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- 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
Expansion & Consolidation Junior Youth Empowerment Program Social Action

Intensive Program of Growth

“In clusters at an early stage of development, it is possible to work with a core group of believers—say five to ten—and by giving them a vision of the framework, assisting them to make plans, and accompanying them in teaching and other acts of service, set in motion a process that will lead to sustained growth. One should never underestimate what a handful of capable tutors can do and how effectively they can respond to growth and raise up new human resources. The vital component of such an incipient growth program is an emphasis on teaching, which needs to be present from the start. Again, this is a key element of learning from clusters with intensive programs of growth. Those that have attained a healthy, sustainable growth pattern are characterized by a focus on teaching, in particular direct teaching, and not just on extending invitations to core activities. Where intensive programs of growth have stalled at a plateau of low numbers of enrollments, the dimension missing from the framework for action is direct, collective teaching.”

“Yet, although many admire your dynamism and ideals, the true significance of these endeavours is less apparent to the world at large. You, however, are aware of your part in a mighty, transforming process that will yield, in time, a global civilization reflecting the oneness of humankind. You know well that the habits of mind and spirit that you are nurturing in yourselves and others will endure, influencing decisions of consequence that relate to marriage, family, study, work, even where to live. Consciousness of this broad context helps to shatter the distorting looking glass in which everyday tests, difficulties, setbacks, and misunderstandings can seem insurmountable. And in the struggles that are common to each individual’s spiritual growth, the will required to make progress is more easily summoned when one’s energies are being channelled towards a higher goal—the more so when one belongs to a community that is united in that goal.”

“It is important to note that, as a programme of growth is being brought into existence, an emergent community spirit begins to exert its influence on the course of events. Whether activities are scattered across the cluster or concentrated in one village or neighbourhood, a sense of common purpose characterizes the endeavours of the friends. Whatever level of organization served to channel the early manifestations of this spirit, the systematic, coordinated multiplication of core activities necessitates that higher levels soon be attained. Through various measures, greater structure is lent to activity, and initiative, shaped largely by individual volition before, is now given collective expression. A complement of coordinators appointed by the institute moves into place—those for study circles, for junior youth groups, and for children’s classes. Any order of appointment is potentially valid. Nothing less than an acute awareness of circumstances on the ground should make this determination, for what is at stake is not compliance with a set of procedures but the unfoldment of an educational process that has begun to show its potential to bring about the spiritual empowerment of large numbers.”

Categories
- Governance - Oppression Development Discourse Health Care Justice

“Concentrations of Wealth” by Michael Karlberg

A recent study by Oxfam provided some striking data regarding growing disparities of wealth and poverty within and between countries around the globe:

50% of the world’s wealth is now owned by 1% of the population.

This richest 1% has 65 times as much combined wealth as the bottom 50% of the population.

The world’s richest 85 people control the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50% of the population.

10% of the population controls 86% of all the assets in the world, while the poorest 70% control only 3% of assets.

The amount of wealth hidden in secret tax shelters is estimated to be $18.5 trillion, which exceeds the entire GDP of the richest country on earth (US GDP = $15.8 trillion).

In the US, the richest 1% of the population captured 95% of new wealth generated after the 2007 financial crisis, while the bottom 90% became poorer.

The combined wealth of Europe’s 10 richest people exceeds the total cost of stimulus measures implemented across the EU between 2008 and 2010.

The report goes on to show that these growing income disparities are being seen in most democratic countries today and it attributes this trend to “political capture” – or the control of political institutions by the wealthiest segments of society, who are re-writing national and international laws and policies in ways that serve only their narrow self-interests.

Which raises an important question: what can be done to reverse these trends?

The Oxfam report suggest that “popular politics” – or the political mobilization or poor and working classes in support of progressive taxation as well as investments in education, health, and other public services – will be needed to reverse such trends.

I fully agree that progressive taxation as well as investments in education, health, and other public services are essential. But achieving and sustaining these kinds of advances will require much more than “popular politics.” This is because the underlying problem is, in part, structural.

Western liberal democracies are structured according to the logic of interest-group competition. When governance is organized in this way – as a contest for power – it will always be divisive and dysfunctional at best, oppressive at worst.

For reasons I’ve outlined elsewhere, electoral contests invariably invite the corrupting influence of money; they diminish the inclusion and participation of historically marginalized individuals or groups; they reduce complex issues down to manipulative slogans; and they ignore the well-being of the masses of humanity.

Stated another way, when governance is organized as a contest for power, it will inevitably result in political capture.

Popular political mobilization will, in exceptional historical circumstances, result in temporary advances for the cause of social justice and economic equity. But the long-term trends will continue to be characterized by the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of fewer and fewer people – as the history of the 19th, 20th, and early 21st centuries abundantly demonstrates.

These trends cannot be reversed merely through popular mobilization within current political structures.  They will only be truly reversed when the organizing logic of interest-group competition is replaced with a new structural logic, derived from consciousness of the oneness of humanity — or recognition of the organic unity and interdependence of the entire social body.

It is, therefore, toward the cultivation of this consciousness, and the construction of new models of governance that are coherent with it, that we need to bend our energies in the long-term, if we hope to truly reverse the deeply troubling trends identified in the Oxfam report.

http://agencyandchange.com/2014/01/24/concentrations-of-wealth/

one of a kind

Categories
Expansion & Consolidation Junior Youth Empowerment Program Social Action

Houston Neighborhood Reflection Gathering Agenda

Click Here to download a word document of the Houston Neighborhood Reflection Gathering Agenda.

Compiled by youth serving in three focus neighborhoods around Harris cluster, the agenda represents the questions that arise from experience by those laboring shoulder to shoulder, not in the abstract, with animators and junior youth in the field of service. Please reflect on these agenda items as a teaching team, prepare responses on the basis of your shared experience since the last reflection gathering, and divvy up the topics amongst your team members to encourage universal participation. Thoughtful reflections, stumbling blocks and how they became stepping stones, beautiful pictures and audiovisual presentations are all welcome! Looking forward to seeing you!

Harris County Cluster

Neighborhood Reflection Gathering

18:00, 8 Sultan 170 B.E.

(1/26/2014)

Attendees: ____________  ____________  ____________  ____________  ____________  ____________  ____________  ____________  ____________  ____________  ____________  ____________  ____________  ____________  ____________  ____________  ____________  __________  __________

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*******************************************TEAM PRESENTATIONS********************************************
(Agenda derived from consultation with indigenous and visiting youth who are serving at the grassroots  in focus neighborhoods)

Each team please present an update on your experience and learnings since the last reflection gathering. Please share your team’s prepared responses to the questions below, having divided the questions up amongst the group members.

  1. Frequency and regularity of meetings: How can we extend our grassroots neighborhood mode of learning to other spheres of operation, like our reflection meetings? Discuss the frequency and regularity of the teaching team’s meetings and how its focus on the messages of the Universal House of Justice in weekly cycles of action, reflection and consultation has led to increased intensity.
  2. Focus and Act on the Messages of the Universal House of Justice: Has our understanding of the implications of Revelation increased manifold by joining study and service? In the field of service, what knowledge has been put to test? What knowledge has been generated out of practice? How can we make our gatherings such as the one we will have an instrument to diffuse that knowledge more effectively?
  3. Three Challenges and Three Overcomings: Have we seen how progress is achieved through the dialectic of crisis and victory? Describe three challenges or crises your group has faced and three ways you overcome those challenges and it led to victory?
  4. Application of 3 month cycles: How the groups are using the three month cycles to expand and then consolidate? Describe the cycles of activity to which we are all aspiring, and what we have done to emulate it.
  5. Discussion/stories of:
    1. Books: How have the animators inculcated a meaningful discussion of the lessons with the JY? What are some of the adversities faced? How has the group overcome them? 
      1. How to create and maintain focus and participation in the JY group
        1. Tactics for increasing participation
        2. Healthy incentives and rewards
    2. Maintain discipline
      1. Dealing with youth who distract or disrupt others
      2. Enforcing rules – going over them periodically (Book 5, section 3)
      3. Form strong bonds of friendship to eliminate the need for discipline
    3. Parents: How has the group articulated the purpose of the JYSEP to parents in the community? What are some challenges encountered? How has the group overcome them?
      1. Discussion in different languages? Overcoming language barriers.
      2. What concepts are most key to eliciting parental support?
    4. Methods of expanding JY membership and number of groups
    5. Conversations that were formative for relationships with Junior Youth
    6. Overcoming prejudices of race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status within the neighborhood
    7. Usage of the arts
      1. Incorporate singing – powerful in assisting memorization
      2. Drawing, Drama, Painting, Composing Music/Rap,
    8. Service Projects: what projects have been attempted and how did it go?
  6. Long-term goals
    1. Home-front pioneering: How we are investing long-term in transformation and investigating realities conducive to home-front pioneer, in which youth commit a year or two to live in the communities where the grassroots movements are occurring?
    2. Empowerment of indigenous youth: How are we empowering local youth, those who are indigenous to neighborhoods, to take full ownership of the JY program, as well as empowering them in the consultation, action, and reflection cycle?

O Poeple of Light“O people of Justice! Be as brilliant as the light, and as splendid as the fire that blazed in the Burning Bush. The brightness of the fire of your love will no doubt fuse and unify the contending peoples and kindreds of the earth…”

Categories
- Empowerment - Oppression Oneness

Marx, Baha’u’llah, and Suffering

Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process of transformation grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. In this way evil galvanizes the forces of good that lead to its own destruction. Historically speaking, human experience creates the separation of good from evil, which in the fullness of time are one. For those who journey in the garden land of knowledge, see the end in the beginning, and the beginning in the end.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkS3liM7OW4

http://www.ruhi.org/

Favelas of Brazil: Adjacent Extremes of Wealth and Poverty

Wealth and Poverty Brazil

Categories
- Empowerment - Language Development Expansion & Consolidation Human Nature

Releasing the Deep Reservoirs that Young People Possess

“Throughout the world, across all classes and social groups, there has been a ready response from youth who are invited to examine the forces shaping their society and their role in contributing to its constructive transformation through service as animators of junior youth groups. Time and again it has been seen that consideration of, and reflection upon, the profound concepts addressed in Book 5 of the Ruhi Institute release the deep reservoirs of commitment to significant social change that young people possess. Engaging their fertile minds in an exploration of such ideas gives rise to profound conversations that leave their mark and find expression in action. Those who are inclined to establish a junior youth group are assisted to do so, and in this way, the program’s reach in a town or neighborhood is expanded in a relatively short period, even if there are only a limited number of human resources available within the Bahá’í community.”  – 14 November 2012, The Universal House of Justice

 

Commitment
Commitment

 

Forces – spiritual, social, intellectual, and physical – are irresistibly moving humanity.  Towards what direction?  Who are the protagonists of this movement?  How can humanity’s inherent capacities be harnessed?

In the young people of the world lies a reservoir of capacity to transform society waiting to be tapped. How are these deep reservoirs of commitment to significant social change that young people possess released?

Look at the verbs: examine, consider, reflect upon, explore – what do they mean and how are they used?  Look at the ideas: the forces shaping society, a youth’s role in contributing to society’s constructive transformation, the profound concepts addressed in Book 5 of the Ruhi Institute.  Look at the outcome: a sense of two-fold purpose, to develop their inherent potentialities and to contribute to the transformation of society – through service as animators of junior youth groups.  What are the means?  Conversations and mutual assistance.

What are some forces shaping our society?  Some, constructive and positive, include love for truth, thirst for knowledge, attraction to beauty, and unity.  Some, destructive and negative, include materialism, self-centeredness, prejudice, and ignorance.

What are some of the concepts addressed in Book 5 of the Ruhi Institute?  In addition to addressing the forces shaping society and a youth’s role in society’s constructive transformation, some other concepts include: coherence, two-fold moral purpose, the age of junior youth, spiritual perception, the dual-nature of self, language, the power of expression, hope, service, and empowerment.

Any serious attempt at civilization-building cannot ignore the role of young people in working with those younger than themselves, analyzing these forces, understanding these concepts, and taking on the identity of a life-long servant of humanity.

 

Categories
Expansion & Consolidation

Reflection Gathering

90 days after the completion of the Houston leg of the Historic 95 + 19 youth conferences around the world, a reflection gathering for youth was held in Houston (Harris County) cluster to reflect on experience gained through action based on plans drawn at the conference. One member of our teaching team shared the following powerpoint presentation summarizing features of the process, our experience, and some salient insights. Click on the presentation below, entitled “The Process of Growth” to follow along in your own cluster with what was done in Harris County to start a neighborhood movement with no prior indigenous contacts and no prior experience.

Hopefully some approaches, methods, and instruments employed will be helpful to others striving to implement the provisions of the Five Year plan in localities around the world. Amongst such helpful topics may have been: a systematic survey of residential areas near members of the teaching team’s homes or workplaces, the use of online resources such as google maps and city-data.org for surveying large expanses of population demographics quickly from behind a computer desk, tenacity in trying numerous neighborhoods before committing to one long term for junior youth program development, structured cycles of weekly action-reflection-consultation/study-planning is highly conducive to increasing teaching team intensity.

We also found it helpful to meditate on such phrases as this,

“Invariably, opportunities afforded by the personal circumstances of the believers initially involved—or perhaps a single homefront pioneer—to enter into meaningful and distinctive conversation with local residents dictate how the process of growth begins in a cluster.” ~Universal House of Justice, 28 December 2010

“To follow a path of service, whatever form one’s activity assumes, requires faith and tenacity. In this connection, the benefit of walking that path in the company of others is immense. Loving fellowship, mutual encouragement, and willingness to learn together are natural properties of any group of youth sincerely striving for the same ends…” ~Universal House of Justice, 1 July 2013

The process of growth

The Process of Growth

Categories
Expansion & Consolidation

Consolidation Phase

Reflection on Junior Youth Group and Children’s Class 11/9/2013

After our expansion phase, which consisted of scouting 6 different neighborhoods in the Houston medical center area, and gauging the receptivity of indigenous populations to participating in the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program, our teaching efforts advanced more rapidly in one neighborhood that exemplified certain characteristics we have come to associate with receptivity. Our neighborhood accurately represents the reality of a large majority of the world’s population. It is a humble place. The inhabitants are predominantly Spanish-speaking, 1st generation immigrant families, that have resisted urban decay and cultural disintegration in a modernizing world. It consists mainly of apartment complexes that are higher in density than a suburb. It is near downtown and the medical center where a number of young professionals are employed and can commute or home-front pioneer conveniently. The socioeconomic status is best described as working-class. Online census data helped in assessing transiency rates and, importantly, the density per capita of eleven-to-fifteen year olds. 

We have established a Junior Youth group and Children’s Class in our neighborhood with a measure of consistency. Mindful that being systematic and process-oriented conduces to community building, our teaching team prefers humble efforts that are undertaken frequently, multiple times per week. Our process consists of weekly cycles of study, planning, action, and reflection. We have studied Messages from the Universal House of Justice, December 28 and Ridvan 2010.  Since the burst of expansion, which strained every nerve and tested the resolve of our team, we have become more comfortable with a heightened level of intensity.   

Goals:

Our plans are to fortify the increase in ranks which we experienced as a result of the expansion phase. From the perspective of the educational process, this will entail the completion of our study of the workbook ‘Glimmerings of Hope’ with our Junior Youth group and the Lessons of Ruhi Book 3 for Grade 1 with our Children’s Class. Beyond curricula, insightful service opportunities are hoped to draw us further into the life of our neighborhood. Reading our reality, the identification of suitable venues for home-front pioneers to relocate and the recruitment of full-time youth year-of-service volunteers remains a significant landmark on our horizon. Multiplying the number of Junior Youth groups and core activities to include study circles and devotional gatherings from among parents and older siblings will raise indigenous human resources that can ensure the sustainability of the system. Empowering the masses to take ownership of their own material and spiritual destiny is the result of grass-roots capacity-building nurtured by a rhythm of community life proportional to an expanding nucleus of individuals committed to Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of a new World Order.  

11/9/2013 – Gathering Our Community

Ice-Breaker

11/9/2013 – Junior Youth Group: ‘Glimmerings of Hope’ Lesson Two: Ethnic Cleansing in Kibomi’s Village

JY Study

11/9/2013 – Junior Youth Group: Consultation: Ground Rules

JY consult

11/9/2013 – Ground Rules Contract with Signatures

Ground Rules Contract

11/9/2013 – Children’s Class: Coloring

CC memorize quote

11/9/2013 – Children’s Class: Story

CC story

11/9/2013 – Coloring and Prayer

CC coloring

11/9/2013 – Team Huddle

Boys Huddle

11/9/2013 – Sports: Boys Playing Football

Football

11/9/2013 – Parents Supporting on the Sidelines

Parental Support

11/9/2013 – Sports: Dodge ball

Girls Group

11/9/2013 – Walking to Class – David, Anahi, Leisha

David Anahi Leisha Awaiting JYG

11/9/2013 – Nicholas

Nick Pledges

11/9/2013 – Beto & Anthony

Anthony and Beto Pledge

Categories
Expansion & Consolidation

Multiplying Core Activities

In the Junior Youth Workbooks the protagonists of the story provide an archetypal character to which every junior youth participant who studies the story can relate–they see themselves occupying a similar physical stage of development and social status, enjoying the same recreational and educational activities, and expressing the same life-goals and aspirations. They see inner tendencies of their own mind articulated openly for the first time and explored. It teaches them implicitly to care for and value the environment in which they live by extolling the natural beauty and divine handiwork manifest in the landscape and environs surrounding them. It paints an archetypal picture of partisanship or special interests that corresponds to the various oppressions people experience around world in their own society–whether it be through political corruption, social and economic injustice, racial prejudice (institutional or personal), or tribal war. It teaches them about economic patterns that may characterize certain types of jobs being filled by members of a single racial group–that find parallels in the migrant worker population in the US. The text teaches them, nevertheless, to see the nobility in all people, and to recognize the simple, profound, and beautiful dignity inherent in acts of hospitality, and a culture that has resisted urban decay in the modern era. In this, it teaches junior youth to look beyond the employment and economic status of an individual or community to find its worth or identity.  The workbooks also draw attention to injustice of a systemic nature, that oppresses the people. It focuses attention on the elitism of privilege and the inequalities of opportunity and access to resources that are written into law and institutional policy. It then brings this description down to a personal level by focusing the junior youth’s attention on the familial and psychological consequences on the home-life and cultural integrity of a community.

The questions after the story highlight the pattern of similar interests, dreams, partisan conflict, passive involvement in its consequences, and the first-hand effects at home–that characterize the experience of junior youth living around the world.

The prayer that follows draws upon this description of the reality of junior youth and introduces the concept of supplication before God for protection–protection from those forces and injustices that so vividly plagued the world of Kibomi, and find parallel in our own lives, in all our countries. In conjunction with protection from external forces of evil, we must also be aware and protect against the evil that comes from within. In a literal sense–the germs and bacteria that  invade the body and can cause disease as well as in a spiritual sense–the ethical decisions our soul and heart make on a daily basis to ingest or avoid alcoholic beverages or fill our brains with knowledge instead of ignorance and prejudice. In response to each topic the question can be asked, did Dr. Joseph Lister’s discovery of germ theory save us all from a fate of chronic infection by advising us to wash our hands before eating? And does the presence of an exploitative fast food restaurant on every street corner imply that we cannot plant local farms or pursue healthier alternatives for our nourishment? Do emotional sentiments such as rage or intense jealously, so common in popular media, have a biological consequence on our organ function and health? Is a scientific approach to understanding the causes of public health diseases conducive to a cure?

With regard to the ease and prevalence of alcoholic drinking culture , the Junior Youth should be encouraged to think critically. Is abstinence from both experimenting with alcohol and from places and people who are drinking a reliable method of protection? Is knowledge and continual remembrance of the pathologies, both biological and social, directly linked to alcohol consumption an effective internal instrument for our own motivation–pathologies such as liver failure and encephalopathy, malnutrition and poor dentition, drunkenness and violence, adultery and rape, and DUI and vehicular manslaughter? Is understanding the exploitative financial incentives of brewing companies and entertainment marketers behind the misrepresentations of commercial advertisements a source of empowerment?

With regard to the esotericization of knowledge behind university walls and credentials of false-merit–a control over a narrow form of knowledge that allows elites to justify pacification and neglect of the masses–the junior youth are encouraged to question and not blindly follow custom. Does an inquisitive mind that pursues the reasons for things open new possibilities for achievement that could not have been known otherwise? Does a humble posture of learning or an egocentric habit of assertion conduce more to prosperity? Does education, especially in these primary years, serve a fundamental purpose of which the Junior Youth should be active and appreciative protagonists? Is a competitive culture that shames a student who asks questions conducive to learning, or a collaborative spirit in which inquiry is the method of mutual discovery?

Multiplying Core Activities

After our teaching team formed a group for the moral and intellectual empowerment of junior youth we realized that too many children were distracting the endeavors of the Animators and Junior Youth. The spectacle of the Junior Youth having fun was attracting their younger siblings to the site of the activities. This obstacle was transformed into a stepping stone. The children were separated into another group and formed a children’s class not far from where the Junior Youth were working. We understood that the Junior Youth group could serve as a stimulus to growth of a larger movement, however, what happened followed no predetermined course. One core activity was given precedence, multiplying at a rate faster than the others, and naturally attracted children from the community into another core activity. In this way, the multiplication of core activities was achieved, organically.

Visiting teams are being called upon to teach the children’s classes on the basis of the Ruhi Book 3 Curriculum, and add impetus to the fledgling set of activities emerging in the neighborhood. Irrespective of the specifics, the outcome will be the same. Within this neighborhood plans are being made to invite participants to study circles and devotionals from amongst the youth and adults. Ultimately, the level of cohesion achieved among the core activities must be such that in their totality, a nascent program for the sustained expansion and consolidation of the Faith is perceived. Envisioning the First Milestone: accompanying Indigenous inhabitants of the neighborhood through the sequence of institute courses and into the field of service as animators, children’s class teachers, and hosts of devotional gatherings–committed to the vision of individual and collective transformation they foster.

Junior Youth Group: Anthony Volunteers to Answer the Question, “What problems does Alcohol bring?”

Inquisitive Minds Raise Hands

Children’s Class: Memorizing “O God, guide me, protect me,…”

Children's Class from JY Siblings

Empowerment of Girls: Areseli and Liesha explain why knowledge and education protect us from ignorance.

Girl Power

Collective Gathering: After playing Dodgeball the group gathers to divide into Junior Youth Group and Children’s Class

Mass Movement

Reflection: In a humble attitude of learning, confident in the unfailing grace of the Almighty, joining hands to accompany each another in service to His Cause.

Pillars Alight

Categories
Expansion & Consolidation

Recognizing The Kibomi Within all of Us

For the majority of the world’s inhabitant’s, living with injustice is a reality of daily life. Living with inferior opportunities, inadequate resources, and systematic prejudice doesn’t stop at the front door of people’s homes. It finds expression in the domestic violence of financially frustrated husbands, it manifests in the disrespect of youth towards their parents who cannot thrive in an english-speaking workforce. The signs of prejudice are apparent in the values of the race-specific conception of beauty inculcated in what is called the “white aesthetic” that foists caucasian (or caucasian-featured) models onto billboards and magazine covers. This parallels a rise in plastic surgeries that modify noses and eyes making them pointier and less “asian”. Is it possible for immigrant children not to doubt that they are beautiful when globalization projects the white aesthetic into their living rooms and schools on TV’s and billboards the world over? Locating liquor stores strategically in low-income neighborhoods is an exploitative intention that respects no boundaries of a family’s home or a child’s playground. The effect popularizing a culture of drinking is to generate profits for brewing corporations, at the expense of creating domestic violence, drunken disorderliness, adultery, and workplace hazards. The frustration of families unable to make ends meet due to low corporate wages ironically drives people to escapism and solace at the bottom of a bottle. The system of oppression reinforces itself, squeezing the working class of its financial and biological strength. The economic recovery in the US since the financial collapse of 2008 has generated wealth in the pockets of only the wealthiest one tenth of 1% of Americans, not the workers upon whose backs the labor and increased GDP depends.

Every 12 to 15 year-old, when asked the right questions, can identify injustices like these. Injustices that touch them or their families personally. Kibomi stands for an archetypal construct of our own struggles with racism, greed, partisanship, political corruption, violence, exploitation, and selfishness–and the effect of injustice on us personally. Kibomi represents the internal choice of each one of us, that we make in response to injustice. For the masses of humankind, who live on less than $1 a day and enjoy none of the privileges of western urban elites, responding to injustice is a daily choice. Kibomi lives in all of us. No one is free from the choice, because no one is free from injustice.

In the (true) story of Kibomi, Kibomi is a boy who witnesses the murder of his parents and destruction of his village by a racial group fighting for political dominance and economic self-interest. They terrorize and enslave a weaker and less privileged ethnic minority. He overcomes injustice by developing intellectual skills to analyze what he perceives, understand reasons for what caused it, and articulate spiritual principles to counteract those forces. Through spiritual transcendence he overcomes this injustice and with the weapons of understanding, the sword of utterance, and the force of spiritual ideals and righteous deeds he ventures to reverse the tide of injustice that has overtaken his nation. The story of his transformation is told in the workbook, “Glimmerings of Hope”.

Will Junior Youth in our nation resolve to become emblems of overcoming injustice and minarets of the transformation of our social order?

We pray, “O Lord! Make this youth radiant, and confer Thy bounty upon this poor creature. Bestow upon him knowledge, grant him added strength at the break of every morn and guard him within the shelter of Thy protection so that he may be freed from error, may devote himself to the service of Thy Cause, may guide the wayward, lead the hapless, free the captives and awaken the heedless, that all may be blessed with Thy remembrance and praise. Thou art the Mighty and the Powerful.”

RecognizingTheKibomiWithin

Image: [Iron Youngsta’s, Houston Junior Youth Group.]

Categories
Expansion & Consolidation

An Expanding Nucleus

A rhythm of community life gradually emerges commensurate with the capacity of an expanding nucleus of individuals committed to Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of a new World Order. As a program of growth is being brought into existence, an emergent community spirit begins to exert its influence on the course of events. A sense of common purpose characterizes the endeavors of the friends. Out of the occasional meetings of a few believers emerge the regular deliberations of an expanding core group of friends concerned with channeling into the field of service an increasing store of energy.  The operation of spiritual forces in the arena of service becomes increasingly apparent, and bonds of friendship, so vital to a healthy pattern of growth, are continuously reinforced.  The sequence of Ruhi and Junior Youth courses, which facilitate so effectively the process of transformation under way, are designed to create an environment conducive at once to universal participation and mutual support and assistance. The nature of relationships among individuals in this environment, all of whom consider themselves as treading a common path of service produces a fully fledged scheme embodying the inherent capacity needed to facilitate the efficient flow of guidance, funds, and information. The process of growth in the neighborhood conforms to the rhythm established by pronounced cycles of expansion and consolidation, punctuated every three months by a meeting for reflection and planning, and unfolding without interruption. The rise in the capacity of the friends to converse on spiritual matters and to speak with ease about the Person of Bahá’u’lláh and His Revelation testifies that they have understood well that teaching is a basic requirement of a life of generous giving. The discharge of this fundamental spiritual obligation by the individual believer propels the steady increase in the tempo of teaching across the globe.

Expanding Nucleus

Categories
Expansion & Consolidation

Believing in the Process

Since the time that the call was raised, 1996, a year that has come to be regarded as ‘Turning Point’, the Baha’i community has re-organized itself along a path being defined by a process of systematic learning based on an accumulating body of global experience in teaching work designed to open before humanity Baha’u’llah’s vision of a New World Order.

Guided by the unfailing hand of the Universal House of Justice, the community grappled with what seemed to be a torrential outpouring of correspondence from the Baha’i World Center (1996-2012), unmatched in volume heretofore, and as challenging intellectually as it was controversial within the traditional culture and beliefs that were long-held in the community. Whenever change occurs, and by the law of mutability it always does, it can be painful for a community with firmly established ways of doing things, and with inward-looking values that have guided their prosperity for generations.

After nearly two decades of perseverance and tenacity the Baha’i community can proudly conclude that it has embodied by and large the transformation enshrined in its supreme Body’s injunctions. The community has well in hand the understanding and practice of its expansion and consolidation.  Few remain who are currently shaken by the swiftly changing landscape to which the Infallible Guidance and the onward march of history has subjected the community.

One may go as far to say that the old orthodoxy is the new heterodoxy, where outmoded ways of doing things are universally regarded by a generality of the population (who possess the language to articulate their differences) as having been replaced by a new prevailing paradigm–and this in less than 2 decades since Turning Point. Historically speaking, whole civilizations have shown less agility over millenia in adapting to changes of an evolving social milieu than the Baha’i community has done in 17 years. For example, the catholic church is experiencing its first stages of evolution in response to pressures from a modernizing society and an ever-advancing civilization. Without the infallible hand of the Universal House of Justice, it seems difficult to avoid utter disintegration of a community’s beliefs, scripture, and spiritual identity.

What more can the community of the Greatest Name ask this joyous teaching cycle? We bow our heads in gratitude before God. That the process is reproducible in locality after locality without direct exportation of relationships or personnel, that souls arising to serve do so spontaneously by the tens, attracted by the prospect of selfless sacrifice, and that the dialectic of crisis and victory characterizes ubiquitously the experience of every endeavor, melding hearts in love and bonds of friendship whose resulting unity is the very basis of success in teaching endeavors–this demonstrates time and again to every participant the divine origin of the process. Faith in God translates into faith in the guidance of the Universal House of Justice.

 

Houston Rising