- Governance Discourse Justice Oneness

America’s 1912 Election

One hundred years ago today, a sixty-six year old traveler from the East, an exile and prisoner since the age of nine, with no formal education, in broken and failing health, having never faced a public audience, and unfamiliar with the customs and language of the West, gave a talk at Grand Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio, en route to the capital of the United States.  He was ‘Abdu’l-Baha.  It was election day.

That particular election was unique.  The three competitors are now all called by the same name “President”, for on the ballot was the incumbent President, a former President, and the newly elected President.  This was the first time all the 48 continuous states participated.  That day seemed to embody unity.

‘Abdu’l-Baha, in the course of this nearly three-year historic journey to Egypt, Europe, and North America, before audiences large and small, brilliantly expounded principles – the spirit of the age – that are imperative for humankind’s imminent transition to maturity.  The independent search for truth, the oneness of the entire human race, the unity of all religions, the condemnation of all prejudice, the harmony of science and religion, the equality of men and women, abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty, justice as the ruling principle of social organization, and universal peace as humanity’s goal, to name a few, were proclaimed in every social space, from homes, churches, parks, and railway cars, to universities, societies, halls, and public squares.  None were excluded.  The working poor, scientists and statesmen, children, refugees, clergy and skeptics, all benefited from a wisdom and love that was uncompromising in defense of truth yet elevating and gentle in manner.  Still today, millions are galvanized by such a matchless example of words and deeds that transformed hearts and expanded consciousness.

Election day a century ago, ‘Abdu’l-Baha praised the efforts of then-President Taft for rendering services towards the cause of peace, and noted that peace was constantly a topic of discourse in this country.  Taft had made treaties with various nations, and while this was good, the talk urged a higher level of peace – one that moves past cooperation within the current fetish of the social convention of nation-state sovereignty, one that embraces the beckoning world commonwealth, putting into social structure and political machinery the truth of the oneness of humanity.

America is destined to lead the world in the cause of peace, in spiritual civilization.  The challenge will not be easy or swift, and it is one that includes every member of the human race.  Society is formed from conceptions – these thoughts are shaped by conversation.  President Wilson, who was elected that day in 1912, incorporated these spirit-of-the-age principles into a noble peace program aimed at the well-being of all.  How can we apply, elevate, and spread the discourse of the oneness of humankind?


- Language

The Concept of a Concept

All human beings are endowed with certain basic spiritual capacities – derived from the soul, which is the element of the individual that is responsible for spiritual nature. Chief among these capacities is that of intellect, consciousness, the power of thought. In fact, the human mind (a faculty of the soul) cannot exist without thinking. Try it. Try not thinking. When these thoughts, most of which are vague and fleeting, start to take shape, form, structure, and substance, they give rise to ideas. What, really, is an idea?

One particularly important idea is a concept. It allows a mind to distinguish one named thing from another named thing. There is the concept of a “keyboard”, for instance, that is different from a “monitor”, though both can be included in the concept of “computer device”. Most things are associated with multiple concepts – and their uniqueness becomes apparent in the particulars of the interaction of combinations of concepts. These concepts have formed after countless observations using the mind’s ability to categorize according to patterns, commonalities, and characteristics, . Over thousands of years, using language, individuals are able to discuss and refine their conceptions of objects of study, to the point where, now, we have names and definitions for everything – and with concrete objects, like a lamp, only a few words suffice to share one mind’s understanding with another.

With abstract objects of study, however, it is much harder to precisely define them with a handful of words; yet these abstract things are arguably much more important. The concept of space, for instance, is fundamental to thought – it is within a specific position or location that observable phenomena take place. We cannot think outside of the concept of space. Similarly with the concept of time – it is indispensable to human thought. All things are observed to change, and change implies time. Our understanding of reality cannot exist outside the concept of time. And finally, and very closely related, is the concept of causality, which enables the mind to understand relationships between multiple objects within space and time. Otherwise, the world would be a collection of disconnected events.

Concepts, just like language, are social constructs; albeit highly important ones. They help organize thoughts and words so that groups of individuals can reach shared understandings, can form relationships, can build communities, can raise social structures – civilization, on one level, is the expression of concepts into social reality.

What is your conception of a “concept”?


- Language - Religion - Science Discourse Knowledge

Language and Civilization

Reality has physical and spiritual dimensions.  Indeed, the world civilization that beckons humanity is one that will achieve a dynamic coherence between these two requirements of social life.  If reality is more complex than just the physical universe, then a limited description would be inadequate to fully explore and understand it.  In recent times, because of the relative success of the field of science, particularly physics, the prevailing thought is that science is adequate to explain reality.  The assumptions implicit in this belief are that 1) reality is purely physical or material; 2) science, alone, can explain the mysteries of this purely material reality.  But, again, these are just assumptions.  There are alternatives as well – equally plausible – that have been advanced throughout this blog.  1) Reality includes levels beyond matter – including social dynamics, human consciousness, and spiritual reality; 2) if reality includes both physical and spiritual components, then both science and religion are needed to understand its mysteries; 3) understanding of reality does not equal reality itself – understanding evolves.

With the understanding that words influence both thoughts and actions, and with the above assumptions in mind – that science and religion are two complimentary systems of knowledge that, over time, gain understanding of our complex reality – the topic of language takes on paramount importance, particularly the language of science and the language of religion.  The next few posts will explore this topic.

Language, for the purposes of discourse, must be rich enough to explore issues at a depth that accompanies action.  It is the medium through which we communicate observations, create models of reality, articulate theories of dynamics, explore sentiments, describe the world’s operations, and even prescribe relations and behaviors.  Crucially, it allows for shared understandings to exist between one individual’s mind and others’ minds.  Otherwise, collective knowledge about the objective reality that exists outside of our minds would be tremendously difficult to generate, and our connections to each other would be extremely limited – to the point where we wouldn’t really have society.

To advance civilization is to construct a new social reality, and social reality emerges through language – words are the building blocks of civilization. In other words (pun intended), social reality is the operational expression of words and the meanings of them that society has agreed upon.  However, it is important to note that language is itself a social construct – a component of social reality.  Thus, like all social constructs and conventions, it can be changed.  And a change of language becomes a change of civilization.  Therein lies the power of discourse.