Thursday, February 11, 2010

Love and Money

Thoughts on Lietaer, Love and Money

By John Taylor; 2010 Feb 11, Mulk 05, 166 BE

Yesterday the Badi' Blog featured this brilliant quote from Universal Reform:

"... since everybody's business is nobody's business, it is imperative that we select men of eminence for this solemn tower and see duty to survey the world, as it were, from a high watchtower that everything that is introduced is consistent with the sound reform of our affairs (that is, that there should be no loophole for falsehood, impiety or warmongering)." (Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 15, para 3, p. 216)

Although Comenius was a Christian, taking as his cue the guidance of the parables of the watchtower, Baha'is will recognize the wisdom of Baha'u'llah, who took away the priest or pastor as a profession, at the same time saw to it that there always will be what Comenius calls "men of eminence" standing in high places, watching for "loopholes" through which corruption can flow. Some of these watchers He asked to concentrate upon protection and others on propagation, but both stand on the high ground of divine guidance, saying with the Psalm:

"Oh, my Strength, I watch for you, for God is my high tower." (Ps 59:9, WEB)

I have been reading Bernard Lietaer's The Future of Money, which discusses the role of money in conditioning human relationships. He gives details of how money works -- it is a function of trust, or, to use the religious word, faith; and he describes the difference between fiat currencies -- which have to be managed with great skill to avoid inflation -- and the many alternative, trade-based currencies, which create wealth out of thin air by encouraging barter and trading hours worked. Local monetary systems have long fascinated me. I just posted a couple of videos on the Blog of talks and interviews that Lietaer has given lately.

According to The Future of Money, the old holy books were right, charging interest on money -- that is, usury -- changes the whole character of society. It makes every transaction independent, void of social obligation. Loans are doled out as mechanical operations, void of love or sacrifice. Risk is calculated and monetized, removed from the social equation. Loans at interest concentrates wealth into the hands of a few, and change an economy from one based on reciprocity and cooperation to a competitive model.

The book gives fascinating details about alternative currencies long in use around the world, and explains why systematic use of specially designed, local currencies can change a region from a moribund, high unemployment social disaster area to a vital, thriving economy. All they do is change from bloodsucking fiat money to a currency encourages ethical deeds, that creates wealth in the community by having all work together.

His discussion of the cultural implications of gift giving answer one question which has bothered me for quite a while: why do Baha'is not follow the example of `Abdu'l-Baha when it comes to gift giving? The Master loaded everybody He met with presents. Why do you not come home from Baha'i meetings loaded up with gifts? Why is there a gift exchange only at Ayyam-i-Ha, if then? The answer lies in our economy, the fact that we use money instead of gifts. Primitive cultures -- which is another word for long lived and sustainable -- indulge in constant gift giving, which reinforces ties of reciprocity that die as soon as they switch over to a fiat monetary economy.

To me Lietaer is one of the cleverest people standing on the high watchtower, looking out for the benefit of society. He should be a major celebrity, instead of the sports "heroes", clowns and blaggards to whom we pay so much attention and on whom we lavish such tremendous paycheques.

I have to return this book to the library today, and before that read over a hundred pages. So, I do not have much time; I will close this essay with a quick discussion of the parable of the watchtower, Luke 14:25-32 (WEB).


Now great multitudes went with him. He turned and said to them,

"If any man comes to me, and doesn't hate his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."


Mere outer relationships, such as family, and even self, are not enough to gain true prosperity, we need most of all to love the most Loveable Being in the universe. And love implies acting, for without sacrifice the word "love" is just that, a mere word.


Jesus: "Whoever does not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doesn't first sit down and count the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? Or perhaps, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, everyone who sees begins to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build, and was not able to finish.'


Thus, although a high tower is needed for protection, and would universalize our trusteeship, we must first count our coins to see if we can afford to build it. Our present economy, based on nationalist fiat currency, is proving unstable, unsustainable and non-viable. Otherwise, when love is not at the center, we subject ourselves to danger of failure, scorn and mockery. As Baha'u'llah says in the Words of Wisdom, true wealth comes from the love of God, and only indirectly, secondarily from human love,

"The essence of wealth is love for Me; whoso loveth Me is the possessor of all things, and he that loveth Me not is indeed of the poor and needy. This is that which the Finger of Glory and Splendour hath revealed." (Tablets, 156)

What Jesus seems to be saying in this parable, at least in part, is that love is not just pie in the sky; it needs to be invested carefully, and protected from possible fiasco. Human love, without God, will fail. Progress will never be sustainable unless we go beyond mere cooperation -- a condition that, as Leitaer points out, is easily brought about by adjusting the currency we use -- and aim beyond, to positively sacrifice ourselves rather than passively, unthinkingly sitting back and accepting things as they are. This too is in a Word of Wisdom:

"The beginning of magnanimity is when man expendeth his wealth on himself, on his family and on the poor among his brethren in his Faith. (Baha'u'llah, Tablets, 156)

But, the parable goes on to say, love is not just defensive, it is also useful as an offensive weapon, a tool for social growth as well.


Jesus: "Or what king, as he goes to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an envoy, and asks for conditions of peace. So therefore whoever of you who does not renounce all that he has, he cannot be my disciple."


You are a general and your scouts tell you that your army is outnumbered two to one. What do you do? You save lives by suing for peace. Jesus is not saying that sacrifice means fighting a hopeless battle. Good generalship is hardly leading your troops into a battle that cannot be won. That wastes the lives of the men under your command. Think of the staid but popular General Bradley, in World War II, and compare him to the swaggering, aggressive leader, Patton, who was hated by those unfortunate enough to fight under him. No, sacrifice means scouting the situation out and making a calculated move in face of a sad reality.

We are all going to die, sooner or later.

All the prosperity and reciprocity that we can build up in this life will be dissipated at death, or soon after. Better to renounce it all, give it all up for the One True Lover, God, and let His invisible hand run things. This is wisest, for from His love comes all life, all prosperity. As Baha'u'llah said in a prayer,

"A dewdrop out of the ocean of Thy mercy is able to adorn all things with the ornament of sanctity, and a sprinkling of the waters of Thy bounty can cause the entire creation to attain unto true wealth." (Baha'u'llah, Prayers and Meditations, 246)


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