Friday, February 27, 2009
Structure of a Democratic World Government
By John Taylor; 2009 Feb 27, Ayyam-i-Ha, 165 BE
I just read the chapter on taxes in Jim Stark's "Rescue Plan for Planet Earth." We have been under the weather around here (Thomas ended our Baha'i class last night just after it started with some projectile vomiting), but I hope to discuss the entire book as soon as I can. World governance is the most important subject in the world right now, and whatever the book's flaws, and mine, I am determined to give it due attention.
Today, I want to sum up the conclusions I arrived at after several years of thought experimentation on the structure of a world government. Little is original; although I have made adjustments, the greater part was proposed by Jan Amos Comenius in 1670, by Immanuel Kant in 1795, and Baha'u'llah in 1868.
First of all, I think we should take several fundamental principles very seriously, especially subsidiarity and what might be called face-to-face democracy. Subsidiarity is the principle that whatever can be done locally is done locally. Its reverse is over-centralization, which is one of the preconditions for totalitarianism and dictatorships. Local people are usually the most knowledgeable and best qualified to resolve the issues that affect them the most. The main structural result of applying subsidiarity in world government would be that the planetary founding fathers and mothers would concentrate on erecting continental parliaments at the same time. At the same time, we should reform democracy itself, starting with local governing institutions. The goal of face-to-face democracy would be to eliminate corruption, pandering to the people, and other inherent drawbacks of democracy as we know it.
With the exception of Europe's EEC, there is at present no continental government for any of the four populated continents. If only because air travel contributes disproportionately to global warming, the lion's share of exchange and intercourse for governing the planet should be done on the continental level.
Because the population of India and China is so great, we should treat these nations as continental governments in their own right. Thus a total of eight new continental governments would form at the same time as the world government: Europe, Africa, Australasia, North and South America, Asia, China and India. These continental governments would constitute the executive branch of an integrated world parliament. A council of about twenty members, with at least two from each continent, would be elected from among continental parliamentarians. The extra members would be allotted in approximate proportion to the population that each continental government represents.
This council would not be an independent government. Peacekeeping forces, lawmaking and most other functions of governance would be continental responsibilities. The limited role of the world council would eliminate the possibility of a coup, since it would have no army or other type of coercive power. Instead it would plan and run an ongoing agenda-setting conference, which I shall discuss presently.
The great merit of having elections is that the personal knowledge of many people ideally averages out to a choice of the public servant with the best ability, character and integrity. This only comes about when as many electors as possible have personally met those they are to choose by voting. Otherwise, image and personality block out character and democracy reduces to the lowest common denominator. Populism and crowd mentality predominate and, as Aristotle predicted millennia ago, the rule of the people degrades into rule of the wealthy.
The only practical way to avoid timocracy, rule of money and privilege, is to take very seriously the duty of every elector to vote only for those they have met and personally know merits the responsibility of office. The motto of every voter has to be:
"I am in a position to judge the character only of people I have interacted with personally and have seen doing their job. A vote for anybody else, for example someone I know by reputation or have seen on television, would be based on flimsy, second-hand information."
Without this commitment from voters their votes can be manipulated, directly or indirectly. As it is, nominated elections at best oblige leaders to bribe the people, as well as many others, against the peoples' own long-term interests. Local elections, then, should choose delegates for a continental congress, which would in turn elect the parliamentarians of a continental parliament. They in their turn vote in a world council. In this way, every vote would be based as much as possible on direct, un-borrowed personal acquaintance.
What Would A World Counsel Do?
The daily work of governing, as mentioned, would be the responsibility of democratically elected continental parliaments. They would vote in a planetary counsel of about twenty parliamentarians to run an all-embracing conference involving every specialty, profession and area of interest in society, civil, academic and religious. This all-embracing conference would be an ongoing constitutional convention, held yearly in rotating continental capitals. The counsel's job is to set the agenda for meetings and act as intermediary between the recommendations the specialists make there and the standing continental parliaments.
Next time I will talk about the planning decade around which these conferences will be organized.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
"If thou truly givest ear to that which hath been revealed for thee from My Supreme Pen at this moment, thou shalt soar with the wings of eagerness in the heaven of love for the Lord of the Day of the Covenant, and wilt say during all the days of thy life: Thanks be unto Thee, O Thou the Desire of the world, and praise be unto Thee, O Thou the Beloved of the people of understanding. May all existence be a sacrifice for Thy favour, and all that hath been and will ever be, a ransom for Thy Word, O Thou the Wronged One amongst the people of enmity, O Thou in Whose grasp are the reins of all who are in heaven and on earth...." (Baha'u'llah, in Compilation of Compilations, vol II, p. 357)
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Three Steps to Eliminating Corruption
A reader pointed out a website where you can vote for or against a world government. I ordered the book that the author of that site wrote, called:
Rescue Plan for Planet Earth, Democratic World Government through a Global Referendum, by Jim Stark, The Key Publishing House, Toronto, 2008
I have not finished reading this book so I will not attempt a review other than to mention that, as mentioned in the book, Stark has been an activist for world federalism since at least 1977 when he founded Operation Dismantle, a non-profit organization meant to end nuclear weapons. In the 1980's he went on an unofficial mission to the UN to start the ball rolling on a draft resolution for a global election to be conducted at the same time countries elected their national leaders -- such piggybacking would save the expense of multiple headcounts. Amazingly, it almost worked.
When the Internet came along Stark gave up on national governments. A world referendum will never get off the ground through official measures, since nationalist governments seem to be ideologically opposed to anything beyond their own sovereignty, in spite of the obvious cost savings that a world government promise for them. Now he is hopeful that an open referendum can be conducted through his Website. Where governments failed, clicks in the form of virtual votes direct from the people might succeed. And it is true that polls he cites indicate that if it were up to Joe Average, the idea would pass.
In any case, since I am dealing with Comenius's chapter on personal reform these days, I wanted to focus in on one aspect of this "Rescue Plan," the question of how to avoid corruption in a world federation.
The suggestions Stark makes for eliminating corruption are startling.
His idea for attaining total, squeaky clean transparency is to make everything accessible to public scrutiny. Complete elimination of secrecy, and even privacy, including a rule that every high official eliminate the slightest wisp of suspicion of corruption by agreeing to complete video and audio surveillance during every minute of their public service (excluding at home and on their own time). He also proposes making lying illegal. Jail time for every time you utter an untruth. He himself cites evidence that the average person lies at least two hundred times a day, which means that a world government would not eliminate overcrowded prisons problem anytime soon.
When I read this proposal of total surveillance I was reminded of what the Master said about justice being a concern for all of us, not just high officials.
"Each man has been placed in a post of honour, which he must not desert. A humble workman who commits an injustice is as much to blame as a renowned tyrant. Thus we all have our choice between justice and injustice." (Paris Talks, 159)
If that is the case, it would not make sense to limit surveillance to members of the world government. Everybody should submit to recording their entire lives -- and not just in order to eliminate wrongdoing. There are good historical and psychological reasons for recording our lives and playing it back in summary form for our own benefit. It would be much easier to take your actions into account each day if a record were taken for that very purpose, as one program being tested for Microsoft does, a photo is taken from a buttonhole camera on your collar every few seconds during your whole day. Indeed, I was toying with this idea several years ago in several essays I wrote for the Hamilton Film and Video Maker's Club. It would certainly be a good "make work" project for filmmakers, videographers and other such specialists.
Now that we have the technology to record images and play them back, I do not see Comenius objecting to the idea of requiring world government officials to submit to this as part of their job description. If people are so afraid of a world dictatorship that they need to be assured by such measures, so be it. Let their motto be that of the Globe and Mail, attributed to Cato, which is: "We will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures." And if we say something that even hints of a lie or corruption or that we might take arbitrary measures, then let the world go over our every word, freely available on the net, to make sure we do not.
But having said all that, I discern Comenius raising a finger in the air. "Do you not think," I hear him say, "That however you record and assess your actions, the real challenge is to know how to eliminate corruption and replace it with the healthy form of the human, which of course is the image of God? In other words, this has to start with religion. Religion makes self into an image of Perfection. To do that, we will surely have to be systematic. We should do it in three steps. First, pay attention to the invisible motives of the heart, the realm of faith. The measure here is sincerity. Then, secondly, we can sit back and watch the pattern of our actions. This is the scientific or behavioural stage. Third, having done that, we will be prepared to push aside the `tangles at the periphery' and choose the one, the few and the best." What does all that mean? Well, let us stop trying to sum up and paraphrase Comenius. Let the man's literary gift speak for itself.
from: Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 20, para 9, pp. 23-24
"We may observe three methods of putting these reforms into practice easily.
The first is to attend constantly to yourself, especially to the prime motives of your heart, the centre of all action, according to God's advice in the words of Solomon:
'Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.' (Proverbs iv, 23).
For the heart is the birthplace of our thoughts and the imaginations which follow, and imagination breeds covetousness, which is prompted by our emotions, and these will be our undoing unless they are kept under control. There is therefore very little difficulty in attending to the prime motives of your heart and turning your thoughts elsewhere as soon as you are aware of any evil stirring.
The second is to keep the supreme pattern for your actions always in view, taking care never to go astray, according to the commandment given to Moses:
"Look that thou make them after their pattern which was showed thee in the mount." (Exodus 25:40)
And what exactly was that pattern? It was the pattern presented to Moses for the construction of the Tabernacle (and to Solomon for the temple at a later date), (See I Chronicles xxviii, 11-12) and it was in three parts, the outer courtyard, the inner courtyard, and the Sanctuary.
The meaning of these for us (who are the true Temples of God) has been explained elsewhere. But the first supreme model and pattern of all God's works, the very creation (and subsequent incarnation) of God's Wisdom is JESUS CHRIST; and if you make a habit of looking to him whenever the need for action occurs (asking yourself whether he did such things, and if so, how) and at the same time to copy his inspiring example, it will come to pass that you discover the truth of his promise,
"Learn of me, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:29-30).
Lastly, you will greatly simplify your own individual reform if you remember that your fatherland is in heaven above and your stay on earth is but a sojourn and a pilgrimage, and so do not overcharge yourself with surfeiting (See Luke xxi, 34 and x, 41, 2) but rest content with life's necessities; in so doing you will learn from pleasant personal experience how much more blessed it is to be content with the ONE THING NEEDFUL (like Mary) than to be beset with cares and troubled about many things (like Martha).
Therefore in the whole realm of things choose few for yourself, but let them be of the best; see that the best things cannot be taken away from you, and you will be blessed. You should have one God, your Father in Heaven, one Mediator between you and God, Christ your leader and the author of your salvation, one Counsellor and Comforter, (Isaiah 9:6) the Holy Spirit, and you will be sure of salvation. But after God you must rely on yourself alone, if possible, or on some special patron or trusty friend; but avoid becoming dependent on anyone else or dividing your loyalties among many.
It is best to have one dwelling-place of suitable size, one course at mealtimes to keep you healthy, and one raiment which is adequate to cover your body modestly and protect it from harm. As the saying goes, there is a state of rest at the centre, and rotation at the circumference of things. Therefore whatever you do,
I. you must always choose few things, since many are a distraction whereas the few keep to the centre;
II. but choose the best, since one that is excellent is worth many that are inferior;
III. and keep a firm hold on them, so that you can never be separated from them and re-involved in a tangle of problems.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
FEBRUARY 24, 2009
Monday, February 23, 2009
Saturday, February 21, 2009
The Three and the One Thing Needful
By John Taylor; 2009 Feb 21, 15 Mulk, 165 BE
Ninth essay on Panorthosia, Chapter Twenty, Reform of the Individual
Reforming imperfections and clearing away obstacles
According to the editor, Comenius cites the following passage a couple of times in Panorthosia, including this chapter on the first stage of reform, getting your act together as an individual.
"Only when you are able to be a king in your own domain will you have the right to be monarch of the world." (Claudian IV Cons. Hon. 261-2)
The mention of "king of your domain" reminds me of the movie we just watched. Silvie lured Thomas and me to watch James Cameron's film "Titanic," which is parodied a thousand times by their favorite cartoon series, Futurama and the Simpsons. As we watched, every few minutes the kids would burst out laughing, seeing the original and remembering some send-up in animated form. For example, as the engine workers leaped to safety through the sinking ship's closing bulkhead doors, they recalled how Zoidberg saved himself by jamming his claw into the closing bulkhead door of a starship named "Titanic" being sucked into a black hole.
Anyway, the youths in the movie twice play a game of standing high at the bow of the speeding Titanic, shutting their eyes, raising their arms fully extended, as if they were saying the Salat prayer, then suddenly open their eyes. This gives the illusion that they are flying over the ocean. They then shout at the top of their voice, "I am the king of the world!" Clearly, the writers carefully chose this ironic mix of free, youthful exuberance with the arrogance of a vessel so formidable that its designer declares, "Not even God can sink this ship." What sounds like enthusiasm in a young person becomes insufferable in an adult and, in a doomed ship, a night to remember.
Yet this is just what we have to do to run a planet successfully, without running it into the ground. We need the qualities of a good king or queen. Whether we want it or not we are called to be a king or queen of all under our purview. A good ruler must carefully avoid being over-ruled by passion, greed or happenstance and learn what this planet needs to be run benevolently and sustainably.
The job of a ruler of self is to clear away stumbling-blocks from the path, such as "undue self-satisfaction," which makes one complacent and unwilling to change, and "undue inquisitiveness," which threatens to distract from one's purposes (in a biography I just read, an acquaintance pointed to Albert Einstein's persistence, steadfastness and refusal to give up as the secret of his revolutionary genius) and eschewing the block of hypocrisy, or "undue pretence of care," which undermines integrity and sincerity.
But this personal responsibility does not end there. If it did, one would hardly be worthy to be called a king or queen of one's realm. One would be a provincial, not a cosmopolitan.
For Comenius, wholly personal reform covers only the first of three universal duties. A truly good ruler is responsible not only to self but to God and other human beings. Three duties, not one. As individuals we must, yes, rule over our passion, greed, and other vices, but as brothers and sons (or daughters and mothers) we should also be a "dutiful servant to your neighbour, wholly co-operative and charitable towards him." Plus we have a third task, to be "totally committed to God, to do His will and endure it in full, here and to all eternity." (para 8, p. 22-23) Nothing less than a threefold duty qualifies us to be a worthy, benevolent "king of the world."
Once negative blocks are cleared away the next step is to replace them with their opposites. For example, we can avoid smugness but still have to show through attachment to our own welfare. This good love includes a healthy fear of perishing, which means concern for spiritual survival. We show we are attached to our neighbour "by treating him with the sincerest love and respect as the image of God." We show attachment to our God by clinging to Him and desiring to please Him alone. We do this as a tree clings to its root, since a tree "must begin to wither and dry up and perish if by any chance the two are separated." (para 8, pp. 22-23)
Although the duty to God is only the third of three duties, ultimately the first two are outcomes and expressions of the third duty. In words that echo Baha'u'llah's 15th Hidden Word, Comenius discusses the ineluctability of the duty to God,
"Apart from this way of returning unto and into one's individual self and unto and into God, there is no possible hope of salvation, no peace, and no happiness. If anyone who has failed to reform himself; should seek salvation from any external source, he will not find it, but will be exhausted by his search, and being exhausted he will groan, and groaning he will lament, and lamenting he will despair, and despairing he will perish, since light is only to be found in light, peace in peace, and all things in one." (Ch. 20, para 23, p. 28)
Compare this with the quasi-religion of market fundamentalism, which dominated the centers of power over the last three decades. Their big lie was that social good is attained through its opposite, crass greed and selfishness on the part of many individuals. Although these ideologues were careful never to bring this absurdity out into the light where it could be argued logically, their credo is repeated endlessly in the flood of advertising that constitutes the lifeblood of our commercial media.
The words of Comenius bear repeating: "light is only to be found in light, peace in peace, and all things in one." The opposite message we hear constantly. It is "your life is dark, you will be happy and enlightened if only you purchase this product or buy into this ideology." In reality our only hope of salvation is to turn the self into and unto God. In Him is our only hope of peace and happiness.
All my Baha'i I life I have in the evening before sleep taken myself into account by counting up at least five bounties of god and five ways I could improve on what I did that day. Lately I have felt dissatisfied with this technique. Maybe I could divide them into the three duties, to self, to others and to God. Counting three or four bounties and flaws based on that might cover the whole ground of duty more thoroughly. I will let you know how it works. Probably it is better to give attention to a few duties that cover everything than to many. Comenius uses the contrasting examples of Martha, who complained that Mary was not helping out with serving the meal, with that of Mary, who washed the feet of Jesus with a mix of fine ointment and her own tears,
"You must cease to be cumbered about like Martha and troubled about many things. Like Mary, you must choose that good part which shall not be taken away from you. You must say, 'One thing is needful, namely, that I should model myself on Christ according to God's good pleasure.'" (Ch. 20, para 11, p. 24)
As a Baha'i, I have the example of Abdu'l-Baha to follow. Maybe I should also try to think of stories from His life as I take myself into account. For just as Mary saved the apostles from despair and dispersal by pointing out that Christ had risen, Abdu'l-Baha saved the Baha'is from the same fate by His travels and His subsequent Tablets of the Divine Plan. That example is the "one thing needful" for a Baha'i.
"Turn thy face unto Mine and renounce all save Me; for My sovereignty endureth and My dominion perisheth not. If thou seekest another than Me, yea, if thou searchest the universe for evermore, thy quest will be in vain." (AHW 15)
Friday, February 20, 2009
Salat: Writing an Individual's Spiritual Constitution
By John Taylor; 2009 Feb 20, 14 Mulk, 165 BE
Seventh essay on Panorthosia, Chapter Twenty, Reform of the Individual
Last fall we studied Comenius's ideas for a family constitution to be posted in every household. He envisioned also a motto or escutcheon to post over the door of a meritorious, united family's home. Now we are at an even more microscopic level, Comenius's plan for individual reform in Chapter Twenty of Panorthosia. The motto that Comenius suggests here for a reformed individual is the virtue for the first month of the Badi' year, Baha, or Splendour: "Here is a splendid image of God." He does not suggest that this phrase be literally tattooed onto people's forehead, but a spiritually perceptive viewer should perceive it nonetheless,
"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)
Some sort of mention of a mark of a person's spiritual state displayed above the face is found in all scriptures. The Qur'an, for example, talks about dust on Muslims' foreheads -- a dust mark showing a stain (again, not literally) from bowing the head to the ground during the five daily Salat prayers. And Baha'u'llah spoke also of an invisible sign distinguishing those conscious of God's Glory from those who do not,
"O thou that hast remembered Me! The most grievous veil hath shut out the peoples of the earth from His glory, and hindered them from hearkening to His call. God grant that the light of unity may envelop the whole earth, and that the seal, `the Kingdom is God's', may be stamped upon the brow of all its peoples." (Gleanings, 11)
This too implies that the Salat or obligatory prayer leaves a remnant on the forehead.
The beginning of this prayer talks about the light of unity. This is, first, the unity of God. The Baha'i Salat ends with a prostration followed by the believer sitting cross-legged, asserting along with all levels of existence that all is God's possession (Dominion, Mulk, being the penultimate month in the Badi' calendar). As an end-note in the Aqdas explains, "The Arabic expression `haykalu't-tawhid', translated here as "cross-legged", means the `posture of unity'. It has traditionally signified a cross-legged position." (Aqdas, 174) Haykal also means both `body' and `temple,' and `tawhid' or `unity' refers specifically to the oneness of God. Salat ends with the body forming a symbolic temple where the Oneness of God and His Dominion are proclaimed. We do not write this constitution, it is written upon us by the higher Power. This fulfils both verbally and visually the purpose of Salat, which is to serve as a daily reminder.
"All praise be unto God, Who hath revealed the law of obligatory prayer as a reminder to His servants..." (Baha'u'llah, IOPF, Section 1, no. 2)
While family and other institutions are based upon law and written constitutions, the individual's "constitution" must remain unwritten, stamped invisibly on the brow, for it is the mirror of a God Who is utterly beyond human comprehension. Like writing upon a glass mirror, anything humans try to write there would only obscure the moving image within. The letters of the personal constitution are ineffable, amorphous and spiritual, but the message is clear, strong and creative nonetheless. From this come the leadership and followership that allow constitutions for broader unities, from the family level to that of the world government.
"Thus you will be truly reformed as an individual, and truly capable of governing yourself (in all your desires, emotions, and actions) and anyone else as the image of God no less than you are, and then a wider range of people in the family, the school, the state, and everywhere." (para 21, pp. 27-28)
Comenius goes on to say that to reform the self is, as Jesus taught, to be born again, to allow a likeness of God to reflect in the self. As we exercise control over the motions of the body, so when we are reborn His truth controls the heart. However, unlike many Christians today, Comenius did not understand rebirth to mean that we are passive as in the first, physical birth, that is, a helpless baby pushed through the birth canal. Spiritual rebirth demands all the adult virtues, talents and moral fibre that we can muster. We have many stumbling blocks to move out of the way, and to replace with their opposites.
Next time, let us delve into what Comenius saw as our obstacles, and how we should plan to reform our imperfections so that we can be, in the words of Christ, "perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect." In the meantime, here are two further points that Comenius makes about the goal of individual search. One, the faith we must have that the result of investigation of truth will be general agreement on what is most important, and second, that this will train those who lead to lead in such a way that search by all will be maximized.
"The main effect of Universal Philosophy will be to bring common ideas back into harmony and into the service of all men so that we no longer disagree in our opinions about the meaning of things but reach agreement upon all the essentials. Universal Religion will control common instincts so that they look around again and seek the highest good among all the particular goods -- so that we do not disagree about the goal of eternity and the means to attain it." (Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 13, para 12, pp. 202)
"Moreover, all men will know how to reform (every man alive reforming himself, every father of a family, every school master, every minister of the church, every political leader reforming their respective flocks) if their ideas of things are based on sound teaching and they understand correctly what is required to guide themselves and others, and to prevent further transgressions or to reform those that have occurred." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 5, para 19, pp. 94-95)
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Connecting to Truth's Eternal Law
By John Taylor; 2009 Feb 19, 13 Mulk, 165 BE
Yesterday we discussed the specific knowledge and abilities that Comenius laid out for a well trained person, as envisioned in his chapter on universal school reform in Panorthosia. He also had broader objects in mind for education. In the Pampaedia, or Universal Education, he said,
"The final purpose of education is to demonstrate to all men how all things are co-ordinated and connected by the eternal laws of truth." (Comenius, Pampaedia, quoted in Daniel Murphy, Comenius, A Critical Reassessment of His Life and Work, p. 124)
You can speculate all you want on the meaning of this, but to me it points right at the first two Baha'i principles, search for truth and oneness of humanity. In combining and coordinating these two "pivotal" principles we build up common ground on which love and knowledge can embrace. Truth we gain from individual investigation of reality, and we apply truth in the "kindness imperative" of the oneness of humanity. That is, if some are ignorant we teach them, if some are weak, we strengthen them, if some are poor, we enrich them; that is, we do not discriminate or put down the disadvantaged, we love and serve them, starting first with those who are most in need. These twin principles are hinted at in the proverb,
"Do not let kindness and truth forsake you. Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart." (Prov 3:3, WEB)
There is no doubt that those running the world are not comprehensive thinkers, nor are the educated of today grasping the "eternal laws of truth" that Comenius said they must aim at. Our best and brightest, the most sophisticated thinkers on offer are hardly grasping the basics. If they were, would the world be on the brink of total collapse? Would the environment be a shambles and climate mechanisms be so badly out of whack? Unlikely.
Nor can we Baha'is claim to understand the eternal laws of truth in our custody. The Guardian was quite emphatic that our education has not prepared us any better than the world about us.
"Baha'u'llah has given us a Revelation designed to raise mankind to heights never before attained. It is little wonder that the minds of individual believers, no matter how perceptive, have difficulty in comprehending its range. It is the words of 'Abdu'l-Baha and the Guardian which elucidate this vast Revelation and make clear the manner in which different statements relate to one another and what is implied by the Revealed Word. Without the bright light of the Covenant, this Faith, like all those before it, would be torn to pieces by the conflicting opinions of scholars applying limited human reasoning to divinely revealed truths." (Shoghi Effendi, quoted in UHJ letter, "Separation of Church and State, 27 April, 1995)
As the Guardian says, the one thing that holds search and oneness together in a single, coordinated whole is the covenant, the eternal bond between us and our Creator. Otherwise, as he warns, the limited understanding of the most learned -- and believe me, without a comprehensive Comenian education, the more learning we gain, the more contentious and opinionated we are likely to become -- will certainly tear us apart, as it is already doing to the world around us. Abdu'l-Baha said that,
"...civilization is conjoined with barbarism. Progress and barbarism go hand in hand, unless material civilization be confirmed by Divine Guidance, by the revelations of the All-Merciful and by godly virtues, and be reinforced by spiritual conduct, by the ideals of the Kingdom and by the outpourings of the Realm of Might." (Selections, 284)
It is not hard to see that barbarism is kneaded into the fabric of civilization. In recent years, this has become so obvious that it is impossible to mention the advantages of civilization without sounding ironic or sarcastic.
I have noticed, in reading some of the greatest minds of history, that history's most brilliant unifying thinkers tend to come around to world federalism towards the end of their lives. Comenius spent his working life as an educator and only in the end did he jump into the negotiations to stop the war between Holland and England, and then to write his last work, the Panorthosia. This came so late in his life that he was unable to see it published personally, and most of it remained unknown for some three hundred years afterwards. Another example was Immanuel Kant, who wrote his sketch for a world government's constitution in the mid-1790's, not long before his dotage and death. And the biography of Einstein that I just audited says at one point,
"As in science, so it was in world politics for Einstein: he sought a unified set of principles that could create order out of anarchy, a system based on sovereign nations with their own military forces, competing ideologies and conflicting national interests would inevitably produce more wars. So he regarded a world authority as realistic rather than idealistic, as practical rather than naive. For the remaining ten years of his life, his passion for advocating a unified governing structure for the globe would rival that for finding a unified field theory that could govern all the forces of nature." (Walter Isaacson, Einstein, His Life and Universe, p. 488)
Not being mathematically inclined, I will probably never understand relativity theory, and not being a philosopher the Critique of Pure Reason will always remain a mystery to me, but I can understand the latter ideas on peace of Einstein and Kant. Peace and God are all but synonyms, and Baha'u'llah taught me that the end of all things is knowledge of God. What I do not understand is why so few have followed the best and brightest. Why is it that only a handful of geniuses care to follow the final purpose of education where it leads, to a unified field theory of political life, which,
"...demonstrate(s) to all men how all things are co-ordinated and connected by the eternal laws of truth."
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Towards A Parliament of Geeks
By John Taylor; 2009 Feb 18, 12 Mulk, 165 BE
"Whoso walketh uprightly shall be saved." (Proverbs 28:18, Comenius's favourite proverb)
There are strong arguments for having education as the inspiration for a world reform program. A great educational reformer, John Dewey, pointed out some of the many reasons that this would be better than the solely punitive, legally oriented way of running things that we are used to.
"I believe that education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform. All reforms which rest simply upon the law, or the threatening of certain penalties, or upon changes in mechanical or outward arrangements, are transitory and futile.... But through education society can formulate its own purposes, can organize its own means and resources, and thus shape itself with definiteness and economy in the direction in which it wishes to move.... Education thus conceived marks the most perfect and intimate union of science and art conceivable in human experience." (My Pedagogic Creed, 1897)
We are studying here the first known comprehensive educational reform program for the whole planet, put forward by the great educator John Amos Comenius some three hundred and forty years ago. This he called Universal Reform (Panorthosia). It explores the possibility of a permanent peace based on universal participation. I am finding that it is very close to the "universal gathering of mankind" that Baha'u'llah sanctioned in the Tablets to the Kings. In fact the Comenian Panorthosia and the Baha'i principles are complementary, each supplementing the other. The highly organized, detailed and educationally-oriented plan of Comenius meshes beautifully with the discursive, future-oriented principles that Abdu'l-Baha derived from the Writings of the Bab and Baha'u'llah.
Comenius observed that our basic nature is dominated by a desire to learn. The goal of everything human, be it animal or divine, seems to be to learn constantly. And the goal of proper learning should surely be to become as good and happy as possible. It often happens, though, that graduates with decades of training under their belt remain both bad and miserable. When that happens we would all be better off without all that bother and expense.
"I maintain that we have multiplied schools and studies and selfish scheming for advancement, but we have not yet added to the true joys of life." (Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 22, para 1, p. 38)
The perfect example of this has been in the headlines for the past several months. The events leading up to the crash and burn of the financial industry were caused by the cream of a highly competitive American educational system being lured into the banking and financial services industry by inflated salaries and other incentives, such as stock options. Their furiously cutthroat activity led only to a bubble, followed by the swift evaporation of almost unimaginably massive amounts of funds. It turned out that this entire sector was based not on goodness and happiness but on what Comenius calls "selfish scheming for advancement."
Comenius was not vague about what a good, happy product of the educational system would be like. In our last essay, we saw that Comenius proposed that educational reform of individuals should aim at each graduate becoming,
"(1) a good man, exalted above all the animal kingdom, (2) a good scholar, understanding the reasons for as many things as possible; (3) a good Physician and Doctor, well-informed about the ways of preserving your life and health according to the will of God; (4) a good Philosopher, capable of proper self-control in all respects; (5) a good Economist, skilled in the ways and means of obtaining the necessities of life and using and enjoying them correctly. (6) a good Politician, expert in wise human intercourse, and (7) a good Christian, wholly dedicated to God and walking uprightly in His sight." (Para 14, p. 25)
Imagine universities requiring every student to so orient their lives that when they graduate they are on the right track in all seven of these areas of expertise. Would such graduates have plunged themselves into a financial bubble? Not if they knew what it is to be a good economist, "skilled in ... the necessities of life" and aware of how to both use and enjoy them. How can you both use and enjoy eight million dollars a year, the amount that one self-sacrificing Canadian banking CEO just reduced his salary to? How can you consider yourself a "good man" to consider such excess a "sacrifice" as others starve?
The great thing that makes me enthusiastic about this Comenian reform program is that nobody but the most jaundiced sceptic could take it as a sinister conspiracy or misconstrue its motives. What harm is there in a planetary educational initiative? "They are plotting to teach me more than I know?" What kind of protest is that? Who could take it seriously, even in a two year old? Yet even that objection Comenius anticipated and took very seriously. He held it to be the great challenge of educators to make schooling as pleasant and fun as possible.
When I read Comenius's ideas for that, I often think of the huge computer and video gaming industries that have grown in the past two decades to be much larger than the book, movie and entertainment industries combined. What would happen if educators designed popular, standard video games for accomplishing their goals? What if they licensed the characters in these games to movies and other entertainment enterprises, so that schools would have an independent source of income? What if these games were designed to teach the skills of each of the seven "professions" that Comenius says everybody needs? What if they incorporated into it training for a "world citizen" license that we could maintain, cradle to grave? What if by playing games and passing tests designed to maintain basic expertise in each of these seven areas, we were given the new rights of a world citizen?
What new rights am I talking about?
How about the right to live wherever you want? Freedom of movement is considered to be a fundamental democratic right, but today this right ends at every national border. Because we do not have this right, our thinking and education end at the border too. The result? Environmental disaster, for one thing. Nature and climate do not respect national borders, so why should we? To stand up for world federation is to uphold a right we forget we should have, the basic right to live and travel where we please.
And, while we are at it, why not incorporate "standing votes" and polling into the game playing, world citizen licensing process? What harm is there in anything so basic to personal and civic education, so basic to democracy, as polling and voting?