Categories
- Empowerment - Prevailing Conceptions - Primary Care Discourse Health Care Power

Is Primary Care Actually Effective?

In the field of emergency medicine, there is an idea called “door-to-balloon” or “time-to-cath”, which is the amount of time that has elapsed from the moment a patient who is having a specific kind of heart attack walks into the emergency department to the time that a catheter enters the occluded vessel.  (There are two general types of “heart attacks”, or myocardial infarctions (meaning death of the heart muscle); one requires immediate surgical intervention with a catheter to open up the blocked blood vessel – the definitive treatment – while the other can be treated with medicines initially.  It is the first kind to which the “door-to-balloon” idea relates).

 

An enormous amount of energy and resources from a myriad organizations have gone into systematic efforts to reduce this “door-to-balloon” time, and subsequently reducing the number of deaths after the onset of a myocardial infarction.  The American College of Cardiology launched a large national “initiative” and the American Heart Association launched a complementary “mission” to standardize and reduce time-to-cath; emergency departments have received incentives over the years to make this an ordinary practice, it has become a core measure for healthcare accreditation, and it is now common vocabulary within the healthcare field and among the public.  Over the last decade, because of its success, it has become a common topic of medical research and direction for scientific inquiry.

 

And the results are impressive.  At the foundation of this idea is a set of hospital procedures and protocols, a collection of ready human and technological resources, an algorithmic approach to diagnosis and management for the ED team, and a mechanism for administrators to identify and eradicate delays in the process.  Whatever means are needed to bring door-to-balloon to under 90 minutes is supplied.

 

And none of that involves the patient.  In fact, the system probably runs smoothest when the patient is unconscious…one step from dead…as passive as possible while still able to be kept alive.

 

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Because of its tremendous success, and coupled with society’s event-oriented mindset and infatuation with instant results, the concept of attaining a goal within a certain time has become common in health care.  More and more, time parameters are set on objectives, which dictate reimbursement structure, staffing needs, research practices, and overall resource allocation.

 

What the health care system does well is simply a reflection of what society does well – eliminate the will of an individual and let the system’s will force short-term and end-oriented results.  We can miraculously prevent a patient from dying if their heart stops receiving blood, yet we can’t seem to do anything about the rising incidence of the need to do this.

 

*****

 

So it seems that primary care is the answer.  Manage disease before it becomes an “event”, before it requires “immediate results”, before it necessitates life-saving measures.

 

But it’s not that simple.  Let’s take an example with diabetes management in primary care.  Common in the discourse now is “time-to-goal-A1c”.  A1c is a great blood test that measures the average amount of blood glucose over 3 months, let’s say.  It has now become the standard for diagnosis and monitoring of diabetes.  Below 7.0 is good control; so ambitious primary care proponents are pushing the idea of lowering a patient’s A1c to 7.0 within 3 months of their first visit to a clinic.  Time-to-cath, 90 mins.  Time-to-goal-A1c, 90 days.  Makes sense.  It works in the emergency setting – the only difference between emergency and primary care is time, right?

 

Unfortunately, there has been little to no success.  Despite the enormous amount of energy and resources from a myriad organizations, despite the incentives offered to clinics, despite the core measures and accreditation criteria, despite the research, the prescriptions, the counseling, the protocols, the ready human and technological resources, the algorithms, the mechanisms, despite all efforts by the will of the medical system, there is no success.

 

Because, this time, the patient isn’t unconscious.

 

*****

 

The reason why our healthcare system – and, indeed, our society in general – is excellent at drastic end-of-life situations is because the variables are in the hands of the system itself; the patient doesn’t factor.  Emergency situations, albeit outwardly chaotic, are very controlled by those in charge.  Simply, the more the system is empowered to act, the better will be results.  And the same reason explains why primary care is unable to parallel such impressive results: because the power to act still is being locked within the clutches of the system, yet it is the patient who is the primary actor.  It mistakenly thinks that if it becomes more empowered, it will deliver health better.  However, while a patient may encounter the system’s will for 15 minutes every week, and be given prescriptions in the broadest sense of the word, this does not account for the other 6 days, 23 hours, and 45 minutes he is alive.  Delivering health is not the same as delivering a service or good that is needed in an immediate or life-threatening situation; in fact, health is not something delivered, it is something of which a patient is empowered to take charge.  Instead of focusing on the system as the deliverer of health, real healthcare means focusing on empowering patients to take charge of their own health care.

 
Empowerment, like health, is also not something delivered from the empowered to the unempowered; it is something fostered through the creation of environments and relationships.  It occurs through the generation of knowledge, through selfless service, and through humility.  It draws on the powers of the human spirit and the capacities of the soul.  It is a process that demands the active participation of the protagonists of social transformation – all of humanity.

 

 

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Categories
- Education - Empowerment - Governance - Oppression - Orthopaedic Surgery - Prevailing Conceptions - Religion - Science - Three Protagonists Development Discourse Health Care Human Nature Justice Knowledge Oneness Power

Artificial Scarcity & The Baha’i Faith

The Problem

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ARTIFICIAL SCARCITY is a term used to describe the condition in which masses of people are deprived of their bare necessities, while wealth, resources, and infrastructure exist in sufficient proportion to provide for all. The amount of wealth and scientific technology available to humanity in the 21st century is more than at any previous time in human history. So why are the following statistics still true?
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-There are 1 billion children living in poverty today.  
-Twenty-two thousand children die each day from hunger/malnutrition.
-Two point two million children die from preventable illnesses annually, due to lack of immunization.
-120 million children are not in any school (60% of these are girls).
-Over 1 billion people lack access to clean water (millions of women spend hours each day collecting water).
-Two billion people lack basic sanitation.
-One billion people are illiterate.
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To put these statistics in perspective: it would take less than what the United States spends annually on dog food to solve any one of these global tragedies. Alternatively, it would take less than a tenth of 1% of what the US government spends on the military annually to do the same. 
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Scarcity & Modernity

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So with the increase in scientific technology and global wealth production, why is the number of people under poverty increasing, not decreasing? Humanity is richer and more technologically advanced than ever before, and yet the scale of suffering, and its proportion as a factor of global population is increasing. With the aid of science, agriculture industries produce more food than the entire species needs to survive, but hunger still persists. Millions of people die from preventable disease, for which vaccine immunizations have already been invented. The internet makes knowledge universally accessible, but education is still not universal. 
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Privation is a condition being exacerbated by modernity, not alleviated by it, despite an ironic time-warp advance in agricultural technology and global productivity in the 20th cenntury. A complex result of international disunity, outmoded economic theories, cultural slogans, corporate and government exploitation of indigenous peoples, and squandering of natural resources, has artificially imposed scarcity as a defining feature of modern civilization, crippling the abundance and global prosperity of human civilization that is its natural state, by orders of magnitude.
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It’s Origin

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A particular conception of human nature which is implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, promoted in popular narratives can be traced back and identified as the Archimedian point from which the lever of human history pivoted in the trajectory of artificial scarcity . With the post-dark ages rise of the state-type known as ‘western democracy’, an implicit claim of superiority regarding its cultural values, was exported along with its plastic goods, fast food corporations, and sexualized media. Economic hegemony of the globe implied at least three metaphysical presuppositions, to a world fixated on materialism as its religion and new standard of truth. Understood to be the basis upon which western prosperity was ostensibly achieved, three assumptions stood out about human nature.
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Human Nature is:
1) Material
2) Individualistic
3) Competitive
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We are learning that human nature is not material but spiritual, not individualistic but communal, and not competitive but cooperative.
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Science Devoid of Religion

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Much of science is only acknowledged as true science until such time as it is disproven to be the fancies of personal bias amongst the elite who control thought in ways that benefit them through mechanisms of power: private and public grant funding, editors of academic journals, television and internet news media moguls, and industry-sponsored misinformation. A classic example is the transition from Newtonian to Modern Physics, the ecstatic character of which resembles mass religious conversion, more than the sterile stereotype of science fancied in popular imagination (See Kuhn, On the Structure of Scientific Revolutions). In orthopaedic surgery, the controversy over research on drugs like rhBMP-2, procedures like kypho- and vertebroplasty, and implanting of metal-on-metal hip prostheses, bear similar semblance to the effect of profit-motive over elite decision makers who lampoon their whims downhill as the edicts of gods from Mount ‘Science’, only to realize in retrospect a lesson which humility could have taught prior to the the cost in human life and morbidity. It is not science, but hubris that is to be blamed. 
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Likewise, the  three assumptions of human nature popularized implicitly by materialism’s gospel of human betterment which was successfully exported along with US lifestyle’s addiction to instant gratification (salt, fat, sugar, sex, violence, and drugs), purported to be scientific as well. Again, not because of evidence, but because of arrogance.
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The Science of Economics

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The science of economics, taught in every school, has led humanity down a dark path,  because it is based on a flawed conception of human nature. According to the fathers of modern economic theory, which still holds sway in dominant market spheres today, actors in the marketplace can be characterized according to the following three principles. 
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1) Human actors express unlimited material wants
2) The quantity of  desirable resources and wealth is limited and finite
3) Markets operate in an efficient manner
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Principle one states that human beings are rationally self-interested actors in pursuit of maximizing hedonistic pursuit of insatiable material pleasure. Here, both self-interest and a materialistic conception of human nature are presupposed implicitly in the premise. Principle two states that resources and opportunities are limited. In the case of natural resources for example it holds them, implicitly to be non-renewable (viz a vis. fossil fuels but not solar power)  and in the case of educational opportunities (university admissions but not online courses, open-source code, Ruhi classes, or grass roots distance education) and employment opportunities (trickle down theory and not regulated, responsible, socially just policies). As such, it presupposes them to be scarce and insufficient. Principle three states that consumers will purchase good products more frequently than inferior products and as a result of Laissez-faire natural selection producers of poor products will fall out of business, leaving an increasingly superior quality of product available for sale in the marketplace (ignoring the effect of advertising, which is one of the biggest investments of corporate producers, designed explicitly to undermine rational self-interest and persuade consumers to purchase things that are not to their benefit. Also, ignoring negative externalities which lie beyond the purview of market actors, and are having a devastating effect on human society, viz a vis green-house induced climate change.)  Value ought to be determined by a commodity’s worth to human society, as opposed to its price, which in modern economic theory is left unregulated as the equilibrium point between supply and demand. To drive up price, supply is intentionally limited by providers, even in the case of necessities, to maximize their profit margin. As worth is divorced from price so to is universal prosperity impoverished by income inequality.
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Reform in Retrospect

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These “scientific” principles are more selfish, egocentric, philosophical beliefs, that are essentially metaphysical in character, with no amenability to scientific inquiry. More like Machiavellian or Nietzschean claims of human nature than empirical science. It should evoke the question in us all, “why has metaphysical speculation, personal conjectures, and supernatural philosophy been allowed to pass as science?” It makes science seem like prejudice, superstition, and ignorance, especially those branches of science that endorse these claims about human nature. The twilight of this conception of human nature is at hand, giving way under mounting evidence of success in ethical-collective-cooperative business models, but not before its effects had been baptized into law, dogmatized as inviolate, and employed in not only academic exercises, but also in application to global market operations, Geopolitical relations, ownership of natural resources, and even in the domestic policy arising in the wake of civil rights and social justice struggles.
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Notwithstanding this, the most tragic victim of the material-individualistic-competitive conception of human nature is the education system. The fundamental principles of pedagogy upon which K-12 and university models of education have been adopted endorse a zero-sum grading curve, in which the success of one student necessitates the failure of his classmates, interpersonal competition fostered for internal class ranks, extinguishing creativity through emphasis on standardized testing, and social hierarchies that rarely relate to inherent talent but more often reflect access to opportunities family finances that enable credentialing like MD and PhD, exclusively and artificially maintained, through insurmountable tuition barriers.
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Artificial Scarcity of Education

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How did the esotericization of knowledge come to replace what is the birthright of all humankind — universal education? The esotericization of knowledge is the single most grievous victim of the economic system that birthed artificial scarcity. Baha’u’llah writes, “What “oppression” is more grievous than that a soul seeking… knowledge…should know not where to go for it?” Knowledge has been artificially controlled by barriers to its generation, application, and diffusion. Barriers that include cultural myths about who has access to it, economic barriers about who can afford it, and popular barriers about what its usefulness and application can be. Furthermore, education suffers from internal corruption regarding its generation, and what kinds of subjects are investigated, reported and applied that are of specialized interest to wealthy urban technocrats and irrelevant to the majority of people.
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The internet and cyberspace has created the possibility of exploding knowledge at unprecedented rates across millions of miles to peoples and lands who would otherwise never be able to communicate. Tuition is used to keep people out of universities, while the curriculum is already online wholesale. Exorbitant tuitions purchase for the student only the numeric digits of the password to access gigabytes of lectures and audio-visual material that is already uploaded online. This material could be used to teach graduate curricula in every shack or shanty town with a wifi connection accross the villages and urban sprawls of Africa and Latin America. False scales of prestige are perpetuated by cultural narratives originating in the enlightenment by which knowledge is conserved as the elite purview of credentialed experts (MD, PhD, etc.) by which masses are excluded from contributing to knowledge, but also from participating in its application to their own life situations. In this way a passive, recipient class is created which depends upon the knowledge and expertise of gatekeepers, prior to their own use of knowledge to advance towards prosperity. The inherent potential, volition, and talent of the masses is subjugated and destroyed in exchange for the experts to acquire their profits.
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Disempowerment is profitable to the few. Yet prosperity for all demands that we enact the democratization of knowledge, revolutionizing the systems of pedagogy using modern day technology to achieve relevant and participatory education for all.
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Applicability of Curricula

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The content of research and educational curricula are set by intellectuals who are ironically distant from the life of the masses from which the most important questions of our generation arise. Academic content  is determined by individuals and systems with priorities alien to the communities and realities of the majority of people. Graduate curricula and research agendas are as irrelevant to the issues of privation and prosperity as they are to industry needs of employment markets. The education-to-employment market mismatch is an oversight which is staggering even from a materialist point of view. An unprecedented proportion of college graduates are working unskilled minimum wage jobs. The corporatization of the university has metastasized and is stealing nutrients from its parent-cancer, the broader unregulated capitalization of civilization. This is the nature of self-interest — it splinters until the tinniest atoms of existence are at war with each other.
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Culture of Contest

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Artificial scarcity squanders human and natural resources through conflict that is the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The narrative is sold that opportunities are scarce and competition between individuals needed to determine who deserves opportunity — inculcating a culture of contest, prescriptively. Similarly, this same logic is used to make economic decisions regarding the structural supply of goods and services in the form of policy and infrastructure that creates opportunity and education. The prevalent discourse about what is considered valuable opportunities for the actualization of human potential is likewise prescribed via education by the beneficiaries of a pacified and obedient labor force. As such, both the social structure and the minds of social actors, individuals and institutions, is handicapped in the reductionism of the prison of the scarcity mindset. A self-reinforcing cycle of human consciousness and social structures is established in which privation and inter-personal conflict are regarded as natural. Slowly, what should be a reprehensible externality is transmuted into a fact to be embraced by those functioning most virtuously within the system. Before any evil decision-making has entered, injustice is already prevalent, and no one is to blame.
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Consumerism as Opiate

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The material-individual-competitive conception of human nature exported by an imperialistic consumer culture has built scarcity into the economic paradigm as a means of maximizing profits but not prosperity for the world order. For the growing number of the oppressed, their economic situation is resembling more and more the feudal relationship that characterized wealthy land-owners and peasant farmers in medieval Europe. Instead of military force to induce compliance, the modern masters of social and economic control employ subtle mechanisms of consumerism and entertainment which act as opium to the human soul, lulling a satisfied and docile slave labor class into generational obedience. Myths of opportunity and the american dream maintain people in the belief that suffering and privation result from the failure of individuals and not from the nature of the socioeconomic system.Workplace specialization and a growing climate of worker insecurity drive laborers to increasingly monotonous occupations that necessitate increasing quantities of nightlife entertainment to cure and assuage the destruction of their God-given potential. Exploiting the bodies of the masses, unjust labor wages drain biological treasure, while consumerism and entertainment exploit financially, reabsorbing monetary treasure back into the system. In simple terms, the feudal lord owns the adjacent beer-hall, in which the peasants squander their family’s livelihood on substance addiction each pay-day. Like all opiates, tolerance to even the highest doses becomes inevitable. Income inequality and mass privation of an increasingly employed and impoverished majority cannot but lead to instability and a breakdown of law and order. As riches are increasingly concentrated in the hands of an elite minority, receptivity to alternative social orders grows amongst the populace.  Only those who question, and are attune to the searing of the Undying Flame of the Baha’i Revelation are awakening to alternative worlds.
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Market-Share Vs. Pie-Size

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Re-conceptualizing human nature as spiritual-communal-cooperative allows a transition from emphasizing an individual’s or business’s market-share as a proportion of profits, to emphasizing the total size of the pie available to everyone. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith writes, “the advantage of the part is best to be reached by the advantage of the whole.” This revolution in economic theory and social policy implies a profound change at the level of culture, both as individuals and communities, and at the level of social structure and institutions. Unlike the pseudo-science of modern economics, a growing body of evidence is showing that when each individual or group works to further the productivity and usefulness of the entire market (ie: pie-size), it may entail that the group’s particular market-share decreases as a proportion, but notwithstanding this, their particular allotment actually increases in terms of its absolute quantity. This evidence flies in the face of the zero-sum conception of reality in which competitive and self-interested systems inculcate scarcity as a natural outgrowth of the economic paradigm. Ironically, selflessness conduces to prosperity. According to the Baha’i conception, scarcity is an aberration. The reality of the universe is abundance.
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De Beers is a well known manipulator of diamond supply (via its leverage over a majority of global diamond mines) to fix prices at a high level.
diamonds
Categories
- Empowerment - Prevailing Conceptions - Religion Development Human Nature Knowledge Oneness Power

The Power of Truth

For thousands of years, beginning with the birth of the family – the smallest unit in the scale of human organization – humanity’s evolution has been characterized by a process of integration, which although far less spectacular than the parallel process of disintegration, is nonetheless more significant.  This process of integration, which has gone though successive stages from clan, tribe, city-state, and nation, will culminate in the final stage of humankind’s evolution – the unification of the entire planet.  This is the age in which we now live.  The hallmark of this age in human history is the principle of the oneness of humankind.  As humanity’s transition to maturity and oneness will be a complete transformation that the world has not yet witnessed, the principle of the oneness of humankind will be the basis for the reconceptualization of all relationships within society and all social structures.

 

However, in order for patterns of community life – fruit from the transformation of relationships and structures – built upon the principle of the oneness of humankind to emerge, certain foundational concepts must be reexamined – notably the concept of power.  Additionally, to contemplate a complete transformation as the one upcoming for humanity, the question of the power to accomplish it is raised.

 

Traditionally, power has been viewed as advantage of one person or group in order to dominate another person or group.  Power is considered a limited resource that is acquired through contest with others, and confers the ability to surpass others and win.  Notwithstanding the benefits brought to the human race from the exercise of power to advance one over another, as humanity matures, it must leave behind obsolescent and anachronistic ideas that have obviously reached the limit of their effectiveness.

 

There are other conceptions of power, and with it, sources of power, that are more befitting a maturing humanity.  The powers of the human spirit, the power of unity, of love, of pure deeds, are all powers that have been harnessed and tapped throughout history, resulting in impressive accomplishments in all spheres of life.  These are the powers that religion draws our attention to – religions which have represented successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society.  These sources of power constitute a limitless capacity to transform that resides in humanity as a whole; and their operation is necessary to move humanity forward.  Under the premise of the oneness of humanity, these sources are not only more powerful than military might, economics, media, propaganda, etc., or anything that implies an “other”, but in fact the only relevant means to progress in a global society.

 

Truth is another source of power, associated throughout history with some of the greatest philosophical, artistic, and scientific advances we’ve experienced, that humanity as a whole must learn a great deal more about how to tap in order to propel the advance of civilization.  Why is it so powerful?

 

Reality is an expression of truth.  To actively explore this reality, through conversation, through service, through fellowship, through collective reflection, through study, is to understand truth – and with that, harness the power of truth.  The exploration of reality, then, becomes a very empowering action.  Framing action as an exploration of reality, then, is a highly encouraging mindset.  As more and more individuals work together to explore reality, as more and more individuals are encouraged to share with others the idea that their collective action is an exploration of reality, and as more and more individuals are empowered by generation of knowledge, the total amount of power available to humanity increases enormously.  And suddenly, with all this power, the transformation beckoning humanity doesn’t seem as difficult.

 

The worldwide Baha’i community is actively laboring to increase the power available to humanity for its transformation: “…everywhere, a notable number of friends find themselves ready to enter into conversation with people of varied backgrounds and interests and to undertake with them an exploration of reality that gives rise to a shared understanding of the exigencies of this period in human history and the means for addressing them.”  In fact, one may say that a goal of the worldwide Baha’i community is to work for the empowerment of all the peoples of the world.

 

And as Baha’u’llah, the Manifestation of God for our age, has ushered in this new stage of human development, He has also promised that the power of truth will strengthen all of humanity in our efforts towards collective maturity: “Be not dismayed, O peoples of the world, when the day star of My beauty is set, and the heaven of My tabernacle is concealed from your eyes. Arise to further My Cause, and to exalt My Word amongst men. We are with you at all times, and shall strengthen you through the power of truth.

 

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Categories
- Prevailing Conceptions - Religion - Science Discourse Human Nature Knowledge

A De-scription Pad

A ‘prescription’ is that which is laid down as a rule, an order, a precept.  A ‘description’, on the other hand, is a statement that indicates and notes observations.  Common to both words is ‘script’, which denotes a law or plan.  And ‘law’, of course, is a set of principles and rules that govern relationships and realities.

 

Current society’s conceptions regard prescriptions and descriptions as separate.  Are they?  Should they be?  What is, actually, the difference between them?  Are they the same?

 

Perhaps the problem lies in that fact that society promotes an overly-simplistic, and often bi-polarized, understanding of the world around us.  ‘Prescription’ is what ought to be, while ‘description’ is what we see.  However, under an understanding that human beings strive to progressively create social reality that increasingly reflects the principles that govern reality, description and prescription are the same thing.

 

Let us look at a few examples.  A farmer has certain prescribed actions and labors at certain times of the year – say, plowing in February, planting in March, fertilizing in May, and harvesting in July.  This systemic pattern of behavior occurs because the farmer has learned to progressively refine his description of the natural cycle of the crop.  In fact, one might say that the role of a farmer is to continuously learn to describe the laws that govern the life of the plant and prescribe a system to align his work with this description so as to most effectively yield crop.  A doctor, similarly, prescribes medicine in order to treat disease.  One who has diabetes might be prescribed 15 units of insulin at night to help lower blood glucose.  This prescription, however, is actually simply a description of how much more insulin the body needs in order to maintain normal blood glucose levels.  Through a systematic study of this particular disease, and learning to describe the pathophysiology of that human being, the doctor can prescribe a medicine that aligns itself with this description.  In the same way, an engineer prescribes a limit to the maximum weight that a bridge can hold, or prescribes an optimal flow of electricity to power an appliance.  However, these prescriptions are simply descriptions of the relationships and laws of physics that govern the materials of the bridge with gravity, or the flow of electrons with the circuits of the device – prescriptions are the application of description.

 

Society is similar to the examples of botany, physiology, and physics examined above.  Social advance is propelled through the generation and application of learning within two broad systems of knowledge and practice called science and religion.  Each serve to describe the world around us and its dynamics.  Religion articulates the values that are unfolding progressively through divine revelation, defines the goals of our social and spiritual evolutionary process, and increasingly clarify the spiritual forces and processes at work in the humanity’s life.  Science, of course, describes the laws that govern physical reality and is the instrumentality through which the human mind explores the phenomenal world.  The brief periods of human history in which these two systems operated in harmony have witnessed marvelous social development; for the prescriptions that people and social systems create for social reality come from some descriptive conception.

 

In the same way that no one would label 9.8 meters-per-second-squared as an arbitrary prescription of the earth’s gravitational pull on objects near its surface, similarly, the ordinance to pray a number of times a day is actually a description of the needs and dynamics of a human soul, according to an understanding of its nature.  Every prescribed law has an implied description.  What assumptions underlie this description?  Are those who act according to these prescriptions conscious that they are operating under descriptive assumptions, and therefore tacitly condoning a certain conception of human nature?  How well-aligned are the descriptions upon which these prescriptions are created with true science and true religion?  As an example, society prescribes laws within a competitive economic system; these laws, therefore, describe and assume human nature as competitive.  Yet, that is just one assumption; one can easily set aside this assumption for the more likely premise that cooperation is true human nature, and, based on this description, is the prescribed method of human interaction.  What can be done when one’s assumption of human nature differs from the description upon which social prescriptions are based?  Simple.  Operationalize these assumptions and give those around you a new pattern of behavior to describe; articulate these assumptions and give those around you a reconceptualization of human nature; build unity with others and put into place prescriptions based upon descriptions aligned with the harmony of science and religion.

 

Civilization advances through our descriptions.  The reality of man is his thought.  Social reality, on a certain level, is subjective and built through conceptions.  Conceptions are formed through discourse with fellows and through observations of behavior of those around.  Observe cooperation and speak about it with others, it will become one’s conception of human nature.  And conceptions of human nature become social reality.  This is why, whether or not you’ve read this prayer before, we all pray “confer upon me thoughts which may change this world into a rose garden”…it describes a longing of the human soul.

 

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Categories
- Education - Empowerment - Prevailing Conceptions Discourse Human Nature Knowledge Oneness

Pedagogy of the Empowered

The Baha’i world has been learning how to use an education program to raise capacity in individuals and populations to take charge of their own spiritual, social, and intellectual development and to build communities that understand the dynamic coherence of material and spiritual prosperity.  Based on the conviction of the nobility of the human being, on the oneness of humankind, and on the principle that science and religion are two complementary systems of knowledge and practice by which civilization advances, this educational system regards “man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value”, and believes that “education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.”

 

Of course, we know that our perceptions are built upon our assumptions.  Thus, as first glance, an onlooker might perceive simplicity, tangentiality, indoctrination, limitation, rote learning, or a whole list of other problems.  Perhaps this perception is biased by assumptions and values adopted by society’s conceptions of education – which breed passivity and facilitate oppression.  And perhaps another look might help.

 

Current models of education are information based.  They consider a human being as an empty receptacle waiting to be passively filled with information and technical skills necessary to fill positions in an economic system to maintain the status quo.  They aim to provide enough thoughtfulness that a high-school graduate can vote in an election, yet not so much thoughtfulness that he will question the political system.  Education as society knows it promotes a false-dichotomy of right/wrong in order to allow for a highly simple method of evaluation, which conveniently can be capitalized (pun intended) by the economic system to brainwash consumers to buy the “right” product over the rest.  And current systems perpetuate a fragmented view of reality in order to make the minds of their graduates easily able to be controlled by those with power, yet build in enough curricular association to prevent complete disintegration of what holds together various disciplines.

 

The Ruhi Institute, which provides a highly successful example of a set of curriculum that adopts an entirely different set of assumptions about human nature and education – some which are mentioned in the first paragraph.  Its foundation is the Word of God as revealed by Baha’u’llah.  Regarding its pedagogy, here are a few thoughts:

– Ruhi curriculum is not content and information based, but rather concept based.  The purpose is not to impart information but to advance understanding about concepts.  If one just takes a glance at the material, under the assumption of information-provision, one might think “there isn’t anything in here I didn’t already know, any new information, any dates or facts”, and one might perceive it too simple.  However, the purpose of human life is to achieve understanding: “…the ultimate goal of human existence which is the station of true understanding…” and “Man’s distinction lieth not in ornaments or wealth, but rather in virtuous behavior and true understanding.”  To understand is a verb, and its corresponding subject is the human mind.  It’s object is a concept.  Through advancing understanding, the human mind is able to generate insights into reality; to produce knowledge, sciences, and arts; to effect a change of cultural; and to advance civilization.  By imparting information, the mind simply gets information.  Paradoxically, then, curriculum based on facts are actually more simplistic.

– The questions in the Ruhi curriculum are designed to engage the participants with the text.  At first glance, a fill-in-the-blank question may be simplistic, rote, mindless even.  Under current educational assumptions, it may seem very low-level.  However, the purpose of education is to advance understanding and enable participants to generate insights from the ocean of the Revelation.   In order to do this, in order to discover pearls in an ocean, one must interact with the words and concepts.  Take math as an example.  Simply reading 3+4+7=14, and then discussing it, might not advance understanding about numbers.  If the goal was information, perhaps one could waste a lifetime memorizing the sums of various combinations of numbers.  However, 3+x+7=14 requires operation; requires interacting with the numbers.  What kind of integer, when added to 3 and 7 make 14?  What kind of deeds lead to the betterment of the world?  This type of operation can then grow in complexity.  3x+5=6x-7.  And so on.  It is through operations, through interaction, through engaging, that someone learns the concepts behind numbers, and similarly the concepts within the Word of God.

– The true/false questions can also be misperceived under current educational assumptions.  Society’s educational models are based upon a system of evaluation founded on a right/wrong dichotomy.  In this paradigm, a true/false question is meant to evaluate the test-taker to see if they recalled the information correctly, and to see if they got it ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.  However, again, the questions in the Ruhi curriculum are carefully designed to advance understanding.  It breaks down current paradigms by creating true/false questions which are ambiguous, thus opening up space where understanding can be advanced in all participants through a discourse – in which people of all backgrounds of mind can advance understanding on equal footing, supporting each other’s advance and respectful of the knowledge that each one possesses at any given moment, and in which all can benefit from a diversity of perspectives.  Under an anachronistic evaluation model of education, however, ambiguous true/false questions just seem poorly worded.

– Humanity is one.  And the human being is one.  Thus, all aspects of the human being are one.  And all fields of human endeavor are one – a collective investigation of one underlying reality.  Over time, human society has successfully fragmented educational disciplines (as it has fragmented all aspects of life).  It has become popular to claim a multi-disciplinary approach to education, yet all current education does is associate disciplines together.  When studying physics, a series of math problems about gravity are presented, as a way to integrate math and physics – but the result is only an association (and hard math problems).  True integration occurs when education revolves around the understanding of concepts, the acquisition and generation of knowledge, the development of skills and attitudes, the formation of habits, the strengthening of qualities, all related to performing an act of service.  Here, service becomes the key to coherence and integration – the balance.  Because in the end, isn’t the purpose of education to reveal the gems of an individual and enable mankind to benefit?

 

In the curriculum of the Ruhi Institute we have a potent example of how education can empower the masses of humanity to take charge of their own development and contribute to the establishment of a new world civilization – a pedagogy of the empowered.

 

Categories
- Prevailing Conceptions Discourse Human Nature

Which brand are you?

“The reality of man is his thought…”

The world is in a state of oppression.  This is not an unknown fact – any media source will recount the various expressions of social disintegration throughout the world.  The riots in Turkey, the tension in Egypt, the plotting of terrorists, the violence, the scandals, the corruption…it all seems indistinguishable at a certain point.  A common characteristic to them all is that each is an instance of external oppression.

What about the United States?  By some accounts, we have less terrorism, less corruption, less rioting.  From a certain perspective, we have freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom from threat.  Some can claim we are a less oppressed nation overall.  Perhaps, however, this belief that we are less oppressed is itself one of the greatest oppressions.

The United States is dominated by a culture of consumerism – today’s inheritor of a materialistic worldview.  This is a different type of oppression, insidious, exacting, and stifling.  The discourse of our nation has been hijacked by the interests of corporations and government; so, while it is true that one has a choice – without threat of violent recourse – of whether to side with this or that political party, or support this or that technical recipe, or opt for this or that legalistic procedure, what is not up for debate is the framework within which the political system operates, the value that inevitably comes with advances in technology and who they serve, the circus of legal advocacy that has masqueraded as search for truth.  In other parts of the world, oppression takes the form of brute violence against the physical body, religious hypocrisy that can be detected with little sight, or obvious suppression of the rights of one group of people by another seemingly more powerful group of people; whereas in the United States, the oppression takes the form of a manipulation of identity.  Instead of being able to think about the systems within which our society operates, we are manipulated – through classroom, pulpit, and newsstand – to regard the human being as a consumer.  A consumer of whatever political topic is most convenient for the upcoming campaign; of whatever knowledge and skills are currently the criteria to assume a coveted post within some corporation to uphold our economic status-quo, of whatever foods and medicines are promising the lure of easy fix, of whatever technology can deliver convenience in exchange for adoption of values, of whatever trend is being deposited in the mind.  The question is never “why?”, but always “which?”.  To me, the most striking point – and the one that makes this type of oppression all the more apparent – is that those segments of the population that seek to distinguish themselves by attempting to identify and fight oppression, in fact only distinguish themselves by adopting different types of patterns of consumption.

An oppression that is external – that is violent and ugly and hurtful – is at least one that can be identified.  Hypocrisy, suppression, corruption, can be known and fought.  It is because this oppression targets the body and external conditions of a human being, not his essential reality.  However, when the sights of oppression are trained at the identify of an individual, then his mind becomes restricted, his thoughts become suppressed, his reality is oppressed.  How can one fight an oppression when one does not even know that one is being oppressed?  When one’s identity has been manipulated to regard as normal what is clearly a distortion?

“What “oppression” is more grievous than that a soul seeking the truth…should know not where to go for it and from whom to seek it?”

“The perpetuation of ignorance is a most grievous form of oppression…”

Categories
- Governance - Oppression - Prevailing Conceptions - Three Protagonists Discourse Justice

Money, Lies, and Spiritual Solutions

Since the housing market crash of 2008 we have heard it said that the economy is recovering. Who, I wonder are the people who are actually recovering? Let us look into what the facts say. The top 7% of wealthy americans have gained $5.6 trillion during the period of time called the recovery from 2009-2011. The rest of the 93% of the working public have actually had a net loss in assets during this period amounting to a deficit of $669 billion. From 2009 to 2011, the richest 8 million families (7% of the population) have seen a rise in their personal assets increasing from $1.7 million to $2.5 million per family, on average. During this exact same “recovery” period 93% of the population – 111 million families – have seen their income decline by $6,000 per family, on average.

Who is recovering then I repeat? This comes out to a 28% increase in the assets of the wealthy, and 4% reduction in the assets of the poor. The phenomenon can be explained by a straightforward hypothesis: the entire financial product of the recovery is being accrued directly in the personal bank accounts of a wealthy minority. Income can be imagined to be a stream of money; wealth is the pool into which that stream flows. The vast majority of the water that was generated in the so-called “recovery” has flowed directly into the existing largest bodies of water, ie: all the reward gained by the recovery labor and austerity were accrued directly into investors pockets, some of it even being siphoned off from smaller lakes and streams that are already nearly dried up.

It seems we are to believe that the status of world affairs is determined by how the rich alone are feeling, and is reflective only of the state of the satisfaction of the privileged. This skewed metric of success is then reported publicly as if it applied equally to all. Medical science has confirmed that some affluent individuals suffer from Narcissistic personality disorders but how can a whole society be forced to think and feel the happiness of a small subset of people. I’ve never heard of a thief who forces his victim to deny his own feelings and profess great happiness at the wonderful new acquisition of commodities by the thief.

Through arrogance and methodical coaxing, through social conditioning and propaganda  the rich have come to identify the well-being of the state with their own personal well being.  If the rich feel enriched, the news announces, “we” are all richer. If the rich feel poorer, the media chastises american laborers for laziness, and calls for slashing of taxes and dismantling governmental infrastructure and safety nets. The entire world is asked to be selfless to make room for the narcissism of wealthy bankers and investors. Countless human beings in the latin american and african continents deny themselves their own perspectives and legitimacy in favor of believing the pronouncements and self-expressions of the powerful and wealthy elites of american society. The suffering millions go unmentioned and uncared for because media tycoons have decreed that it would suit their interests more if the news popularized the release of their latest technocratic gadget for consumer consumption.

Ideological transformation is necessary. Spiritual values must be heard throughout the world:  “tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor.”

The recovery has made a fortune for the rich and applied further downward economic pressure on the middle and working classes. A plan brought this turn of events about. The same plan that told the news media to cover reports of the great figures demonstrating a healthy and vibrant stock market and finance earnings. The discussion of the well-being of the masses of humanity is Taboo in american society. Such taboos themselves are evidence of a culture designed to placate and remove any trace of public discontent with the economic and social status quo. The more that news can spread of the recovery, the more the plight of the impoverished masses is kept out of the limelight, and the more injustice continues unabated and even intensifies in its oppression.

After greedy banks manufactured fraudulent credit schemes and sold them to the american public the stock market that had traded with and insured these corrupt mortgages collapsed. The government simply credited large amounts of money to these same banks that had ruined the world, in  order to prevent the world from suffering a collapse of the global credit system. Bail outs consisted of the US government using taxpayer money to pay the bloated salaries and bonuses of the big bankers who threatened to resign if not bailed out.
The so-called “bailout” designed to benefit victims of the banking fraud unfortunately followed the exact same logic as fraud itself, which was: paying fat cats at the top promotes wealth by a “trickle down” phenomenon. Our own tax dollars and government championed the world view that the rich deserve to get richer even after having made the poor poorer.

The Federal Reserve credited trillions of dollars to Wall Street firms employing a wide variety of transparent and opaque financial maneuvers with little accountability and even less earmarking. The graph below demonstrates the beneficiaries of the bail bouts by amount received. As you can see the lion’s share went to private firms on Wall Street.  Fannie May and Freddie Mac are officially private institutions however they operate the same way as Wall Street banks.

There is a financial-legal pipeline between political positions in washington and high finance. Financial influence on Wall Street readily translates into legislative power in the senate and vice versa. They are like one currency with two forms of expressions: money and power. Most individuals shuttle back and forth between Washington and Wall Street during their careers. It is these folks that write laws and basic policies that govern our nation, legally and economically. They consult for and advise banks and then go legislate policies that enable things like sub-prime loans. Instead of representing citizens they made bankers billionaires and evicted countless american homeowners and cause an economic Armageddon.

These same wall street politicians proposed and carried out the bailout. This is severe and unregulated conflict of interests. Hank Paulson served as chairman of Goldman Sachs before being hired as Secretary of the Treasure under W. Bush  in Washington. Timothy Geithner was head of the regional Federal Reserve Board in New York (side by side with the heads of all major Wall Street Banks) prior to being asked by President Obama to join his cabinet as Secretary of the Treasury. Many congressmen and staffers hold offers for lucrative Wall Street employment in recompense for work they performed while occupying an office on the hill. Together, this marriage of finance and government has enacted a half-century of policies that rob the middle and working class of their rewards on labor in order to enrich the already wealthy. Is there any more blatant idolatry at the false-god of money than this?

Policy after policy enacted protects big banks and emboldens them in their ways. Even at the time for punishment, the bail out solution takes the form of money paid to big banks to incentivize them to put things back together. This doesn’t count as democracy. This is plutocracy.

The partisan system only exacerbates the dilemma. The election procedure that decides between party candidates often boils down to cash donations for campaign funds. Underlying their time in office, in legislating, in campaigns, and getting elected – money is the real common denominator in what is done. And therefore banks reign supreme.

The current stimulus policy being pursued by the Federal Reserve operates under the presumption that wealth trickles down. They have continuously been reducing interest rates on diverse bonds and securities to facilitate and expedite the flow of money as much as possible into stocks holdings. As money pours into stocks, their value on the market increases, and supports a thriving, bullish stock market. Wealthy investors who profit by their stocks going up  are somehow mysteriously thought to reinvest their earnings into the economy in a constructive way that creates jobs, supports education, fosters research, and bolsters infrastructures. According to this theory, upper class elites rarely spend private finances on offshore investments like cheap labor in Foxconn plants in china, or store it in offshore bank accounts where US taxes don’t apply, and rarely squander their money on useless pastimes such as extravagant, unnecessary lifestyles like sailing yachts, sports cars, private jet planes and esoteric entertainment. This is the trickle down wealth effect theory that is basically a hoax devoid of economic data and dogmatized by people who need an excuse to justify the corrupting influence of finances of government.

Why lower interest rates on securities in the first place? Why give low-interest rates to investment banks? How does giving 0% interest to banks help the citizenry? These Banks have consistently been using that money to make risky investments and loan it to the American people for a usury profit. outlandish interest rates on credit cards, escalating mortgage rates, and a plethora of high-interest credit lines for the public to consume is the result. Why doesn’t the government loan us the money itself at a low-interest rate, taking out the middleman?  Big banks are the middlemen who turn a huge profit peddling our own government cash to us at a higher rate than the government loaned it to them. Then they higher politicians after office to reward them for their favorable policies.

Figure 2 demonstrates that encouraging investments in the stock market is basically giving money to the rich. The top 1% of wealthy americans own 35-40% of all stocks. The top 20% of all wealthy americans own almost 60% of all stocks. Therefore, an investment in the stock market is bypassing the majority of the people in the middle and working classes prima facie. It benefits them not.

In the crash of 2008 Wall Street made millions in a process that is the legal equivalent to gambling and as a result the middle class has been in recession ever since. Over the several months that ensued, the fallout of 8 million jobs lost was noted. The clear paper trail leads directly to Wall Street financiers who, acting on greed, concocted sub-prime mortgages after lobbying for dysregulation of the finance sector under Allen Greenspan and W. Bush and repealing Glass-Steagall. Their aim: to sell more mortgages and maximize short-term profits for their shareholders.

No mention of justice or punitive measures for the guilty parties have ever been mentioned. No one who committed white-collar crimes has been imprisoned, nor have their assets accrued unjustly been confiscated. People who suffered job losses in the middle and working classes have never been appropriately compensated. Ironically, the rhetoric of “moochers” and “free-loaders” and “the 47% of the country who don’t take responsibility for their lives” continues. The federal stimulus package merely slowed the pace of the recession. It has not improved middle class average incomes, let alone reversed the direction of the recession. Only the rich are profiting again from stock market investments. We are facing the highest levels of sustained unemployment since the Great Depression with the lowest number of people seeking employment since 1979, 63%.  Figure 3 shows how the long-term unemployed level, as a proportion of total population, is at an unprecedented high.

The mortgage bubble bursting caused wide-scale business failure and massive layoffs.  Because average middle class incomes plummeted there was less principle to be taxed by state and local governments, robbing them of their primary source of revenue. Justice would require fact-based appropriations of Wall Street private bank accounts to be tapped for compensating people with foreclosures, firings, failed businesses, and slashed government programs. In reality what happened is that we simply allowed government programs and employment levels to take the hit.

This however introduced a vicious cycle. Because people didn’t have jobs and lost major portions of their income, governments couldn’t tax incomes if they no longer existed. So, governments had to slash programs for which funds had already been earmarked, necessitating a further round of layoffs. And so on and so forth.

Secondly, rising unemployment drives up labor supply while the demand remains stagnant or even declines. Price is determined by the intersection of supply and demand profiles. The result is a significant decrease in the salaries offered for labor, further driving down workers wages. The corporate savings on decreased workers wages and collapsed government union bargaining conduces to further profits for the wealthy.

Compared with today, the government has never employed such a low percentage of the total populace before. This is unprecedented in american history. How detrimental to the welfare of the masses this predicament will be is not clear, except for what is obvious in the reduction in public sector employment. Police, teachers, EMS, and air-traffic controllers have been cut and their families destitute or sinking into poverty without new jobs to replace the old ones.  Table 1 below demonstrates teachers employment dropped almost 6%, policeman over 8%, emergency responders down almost half of what it was, and air traffic controllers down almost 30%. (Please note: Air traffic controllers affect congressmen directly. Therefore,  it appears a hasty bill has been passed to mitigate the effects of the sequester on that particular sector of employment.)

Occupation

Employment (2009)

Employment (2011)

Change in Employment

Percent Change in Employment

Teachers

3,942,700

3,721,938

-220,762

-5.6%

Policemen

666,579

610,427

-56,125

-8.4%

Fire fighters

233,051

277,158

44,107

18.9%

Emergency responders

69,370

39,170

-30,200

-43.5%

Air-traffic controllers

23,959

17,128

-6,831

-28.5%

The decision to bail out the banks in 2008 was based upon the threat that the global economy was infected with illegitimate credit and would collapse if the banks went out of business. Whether or not this was true, does not imply that the only option for the public is to roll over dead and allow the banks to do as they please. Otherwise they will take tax payer bailout billions, and simply continue their pillaging of public wealth. Nevertheless, that is exactly what happened. Big banks were bailed out, multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses continued to be awarded, gambling on wall street proceeded unabated, in fact with new vigor and boldness. The banks have actually delved deeper into dangerous practices and have grown in size. If they were too big to fail then, there is no description for how big they are now. The LIBOR scandal and other rigging of global interest rates is another outgrowth of this emboldened attitude after the crisis of 2008. Like a child who never receives discipline, bankers are growing in audacity, and are often in collusion with regulatory mechanisms or simply legislate them away.  Practices of gambling with insured deposit money, partnering with loan sharks, money laundering for drug cartels and terrorist organization, and increasing the monthly dues on homeowners forcing them into premature foreclosure have all proceeded unchecked. Figure 5 illustrates just how much since 2008 nothing has changed to break up big banks or to curb the expeditious use of immoral practices.

As an example of the cancerous degree of the growth of big banks, consider their relationship to, and enabling effect on, wealth inequality – which is a well-documented precipitant of social unrest and civil disobedience. The top hedge fund manager in 2012 reports having “earned” in a single hour the equivalent of what a family would make in 21 years, on average in the united states. Now consider the top 10 hedge fund managers “earned” in 1 year the equivalent of what approximately 200k registered nurses working in hospitals in the US would make combined.

The value of a hedge fund to society is similar to the value of a casino. They have an economy of their own that produces and consumes, but it yields no positive effect on society besides enriching the winners and impoverishing masses. Simple gambling is immoral, but at least is currently legal. A hedge fund manager’s expertise is in concocting schemes to bend rules and obscure crimes, to break the law or to buy it. Illegal insider tips hidden without a traced. High-frequency trading without actually caring about the product of the company invested in. Manipulating stocks with rumors or media. Exploiting tax loopholes. Manufacturing and marketing fraudulent financial products or bundles designed to fail so insurance money can be claimed. These are some of the ways that hedge fund managers break the law, make millions swindling hard-working families, and avoid being caught.

In modern times, radicalism doesn’t just increase in Islamic groups, it increases in political partisanship and financiers as well. Rhetoric and doctrines to support particular agendas become popularized through well-funded campaigns and propaganda,  often amongst rural, uneducated, and unsuspecting populations. Fear mongering and prejudice coupled with bigotry and the promised pleasures of materialism sway the minds of the electorate and purchase voting power in the grass-roots. As a war of civilization rages on the international front, a war of financial radicals pitted against the common weal ranges domestically — lobbied by Halliburton, the NRA, and big banks. Their viciousness is matched only by the fanaticism of the extremists who fight with each other overseas to see who will control oil resources. A philosophy that aggrandizes the ego and glorifies violence is used to seduce people, taking them back to fantasies of boyhood compensation sloganized in the works of 1-dimensional thinkers like Ayn Rand.

The erroneous philosophy of seeing competition, struggle, and war in everything. The juvenile outlook that society consists only of individuals and that government has no place in regulating, legislating, and providing infrastructure. These are the ideas of individuals who do not know what they are saying, and in their ignorance have even steeped to hatred of the poor. Rhetoric, such as “moochers”, “f freeloaders, and “the 47% who do not take responsibility for their lives” deserves no place in a society of mature souls, with spiritual insight, and moral integrity.

Individuals must voluntarily ask that their privileges be suspended if it would serve the common weal and ease the travails of their fellow countrymen. But this is not the interpretation given to the Bible anymore. Albeit, these were the sentiments and explicit intentions of Jesus Christ, Whom this Nation of God-fearing people reveres so much. So how could it be that national discourse has overlooked this striking passage from the mouth of Jesus, “go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Rich and engaging discourse from all sectors on these and other issues of collective importance will raise awareness and educate the masses in the nature of what transpires in the economic and political spheres around them. In self-propelling systems of distance education at the grassroots lies our only hope of an irrepressible movement. Knowledge and spiritual transformation are a light that will illuminate the economic-political axis of darkness, and liberate individuals to love their social institutions fully, reduce the extremes of wealth inequality, and nurture all people without prejudice in a system that rests-assured that the surest path to the protection of any one part is to ensure the prosperity of the whole.

Various economic policy suggestions have been proposed by way of solutions to the dilemmas listed above. In addition to spiritual transformation and grassroots education, practical steps to mitigate short-term damage in the present humanitarian crisis of poverty would do well to consider the following activist opportunities. A Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street financial transactions. This is a matter of justice. Every sale or transaction in the US is subject to sales tax, why is high-stakes multi-national gambling not taxed? It is certainly a sale, and it may even be worthy of a vice tax as well. This is a principled starting point. The tax rate can be increased until the rate of day trading slows down enough to represent a legitimate interest on the part of the investor in the product and mission of any given corporation and sufficient time is allowed for products and initiatives to come to fruition before the stock is deemed worthy of sale or withdrawal. Such a posture is more in keeping with the honest and genuine intentions of an investor seeking to sponsor the business of a corporation. The tax rate on stocks, bonds, and derivatives can be raised until high-frequency trading for example is eliminated. These taxes would be used to offset the damages done to the global infrastructure as a result of scams originating from Wall Street. As a matter of fact, eleven nations have already decided to adopt the Robin Hood tax to govern their own internal stock exchanges. For more information please visit robinhoodtax.org.

Another practical solution is state banks that could compete and replace Wall Street type banks in each of the US’s 50 states. North Dakota  has a State Bank functioning in a transparent, honest, and legitimate service model devoid of corporate shareholdings, illegally maintained profit requirements, and other pressures of financiering. We recommend the erection of 50 public state banks to support local city banks with loans to private citizens to mirror the success seen in the State Bank of North Dakota model. Bankers in these banks, as public servants, receive reasonable, and not extravagant, salaries. It makes sense for the government to give low-interest rate credit to these banks because they pursue the interests of the people, not their own selfish interests. For more information please visit the Public Banking Institute which is led by Ellen Brown and Marc Armstrong. Twenty states are currently exploring this idea with their help. It is morally imperative that conscientious citizens become active in the reform that could improve conditions of economic and social justice in our society. This discourse represents one of many constructive ways to reform Wall Street’s influence on the economy and capitol hill. Justice demands that labor be rewarded with wages, and those wages not be taken by corrupt bankers even if they lobby the law to be written in their favor and can’t be caught. Society needs reform.

“Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor, lest heedlessness lead them into the path of destruction, and deprive them of the Tree of Wealth. To give and to be generous are attributes of Mine; well is it with him that adorneth himself with My virtues.” 
sun trees cold
Categories
- Governance - Oppression - Prevailing Conceptions - Three Protagonists Discourse Justice

New World Order

Corrupt incentives drive people’s contribution to the public discourse. Politicians, businessmen, financiers, are all guilty. The discourse no longer represents an honest viewpoint of reality, the dominant slogans on TV and radio are a designed smoke-screen to hide the real structure, decision-making, and motives at play in the world of economic policy, legislation, and campaigning. The derangement in  economics, political deceit, and social manipulation is reaching unrecognizable proportions. Popular culture is responsible for making itself gullible to such influence. Our society nurtures a desire to be entertained from childhood, cultivating generations eager to be led by priests, politicians, advertising, pop idols, and whoever proves skillful at appealing to superficial emotions. Hence the increasing efficiency with which political marriages to the finance sector manipulate mass perceptions in the electorate during campaign season and drive up consumer demand with commercial advertising. The world’s social, economic, and political Order is in an irreparable downward spiral. Nothing can salvage it except a broad reconceptualization of our fundamental conceptions of society, self, government, global interdependence, the rule of Justice and Law, the reviving of the spirit of brotherhood in Religion, wide-scale increase in education and the free-flow of knowledge, robust discourse amongst the masses, self-sacrifice for unity, and a sense of  obedience to One Universal Cause.

Framing the problem and a plea to begin rethinking society’s fundamentals begins here with Professor David Harvey:

NWO
Categories
- Empowerment - Prevailing Conceptions - Three Protagonists Discourse Human Nature

Unemployment and Religion

No one looks for the source of economic problems in spiritual matters. Likewise, no one looks for solutions to economic problems through spiritual means. Unemployment is the self-claimed most important economic problem of the day, and yet, the fact that workers aren’t motivated to go to work isn’t seen as a systemic problem of our culture, but rather as a problem with those individual workers themselves. “Lazy”, some people call them. “Unmotivated” others say. And yet, what do we expect individual’s to feel motivated by in our current conception of the purpose and nature of employment? How does it draw on a human being’s capacity, talents, and aspirations? These are the sources of motivation after all.

Modern western society has reduced the individual’s perspective of work to what is termed “gainful employment.” The gainful employment conception sees work as solely aimed at acquiring the means for the consumption of produced goods. The main driving thrust of employment then is to put into  society the labor that earns one the credit on which to purchase society’s commodities. There is no real purpose or passion or spiritual worth intrinsic to the labor itself in this conception. Society has crafted innumerable “jobs”, to be filled, and “products” to be consumed around this vapid conception of employment.

No serious doctor would look at the human form and reduce the purpose of eating to being healthy, and the value of health to hoarding food. But that is precisely what we have done when we expect society to work for a salary, and expend that salary on the consumption of goods. The system is circular: acquisition and consumption resulting in the maintenance and expansion of the system of good production and, in consequence, upholding the practice of gainful employment. Whereas, the reality is that human life should have a purpose that transcends the mere physical dimension.

In the gainful employment conception, there is no consideration for matching a human being’s natural talents to her or his tasks, for the maximization of society’s benefit from her or his labor. Neither is there a sense of credence given to the dreams or aspirations of the individual, in what he or she deems worthy of their life’s work. Finally, there is very little collective planning with regard to what division of labor would be most efficient and conducive to the prosperity of society as a whole. Corporations are empowered to employ countless thousands of mindless workers without questioning the merits of the menial tasks they assign them to perform, many of which are a waste of true human potential, and taken cumulatively  usually detrimental to the interests of society. For example, the maintenance and running of enumerable fast food chains, which waste human talents and capacities on things like assembly line production for Big Macs or janitorial labor, meanwhile the whole time these establishments do a disservice to society, driving up the consumption of unhealthy foods and saturated fats, simple sugars, and processed goods.

Taken individually, things like labor of various complex levels, compensation of salaries and wages, and the purchasing of goods, groceries, and housing are all essential activities to the economic order, however the vapidness of the entire conception is demonstrable in its circular-ness. Bodies don’t live to eat, and expend energy to hunt food — we live to listen to music, love our families, serve our communities, and develop our potential for art, science, and civic engagement. Eating is just something we do to enable this whole process. Likewise with sleeping, and using the energy from our food to solely pursue another meal or shelter, clothing, and some other basic necessity. The purpose per se of our health in our bodies however is not the acquisition of the next meal, nor is it the purpose of food and rest and shelter simply to create those conditions in which we feel most comfortable and secure. They are part of a larger context in which meaning comes to be realized through a series of complex, interconnected social, personal, and spiritual pursuits that give a sense of transcendence and purpose to our lives.

The  inadequacy of the concept of gainful employment, as it is practiced in our modern culture can be read from two sources: First, the wide-scale apathy of workers and upswing in mass shootings that social media sources are covering as the natural expression of people on their daily routine grind as post-office workers, school boys, or university students. The second sign of the inadequacy of the conception of gainful employment is the mounting tide of people who are totally unemployed all together. The growing armies of the unemployed, who develop day by day an increased sense of demoralization and despair, are considered by those who believe in social safety nets and those that consider them lazy or un-ingenuitive, a bad sign for health of the economy. One of the most important indices of economic strength and prosperity is the unemployment level, and in turn, one the major causes of unemployment is the conception of gainful employment as it is understood in modern culture. A reconceptualization  of employment in popular culture is the spiritual solution to the economic problem of unemployment.

Workers

Categories
- Education - Oppression - Prevailing Conceptions Human Nature Justice Power

Economic Mirages

Disproportionate access to nutritious diets, quality housing, industry-recognized education, employment opportunities, and healthcare services would not in itself sow the seeds of rebellion were it not for the possessiveness of the privileged over their resources. Selfishness towards privilege is engendered through  fear of having to share what one possesses. An individual’s right to private property has been scapegoated to obscure a cultural obsession with commodification, and a philosophy that reduces human reality to an uninhabited marketplace. “Pure capitalism” and “Laissez-faire” market are coinages held up to prevent wide-spread questioning of the merits of “economic growth” as the purpose of social life. The view that reality is an exchange of commodities on a social marketplace reduces human relations to products, capital, and profits in a mutually exploitative fashion and has been mistaken for a substantive claim to self-identity by some in the 21st century. A debasing culture, value-system, and worldview has become pervasive. This world view objectifies every element of its surroundings into an object for domination, exploitation, and profit, be it earth, property, product, or people themselves. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand of the market” is as unreal today as it has been impotent historically. Children refuse to accept tales of invisible saviors, why have grown women and statesmen fallen for such costly fairy tales? Theories that scarcely applied to a time when international industries, sophisticated financing, and advertising propaganda were absent, cannot be seriously relied upon for guiding today’s economy.

Limitless consumption is a right, some aver, earned through individual “effort” and the courage to endure economic “risk”. If others lack commodities, it is simply because they are lazy and cowardly. But what does access to education and employment opportunities have to do with effort and entrepreneurial courage? The truth of the matter is that the poor work much harder and with much more resourcefulness than the rich on average. Of course those with superior access and opportunity do not perceive their advantage as having issued from a type of privilege which excludes and denigrates others. More surprisingly, they do not perceive how institutional complacency with this injustice numbers them historically as backwards, ignominious and primitive. How will posterity evaluate the empathy, nobility, and vision of our privileged generation? Unabashed before the specter of their own selfishness, they resort to passivity behind the laws of the status quo that safeguard and drag their feet to create inequality. Material things contain a fire within them. Hoarders suffocate within their smoldering homes. Agency is forfeited. Humans become slaves to possessions. Desire is an inglorious master.

A habit of the mind gone voracious, the insatiable hoarders of commodities become afflicted with the conviction that they can transform everything into objects of their purchasing power. Hence their strictly materialistic conception of reality. A vapid conviction that deprives reality, economic and social , of its intrinsic meaning. Money is the measure of all things, and profit the primary goal. Whereas the opposite should be true: price determines value. The consciousness, now neurotic, feels that what is worthwhile is to have more—always more. Especially to be halted are those ingrates who may steal priceless technologies to barter in exchange for their daily bread. Laws must be enacted – to protect “private property”. And yet, the argument has already become deranged once it is cast in terms of private property or the struggle to justify or redeem it. Private property is a right. That is irrelevant  This is rather a question of oppression, not rights. Oppression is not a right. Exploitation is not a right. Slavery is not a right. Calling these things pure capitalism, lassaiz-faire, or private property does not change their moral nature. Inequalities of access and opportunity do not allow people to work for their own betterment or for that of the community. This is not justice.

The status quo is protected by law and maintained by the institutionalization of inequality. To call for justice amounts to a call for institutional reform. Institutions legislate laws, educate police forces, and mechanize a system of coercing and normalizing the inequality. When caught between his own dignity and the steel of the system, a young worker becomes devitalized, made complacent, and in-animated. He becomes inanimate before the eyes of the law as well as the benefactors of that system that created both his crime and engineered the low estate that forced him into it. The power to devitalize, the specialty of the privileged class, is completely consistent with the ideology of commodification. Inanimate objects are naturally more possessable and manipulable. Psychologically, the drive to possess, and in possessing, to devitalize, is akin to the psychiatric diagnosis of sadism. Sadism is the derivation of pleasure from the domination and objectification of a sentient life form. Sadism therefore is a love of death, since in objectifying and dominating we deprive a life of its inalienable quality – freedom. Love of power, is the source of all evil, and a perversion of human drives. Privatization of possessions is not a path which must lead to the deification of commodities, the rise of consumerism, and the psychological obsession with domination and sadism. This path leads towards a cultural love of death. Therefore, it is necrophilia. Dead men, oppressed objects of the perpetuated system of inequality under which they patiently languish, are owned by the plutocratic minority, lacking any purpose except what is prescribed unto them by their privileged masters.

Categories
- Education - Prevailing Conceptions - Science Discourse Human Nature

Economics and Human Nature

Our theory of economics is predicated on the assumption that people and wants grossly outnumber opportunities and resources in our society. This is why competition is the basis for our economic system. Biology is as much a testimony to this fact, in the Darwinian interpretation, as the social reality is which denies people jobs and education on the basis of competitor’s performance.

The competitive theory of economics is based upon the ratio of goods to wants. The competitive theory of evolution is based upon our observation of the disproportionate reproductive resources claimed by the fittest members of a species. One of these theories has scientific evidence in support of it. How can we demonstrate the falsity of the competitive theory of economics without overcoming the facts on the ground that wants exceed goods? We must arrange for a new situation in which the wants do not exceed the goods. This set of facts will be more consistent with a new theory of economics and will not require competition. This organization will allow for the deconstruction of the competitive theory of human nature. Without a change in the structure of the market and the social order, how can the same facts (wants>goods) give rise to a new set of interpretations about social and economic reality (that human nature is actually cooperative)?

It is naive to think that we can think up an alternative theory of human and economic nature without a subject matter to work with, an empirical reality to examine, and a group of people who enact and experiment by which we learn. Initial conjectures, even of an enlightened and inspired nature, can only carry us so far. New food is needed for thought. New experience is needed for reflection. A constant stream of empirical data informs, refines, and alters working theories. Understanding the application of theory, both in terms of individual growth and social progress, increases manifold when study and service are intermingled concurrently. There, in the field of service, knowledge is tested, questions arise out of practice, and new levels of understanding are achieved.

What structures can you think of which demonstrate a distribution of resources and needs that allows the corroboration of the cooperative theory of human nature?

Categories
- Consultation - Education - Empowerment - Governance - Language - Oppression - Prevailing Conceptions - Religion - Three Protagonists Development Discourse Human Nature Justice Knowledge Oneness

Summary: Ridvan 2012 Message

Paragraph#:

1. Abdu’l-Baha’s Temple-ground piercing Centenary. Diverse participants then and now.

2. Divine civilization beyond mere adjustments to present order.

3. Erroneous assumptions of human nature, justified by failings, disallow spiritual potential.

4. Imprisonment enables sympathetic hearts. 5-Year Plan (5YP) features grasped. Intensify application.

5. Signs: individual transformation, divine communities, administration promotes human welfare. Protagonist’s mutual support.

6. Citizens, body politic, societal institutions struggle for power. Cooperative Baha’i alternative emerging: responsible individual, nurturing institutions, eager community.

7. Revelation recasts societal relationships. Economic injustice tolerated; disproportionate gain emblem of success. Eschew dishonesty, exploitation.

8. National Mashriqu’l-Adhkars to be raised in Democratic Republic of Congo and Papua New Guinea. Remarkable response to Plans.

9. Mashriqu’l-Adhkar weds worship and service, reflected in devotionals and educational process, correlates with size and SA. JYSEP fuels SC’s and CC’s. Learning site fortifies E&C. Erection of Local Houses of Worship: Battambang, Cambodia; Bihar Sharif, India; Matunda Soy, Kenya; Norte del Cauca, Colombia; and Tanna, Vanuatu clusters.

10. Temples Fund established. Sacrificial contributions invited.

11. Seven countries breaking Temple-ground. Every city prelude. From these Dawning-Points peal out anthems of His praise.

The Universal House of Justice

 

“…extraordinary reservoir of spiritual potential available to any illumined soul…”

 

Abbreviations:
5YP – Five Year Plan
SA – Social Action
JYSEP – Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program
SC – Study Circle
CC – Children’s Class
E&C – Expansion and Consolidation

 

 

Categories
- Governance - Human Body - Prevailing Conceptions Discourse Human Nature Justice Oneness

Economic Theory: Competition, the Key to Prosperity?

Human nature has been misinterpreted. We are not selfish and competitive by nature, but rather, altruistic and cooperative. Human societies to some extent actually represent an anomaly in the competitive theory of the jungle. Humans demonstrate a detailed division of labour and exchange of goods and services, with or without a cooperative intention on the individual level, between genetically unrelated individuals, that amounts to an economy-wide scheme of cooperation for collective prosperity. Modern societies with large organizational structures for meat and vegetable production and distribution, banking services and widespread trust in economic stability, and the rule of law and order, do the same. Since earliest days of the species Homo sapien, we have seen dense networks of exchange relations and practices of sophisticated forms of food-sharing, cooperative hunting, and collective warfare in hunter gatherer societies. The world of the animal for example, exhibits little to no distinguishable division of labour. In the jungle, cooperation is limited to small groups, and when it is seen it is almost certainly among genetically closely related individuals (eg: a family in a pack of wolves). Even in non-human primates (chimpanzees etc.), cooperation is orders of magnitude less developed than it is among humans. One may argue that certain insects such as ants and bees, or even the naked mole rat demonstrate cooperation in colonies of 1000’s of individuals working together. However, cooperation of these types of organisms cannot be appreciated except in the context of their considerable genetic homology. Genuine, conscious, cooperation that is biologically altruistic or selfless (ie: lacking genetic incentive) is seen in human society because of our unique nature, distinct from the jungle.

The “Jungle” interpretation of human nature comes from looking at humanity’s past of war and crime and deducing that human nature is selfish and competitive. No serious sociologist would look at a child and deduce that human beings are 2 feet tall and irrational. Yet, that is precisely what has been done when we look at humanity’s war- and crime-ridden history and deduce that human nature is selfish and competitive. Over the course of the child’s maturation and development it will become evident that he is actually capable of being a 5’10” professor of physics, for example. To judge human nature based upon an immature stage in human development leads to misconceived notions of who we are and how we should behave. The problem arises from the mistake of taking descriptive observation and mistaking them for a prescription of how things should be. The is-ought fallacy. Based on the observation of selfish and competitive behaviour, sociologists have prescribed selfish and competitive standards for others to follow. Instead of describing humankind’s violent past and seeking to overcome and transcend these difficulties in the future, many social theorists normalize these characteristics and prescribe them as the mode of interaction in economics and political practice. The sad truth is that much of our social order is built with this view of human nature in mind, catering to the worst aspects of our potential. No wonder society and the global state of affairs are in such shambles. A distinctive effort is needed to rethink human nature and our relationship to the collective order. Nothing less than a spiritual revolution in the hearts and minds of people and a transformation of the values of society will redeem us from the course we have set for ourselves with bankrupt self-conceptions.

Current economic theory is modeled around a self-interested conception of human nature analogous to the competitiveness of animals fighting for survival and reproductive resources in a jungle. I believe human nature is fundamentally altruistic, analogous to the harmony of cells and tissues cooperating for total organismic prosperity. The best advantage of the part is pursued in the progress of the whole. Cooperation of the various parts leads to health, and selfishness of any cell leads to cancer. The human body and not the jungle is what I choose as my model for societal and economic organization.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g

Assumptions of the Jungle Interpretation of Human Nature:
1. Human beings are naturally self-interested
2. There is a finite amount of goods, services, and opportunities with an infinite amount of wants, drives, and competitors
3. Competition is both biologically necessary and mandated by the scarcity of resources
4. Survival of the fittest is not just a biological law, but a social one as well, equally applicable to the biological and social human condition

Assumptions of the Body Interpretation of Human Nature:
1. Human beings are naturally altruistic
2. Goods are produced in proportion to the sense of a duty, purpose, and enterprise animating human endeavours, individually and collectively
3. Needs are satisfied in a way that does justice to their severity and intensity, which balances the extremes of satisfaction and want society-wide
4. Creation of a just and prosperous world order is the fruit of all social evolution, just as the manifestation of the rational mind has been the fruit of biological evolution

 

Categories
- Consultation - Empowerment - Governance - Human Body - Prevailing Conceptions Discourse Justice

Discourse and Politics: Blood in the Arteries of Governance

Discourse on the following topics has brought these themes to the point of being reconceptualized. Certain foundational principles have emerged and crystallized from ongoing discourse. Principles we now believe in in a new way are:

1) Unity of all Humankind
2) Justice according to the Laws of God for all
3) Knowledge, as the central feature of social existence, the generation of which is prerogative and responsibility of all
4) Power, corrupted by partisanship today, must be revolutionized by the power of cooperation, love, unity, spirituality, selflessness, collective-mindedness, and humility.

The fundamental difference between the governance of the present and the governance of the future will be the values of the governors. Unity of the people will be: 1) an assumption about the nature of their collective trusteeship of the governed. Baha’u’llah writes, “The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My trust.” If the assumption is that all citizens are equal subjects under one government then disadvantages will not be allowed to amass disproportionately in one sector. 2) The self-conception of governance must change to recognizing itself as the greatest champion of justice for all people. Associated with this is 3) the requirement of promotion of language that reflects the selflessness of the speaking party and grounds any and all validity or claim to be heard in the public forum in the collective well-being. Thoughts will be entertained only that aim at the betterment of all people without regard for particularistic interests. And proposals will be entertained only that allocate resources in accordance with what serves the long-term, principled interests of all people. Baha’u’llah addressing the concourse of the rulers of the earth writes “Take ye counsel together, and let your concern be only for that which profiteth mankind and bettereth the condition thereof.”

How can there be different people, with different ways of life and social structures, but all with a binding unity? How are the diverse tissues of a body coordinated to achieve maximum efficiency and prosperity for all? In pursuit of collective unity and prosperity, rulers ought to regard the world as the human body which, though created whole and perfect, now has various social, economic and political imbalances  as a body that has been afflicted with illness and maladies. Selfish, particularistic, or corrupt politicians, of whom partisanship is a subset, are like untrained, uneducated, fake doctors who have pursued their own materialistic desires at the expense of the common weal.  And through the violent and competitive electoral and social system we have created if a well-trained and educated physician did intervene, his influence was limited and interrupted and the recovery remained limited to a small region of the body. Collectively, the unity and prosperity of the human race has not been realized.  “That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of all the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith.”

This can in no way be achieved except through the power of a skilled, an all-powerful and inspired Physician. Any representation to the contrary is false. The testimony of all history is obvious. Mankind suffers, and selfishness reigns at the level of statesmanship, where selflessness should have flourished decades ago. We must have laws within our discourse against selfish ideology or intentions and we must promote a discourse that glorifies and appreciates educated, thoughtful, proposals that aim for the betterment of all people with no surreptitious corruption or financial motives. We must vote for and uplift those who have demonstrated a history of consistent selfless action, thoughtful planning for universal betterment, and unwavering discipline and justice in the face of tempting expedients. A stricter order of appreciation for the level of selflessness in the ideology of political leaders is necessary. Those with power must support a culture and enact laws that ensure values which promote those with selfless tendencies, and remove those with particularistic or corrupt inclinations.  “It behoveth every ruler to weigh his own being every day in the balance of equity and justice and then to judge between men and counsel them to do that which would direct their steps unto the path of wisdom and understanding. This is the cornerstone of statesmanship and the essence thereof.”

The publication of high thoughts is the dynamic power in the arteries of life; it is the very soul of the world.

Categories
- Governance - Prevailing Conceptions

Assumptions Underlying Governance

As we can clearly see around us, governance stands in need of reconceptualization.  At this moment in history, when humankind is in a transition phase, and when changes are occurring at accelerated rates, the development of just and effective forms of government is imperative.  Democratic government, which has become the predominant form over the last century, has lost its legitimacy as a result of the corruption, hypocrisy, and elitism that has come to characterize its practice, rending it ineffective to address complex social challenges.  One main cause is its cooptation by lobbyists and interest groups – which, nominally may seem democratic, but in reality are just manipulations through selfish expressions of power.  These problems are not just confined to politics.  At the level of the market, corporate governance is viewed with distrust and suspicion – again, through the corruption and hypocrisy that characterize their economics, and through their pursuit of self-serving goals at the expense of broader concerns.  The result in this case has been outrageous ecological damage, a collapsed worldwide economy, and an ever-widening abyss between the rich and the poor.  Even governance of civil society and social organizations have been subject to the same problems of competing selfish factions, corruption, and viewing with otherness – rendering anarchy in the management of a school board or a hospital.  Considering the interdependence that characterizes all levels of governance, the interactions of these three levels leaves dismal expectations in one’s mind.

These are just the symptoms.  Any change must be at the level of principle – deeper still, at the level of assumption.  Some assumptions underlying these problems include:  1) Governance has to be divisive.  2) A single individual with good intentions can go into the system and change it.  3) Government is inherently ineffective, but necessary, so the more privatization, the better.  4) Governance is just an expression of power struggle.  5) There is no role for nurturing human potential.  6) Governance is largely a bureaucratic endeavor, and bureaucracy is cumbersome by nature.  7) To prevail, you have to undermine; to win, another has to lose.  Can you think of others?

The next series of posts will provide some insights into the concept of governance based on the assumptions provided throughout previous posts, rooted in a recognition of the spiritual dimension of human existence as well as drawn from the experience of governance within the Baha’i community.  What will be extremely helpful is your thoughts and contributions on the topic – to generate more and more insights; to understand issues, concerns, and needs; to raise questions for further exploration; and to identify challenges associated with profound changes both at the level of thought and at the level of structure.

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Categories
- Governance - Prevailing Conceptions - Three Protagonists Power

Governance and Discipline

How does the conception of power from the last few posts shape thoughts regarding governance?  Currently, because our society’s structures and relationships are dominated by self-interested expressions of power, governance is viewed as a set of regulations and rules of conduct between competing parties, or an instrument of oppression by those in positions of privilege.  Government, viewed in this manner, disciplines the populous in two ways – through systems of overt reward and punishment to ensure order and the status quo; and through a version of “common sense” indoctrinated through government education and socialization to ensure the easy governability of the people.  What results is a perpetual struggle for power.  Little wonder the lack of trust in authority.

As demonstrated with the analogy of the relationship between the nervous system and the muscular system in the body’s release of power, the role of government instead, is to guide and coordinate collective capacity towards pursuit of collective goals, decided upon through consultation.  The highest purpose of institutions is nurturing human potential – releasing the creative powers of individuals and communities and harmonizing them together.  Discipline also takes on new meaning.  On the individual level, it is responsibly aligning creative capacity and action with collective endeavors, and consulting thoughtfully with institutions.  On the institutional level, it is putting aside their own interest, valuing the welfare of all, and consulting with humility, never considering themselves intrinsically superior.  On both levels, this discipline is not imposed by checks and balances, nor by fear or incentive.  It is ultimately a conscious, spiritual, internal process entailing self-sacrifice and alignment with a higher purpose.  And this process will lead to empowered individuals, empowered communities, and empowered institutions, utilizing power for the betterment of the world.

Do you have any relationships with authority that nurtures and releases your capacities and powers?  What are the dynamics?

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Categories
- Prevailing Conceptions Human Nature Power

Structures of Contest

With the understanding that the human being is a potential instrument for the expression of spiritual powers and capacities within social realty, just as a lump of iron has the potential for the expression of magnetic forces within the physical world, then how do we conceive of social structures and their role in fostering human nature?

Our current models of society have normalized a contest of power.  They are based on the assumptions that human beings are only competitive, egoistic, and selfish by nature; thus the role of social institutions are to mitigate and regulate selfishness in an equal playing field in order to maximize utility – much like the role of a referee in a competitive sports game.  We have deluded ourselves into believing that the mythical free market, driven by some “invisible hand”, will bring about well-being; we have fooled ourselves into thinking that a tug-of-war will result in movement.  So it is seen today, not only in sports, but in the economic, political, legal, and educational systems of society the results of acting on these assumptions – the disintegration and breakdown of academia, the collapse of economic vitality, mistrust and apathy towards governance, extreme moral relativism in law, and utter and irreparable ecological disaster.

There are other assumptions about human nature and society, including those being advanced here – that human beings have a spiritual nature, with spiritual capacities and powers; that the nature of human beings is cooperative, reciprocal, and selfless.  The culture of contest that is normalized in prevailing thought is severely constraining the developing of our latent potentialities.  In our age of interdependence and imminent maturity, collective prosperity can only be achieved through creating systems, environments, and communities that cultivate our spiritual sources of power.  It is an evolutionary imperative.  Otherwise, we will continue to have ruinous consequences.

Categories
- Oppression - Prevailing Conceptions Development Power

Exploitation and Oppression

The processes of development have adopted values driven by economic growth, values that often view all things as means to a narrow-minded end, values that reduce an individual’s identity to a producer, consumer, and coveter of goods, values that reduce human virtue to economic goods. The underlying assumptions and values of the materialistic enterprise have ended up characterizing development efforts and relationships as exploitative and oppressive.

One of the most obvious examples is humanity’s relationship with nature. It seems as though there is a competition between nations to destroy ecosystems with greater and greater swiftness in their attempt to sap as much output in the shortest amount of time, completely disregarding any requirements beyond the present. Little wonder that the state of health is in a crisis, as air and water are poisoned to produce the same shoes that one wears to the emergency room. If endless material acquisition is the goal, then why shouldn’t the planet’s resources be drained?

The relationship of the individual and the institutions of society is another example. Individuals, groups, and societies are fed manipulations of their identity so that corporations can profit. They are denied self-knowledge, and thus are grievously oppressed – in fact, the system depends on demoralized and self-serving individuals who have no sense of collective responsibility. They view their own human capacities for good, for honesty, for cooperation, all in terms of economic profit or loss – thus, their own spiritual potentialities become relative and subservient to economic growth.

Even relations among individuals become exploitative and oppressive. There is a constant power struggle between classes, races, ranks, and statuses; “how much can I gain from another” becomes the dominating question in the workplace, education, the social scene, and even romantic relationships. Others are seen as means to one’s end. And then people are perplexed as to why friendship and marriage have become so superficial and so difficult.

Exploitation and oppression are inherent features of the materialistic view of human reality. How does a spiritual understanding of human nature change the dynamics and characteristics of development and relationships?

Categories
- Oppression - Prevailing Conceptions Development

Materialism

Today’s vision of betterment is dogmatically materialistic.  The interpretation of reality that progress equals economic development, and that people’s happiness would only be the result of better health, food, education, living conditions, etc., has consolidated itself to become the deciding factor in the direction of society.  In the West, this relegated spirituality and religion to the realm of personal preference – each individual could hold whatever belief or relationship with transcendence that he wished, but society’s course would not be influenced.  (This fragmentation is already problematic in itself, independent of the content of what is being fragmented.)  Throughout the rest of the world, where the view that human nature is fundamentally spiritual is a common truth, the ideological imperialism of the West marginalized people’s deepest convictions – rather than challenged them directly.  Faith became impotent to direct society, something that it had done for millenia prior.

The field of development was rooted in these underlying materialistic assumptions and values.  Since the end of the World War II up to the present, global development efforts have been judged, by their own standards, a failure, often causing the opposite of their intended, well-intentioned, and idealistic goals – resulting in the widening of the gap between the rich and poor, the plunging into hopelessness of whole peoples, the desolation of vast geographic areas and ecosystems.  Economic activities, rather than knowledge, assume the central role of social existence; while knowledge is reduced to information, and is valuable insomuch as it can aid economic growth.

Even diverse worldwide economic systems, different in their approaches and methods, still nonetheless held the same underlying assumption.  Whether a state-controlled system, seeking to liberate the populous from struggle; or a system of competitism, invoking the “invisible hand” to create a prosperous society if each individual sought his own economic well-being; all yielded similar results: a host of personal and social pathologies, including anxieties, prejudice, apathy, breakdown of family life, ineffective educational systems, and consumer culture, just to start.

Economic growth is not the problem; it is essential, provided it is in the context of building a just and unified world civilization, having both a spiritual and material component.  Materialism’s error was in the arbitrary attempts to divorce humanity’s physical development from its spiritual development.  Both need to advance coherently.

Categories
- Oppression - Prevailing Conceptions Justice Knowledge

Advertising

Let us take advertising as an example of social forces that cause oppression through distortion of self-knowledge.  Advertising, a euphemism for propaganda, mutilates our conceptions of reality.  Images presented to youth, at a time of rising self-awareness, present unattainable goals and appearances that create an endless struggle for self-confidence.  A real girl’s purpose is to attract men.  A real man is defined by physical power.  Sexuality is the center of existence.  All of a sudden, a commercial draws a conclusion between a bike helmet and romance; between a brand of shoes and a one-night stand; between a certain snack food and finding the love of your life.

The idea behind advertising is to create a culture to which one desires to belong.  Increasingly, teenagers are categorized according to attitudes towards which products can be catered.  Advertisers link their product with whatever culture this teenager identifies with, and symbolizes it with happiness.  A studious youth is sold state-of-the-art books and study aids that promise to bring them happiness through out-competing their peers academically.  A rebellious youth is offered unique and shunned earrings to fulfill their desires to be non-comformist.  Even an environmentally-conscious youth is targeted for t-shirts that state “yay recycling” – t-shirts that have ironically been made at a factory that pollutes the environment.

Manipulative and self-interested social forces are pervasive.  They maintain ignorance and propagate injustice.  Only through empowerment in knowledge can they be overcome.

Categories
- Prevailing Conceptions Justice Oneness

Fear of Uniformity

Current society, quite understandably so, has a fear of imposed conformity in the name of unity.  History has repeatedly given examples of oppressive systems under the disguise of unity – feudalism, castes, communism, fascism, theocracy, nationalism, and authoritarianism.   This legitimate fear has resulted in the populous back-lashing against government and order – manifested as distrust of organized religion, distrust of social systems such as medicine and academics, distrust of most economic and legal regulations, distrust of any position of power – leading to an ungovernable condition.  Appeals to social harmony and unity today are met with such resistance and suspicion.  (Ironically, current society also embraces very uniformed practices in economics, education, health care, agriculture, and governance, to name a few).

Promotion of unity, therefore, cannot take a superficial approach, lest it be criticized by historically informed and socially conscious observers as, at best, hopelessly naive and unrealistically idealistic; and at worst, threatening, dangerous, and oppressive – claiming it to be a suffocation of diversity, a silencing of thought, and a violation of freedoms and rights.

To intelligently promote oneness, conceptions of unity must increasingly become related to and coherent with the principle of justice, which necessitates the preservation of diversity.  Diversity is a source of strength; while uniformity, even the replication of something correct, is always weak.  The purpose of justice is achieving unity, and unity can only be sustained through the power of justice.  Unity is the governing dynamic of reality, and justice is the means of its expression through social reality.

What are the questions we can ask that help guide us towards achieving this coherence?

Categories
- Prevailing Conceptions Discourse Oneness

Beyond the Culture of Contest

Dr. Michael Karlberg is a professor of Communications at Western Washington University whose work centers around the advancement of collaboration and mutualism in human relations.  In his TEDx Talk, Dr. Karlberg challenges the assumption that human nature is inherently competitive and self-interested. The consequence of this largely unchallenged assumption, that humans only have the capacity for competition and self-interest, is the establishment and entrenchment of a “culture of contest.”  Viewed from within this culture, governance is a contest for power, justice is a contest for legal advocacy, and education is a contest for grades and recognition.  Dr. Karlberg’s analysis exposes this very pervasive culture of contest and suggests alternative ways of thinking and acting that stem from a very deep commitment to humanity viewed as a singular and interconnected social body, about whose latent potentials we have only begun to learn.

What are the attributes of a culture which views human beings as cooperative and mutualistic?

What motivations sit deeper in the human heart than selfishness and competition?  How have you seen these motivations tapped in a way that advances individual and collective development?

The TEDx Talk can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0ZCAbYrQ7Q

Dr. Karlberg’s blog is agencyandchange.com

Categories
- Prevailing Conceptions - Three Protagonists Human Nature Oneness

The Rise of Christianity and Individualism

The socio-spiritual phenomenon beginning circa 33 AD inaugurated an era of ever-deepening emphasis on the social reality of the individual, in terms of her or his status and rights, merits and responsibilities, and origins and opportunities. The various religions of Christianity are not individualistic ideologies per se. Indeed Christianities historically and geographically have inculcated tens of thousands of institutionalized structures designed to give prominence to community based and collectivist forms of social organization, value normalization, and moral education. Churches speak of their communal existence through congregational participation as “the body of Christ,” a metaphor of the unity of all its members into a single body unified by ritualistic and soteriological association. Worldwide, altruistic charity has often been associated with church-related motivations in television, newspapers, and news media. Notwithstanding, individualism emerged as a new way of thinking and acting that grew in seventeenth century Europe. At this stage it was confined to purely secular sectors of society and indeed may have attracted some heterodoxical condemnations from church authorities against its philosophical proponents at the time of its initial formulation. It was in the context of the political and economic rights of the propertied that the initial dogmas of individualism, with imperatives for behavior and property protection, were classically formulated. At the time this was a more or less secular domain of concern. Nevertheless Christianity would go on to re-shape the modern notion of the individual in a way that restructured societal self-conception and organization forever after. A force as powerful as Christian faith revolutionizes social realities it touches. As the dove that lighted upon Jesus’ shoulder after baptism in river Jordan, the history of the individual before and after, has never been the same. With the rise of Christianity, people had the opportunity to choose whether they wanted to believe in Jesus as God’s Messiah or to deny Him. Faith, previously a matter of birthright in the Jewish milieu from which Christianity emerged, became a matter of personal choice. Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on Earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34–39 NASB) Judaism saw religion as a product of ethnicity and birthright, situating religion squarely in the domains of community based, collectivist forms of social organization. Penance was earned by a Jewish community when it unitedly sacrificed non-human animals to appease the indiscriminate wrath of God for their collective transgressions as a community. This relationship existed in Christianity at the level of the individual, where religious allegiance became a matter of personal choice, salvation became a function of faith in Jesus, and ethnicity and community – indeed all manner of collectivist social organization – were categorically subordinated to individual religious conscience. Communities bound by blood were transmuted into congregations constructed on personal faith, God’s chosen people through family origin and birthright were transformed into communities of salvation through the inner experience of belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Protestantism further pioneered the framework of rights and responsibilities that led to individualism as a cultural and economic status quo. Max Webber insightfully deconstructs the involved sociological link between the protestant work ethic and the imperatives and motivations central to economic laissez-faire capitalism, within which individualism flourished widely. The stage was set for industrialization, the scientific revolution, unilateral economic growth, and various associated global challenges.

Categories
- Prevailing Conceptions - Three Protagonists

Ideological Either-Or

In addition to individualism and individuality, here are two more examples of fragmented social theories on the conception of the individual: anarchism and socialism.

Anarchism’s view places the individual as the source of inspiration, and values freedom for the people from the state.  It is not the popularly-held notion that individuals just create disorder in society through lack of rules.  Rather, social rules and moral principles are only valuable to the extent that they don’t repress the individual, but free him from imposition of political authority.  People naturally have energy and talents, and they should have the freedom to express and develop these.  A collection of self-interested actors will create a successful collective.

Socialism’s target for critique is capitalism, in which, they claim, egoism and anarchistic pursuit of self-interest creates disorder and disunity.  Socialism resolves this by places higher value on service to the community and placing confidence in order.  No individual is free from social ties, and thus no individual can simply pursue one’s own interest; the Robinson Crusoe ideal is absurd and can’t actually exist.  Socialism’s collective values, implemented by a strong state apparatus, will establish an equality and freedom that capitalism cannot naturally achieve.

Clearly, none of these theories provide an adequate enough understanding of human nature required for humanity’s imminent transformation.  How have these prevalent thoughts been incorporated into society’s current view of an individual?  What are they missing?  What do they have in common?  What are some of your thoughts on human nature?

Categories
- Prevailing Conceptions - Three Protagonists

Individualism and the West

Individuality consists in the inner feelings and essential subjectivity of the human condition. Individualism on the other hand is a politico-economic doctrine instating rights and privileges of persons. The former is empirical fact; the latter, a cornerstone of anglo-american political theory and cultural heritage. The concept of the radical individual is a new historical phenomenon, unique to the modern age. Ties of loyalty and love connect human hearts as always, but beneath it lies awareness that we do so as individuals with the freedom and liberty to decide otherwise. Diverse cultures and divergent stages in history have seen types of humans conscious of themselves only as members of one collective, one party, one corporation, one tribe, one army, one race, one civilization, a single species. Our notion of the individual as an entity separate from the collectivity is the product of an evolutionary process that contributes in part to the roots of  Western civilization. North America and Western Europe have placed an increasingly weighty emphasis on the individual. Human names are not an empirical fact, and yet to disregard a person’s name and instead address her or him according to their function is culturally rude. Perhaps this is universally true. Alternatively, it goes against the individualistic agenda of aggrandizing the importance of the personal identity. A complicated and persistent program with roots traceable to the 12th century can be seen consolidating itself in cultural attitudes towards death, the writing of novels, the painting of portraits, and the crafting of sculptures. Religion follows suit. The development of the confessional in Catholicism and salvation through faith alone in protestant Christianity have brought the hegemony of churches into the consciences of individuals, recasting religiosity in the mold of economically advantageous policies, controlling industrial productivity and entrepreneurial innovation through the soul of the fundamental protagonist.

Categories
- Prevailing Conceptions Discourse

Caricatures of Human Nature

There are multiple models of human nature that have been claimed on various levels throughout the ages, and regardless of whether they are religiously or philosophically associated claims, social models employed by policy makers, rhetorical assertions used to group rationalize behavior, or popular opinions constructed for economic profits of advertisers, they are all highly fragmented conceptions – including such examples as materialism, that humans are sophisticated animals with the illusion of self-consciousness as a result of neurochemistry; hedonism, that human happiness is achieved through consumption and seeking pleasure; individualism, that humans are atomistic, relationships are a means to an end, and society is a mere aggregate of autonomous actors; and competitism, that humans are inherently conflictual and motivated by self-interest.

These caricatures of human reality are not just interesting to discuss, but have real social ramifications.  Their selective and exaggerated views have been reified in human consciousness and social structure, serving to normalize, justify, and encourage the associated patterns of behavior – often egoistic and harmful.  These behaviors, in turn, become models for social structures and institutions, which shape behaviors, and the result is a vicious self-reinforcing feedback cycle.

It’s true, fragmented conceptions of human nature did not originally create these behaviors, but started off simply describing them – after all, human beings did have selfish tendencies prior to Adam Smith.  The problem is when descriptive models of human nature are used for prescriptive purposes.  It is then that problematic models are reified, policies are built around them, self-interested behaviors are encouraged and normalized, and the flawed conception is reinforced.

Categories
- Prevailing Conceptions

Consumer Culture

Today’s consumer culture, a byproduct of the cult of the individual’s materialistic religion, is unapologetic as it reinterprets every aspect of human history and behavior within its single-minded view, as it imposes its ideology through a cultural hegemony, as it infiltrates its value in all social systems and structures – education, media, law, health care, and development being far from immune.  If one analyzes it deeply, it is simply no more than the triumph of animal nature and impulse, free now from any religious restraints, however superstitious they may have been.

One clear example is its effect on language.  Behaviors which at one point were characterized as moral failings are now rewarded, encouraged, and prized.  Selfishness is referred to as a commercial resource; truth is reduced to a negotiable commodity; pride is viewed in terms of social value; manipulation is called advertising.  The loss of meaning in our language reflects the profound loss of meaning in all relationships that make up civilization – breakdown of family life, weakening of community ties, dysfunctional educational systems, institutional power-struggles, the worldwide crisis of authority.  And this is perhaps the greatest crime of consumer culture.