Monday, November 30, 2009

Esperanto is...

Family as Corruption Cure


Family as Cure to Corruption in High Places


By John Taylor; 2009 Nov 30, Qawl 09, 166 BE



The most frequently raised objection to world government is that it would be in danger of becoming tyrannical or corrupt. For centuries opponents of world federation have successfully argued that the higher we go in human governance the more prone it is to over-centralization, and the harder corruption and tyranny would be to remove. Undeniably, this is a frightening prospect. If the members of a world government were as corruptible as national governments already are, we would have no escape or appeal to a higher authority. Under a planetary tyranny there would be nowhere to go into exile but into space, and in space nobody can hear you scream.


Some advocates of a democratic world government, such as Jim Stark in "Rescue Plan for Planet Earth, suggest a drastic cure to skulduggery by world leaders. Stark proposes that every politician in a democratically elected world government should be subjected to video surveillance twenty-four hours a day. Everywhere they go, from the bathroom to the bedroom, should be recorded and fed live onto an open Internet broadcast channel. That way, anybody in the world who chooses to do so could look in on what they are up to right now, or see a summary of everything they did or said during the past twenty-four hours. Stark argues that since security cameras are already recording our every move in public places, why make an exception for all-too-corruptible politicians?


Although Stark paints this as a justified protective measure that eliminates all privacy of elected leaders for the greater good, it is useful to recall that such removal of privacy was originally conceived as a punishment for criminals. Jeremy Bentham, in an age before surveillance videos, proposed that all criminals be caged in glass boxes in public places so that their every move would similarly be subject to constant observation.


That is not to say that I would rule out round-the-clock surveillance of leaders completely. However, it should be a last resort taken only if corruption proves to be a persistent, intractable problem, and all other countermeasures have failed.


The reasons for avoiding a culture of surveillance are compelling. For one thing, the greater part of the role of any leader is to be an example and an educator. In order for government to function smoothly, there needs to be a sacred, unspoken bond of trust between the public and the public servant. Any measure against corruption that degrades this bond is liable to spread more corruption and distrust than it eliminates.


This is so not only for world leaders but all leaders, including those on the local and familial level. They must see themselves as teachers of all humankind. And, as any tutor will tell you, in order to teach efficiently one must on the one hand build a close bond of respect and trust, but on the other hand avoid too much intimacy. Either extreme degrades the learning process by allowing students to influence teachers or to see them too closely and critically.


I have no doubt that John Amos Comenius, who was a professional educator, would weigh in against such paranoid counter-measures. He would have pointed out that for one thing corruption is not just an individual condition, it is systemic and institutional. If families are weak, institutions on every other level are undermined too. Comenius's comprehensive reform program starts with well-ordered households that in turn would raise the bar for their members.



"Finally all will be well in city, state and kingdom if all is well at home and individual families are as well-ordered as I recommended ... Since this depends on the wise self-control of individual people, all magistrates will be vigilant to see that individuals promote the safety and peace of the state by leading pious, righteous, and sober lives." (Panorthosia, Ch. 24, para 1, p. 111)



The job of legislators and judges, then, is to support the family. A strong, loving household is in the best position to keep its members in line. The goal of the legal system is to raise the standard of virtue at home, and this in turn will improve the quality of leaders that emerge from it. A security camera invites outside scrutiny, but it also loosens a leader's hold on the loyalty and sincerity of the family that got him or her there in the first place. This tie is sacred, because the family remains long after all memory of any posting or office a leader attains to has faded. Indeed it is the permanent quality of the family that makes it a far more effective check on the morals of leaders than any number of security cameras.


We are used to hiring individuals for job postings today. Worse, once they are hired we expect workers to sacrifice family time for career. That is why I think that in future the reverse will be the case. Instead of just individuals, entire households will be hired as working units for most jobs, especially leadership posts. The family business is already common in agriculture and shopkeeping, but it needs to be extended to politics, since being hired as an institution would make it even more in the interest of every family member to expunge the slightest hint of corruption before it can defeat all their aspirations to honour and prosperity.


In a Cosmopolitan order not only the judiciary but the entire resources of the community, including physical infrastructure, would be devoted to the support of individuals, entrepreneurs and families. Most importantly, science and education would be devoted completely to advising and informing families as institutions. Comenius wrote:


"Nevertheless great magnates (who have many heavy responsibilities) are allowed to have assistants who co-operate with them in drawing up their policies and putting them into action, as a safeguard against error and its ill-effects, just as our mind, which rules its own body like a queen, is provided with a guard of senses, such as sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch." (Panorthosia, Ch. 24, p. 110)


If our leaders were embedded in family units that, like Comenius's "great magnate," are supported by wise advisers, they would be all but immune to corruption. Family and household leadership would constitute a far more dependable "safeguard against error" than any number of twenty-four-hour-a-day surveillance cameras could ever provide.



Thursday, November 26, 2009

Is Your Faith Fungible?

Comenius and Fungible Religion, I

By John Taylor; 2009 Nov 26, Qawl 05, 166 BE

Last time we touched upon John Amos Comenius's contribution to the principle that religion has the specific purpose of promoting love and unity. Today I want to talk about the direct implication of this principle: a sacred duty to hold spiritual beliefs and religious organizations accountable. For as soon as we acknowledge that religion has a clear goal we must see that it is possible to fall short of that object. If this happens, it is a truly religious act to hold it to account, to question it closely and to treat it as replaceable. In a church in New York, Abdu'l-Baha succinctly laid out the Baha'i principle,

"Religion must be conducive to love and unity among mankind; for if it be the cause of enmity and strife, the absence of religion is preferable. ... the religion of God is intended to be the cause of advancement and solidarity and not of enmity and dissolution. If it becomes the cause of hatred and strife, its absence is preferable. Its purpose is unity, and its foundations are one." (Promulgation, 177)

This principle of holding religion to account, of course, does not come out of a vacuum. It has deep roots in scripture. The Qur'an, for example, asks, "Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, `We believe', and that they will not be tested?" (29:2, Yusuf Ali) Today, many Muslims are turning down the path of interfaith collaboration (cf. prompted by cues in their own Qur'an encouraging unity with other Abrahamic faiths based on a "common word" among them.

"Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him)." (Aal 'Imran 3:64)

Comenius would have agreed that the solution lies in emphasizing commonalities, which he calls the "solid features of faith," rather than getting lost in niggling, external variance, as has always been the case among religious leaders. We should expect only "religion in religion," rather than idly making it into a substitute science or a quasi-political cause,

"But as for the underlying firmly-rooted disagreements, they will indeed be largely removed, provided that we allow their removal and do not bar all the roads to agreement by maintaining an attitude of prejudice. Later I shall refer to some of the questions which have arisen among Christians to show how easily disagreement on those subjects can be removed if we would all bring our minds to disregard the details of the questions and deal solidly with the solid features of faith, or to reject any fragmentation of Truths and grasp the truth of everything as a whole, or to avoid verbal ambiguity and the quibbling which it causes, and look at things themselves; but especially, if we abandon our concern for our stomachs, our kitchens, or our pride and seek nothing but religion in religion, which means Christ and Heaven." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 35, p. 123-124)

Comenius offers several Biblical justifications for holding both individuals and faith groups accountable to the high ideals they derive from their relationship to God. For example, Matthew 7:19 says, "Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." Jesus told his followers to judge those with religious claims "by their fruits ye shall know them." He even went so far as to forbid anyone who is not reconciled with those with whom they have been in conflict to even enter the temple to pray.

It is fair to say that the entire message of Comenius to believers in Panorthosia is that they must concentrate on reconciliation. Unless they do, we do not have a hope of reforming society in a complete and satisfactory way. While science and politics may be concerned with the correct technical way to reform our world, religion's main concern must be with reconciliation and education. Churches are schools, "and should be conducted on school lines," and this requires that believers enter them as students ("be ye as little children," Christ put it) purified of their multifarious opinions and preconceptions. Comenius points to this question from the New Testament:

"How is it, then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying." (I Corinthians 14:26, cited in Panorthosia, Ch. 23, para 21, pp. 73)

Essentially, religious conviction becomes toxic and fundamentalism raises its ugly head only if we ourselves are not moderate. Extremism occurs when our education falls short of being well-rounded. Without a universal perspective our moral center inevitably shifts towards one of the three main faculties, body, mind or spirit. A wise person does not favor only one of these, nor does she separate or draw artificial distinctions among them. Rather a healthy lifestyle attempts to benefit all three at once.

Similarly (and this is a further implication of this principle), leaders of faith, science and politics must not continue with their prideful contempt for one another, rather they must learn to work together in a single movement to reform all of humanity.

"It has been customary in the past to convene ecumenical councils where bishops from all the Christian countries assembled to consult about the business of the whole church. But we shall have a truly economic council only if we assemble enlightened men from all over the habitable world, philosophers, churchmen, and politicians of outstanding eminence in wisdom, piety, and prudence pledged to introduce plans at long last full enough to secure, establish, and increase the safety of all mankind." (Panorthosia, Ch. 25, para 1, p. 128)

As Plato pointed out in the Republic, such a universal reconciliation is only likely to happen when the individual is well enough educated to balance physical, mental and spiritual progress in their daily lifestyle. Only then can the best of us, our leaders, reflect that balance when they form a more ideal government. Comenius's contribution, I think, is that he adds a further provision. All three will reach their potential if and only if they work together.


"In other words, through the same full light of God, philosophers will be seekers after all things; politicians will be controllers of all human activity; theologians will be pilots unto heaven of everything on earth.

"Consequently philosophers will be torch-bearers ensuring that men everywhere live in the light; politicians will be guardians to see that in all their activities men live in peace; and theologians will be stewards to see that men in every walk of life always work for God and enjoy Him forever.

"To put it briefly, our philosophy, our politics, and our religion, being universal and wholly enlightened, will seek to make men wholly real instead of lurking in the shadows of ignorance, wholly human instead of savage, and wholly God-fearing instead of blasphemous, and if we establish them correctly, then with God's help they will be successful."

(Panorthosia II, Ch. 10, para 52, p. 173)


As long as they recognize their boundaries each of the three can specialize at what they do best, acting as pilots, guardians and servants to the general good. Today we know enough about the brain to compare their interaction to the neurons and glial cells in the brain, which can specialize in ways that are complex but discernible.

In order to be worthy of taking such a prominent role in society, religious leaders must therefore, in accordance with the principle of accountable religion, learn to work together in a harmonious way. Comenius tried to do this with his fellow Christians in the following passage. I cannot help but wonder if there would have been a holocaust or if the Middle East would today be so volatile if this passage had been read as often as the antisemitic screeds of another Christian reformer, Martin Luther. I have added subtitles to clarify the group that Comenius is asking Christians to reconcile with.


Let me further explain why there should be no exercise of hatred on religious grounds, however widely we may differ at the moment.

Unity Among Christians and Harmony with Muslims

Firstly we should have no hatred towards Christians, because they are servants of Christ, or at least profess to be so. We should not adopt a hostile attitude towards Mohammedans, because they acknowledge our Christ as a great prophet, and do not allow any blasphemy towards him.

Harmony With Jews

We ought to tolerate the Jews, firstly because they are our librarians, as our fathers of old used to call them, and they are most faithful in holding the word of the Prophets in trust for us.

And God's purpose in preserving them is that they keep the treasure of the word of God faithfully with a view to the full conversion of the Gentiles and the Jews themselves, when there shall be fuller light, and no further excuse will remain for doubting that these things were sent by God, when all prophecies shall be fulfilled: Revelation X, 7, XI, 15.
 Secondly, we should be tolerant towards the Jews because theirs is 'the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises, and of them as concerning the flesh Christ came' (Romans IX, 4, 5); and we have only been taken up into salvation through their unbelief which befell them in times past (Romans XI, 11); and thirdly, because of the hope of conversion for which they are saved (Isaiah LXV, 9, Romans XI, 23-5). Therefore let us fulfil the will of God, so that on seeing a Jew we may say, as if we were beholding a cluster of grapes not yet beginning to ripen, 'Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it' (Isaiah LXV, 8).

Harmony with the Non-religious, "Secular Humanists"

Lastly, we should be tolerant towards all Gentiles, because they are blind, and deserve compassion rather than hatred. As Christ said of the Samaritans and Paul of the Athenians, that they worshipped an unknown God," the same may be said of all the nations of the earth, that they worship the unknown. (cf. 'the unknown God' in Acts 17:23) But as Christ, and Paul after him, showed tolerance towards the weak until he brought them to righteousness, we should do likewise, until God takes pity on them and the time comes when the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in (Romans XI, 25).

(Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 26, pp. 119-120)



Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Gerald Filson on panel about religious evolution

Media rep of Canadian NSA speaks on Ontario's public television network, TVO.

The Agenda - Broadcast - Religions: Old, New, Borrowed and Blue | David Hlynsky

The Agenda - Broadcast - Religions: Old, New, Borrowed and Blue | David Hlynsky

What liberals lose when they ignore religion

Controversial academic and author, Camille Paglia, author of Sexual Personae, was part of the ROM's Director's Signature Series, entitled The Three New Commandments, coinciding with the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. Paglia describes herself as an "atheist who defends religion", explaining that an understanding of world religions and their symbols and motifs is essential to fully understanding human civilization and our place in the universe.

A Visit to the Global Village

A Traveler's Report

By John Taylor; 2009 Nov 24, Qawl 03, 166 BE

Sir Thomas More in Utopia told of a traveler just returned from a visit to a far off land where things were as they could and should be. Here is a traveler's narrative told by a neighbor only a few blocks away from a development built and run under the tutelage of the newly formed Comenian world government.

Son: I am glad to be home. I cannot remember when I saw so many relatives all together in this room. The walls are bursting. Did you all come out just for me?

Cousin: Let us just say we are curious. Tell us about everything you just saw.

Son: Well I still think you must be up to something. Usually I cannot get a word in edgewise. Now whenever I shut up you can hear a pin drop.

Aunt: Never you mind about that. Just tell your story.

Son: Okay. In case there is anybody here who does not know what I have been up to lately, I was asked by the Chronicle to spent a couple of months in the global village. If they like my report they said they might hire me to write a regular column about the place. It is just a few blocks down the road but I feel like I just got back from the moon.

Mother: I often do my shopping there. I prefer their small shops to the strip malls around here though I must say they force you to work. First you have to park the van before you go in. You end up doing a lot more walking than I am used to.

Brother: Is it true you have to become a world citizen before you can live there?

Son: Not entirely. You can technically come in as what they call a national but, as with everything there, they definitely make it worth your while to start taking the exams. Doing so is not only in your interest but in that of everybody around you. So there is a lot of peer pressure.

Father: You mean you have to study to become a world citizen? I thought I was one already.

Son: This is an entirely different system. It is a lot more complex than anything we have here. There are hundreds of new laws, rules and regulations you have to be aware of. But strange to say, when you leave, our way of doing things seem not simple but oddly barbaric.

Sister: Is it true what they say, that everything is owned collectively, like in a commune?

Son: Not entirely. They told me that the large items you see on the street, the buildings, streets and avenues, are mostly owned publicly. But the closer you get to a home or business, the more likely it is that the larger items are owned by a local group and maintained cooperatively. You often hear them repeat the codicil from Kant's sketch of a permanent peace: "The law of world citizenship shall be limited to conditions of universal hospitality." They say that this means that no matter who you are and where you go, there will always be somebody there to welcome you. But this places heavy reciprocal obligations on you as a guest. If you take advantage of your hosts, the welcome mat gets narrower, as they put it.

Mother: I think we are interrupting him far too much. Let the boy tell the story from the start.

Son: Thanks, Mom. I will do so.



Monday, November 23, 2009

Checking Up on the Cosmopolitan Condition

Introduction to a Traveler's Report

By John Taylor; 2009 Nov 23, Qawl 02, 166 BE

It is impossible to underestimate the momentousness of the idea of world government. Its formation would mark the first truly universal institution, the consummation of history in every sense, philosophically, religiously and politically. World government has been put off for centuries largely because leaders of science, faith and politics have been unwilling to come together and agree upon what is most important for human survival. Yet every headline urges us on to this one conclusion: until we take this giant step, every measure will remain an inadequate half-measure.

In his writing, John Amos Comenius demonstrated that world peace and human oneness are the ultimate goal of the Abrahamic Religions, and that every educator has a duty to prepare students to implement the goal of seeing to it that science, religion and politics are harmonized, for the good of all. Until we do this, no progress will be possible. He wrote,

"Any reforms in philosophy, religion and politics must fall short of perfection, unless they bring peace and lasting happiness to the minds, consciences and societies of mankind." (Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 1, para 4, pp. 48-49)

In his latter works, Immanuel Kant showed that he had arrived at the same conclusion, though his methods differed slightly. He stood on scientific and philosophical grounds, but he agreed that all of nature urges the human race to one inescapable conclusion.

"Although this government at present exists only as a rough outline, nevertheless in all the members there is rising a feeling which each has for the preservation of the whole. This gives hope finally that after many reformative revolutions, a universal cosmopolitan condition, which Nature has as her ultimate purpose, will come into being as the womb wherein all the original capacities of the human race can develop." (Cosmopolitan History, Eighth Thesis, in Immanuel Kant, Philosophical Writings, Ernst Behler, Ed., Continuum, New York, 1986, p. 260)

This series of essays is my attempt to imagine what will come out of the "womb" of the "cosmopolitan condition."

First of all, I think it is reasonable to expect an unprecedented up-swell of innovation, not only in gadgets and consumer goods as we are used to presently, but in infrastructure itself. The establishment of a world standard building code alone would eliminate the inefficiency and pollution that are destroying our chances of survival. It would assure that food is grown locally and energy comes from nearby, renewable sources, such as wind, sun and geothermal. If this is done all at once it would not be difficult to eliminate all the harm that our present, primitive infrastructure is doing, not only to the environment but to the cohesiveness of our social lives.

I have discussed at length many expected features of the infrastructure of the cosmopolitan order: escutcheons, dashboards, war and peace rooms, terra currencies and hillside architecture. These do not come about piecemeal; they are all implemented at once, in a single stroke. This means that there would no longer be any need to worry about universals. Invariables and basic standards are already built into the larger structures of the neighbourhood. Instead, each household compound and personal space accommodates local expression, whatever most fosters individual and familial growth.

The most crucial aspect of this infrastructure, I believe, is what I have been calling "consultative architecture." This comprehensive construction system I call "consultative" because decisions as to who lives and works where are determined not by government, architects or other central planners but by the current occupants. These meet regularly and decide what their world will look like in specially designed "war and peace rooms" located at the center of each household and neighbourhood.

Like all political systems, the bare nucleus of consultative architecture is, by definition, the individual. Unlike other arrangements, though, this is the case in consultative architecture both literally and physically. Each resident has a right, from cradle to grave, to a small private space. Along with the right there is also an obligation to use and maintain it well. This home base we call the Room of One's Own, or ROO.

The ROO is a standard enclosure the size of a standard air freight shipping container. Just as matter has atoms, and organisms have cells, so the cosmopolitan condition entails the ROO. As we have recently discussed, the organization of the ROO is the foundation of personal existence and the prime concern of a consulting practitioner known as a dialectician.

Most often, a ROO module splits into three parts, a recreational center, a professional cubicle and a bedroom. The bedroom is moved to the sleeping section of a larger living compound within a household. The recreational space organizes one's avocations and hobbies, and is placed in the most convenient location for recreational activity, often in a household's business, garage or atelier. The professional workstation normally is located at one's principle place of employment.

Next time, following the precedent of Sir Thomas More, we will imagine what a traveler just returned from a visit to such a housing development might report.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Comenius and Irenic Religion

Comenius and the Principle: "Religion is a Cause of Love"

By John Taylor; 2009 Nov 18, Qudrat 15, 166 BE

This essay series attempts to cover the salient contributions of John Amos Comenius's Panorthosia to our understanding of the subject matter of all the Baha'i principles. In recent weeks we broached the religious principles with a discussion of how to eliminate fundamentalism and other forms of religious prejudice. Today we look at the positive phrasing of the same principle, which has two aspects. The first Abdu'l-Baha called "religion is a cause of love" (RCL), and the second is "Religion is a Remedy." Although we treat them in isolation here, these are really only phases of the same process. RCL establishes the purpose of religion and the second, religion is a remedy, considers the practical implications of this purpose, that is, a heavy responsibility of faith groups to render themselves accountable to their own ideals.


Nietzsche was no admirer of religion but nonetheless he recognized a spiritual truth when he said that "To forget one's purpose is the commonest form of stupidity." When we get wrapped up in our own thoughts we tend to become "wise over trivialities" and become distracted from our purpose in life. Comenius wrote in the 9th chapter of Panorthosia,

"As Seneca aptly remarked that `the disease of the Greeks was to be wise over trivialities,' the Philosophy to which I am referring is like the wisdom of the Greeks, and is therefore trivial and mainly frivolous, not even touching upon the most essential needs of man, but occupying his mind with irrelevancies and constantly diverting him from his most important goal, i.e., God and Heaven. (Comenius, Panorthosia II, 148)

Although this sort of stupidity can be as common in religion as in any other field of endeavor, it is fair to say that it is more inexcusable here, since religion is all about our ultimate purpose in life. If we cannot get eternal aims right, it is unlikely that we will ever do so in more immediate, short-term issues.

In this series we have discussed at length a series of proposals that Comenius made to eliminate this sort of stupidity once and for all. Throughout Panorthosia he suggests that we distill purposes and place them front and center. Once we have a summary of the central goals that is acceptable to each level of society, it becomes a highly valuable reminder. For example, in the tenth chapter of Panorthosia he writes,

 "This would therefore eradicate the curse of sectional differences now and forever. Let us adopt as our common motto the idea expressed by our Common Master (Matthew V, 45) GOD AND THE SUN ARE THE SAME FOR ALL." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, 157)

This motto can aid in-groups and out-groups, members and outsiders alike in recalling that the ultimate purpose of God is universal. "God and the sun are the same for all" implies that although we may say "my God" alone or in a faith group, we have an obligation to treat God as for all and above all, as an end in Himself, in a public forum. The sun does not shine only for some, it shines on all equally. This spiritual principle Baha'is call the Oneness of God, and as Comenius says, it dampens the spirit of factionalism or "sectional differences."

Once "God and the sun are the same for all" is understood by all sides, the word "God" will no longer be banished from public fora, as it is today -- in spite of the fact that well over 90 percent of the human race profess some kind of belief in God. The word "God" will be a useful distillation of all our ultimate purposes in life.
This motto, though, is only the first of many brief mottoes or bywords that Comenius suggests be proclaimed everywhere, at every level of society, following the guidance of the proverb: "Wisdom calls aloud in the street. She utters her voice in the public squares." (Prov 1:20, WEB) For example, in the twenty third chapter of Panorthosia, on the reform of churches, he offers this slogan, from the words of Genesis 23:17,

"This is Bethel, the house of God and the Gate of Heaven." (Panorthosia, p. 85-101)

I do not know whether this motto is universal enough to be applicable to faith groups outside Judaism and Christianity. If not, some other motto could easily be chosen from scripture. The law of compassion and the Golden Rule spring to mind, since they are featured in some form in every religious scripture and tradition. Karen Armstrong has had some success lately in persuading various Abrahamic faith groups to accept a declaration based upon the law of compassion. This is a baby-step toward what Comenius proposed, 330 years later.

Of course we cannot ignore the heart and soul of religion, the purpose of God for the individual. The twentieth chapter of Panorthosia deals with personal reform. Here Comenius puts forward the following seven word declaration: "Here is a splendid image of God." This he clearly intends for everybody, not just his fellow Christians or any other sub-set of believers.

"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, Ch. 20, para 24, p. 28)

The motto refers of course to what God said of Adam just after creating him in the garden of Eden, that he was created in the image of God. Our purpose in life is to realize this Adamic spiritual heritage and destiny by remaking the self into a divine image. To be an image of God, he clarifies, means a maintaining a holy attitude in everyday matters, not only in isolated moments of sublimity.

"But inasmuch as you are the image of God, you must wholly transform yourself for the purpose of representing the very likeness of God in the actions of your daily life. This means that you should be holy, even as our God is holy," (Leviticus 24:2) and merciful and generous, and kind yet just to all men without respect of persons, (Romans 2:11) and so on, as true religion teaches you." (Panorthosia, Ch. 20, para 15, p. 25)

I imagine this declaration "Here is a splendid image of God" inscribed on a personal escutcheon, perhaps surrounding a mirror, so that in moments of retrospection one can decide how splendidly one has reflected the divine image of late.


Monday, November 16, 2009

The Dialectician

The Dialectician

By John Taylor; 2009 Nov 16, Qudrat 13, 166 BE

Hillside construction projects are communally owned cooperatives that apply mixed-use zoning and standard, high-density design. The layout of hillside housing projects allows residents to live close to their place of work, while being ready at any time to travel and fit their modular living unit into another hillside housing project anywhere else on earth. Each neighbourhood has a variety of shops, workshops and other institutions and facilities close to residences. This minimizes the need for mechanized transit in daily commutes and improves health by forcing residents to walk and bicycle for errands and recreation.

As we have seen, the heart of hillside housing is the Room of One's Own (ROO), a mobile, modular living unit that can be fitted into any hillside dwelling slot anywhere on earth. If a citizen attains to wealth, his or her "black box" unit may fit into a standard slot that is required to be built into each mansion. If poverty is his or her lot, the ROO may be a stand-alone unit, like a trailer in what we now call a mobile home park. In any case, there is no homelessness. The shell of each living module is mass manufactured according to environmentally friendly "open standard" rules. The ROO remains with each person through all stages of life and is adapted and redesigned as needs change.

The ROO living module is the size of a standard shipping container. It includes a bedroom, reception area and bathroom, but has no kitchen (food preparation and serving is offloaded to the household, a compound of several living units). It also has a small study, which is mostly standard to the dweller's trade or profession. Additionally, it has a small space for a hobby or avocation. The ROO module can be split into three parts, a bedroom, a hobby space and an office. As needed, these can be detached and combined again later on. The bedroom unit may be placed in any of a variety of households or apartments in the neighbourhood, as plans, needs and tastes require. The ROO office or workshop is devoted to one's vocation and is usually but not always moved into one's place of employment. The avocation section is placed in a garage, studio or workshop in or near one's household or neighbourhood.

A ROO's additions and options are decided upon by the resident in consultation with a profession called the dialectician. Its design and placement is taken extremely seriously in this UCS society. It is the central concern of an entire profession, the dialectician. Just as a library is run by librarians, the ROO's of a neighbourhood are overseen by dialecticians. As Plato envisaged, the science of dialectics (learning peripatetically through regular, informal conversations) is the highest kind of knowledge. Learning how to apply cosmopolitan dialectics is an essential element of every world citizen's education.

Everyone will feel comfortable working out their own search for truth with one or more dialecticians. The profession is technically the applied or clinical branch of philosophy. The minimum entry qualification of a local dialectician is a degree in philosophy. The goal of the profession is to avoid today's interventions by the "nanny state", which are clumsy, intrusive, arbitrary, patronizing, or, especially in the case of insurance companies, self-serving.

Like most neighbourhood professions, dialecticians may be public officials, free agents or private consultants and entrepreneurs, but their remuneration is always geared to capitation. That is, income and other rewards increase as the ROO's in the entire region or neighbourhood under their purview improve, as compared with similar communities elsewhere.

Many dialectician's interventions are subtle or even automatic. For example, if it is observed that a resident is gaining weight, the bedroom may automatically move to a higher location so that he or she will work off the extra pounds by walking further and climbing more stairs. Or, if a person expresses boredom, his or her bedroom unit may be moved to a busier household, the hobby unit may be moved or re-designed, or the study module or career dashboard may be tweaked.

Other interventions by dialecticians are more direct, but they are rarely arbitrary or confrontational. This is because the responsibility of ROO dialectics is, on the local level, nobody's exclusive, permanent domain. The workload is shared among several types of personal advisors with a variety of professional backgrounds. As an individual's needs, status and circumstances change, the job may shift around among several friends, confidants and advisors. This will seem more natural than we imagine today, since residents will have been in intimate contact with dialecticians since early childhood.

The most extreme intervention by dialecticians occurs when a resident is convicted of a crime. Criminal acts are born of hatred, and hate can only be eliminated by behaviour untainted by hatred. This principle was identified by Machiavelli, who wrote that, " prince is ever benefited by making himself hated." (Discourses, Book III, Chapter XIX) There are therefore no prisons in a UCS. These institutions only institutionalize hatred and the loss of freedom. They are known to increase recidivism by reinforcing the criminal identity, and train criminals in the techniques of criminality. Worse, the sadistic, animalistic conditions of prison life corrupt not only guards and prisoners but society in general. Nor are there criminal records, which stigmatize offenders and reduce the chances of rehabilitation.

Instead, a large part of a violent or serious offender's punishment is for his or her freedom and privilege levels to bottom out, in other words, to revert to the minority of a child. In that case only are the rulings of a dialectician obligatory, arbitrary and unmitigated. The job of the dialectician then is to show the offender the way back to full autonomy again. We will discuss these sanctions in more detail in the coming section of People Without Borders on protection.

Suffice to say here that there are three types of dialectic philosopher, each a specialist in the three basic phases of Comenian governance, education (science), faith (wisdom) and politics (peace). Each is concerned mostly with one of the three possible kinds of relationships, relations with oneself (knowledge and science), relations with God (faith and wisdom) and relationships with others (peace and politics). A person who offends others (nobody is labelled a criminal, since labels become self-fulfilling prophesies) would have a philosopher of peace on their case until their escutcheon -- the record of a person's lifetime achievement -- beautifies and balances out again.

I have mentioned how the dialectician would intervene in a negative occasion. Most of the work that dialecticians do, however, is positive, aiding residents of the ROO in maintaining an "initiative credit rating," in planning and in maintaining a moral center. This activity we will broach next time.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Shuffling Off Borders

Dawn of the Optimates

How Do We Get From Here to There?

At dinner, a friend and reader of this blog lately asked how I expect to get from where we are in the world now to this UCS and Comenian world government that I am always talking about. Here is how I see it, barring unexpected circumstances. I expect that science will be proven right. Climate pressure will get worse and the seas will rise. After a few decades, or sooner, local, regional and global conflicts will break out as nations and peoples become increasingly desperate.

This is just what Gwyn Dyer describes in his book Climate Wars (I have not read it but I did audit a rather frightening radio documentary predicting in coming decades political tensions, wars, environmental collapse, mass famines and political anarchy.) If I agreed with what Dyer assumes, that the only way people can think and solve their problems is through relations between nation states, I would not be bothering to write this book, whose title will be "People Without Borders."

Instead, I think we can change course. We can escape this bind if we cast off our mental shackles. We are perfectly capable of thinking of our world as a unity, unbounded by prejudice and nationalism, and acting for the benefit of all human beings. The intellectual groundwork has already been laid by John Amos Comenius. I am convinced that his Panorthosia is the most important book to come out in my generation (after a three hundred year diversion, it was finally translated into English and published in its entirety in the mid-1990's). Although it is some ways a difficult book, it details exactly how to escape our otherwise inevitable slide into anarchy, famine and collapse.

So, how do we get there? We read Panorthosia, then act upon it. We form a three pronged democratic government on all levels, starting with the family and neighborhood, going right on up to the continental and inter-continental levels. This will reform from the ground up the three pillars of order in the world: science, religion and politics. It will swing power away from the present axis of nations and large corporations toward continental, world and local organization.
The first part of Section One of People Without Borders describes how this must start with the peoples of the world. There must radical improvements to democracy as we know it. This in turn will reorient the media, transport and architecture and, most importantly, introduce a new way of life for the world citizen. This lifestyle will not come about on its own; it is the fruit of a plan set up at the same time as the local, neighborhood, continental and world governments form. The second part of People Without Borders describes elements of this plan. Here are a couple of its most important goals.

Goal One: Every child learns a trade or profession, with full work qualification by the next generation. The trades and professions then reform democracy, introducing into it a stronger element of meritocracy. Introduce a fund to assure that every person, working or not, receives a standard liveable income.
Goal Two: Make the human ecological footprint non-destructive. Invent a new high-density housing project that is combined with rapid underground transport and run on renewable energy sources. Run this housing, power and energy strip in a world encircling line uniting each continent with every other. Use this experience to devise a building code for a consultative, dynamically shifting architecture that places agriculture at the heart of residency.

Once these megaprojects are underway, lay down similar autonomous living projects across desert regions. This will green an area as large as South America. This is the most promising colonization prospect since the discovery of the Americas -- Richard St. Barbe Baker estimated in the 1960's that with a massive effort at planting trees the Sahara alone could sustain four billion people. This population shift would allow us to depopulate ecologically sensitive regions and allow them to return to nature. It would also provide excellent housing and opportunity for the billion souls now languishing in slums, without any infrastructure at all.

Section Two of People Without Borders looks at the theoretical groundings of the four essential organizational services of world citizenship: freedom, wealth, merit and security. We have completed the first two and are entering into the third, merit. Merit is the concern of meritocracy, what used to be called aristocracy, the rule of the best.

Hereditary aristocrats had already reached such a stage of outrageous corruption that the Greek word "aristocrat" was a pejorative when Comenius suggested the Latin form of "the best" as an alternative way of referring to those who earn power and influence through merit: "optimates." I would call an optimate any scientist, spiritual leader or educator who promotes goal number one mentioned above: universal trades and professions. This section covers the goals and plans that optimates might want to undertake once everyone has a trade and a standard living.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Birth of Baha'u'llah Presentation

Friday, November 13, 2009

Post scriptum to today's essay

Post Scriptum to "The Moral Leap Towards the First Universal Republic"

By John Taylor; 2009 Nov 13, Qudrat 10, 166 BE


I am avoiding mention of the Baha'i Faith directly in this book, but just after posting today's essay, I found Jack Bush's blog devoted to what happened today in Baha'i history ( I was delighted to find out that the Master talked on this very subject of today's essay on the need for religion in republics.

"One reason that people despair of the world of religion is this very matter of superstitions and imitations practiced by religious leaders. When intelligent and learned people see these imitations and customs as being contrary to reason and knowledge they forsake the divine religion and are not aware that these are idle fancies of the leaders and have nothing to do with divine principles. The foundations of divine religion do not negate sound reason and true science. The principles of divine religion do not contradict knowledge and insight, except for some principles and minutiae of the law which were given according to the exigencies of the time and age. Of course, the second or social laws suited to the Mosaic dispensation and useful for the Jewish people at that time are now purposeless and ineffective and seem futile, but they were pertinent and useful at the time." (Mahmud's Diary, entry for 13 November, 2009)

Last night I mentioned the importance of religion in contributing to politics to my three friends on the Wainfleet Philosopher Cafe, and the very idea got a big laugh. The reaction is predictable. It is good to recall that the Master recognized this woeful, dangerous situation, and that he was able to speak to this need without alienating leaders of thought.


Rembrandt's Portrait of John Amos Comenius

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A Machiavellian Interlude

The Moral Leap Towards the First Universal Republic

By John Taylor; 2009 Nov 13, Qudrat 10, 166 BE

Why is a republican government better than any other? First, let us define what "republican" means. Basic civics holds that there are three simple forms of government, rule by one, rule by a few, and rule by many; these are termed monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. Each has its own advantages but also glaring drawbacks. Republicanism ideally is a happy mix of all three that maximizes their advantages and minimizes their disadvantages.

Unfortunately, modern nationalist governments, although they aspire to republicanism, are inclined to mix the three in a rigid, legalistic manner, and corruption has an undue influence. I call the result predatory democracy, or "gun-to-my-head democracy," where the people sell the right to pull the trigger of the gun they hold to their own head. Procrustean strictures set parties into permanent competition with one another. Constitutional barriers variously called checks and balances or separation of powers prevent these elements from harmonizing. Niccolo Machiavelli, in contrast, saw the elements of a republic setting each other off in a more natural way.

"In fact, when there is combined under the same constitution a prince, a nobility, and the power of the people, then these three powers will watch and keep each other reciprocally in check." (Machiavelli, Discourses, Book I, Chapter II)

Although Machiavelli is best known for his sinister work on Realpolitik, "The Prince," his greatest contribution to political science was his "Discourses," an apologia for republican governance. Here he makes his real sympathies clear, "...the governments of the people are better than those of princes." (Discourses, Chapter LVIII)

He accepted that a prince (meaning rule held in the hands of an individual) rules more ruthlessly and, if he knows his job, more efficiently than any other form of government. But only for a while. The prince builds a delicate house of cards that can stand temporarily. However, freedom is only assured if both leaders and followers free themselves from crisis and corruption.

In the long run the only time a "he" or a "she" is better than a "they" is when civic virtue has disappeared, crime is rampant and the land is teetering on the brink of anarchy. When times are out of joint a tyrant can be a step to betterment, but only if his rule leads to a general betterment of morals. If they do not improve, he has only himself to blame.

"Let not princes complain of the faults committed by the people subjected to their authority, for they result entirely from their own negligence or bad example." (Discourses, Book III, Chapter XXIX)

If the virtue of both leaders and the people somehow improve, they will be able to work together in a harmonious balance. They will then merit republican rule. And it is only under a republic that the people, the rule of many, can show their superior brilliance over rule by one or rule by a few.

"...if we compare the faults of a people with those of princes, as well as their respective good qualities, we shall find the people vastly superior in all that is good and glorious." (Machiavelli, Discourses, Chapter LVIII)

This marks a crucial transition point. We need virtue in order to pass from lesser, corrupt rule by one or by a few, or from unbalanced, imperfect republics to a truly harmonious republic where every part functions organically. But the only tried and true way to make millions of people more virtuous is through religion. To name just one reason why this is so, religion reconciles the human heart with God, providence and eternity; by doing so, the people learn the virtue of contentment. This virtue placates us all with seemingly unfair providence and the infinite number of galling circumstances that would otherwise lead to discontent. Religion promotes faith and faith, obedience. And a republic depends, more than anything else, upon rule of law.

"Now in a well-ordered republic it should never be necessary to resort to extra-constitutional measures...." (Machiavelli, Discourses, Book I, Chapter XXXIV)

This is where the teaching of John Amos Comenius comes in useful. Comenius held that the root of the world's problems is disunity, and that is worsened by a sense of pride and superiority, especially among our best and brightest. As a result, the three learned fields of activity, politics, religion and science, which should be pillars upholding a republic, are continually at war with one another.


"The third plague which I mentioned as disturbing the peacefulness of human society consists of disagreements arising from ill-feeling between one group and another. In some instances politicians claim to be superior to the other orders; in others, churchmen have claimed superiority over the political order; and even philosophers at times choose to regard themselves as superior to any monarchy.

"Then even within the same order men climb over one another, spurred by ambition to seek the heights from which to look down upon their fellows, who take offence at this and refuse to look up to them, as they would much prefer to cast them down.

"This results in various forms of unrest, hatred, and strife, and there is no limit to it. Therefore in a reformed state of affairs there must be a complete change in our administration. I shall deal first with the question of agreement between the three orders."

(Panorthosia II, Ch. 10, para 29, p. 163)


Niccolo Machiavelli

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Peace Talk in Dunnville

From the Dunnville Chronicle's Around Town column:

Next Wednesday, November 25th at 8:00 p.m. in the Garfield Disher room of Dunnville’s Library, Betty Frost will present a talk "Is Peace Possible?" Many people think that war is inevitable, but from the background of the Baha’i teachings, a different understanding of this worrisome problem will be presented. All are welcome.As a follow-up to the many stories and television presentations on the subject of war these past few weeks and the debt we owe the many veterans who have sacrificed so much over the years to keep us safe, we thought that a talk on the subject "Is Peace Possible?" would be timely.

Betty Frost adds:

To give you some idea of the content of this talk, here are a few of the questions which will be discussed. Initially the concept of peace itself will be explored since "peace" is not simply a cessation of hostilities. Then, citing some of the numerous wars which have been fought and are still in process, the basic question will be raised "Is Peace Possible?" In a remarkable document "The Promise of World Peace" written by the chief administrative body of the Baha’i Faith, it states that many people who long for peace and harmony cling to the belief that "human beings are incorrigibly selfish and aggressive and thus incapable of erecting a social free play to individual creativity and initiative but based on cooperation and reciprocity."

The document states that the assertion "human beings are incorrigibly selfish and aggressive" is a "distortion of the human spirit". The truth of this insight into the true meaning of human nature will be explored. Statements in the above-noted document (and other sources) will be cited. An example: "Acceptance of the oneness of mankind is the first fundamental prerequisite for reorganization and administration of the world as one country, the home of humankind."

It is interesting to note that at least one of the world leaders (President Barack Obama) had the courage and wisdom to echo this quite clearly in his inaugural address "We cannot help buts believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."

There will be an opportunity for questions and comments. The meeting will conclude, as usual, with a social hour including light refreshments. All are welcome.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Patriotic Song

This patriotic song, Canadian Please, was suggested by long time contributor to the Badi' Blog, Ed de Jong.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What it takes to count yourself a world citizen.

World Civics

By John Taylor; 2009 Nov 11, Qudrat 08, 166 BE

The goad that got me going on the book I am writing -- people without borders -- is rage at what I regard as one of if not _the_ greatest humanitarian disaster in history, the banishment of over a billion people in endless slums and favelas without benefit of sanitation, roads or other infrastructure. Yet there are those who see good even in this. Two of them who had their say at the TED fora are Robert Neuwirth and Steward Brand. Here are the blurbs for their talks.

"Robert Neuwirth, author of Shadow Cities, finds the worlds squatter sites -- where a billion people now make their homes -- to be thriving centers of ingenuity and innovation. He takes us on a tour. Robert Neuwirth spent two years living in squatter cities on four continents to research his amazing book...

I listened to this talk in a moment of relaxation and for the next three days I did one of my longest double takes I recall ever having. After the third day, at about the time I normally would have forgotten about the experience completely, I was suddenly filled with indignation. Surely this fellow has to be joking! Or maybe he is being ironic. I listened again to the talk, and I swear he is serious.

One memorable anecdote that this apparatchik for capitalist anti-planning fundamentalism tells of his years in the favela is about when a young boy who climbed a mountain of trash near his home. Will he start playing "king of the castle" with his friends, the apparatchik asks? No, instead he defecates on the peak. There are, you see, no toilets at his home. This disgusting act becomes a sort of conversion experience for him. He realizes that there must be great creativity and innovation going on in these places... He shows some pictures of shacks that have been turned into sub-standard houses. The fact that there is some slight improvement in some hovels is proof that there must be something great in the works here.

The great act of creativity here is the idea that you can openly justify the atrocities of an ideology at the same time that they dwarf the evils of Nazism and Communism combined. You can almost understand a neo-Nazi denying that the holocaust never took place. He has an investment in the nobility of his cause, and at least denial is mute recognition of the horror of killing millions in death camps. Besides, the Nazi camps and Soviet Gulags were shut down decades ago. They are part of the past.

But defending these hell holes even as they still continue, a billion souls left without property or citizen rights living under grossly unsanitary conditions that make a concentration camp look orderly and even enviable -- why would anybody ever want to defend such an atrocity? They have the temerity to go around saying openly that third world slums are the cities of the future ... surely there is something evil and perverse here that I am missing. Then I recalled listening to another talk on the TED site with a similar theme. After a search sure enough there it was,

Stewart Brand's 3-minute TEDTalk on cities

"Rural villages worldwide are being deserted, as billions of people flock to cities, to live in teeming squatter camps and slums. And Stewart Brand says this is a good thing. Why? It'll take you 3 minutes to find out."

Clearly, the organizer of these TED talks is moved, as I am, at this humanitarian quagmire, but as I say he goes even further than a holocaust denier, he puts on speakers who are willing to defend the thesis that favelas and slums are a good thing. They have 100 percent employment. There are some inspiring activists there trying to get rights that the other six billion already have and take for granted. A billion destitute are a sign of a bright future! I cannot believe what people will say when their ideology is being refuted by reality. Then I remembered what my 15 year old daughter does when she sees something that impresses her: she reads the comments. Here is one comment on this presentation by one Rahul Dewan.

"People migrate to cities to live in near-inhuman living conditions in slums (squatter cities!) to get out of abject poverty - absolutely correct. But the answer to get them out of this poverty is not in getting them to cities and claiming that it is a "good thing". On the contrary, the model of our "skewed economics" [is] city-centric, solely-profit-oriented (without values of maximizing human creativity, spreading love, compassion) needs to change."

Yes, it is an ideology at work here, an openly acknowledged policy of the World Bank. Allow corporations to bribe governments into driving country folk out of the village into the favela, and then forbid them from investing in infrastructure, as every normal city does. This is not the work of a magnet, as these speakers would have us believe, it is a pincer attack. It is highly inconvenient for corporations to have people living on land that they could be "developing." So get them out of there. Better and easier to drive them off and let free market forces have at them. The same commenter continues,

"Got the point about `diffusing the population time bomb'. Wealth creators? ahem! There is increasing discussion going on in the Planning Commission to have 85% of India's population in cities. Villages are so inefficient they say. To my mind, this sounds obnoxious. Villages are inefficient if you have to drag nuclear or thermal power over distances of 10,000 kms, but if you could allow and invest in villages investing in their own local power - through solar, wind, bio-gas, biofuels - that would change the demographics of the village."

It is Baha'u'llah's birthday tomorrow, and I must calm down for that. But I was thinking about the plight of the poor in the favelas so much last night that I woke with a thought. Baha'u'llah says: "This earth is but one country and mankind its citizens." He calls us citizens. He does not call us consumers or customers or clients or investors or workers, he calls the human race citizens. That, it seems to me is unique in religious history. A Manifestation of God talks about citizenship. And not ordinary citizenship but world citizenship.

What upsets me about the systematic exclusion of this bottom billion is that they have been disenfranchised. A large proportion of the human race does not have the basic rights of citizens. Ownership, for example. A squatter cannot own anything, and what they rent is not owned, it is extorted by criminals. In other words, the government does not depend upon their tax revenues for its own survival, it depends upon other revenue, such as corporate bribes. Why should governments respond to the needs of the dispossessed? They do not vote because they are not even documented. They are non-persons, non-citizens. Their very existence is under the radar.

The source of the problem then, is a lack of citizen's rights. Or to speak more exactly, in terms defined by Baha'u'llah, a lack of universal citizen's rights. A world election would have to start the process going to re-enfranchise the bottom billion. Baha'u'llah asserted a spiritual reality when He said we are citizens of one country, but this inner truth has yet to become official. It is undocumented. Not until all count and are counted as citizens of the world will it mean anything to call yourself a world citizen. Such universality is what Baha'u'llah emphasized in one of His most often cited statements, which comes from the Tablet of Maqsud,

"That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. The Great Being saith: Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth. In another passage He hath proclaimed: It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens." (Tablets, 167)

Abdu'l-Baha, in His Secret of Divine Civilization, pointed out that after the Manifestation and those closely associated with Him, the highest station in the world is that of a just king, one who whose prime concern is not his own profit but that of his subjects.

"Then comes the station of those just kings whose fame as protectors of the people and dispensers of Divine justice has filled the world, whose name as powerful champions of the people's rights has echoed through creation. These give no thought to amassing enormous fortunes for themselves; they believe, rather, that their own wealth lies in enriching their subjects. To them, if every individual citizen has affluence and ease, the royal coffers are full. They take no pride in gold and silver, but rather in their enlightenment and their determination to achieve the universal good." (Abdu'l-Baha, Secret, 20)

Shoghi Effendi made another point that reinforces this, that the realization of world citizenship will mark the ultimate stage of human evolution. Once an organism has reached maturity, it has no higher stages to traverse.

"The emergence of a world community, the consciousness of world citizenship, the founding of a world civilization and culture -- all of which must synchronize with the initial stages in the unfoldment of the Golden Age of the Baha'i Era -- should, by their very nature, be regarded, as far as this planetary life is concerned, as the furthermost limits in the organization of human society, though man, as an individual, will, nay must indeed as a result of such a consummation, continue indefinitely to progress and develop." (Shoghi Effendi, World Order, p. 163)


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Comprehensive Cornerstone of Hillside Housing

Checking in at the ROO

By John Taylor; 2009 Nov 09, Qudrat 06, 166 BE

(this is a revised version of an essay called ROYOBB originally posted to the Badi' Blog on July 31, 2006)

Black Boxes in the UCS

Hillside housing, the architecture of the UCS, is inspired the Black Box, one of the best-known "livingry" -- as opposed to weaponry -- proposals made by Buckminster Fuller. Fuller envisioned a wholly mobile future where, instead of permanent, grounded dwellings, people would live in portable manufactured living units built of materials strong and light enough to be carried about to new locations by blimps or helicopters. These modular units, built to exacting, standard dimensions, would have at their heart a rented "Black Box" capable of producing everything necessary for survival, including energy, food and air.

A spin-off of the space program, the Black Box would also recycle water and other wastes, thus reducing what we now call the ecological footprint of dwellings virtually to nil. Once these high-technology Black Boxes are miniaturized and mass produced, economies of scale would reduce their cost to a point where having one in one's house could be declared a basic human right. Because they are so efficient, this might be considered the first human right that is simultaneously an environmental right.

Buckminster Fuller, like H.G. Wells, saw the home of the future as an independent, low-density, freehold structure, which we know now causes sprawl and social isolation. Hillside Housing in a UCS is a determinedly high-density, full service facility. The difference, therefore, between Fuller's mobile dwelling units and those in a Comenian development is that many functions of Black Boxes are intentionally offloaded to the household and neighbourhood levels. Instead of an entire home, then, the mobile dwelling module in the UCS consists only of a bedroom, bathroom, a small personal living space, and a study.

The functions of a laundry room, living room and kitchen are all performed either in the household compound or by specialist companies in the neighbourhood. At the same time, other specialized functions that are centralized now, are taken on at the most local level possible. For example, Comenius envisaged a small school, church and government being incorporated into every household. That way basic schooling, worship and consultation take place not only close to home, but actually in the home.

The UCS household, then, consists of a compound of several mobile bedroom units surrounding a common dining and living area. Since this is an agronomy, plants are everywhere, and a small kitchen and nursery garden are also part of every household. As for residency, it is a possibility, though hardly encouraged, for individuals to avoid household living and dwell alone in a small apartment. As a result, the institution of the household must compete for members not only with other households but also with no household at all.

Each personal dwelling module is the size of a standard shipping container, though parts of it may be detached and placed in various locations in the household at the user's convenience. What remains of the Black Box, then, after all these tasks have been offloaded? Basically it has a bed in a small bedroom, a shower and toilet, and maybe a small reception area. But its most important and technically advanced room is the study, which I call the "Room of One's Own," or ROO.

Virginia Wolfe in a famous lecture advised girls who aspire to becoming writers to somehow reserve a room in their house, a private space devoted to their career alone. A ROO should not be restricted to writing, however. This minimal space, it seems to me, is an essential for every creative person. No painter, for instance, can function without a studio, or an inventor without a workshop. Each and every worker in this information age must be a creative worker, and therefore have a personal, private space in which to seek refuge, even if it is compact. Everyone, no matter what their calling, would benefit from a small study in which to contemplate and communicate, if not carry on their entire daily work.

There is no such thing as a worker's constitution today, but there would be in a UCS. This constitution should declare this study a universal worker's right and obligation, every bit as sacred as physical rights like food, clothing, shelter, and rights of the soul, like freedom, dignity and equality.

Of course in order to use it well, a ROO would have to be introduced from our earliest years. The ROO could start as a play area next to a baby's crib. From there it would grow and evolve throughout life. The design of a child's ROO would be under the oversight of parents and teachers. Their power might fade into influence, perhaps reducing only to a veto during adolescence. Other influences might come from friends and faith groups. In early youth the room expands and develop into an open-standard educational space partly designed and controlled by teachers, partly by parents, partly by the creative urges of the child itself.

As a child grows into adolescence, the use of this station would fade from play into the experimentation of a student, and finally flower into a productive worker's studio. Thus, as we have seen, partial regulation of this semi-independent unit gradually passes from parents and teachers to one's chosen trade or professional body.

Although it is a private space, the design of an adult's ROO would still be carefully regulated and to some extent run by one's trade or profession. In a real sense, then, it is a Black Box, a mass-produced technological device connecting each worker with all other members of his or her specialty in a communally designed workspace.

The ROO is also a tool for easing the transition between employment and unemployment. Instead of a total dichotomy, as now, between working and out of work, the ROO system encourages workers to move through a gradation by moving their workspace around. It may be located entirely in the office or company where one works --in which case the ROO will be devoted to a serious hobby, sport or pastime (studies of Nobel Prize winners found that most of these highly creative discoverers are highly competent in a second area, apart from their speciality. This avocation is often related to music.) At another, creative or introspective stage in one's career, the ROO would move into a neighbourhood cooperative workshop, or into a garage or so-called "man space" within the household itself. At another time of cocooning or retirement, the ROO would be fitted back into its original location, next to the bedroom in one's mobile living unit.

The design of a ROO is so important that it would be a central concern of an entire new profession, the dialectician. This we will get into next time.


Monday, November 09, 2009

Our Monthly Fireside Makes Page One

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Shirlee Smith spoke in October of her harrowing experiences as a descendant of escaped slaves living in Toronto, and of her eventual discovery of the Baha’i Faith. Our monthly meetings are always covered extensively in the local paper, but I do believe that this is the first time we have made the front page. In the photo, Shirlee is showing a photo of her when she won an essay for Black History Month (read it at: that made the front page of the Toronto Star, coincidentally on the same day that the first Black president also made history. You can read the full text of the report of Shirlee’s talk as it appears in the Dunnville Chronicle article, “From Slavery to Celebrity,” at:

Simplicity and Works; Medications against Fundamentalism

Final notes on the Comenian Cure to Fundamentalism

By John Taylor; 2009 Nov 08, Qudrat 05, 166 BE

The threat of imminent climate dislocation demands a quick response from us all. Scientists are beginning to worry that their training is too specialized and theoretical to address the challenge of the present hour. Some suggest that there be "clinical economists" and "climate engineers," and that all disciplines put students through a final phase of practical or clinical training, especially in the social sciences. Just as medical schools go beyond physiology and anatomy and insist that young doctors undergo years of practice as interns, so every discipline should concentrate on practice and responsible application of knowledge.

John Amos Comenius centuries ago made the same point about religion. Religion is not a mere set of beliefs, it is an entire lifestyle. Life, he said, should be reformed before doctrine, basing his authority on John 7:17, "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine," and, "If ye were blind, ye should have no sin, but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth." (John 9:41) We should work on our lives before our beliefs not only because it is easier and simpler, but also because it has a better chance of reconciling us to God, whose ways are not our ways. This, he held, is the meaning of the myth of Adam and Eve in Eden,

"We must return from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to the tree of life. In his judgment Christ inquires not so much into our doctrine as into our deeds..." (Psalm 50, Matthew 25, Romans 2:16; Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 23, para 9, pp. 62-64)

By emphasizing what we do rather than what we believe, by valuing mercy and compassion before being right, we take the first step to extirpating nitpicking and fanaticism from spiritual life. We can do this with a simple lifestyle that encourages all to put first what Comenius calls the "cardinal points of wisdom and salvation,"

"Simplicity will reconcile us if we turn away from the rigmarole of disputations (whose trivialities are a never-ending cause of schism and disunity) and confine ourselves to more substantial considerations containing the cardinal points of wisdom and salvation." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 43, pp. 127-128)

Since the word "cardinal" comes from the Latin word for "heart," Baha'is will recognize "Fu'ad," or heart, a major theme in the Writings of Baha'u'llah. As long as we bear in mind that one of the most important "cardinal points" is simplicity, of mind as well as dress, clear essentials can stand as the basis of agreement. This makes it difficult for false power-mongers to turn faith into its opposite, to substitute hatred for love. Comenius continues,

"Since these [cardinal points] are few in number and consist of clear and substantial truth (for God poses no subtle questions when he invites us into Heaven, as Saint Hilary warns us) they will serve not to separate but rather to unite us. Then indeed if in seeking answers to our questions, we do not launch into a flood of subtlety but attend to the rule laid down by Christ, 'From the beginning it was not so' (Matt 24:8) and then follow his examples and practice, countless problems will suddenly be solved." (Ib.)

As long as simplicity is held up first, experts cannot obfuscate their way to power. Another stumbling-block is pride and vainglory. The cure to that is the injunction, "He who would live, let him give up his life..."

"For example, since he bids those who have fallen into the sin of pride to be converted and become as little children, (Matthew 18:3) that they may begin to hold themselves in better esteem, which means no esteem, why should this not apply likewise so that those who have fallen into false knowledge are converted to no knowledge, or those who have come into false power (tyranny) are converted to no power? What I mean to say is that the man of false knowledge should begin to learn better, and he who has not the power to rule himself should hand over the reins of power to others, as suggested by Christ in John 9:39,41." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 43, p. 128)

By applying the most important lessons of faith, including renunciation of corrupt power, we will cure the arrogance and parochialism at the heart of fundamentalism. As soon as religion is subjected by firm public opinion to the reasonable demand that it be kept simple, active and humble, democracy will take its rightful place in matters of faith. This will allow the new philosophy, theology and politics of Comenian governance to filter out opinions that are violent, complex or biased before they can do harm. Then science and religion will stand together with political policy in facing climate change, ethnic reconciliation, and the many other challenges of the present hour.