate is adopted, in the period of change from bank-debt-based money to state-created money the State will have adequate new money to spend, to fund generous Basic Incomes as well as a Green New Deal. Spent into existence in this way, it would enable the outstanding debts to be paid off, without needing further debts to be taken on, just to maintain the money supply."

I do not claim to understand how this alone would be enough for the funds to appear, though it seems clear that national governments are spending tremendous funds just on the interest to national debts. What he seems to ignore is the fact that much of this debt is caused by simple criminality. Rich individuals and corporations can easily avoid taxes by hiding funds in "offshore" accounts. Meanwhile, in a democracy it is verboten to raise taxes. It has nonetheless been calculated that if the US raised taxes just a little, they could easily pay off their national debt. But to even talk about more taxes is political suicide. And for good reason. The middle and lower classes are carrying all the tax burden already and are understandably reluctant to pay even more.

As it is, both government and advertising act as debt pushers and the average person in the West is heavily in debt. This makes the burden of taxation seem heavier than it already is. If there were a standard income, people would have basic needs covered and be free to work as volunteers, or to work in order to pay taxes and save their money.

"With a money supply circulating without the debt which accompanies its creation under the present system, people in general would be far better off, and able to pay tax. The financial industry would be severely restricted in its ability to drain the profits from the productive industries. Borrowing-costs, in the form of interest charges, would be far less, so prices should tend to fall as debts reduce, instead of rising."

In one video, Leslie cites a chart of the findings of one economist, who found that between half and three quarters of the price of everything we buy goes to debt payments somewhere down the line. If that is true, his points are valid when he says that the financial industry is a predatory leach rather than a productive industry, and when he predicts that prices would drop if we all went cold turkey on lending and borrowing.

From the point of view of a Baha'i, the most enticing prospect of standard incomes is the prospect of a more equitable economy. Even the competitiveness characteristic of our present work world, according to him, would be eliminated by a standard income.

"Basic Incomes, coupled with the reduced need to borrow, would tend to reduce the extremes between rich and poor. ... At the moment, the jobs that are most needed are usually badly paid. Some are also dirty, unpleasant or dangerous. At the same time, some of the least needed jobs are highly paid. With Basic Incomes it would give people the choice to accept or reject employment and this would mean that wages should rise for the unpleasant but needed jobs and the pay would be reduced for the easier, less needed jobs. The desperate competition generated by the present debt-generating money system would be ended by these reforms, and cooperative working should flourish. These would include: organic food growing, repair of goods and infrastructure, research, parenting, education, health care, etc. Many unnecessary and destructive jobs could be eliminated."

He seems confident that this measure could be adopted without changes to the present nationalist order, but I have my doubts. Too much money is flowing into the hands of the military industrial complex and organized criminals for this ever to happen without a major fight. In my opinion, it is likely only to be possible after the formation of a world government.


Thursday, October 08, 2009

BPS DIY "How to" Series

New Essay Series: The DIY on the BPS

I have been lurking on the self-publishing website for years, but over the past week I have made a serious study of their best-selling books. The site displays an all-time bestseller list, and a monthly and weekly list of their best selling works -- and curiously, they do it all without mentioning exactly how many copies each book managed to sell.

However, one thing is clear. They publish poetry, novels, technical books, but the one genre that they do a really good job of pushing off the shelves and into the cashier is the How-to book. Their all time best seller is a how-to, as is their second place winner, and so on right down the list as far as you want to go. Almost all their bestsellers are from that genre. It is pretty clear that this site knows how to sell how-to books.

Anyway, I caught a cold a few days ago and what with the pets waking me at all hours, I have taken to sleeping odd hours. So it was that I woke early this morning with these questions in my head: what would the Baha'i principles look like if they were a series of self-help books? Would DIY Baha'i books sell as well on Lulu as other how-to's? Is it right brazenly to cash in on the principles by making them into do-it-yourselfers? Swallowing my scruples, I quickly wrote down the following possible titles for a series of short books -- short is good, between 150 and 200 pages -- about the principles.


How to Investigate Reality
How to Unite the World
How to Reconcile Religions
How to Unite Science and Religion
How to Exterminate Prejudice
How to Reform Free Enterprise
How to Promote Education
How to Learn Esperanto
How to Promote the Equality of the Sexes How to Understand God
How to Promote World Peace


For virtually all of these topics I probably have enough material already written to be able to put out a small book of that title with only a few weeks of preparation and supplementary research. Indeed, I could do it even quicker if I cheated a little by writing a short essay on the specific topic of the title and then filling in the rest of the content of the book simply by plopping already written essays straight out of the Badi' blog. In any case, it feels funny to look over this list, and reflect upon how easy it is to turn the holy principles of Baha'u'llah into a sort of "Principles for Complete Idiots," or "Baha'i Principles for Dummies" publishing venture.

At least, it felt funny at first.

Now that I think of it, many of these titles make the principle look more optimistic and hopeful than they would otherwise seem. For example, "How to unify the religions" assumes that this is a goal, which it is most emphatically not for most experts in the field. Same thing for eliminating prejudice. That, surely is a good thing. In fact, there is a certain attraction to these approaches. I would buy them, if I did not have to write them first. Maybe I will start off by writing an essay series based on the above titles, and taking it from wherever that takes me.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

People without Borders

Introducing People Without Borders

By John Taylor; 2009 Oct 07, Mashiyyat 11, 166 BE

Our current essay series is about the monetary, economic and financial aspects of Comenian governance and its immediate outcome: hillside infrastructure. Over the past few days, however, I have been moved to begin a book proposal for publishers. The economic discussion takes place about three quarters of the way through the book.

Over the coming year I plan to submit plans for a book that would be based on essays appearing daily on this blog since the end of June to various publishing houses simultaneously. If no publisher takes it up, the following year I will publish it myself through As an exercise, I will also publish some short booklets through Lulu, if only to familiarize myself with the publishing end of the writing process, by far the most neglected area for me.

During this time I will also set up a separate blog and website for the book, whose latest title is "People without Borders;" here I will include later revisions, sample chapters and promotional and supplemental material. I do not plan on dropping the Badi' Blog, however; it has been and will remain the depository of all my first drafts and writing digressions. For those still on the Badi' mailing list, however, please be aware that most of the time a more refined version of the original mail out is posted on the Badi' Blog.

The following essay is introductory material for the book proposal; it will probably end up as part of the introduction or an early chapter in People Without Borders.


People Without Borders

When the continents unite to form a tripartite world government based upon the Comenian model, the very nature of our physical and social infrastructure will be the first to change. How? First, let us briefly summarize what is meant by a Comenian world government.

John Amos Comenius described in Panorthosia a world republic that is not merely political, or merely religious, or merely scientific, but a carefully balanced product of the best that all three can offer. This has many implications, but one of the most obvious is how it would change the nature of democracy.

Instead of "one man, one vote," in this electoral system every individual gets three votes in three ongoing election cycles, each respectively ending in a particular world institution. This franchise confers one vote as a believer, one as a worker and one as a citizen. As a believer, one elects members of affiliated interfaith bodies at every level, from familial and neighbourhood levels right up to a continental body and finally a world parliament of religions. The same applies for votes as workers and citizens. As tradespersons, professionals, experts and teachers we will elect various affiliated scientific and professional bodies leading from the local to the neighbourhood, the continental and world levels. The result is a central scientific regulatory body combined with a world educational parliament whose chief mandate is to organize and run the press and the Internet. In the same way, citizens elect political bodies devoted to protecting the peace at every level, again ending in a world political parliament.

The combination of all three in a single comprehensive institution is what we call a Comenian world government. In combination, the three parliaments on the intercontinental level comprise the first institution in history with a comprehensive mandate to oversee the progress of all humans, comprehensively, everywhere on the planet.

No doubt in the short term this republic will have its hands full resolving any number of territorial disputes and ethnic conflicts. At the same time, nature itself is crying out for succour. Who can count the urgent environmental crises it would have to address right away? They include saving our dying oceans, cleaning the atmosphere, preventing a global climate meltdown, and so forth.

However, the main reason for forming this comprehensive planetary government in the first place is temporal. True, lesser institutions have neglected whatever goes beyond national borders, but most seriously, they have persistently ignored the long-term needs of humanity. There is nobody to represent issues concerning the vast majority of humans, future generations still unborn. The selection process of the Comenian republic is designed to raise up leaders with the courage, foresight and wisdom to address long-term considerations at the same time that they deal with those banging at the door.

In People Without Borders I am arguing that the Comenian republic should plan for both now and the future at the same time by devising and testing an open building code. This building code is the basis of a style of meta-architecture that I call Hillside Housing. A building code may sound like a strange place for a government to begin, but this is no ordinary government.

A conventional government is primarily political and legalistic in its approach. It solves problems by making up or referring to a constitution, legislating general laws and funding programs to implement decisions. In addition, a building code is essentially a set of laws and parameters for building projects. It starts off as an ordinary legal document that politicians, lawyers and law enforcement officials can implement. However, a Comenian government is capable of far more than that.

The Comenian government would first send the building code to its scientific and educational wing. This institution would set up an open systems approach for affiliate bodies at every level, designed and vetted by the best scientists and educators in the world. They would feed the actual experience of dwellers in each hillside development back into the legislative process, effectively making each neighbourhood into a research laboratory for the building code. Once a given design is shown to be efficient, environmentally friendly and economically viable, it passes on to the local franchise of the interfaith parliament. They take into account eternal, artistic values, such as whether a design has recreational value, and promotes morality, happiness and beauty. Finally, the political affiliate evaluates for safety and legal concerns of a given design.