Human nature has been misinterpreted. We are not selfish and competitive by nature, but rather, altruistic and cooperative. The entire history of humankind’ s past represents only a stage in its infancy. The entire history of its adolescence is yet to be played out, and the relatively more extensive duration of its adulthood and maturity has yet to be envisioned.
So much have aggression and conflict come to characterize our social, economic and religious systems, that many have succumbed to the view that such behavior is intrinsic to human nature and therefore ineradicable. With the entrenchment of this view, a paralyzing contradiction has developed in human affairs. On the one hand, many people proclaim not only their readiness but their longing for peace and harmony, for an end to the harrowing apprehensions tormenting their daily lives. On the other, uncritical assent is given to the proposition that human beings are incorrigibly selfish and aggressive and thus incapable of erecting a social system at once progressive and peaceful, dynamic and harmonious, a system giving free play to individual creativity and initiative but based on co-operation and reciprocity.
As the desire for peace becomes more heartfelt, this fundamental contradiction, which hinders its realization, demands a reassessment of the assumptions upon which the commonly held view of mankind’s historical predicament is based. Dispassionately examined, the evidence reveals that such conduct, far from expressing man’s true self, represents a distortion of the human spirit. Understanding and acceptance of this point will enable all people to set in motion constructive social forces which, because they are consistent with human nature, will encourage harmony and co-operation instead of war and conflict.
To choose such a course is not to deny humanity’s past but to understand it in a larger context. The Bahá’í Faith regards the current world confusion and calamitous condition in human affairs as a natural phase in an organic process leading ultimately and irresistibly to the unification of the human race in a single social order whose boundaries are those of the planet. The human race, as a distinct, organic unit, has passed through evolutionary stages analogous to the stages of infancy and childhood in the lives of its individual members, and is now in the culminating period of its turbulent adolescence approaching its long-awaited coming of age – its maturation and adulthood.
A candid acknowledgement that prejudice, war and exploitation have been the expression of immature stages in a vast historical process and that the human race is today experiencing the unavoidable tumult which marks its collective coming of age is not a reason for frustration but a prerequisite to undertaking the stupendous enterprise of building a peaceful world. That such an enterprise is possible, that the necessary constructive forces do exist, that unifying social structures can be erected, is the theme of this discussion.
The bedrock of a strategy that can engage the world’s population in assuming responsibility for its collective destiny must be the consciousness of the oneness of humankind. Deceptively simple in popular discourse, the concept that humanity constitutes a single people presents fundamental challenges to the way that most of the institutions of contemporary society carry out their functions. Whether in the form of the adversarial structure of civil government, the advocacy principle informing most of civil law, a glorification of the struggle between classes and other social groups, or the competitive spirit dominating so much of modern life, conflict is accepted as the mainspring of human interaction. It represents yet another expression in social organization of the materialistic interpretation of life that has progressively consolidated itself over the past two centuries.
In a letter addressed to Queen Victoria over a century ago, and employing an analogy that points to the one model holding convincing promise for the organization of a planetary society, Bahá’u’lláh compared the world to the human body. There is, indeed, no other model in phenomenal existence to which we can reasonably look. Human society is composed not of a mass of merely differentiated cells but of associations of individuals, each one of whom is endowed with intelligence and will; nevertheless, the modes of operation that characterize man’s biological nature illustrate fundamental principles of existence. Chief among these is that of unity in diversity. Paradoxically, it is precisely the wholeness and complexity of the order constituting the human body — and the perfect integration into it of the body’s cells — that permit the full realization of the distinctive capacities inherent in each of these component elements. No cell lives apart from the body, whether in contributing to its functioning or in deriving its share from the well-being of the whole. The physical well-being thus achieved finds its purpose in making possible the expression of human consciousness; that is to say, the purpose of biological development transcends the mere existence of the body and its parts.
Human societies to some extent actually represent an anomaly in the competitive theory of the jungle, as endorsed by proponents of a competitive and destructive conception of human nature. Humans demonstrate a detailed division of labor 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 labor. 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.
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
The Evolution of Cooperation
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.”
Partisanship is a bane to effective governance. Identifying with a political party exacerbates a bitter partisan divide that threatens the very fiber of social order and governance. Motivations of civil servants should be only the good of all people and the interests of the common weal. Political parties are artificial fabrications designed to impose a priority on public servants entirely alien to the betterment of the nation and the people.
Campaigning is a bane to institutional integrity and effective governance. Campaigning is not necessary for effective elections. People’s character should be known to the community through their deeds and selfless service. Ballots need only allow voters to write in the name of the desired candidate. A plurality of votes would elect the individual most renowned for her brilliant character, virtuous conduct, mature experience, established service, and achievements on behalf of public welfare. Special interests are able to distort representation by donating to campaign funds. The presence of campaigning requires candidates to raise funds to win elections, which structurally enslaves their will to corporate profits.
It is the combination of partisanship and campaigning which makes political candidates dependent on funding because they need to campaign against proponents from opposing parties. Without political parties there would be no need to campaign against anyone else, and without campaigning there would be no funding requirement to drive politicians to seek lobbyist’s endorsement. Partisanship and campaigning are institutional arrangements of American politics that have distorted its true nature and corrupted it effectiveness.
It is the philosophical position of this forum that steps toward the elimination of political parties as well as the banning of the practice of campaigning would increase the integrity of democracy and the efficacy of governance. We recommend steps toward the structural transformation of national, local, and international politics removing the institutional arrangements of parties and the introduction of legal bans on campaigning. Any person or group operating in a way appearing to constitute overt campaigning will be disqualified from the electoral process. Without need to generate funding for costly campaigns, candidates will be free of lobbyists and donations from special interests. Free from partisan affiliations, government representatives will vote on all issues according only to principles of selfless and academically-informed considerations of public welfare.
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.
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.)
Change in Employment
Percent Change in Employment
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.
As beings of praxis, human beings differ from animals, which are beings of pure activity. Animals do not consider the world; they are immersed in it. In contrast, human beings emerge from the world, objectify it, and in so doing can understand it and transform it with their labor. Animals, which do not labor, live in a setting which they cannot transcend. Hence, each animal species lives in the context appropriate to it, and these environments, while open to humans, cannot be a facility for communication among them.
But human activity consists of action and reflection: it is praxis, and through praxis it is transformation of the world. As praxis, it requires theory to illuminate it. Human activity consists of theory and practice; it is reflection and action. It cannot, be reduced to either pure analysis (verbalism) or mindless action (activism). Without a revolutionary theory there can be no movement for change. The revolution of mankind’s ordered life will be achieved with neither verbalism nor activism, but rather with praxis, that is, with reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed. The revolutionary effort to transform these structures radically cannot designate its leaders as its thinkers and the rest as mere followers or doers. In this revolution all must be scholars and all must be servants.
Disproportionate access to education and employment opportunities for a privileged minority deprives society of the labor and intellectual potential of the masses. From among the privileged, certain members may seek to join the struggle for social transformation towards a more just world order. Historically, what has been the role of defectors from privileged classes who seek to join the masses in a people’s revolution?
A nobleman and knight, Sir Florian Geyer (pictured), fought for peasant liberation in the German Peasants War of 1524. Won over to their cause by a sense of justice, Geyer’s “Black Band” was uniquely capable of combating heavy cavalry from the aristocratic opposition, executing lords and priests, and liberating thousands of peasants. Mistrusting an aristocrat, the peasant army made him a chief adviser instead of a general. Ironically, Geyer was assassinated by peasants loyal to the aristocracy in summer, 1525.
Existentially, these people pose unique risks and special opportunities as they move from one pole of the privileged-oppressed dichotomy to the other, without necessarily transcending it. As exploiters of the masses, heirs of oppressive fortunes, or passive spectators of inequality, when such individuals take up the cause of social transformation, they bring with them their capacities as well as their biases.
Pitfalls of privilege include a lack of confidence in the peoples’ ability to think, to want, and to know. Accordingly, these adherents to the cause of social transformation constantly run the risk of offering material generosity to their compatriots which is as disempowering and destructive to the self-esteem of the movement as the system of charity institutionalized by the status quo. The charity of the oppressors is nourished by an unjust order, which must be perpetuated in order to concentrate wealth amidst the privileged class, necessitating in turn these acts of oppressive charity. The power dynamic is concealed behind the washing of the oppressor-conscience and the legitimization of the economic order, by such charity.
Converts to the people’s cause, even those that truly desire to transform the unjust order, because of their upbringing believe that they must be the executors of the transformation. Their self-assurance stamps out the budding aspirations of the newly empowered. They talk about the people, but they do not trust them; and trusting the people is the surest prerequisite to universal participation and social reform. A champion of social justice can be identified more by his genuine trust in the people, which draws him into identity with their plight, than by a thousand actions on their behalf devoid of that trust.
Those who commit themselves to the cause of social justice must re-examine themselves constantly for that ego that creeps incessantly and imperceptibly. Bringing themselves to account each day in regards to their inner thoughts towards their fellow collaborators will guard against it. This conversion is unspeakably difficult, and does not admit of ambiguous behavior. To affirm this commitment but to consider oneself the proprietor of the knowledge of the dynamics of change—which must then be explained to (or imposed upon) the people—is to retain the posture of the paternalistic status quo.
The man or woman who proclaims devotion to the cause of justice yet is unable to enter into socio-economic equality with the people, whom he or she continues to regard as ignorant, is self-deceived and eventually may be a traitor. The convert who approaches the cause of social transformation but feels cautious with each step they take, often expressing doubts about success, and whose suggestions are accompanied by attempts to impose his or her “status” remains nostalgic towards their powerful origins.
Being drawn into the life of the masses requires a profound reorientation, burning the selfishness born of materialism. Those who undergo this personal transformation must take on a new state of mind; they can no longer remain as they were. Only through unity with the oppressed can the new converts truly understand the culture and aspirations of the grass-roots, their beauty and legitimacy, which in diverse ways reflect the structure of domination.
So it is that a person born into privilege becomes solidary with the oppressed. He finds true love and marries a local girl, learns the native customs and cultures, adopts the language and dress, cooks the food, and reverences the wisdom of elders. Historically, Buddha, Moses and Baha’u’llah, were raised in noble families but discarded their titles and privilege for the Cause and Faith they proclaimed, and entered into complete solidarity with the masses. The nascent community that emerged had its own structure with egalitarian principles and institutions. This is the embryo of a New World Order.
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?
How great is our capacity for change? The endpoint of our progress is as difficult to imagine as space travel is to cavemen. Social reform will outpace our technological ingenuity. Freedom fighting at present is dwarfed by the liberties of the future. Cause-drops merge into revolution-streams; but the goal remains oceans away. Over fair seas, where life is fair, sail with me.
Activists confront wide-scale cynicism. Their hopes dashed by erroneous assumptions of human nature. Does the past have to be our future? Competitive economics prescribed because of the struggle for survival in World War II? Cutthroat education climates because individuals procreate their genes? Contentious politics because checking leads to balance?
Selfishness theory is self-fulfilling. Its prescription causes the disease; the disease is mistaken for our nature; that nature is re-prescribed. If disease is described as health, symptoms become prescribed as cure.
Although, failure is common, is it also our nature? War and injustice reinforce this illusion. The state of the world, however, reflects a distortion of the human spirit, not its essential nature. Anachronisms disallow drawing on the extraordinary reservoir of spiritual potential available to us.
Drawing on this power, activists develop spiritual capacities to contribute to social reform. Like hard earth, prevailing theories, seem impervious to alteration, before the spiritual springtime brings rain. Like flowers, accurate theories of human nature, are due to spring up fresh and fair.
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…”
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
1. 10 new Regional Councils (RC’s). 5-Year Plan messages foundation of action and study. Familiarity with dynamics of growth increases with core activities.
2. Dichotomy of neighborhood and centralized children’s classes (CC) transcended. 2 Junior Youth learning sites. Expansion/consolidation primary task of RC’s.
3. RC’s to ensure functioning of Regional Training Institute (RTI) and Area Teaching Committees (ATC). Two perspectives: cycles of activity and educational process.
4. RC to draw on world-wide system of generation and dissemination of knowledge. Relationship with Counsellors significant. Report successes and impediments.
5. Prospects for Junior Youth program especially bright. Transformation in junior youth and rapid development in those accompanied to serve as animators.
6. Capacity for human resource development needed for sustainable progress in growth of Cause and transformation of society.
7. Intensity and patience are called for organically in accordance with the varying rates of growth in various populations.
8. Refrain from comparisons between differing circumstances. Validity of network teaching versus intense neighborhoods. Guard against inundating fledgling efforts.
9. Attention to Latin, African, Asian children; now 1 in 4 children. Vibrant sense of community more pronounced. CC’s and JYSEP accelerate community building.
10. NSA to engage in regular consultation with Counsellors on form of scheme of cluster coordination being studied by International Teaching Center.
11. Ramifications for organization of National Center. Decentralization to respond to financial needs at grassroots. Funds for part- and full-time workers.
12. Growth not to revolve around expectations or presence of RC members. Requests for reports or gatherings deferred in response to needs of grassroots.
13. Appreciation of efforts. Ardent supplications on behalf of new RC’s. May Baha’u’llah bless American Baha’i community.
Department of the Secretariat
9 August 2012
The advancement of civilization – the theme of this blog – is achieved through action. It occurs through building capacity in individuals, institutions, and communities to work towards a prosperous world civilization characterized by a dynamic coherence between the material and spiritual aspects of social existence.
Why type, why talk, why think? Why read? Why not only go act? Plenty of reasons. Some, like the relationship between action, reflection, and consultation, have already been discussed. Along the same note, and key to the field of discourse itself, is the relationship between thoughts, words, and actions. The way we individually and collectively speak influences the way we individually and collectively think, which influences the way we individually and collectively act. And vice versa. Each affects the other two – and a transformation of one can lead to a change in the others. Discourse shapes thought, action, structure, and relationships.
What led to your conceptions of the nature and purpose of a human being? Of a community? Of education? Where did you get your speech about the idea of health care? Of politics? Of the role of parents? Why do you do whatever it is you do on Friday nights? On Wednesday mornings? On the first of the month? How did you learn what to do at a baseball game? A church? A hospital?
Most of this develops on an unconscious level – at the level of assumptions – as a result of all the complex social forces and implicit environmental factors that constantly surround us. Existing social structures and patterns of community life think, act, and speak a certain way, all of which bears upon how we think, act, and speak. In turn, however, the thoughts, words, and actions of individuals make up the thoughts, words, and actions of the communities and institutions of which they belong. Furthermore, words, thoughts, and actions all influence each other. And this is just one glimpse of the interconnectedness that governs the universe.
Discourse is indispensable in the process of civilization-building. Speak to your friend about the underlying oneness of humanity, and he will think about it. Then he will see others’ actions in this framework. And then act upon this assumption. Others will see this action, and express the oneness of humanity in their speech. What the world needs now is for more and more people to openly, consciously, and intentionally think and speak about our shared collective destiny – at the level of principles, at the level of assumptions, and with a real and foreseeable optimism. And of course this requires courage – any effort to champion the cause of justice does.
The development of a world civilization requires a transformation such as humanity has not yet experienced – both of society and of human consciousness. Questions naturally arise, then, regarding the power necessary for this change: who wields it, how it can be used, what are its sources, etc. Power, like all other concepts, needs redefinition and reconceptualization.
First, it is extremely helpful to equate the concept of power with the concept of capacity, to understand power as capacity. In physics, a boulder at the top of a cliff has a measure of potential energy – latent capacity – and when it rolls down, this potential becomes kinetic energy – actualized capacity. As it manifests its capacity for kinetic energy, it exerts power. In social reality, too, power is capacity. Prevailing definitions of power focus on the capacity to dominate, the capacity of manipulate, the capacity to compete, to capacity to pursue self-interest, the capacity to prevail. However, added to this list can be the capacity to cooperate, the capacity to unify, the capacity to assist, the capacity to work creatively with others, the capacity empower, the capacity to transform. Conceptualizing power as capacity opens up to the mind a wide range of human potentialities that can be expressed in social reality as power.
What are some sources of power and capacity? Again, prevailing thought focuses on material sources. These include obvious forms such as physical strength and military might, to less obvious forms such as money, wealth, and capital; access to media, the classroom, or the pulpit; access to specialized knowledge or technology; and social status. No doubt these are sources of power and capacity. Yet, society (and reality) has both a material and spiritual dimension – consequently, aren’t there spiritual sources of power as well?
Millions of systems exist in the universe we inhabit, from the sub-atomic systems of electron cloud probability to the cosmic flotation of great planets in the field of super novas. Systemic organization is molded on foundational laws and axioms that describe a system’s nature and enhance our understanding of its future evolution. Societal structures and values currently describe animal existence as well as they do human aspirations, with recent economic and psychological trends manifesting themselves in the wake of social darwinian discourse and financio-political marriages that undermine the common weal through an ideological and oligarchical matrix. The law of the jungle has become the ideological and social norm as legality has been divorced from morality. Modern social attitudes mirror the vulgarity of the jungle in our willingness to accept conditions en mass that foster no alternative except the struggle for survival. As the primary occupation of its inhabitants, the struggle for “limited resources” within a purported environment of “unlimited wants” is systematically unweaving the fabric of emotional and social prosperity. Duped by this vociferous discourse a smaller and smaller multitude remain presently healthy to recognize and diagnose the malady where it is seen. Seduced masses and their elected representatives consider the situation normal, accepting competition for survival as the ideal organizing principle of social prosperity.
In the context of twofold transformation, then, human beings have a twofold purpose. We were created to develop our potentialities, and we are created to contribute to an ever-advancing civilization. In reality, these purposes are one. It is service to humanity that unites these purposes because it is means by which both are achieved. Neither can be possible without the other. We develop individual potentialities through contributing to societal advancement, and as society advances, it creates conditions within which we, and subsequent generations, have more fuller opportunities to realize potentials.
Human beings have a two-fold moral purpose: to develop our own personal spiritual attributes (such as love, kindness, wisdom, generosity, and intelligence) as well as to contribute to the social and institutional progress of an ever-advancing civilization. Some strands of popular discourse have not yet recognized that with the historical rise in social organization in the scientific age the scope of the potentialities latent in each human life has correspondingly increased as well. This reciprocal relationship between the power of the individual and the expansiveness of social organization directs our attention toward the next stage in human destiny, necessary now more than ever before: planetary unity, justice and equality. It also directs our attention to the realization that this transformation must occur simultaneously within individual human consciousnesses and in the manifold structures of social institutions. Every opportunity created by this twofold transformation will be as a torch-bearer guiding our way into the labyrinth of humanity’s conscious purpose of global development. This crucial stage of human history offers us the opportunity to establish a foundation for just, united, and equitable planetary civilization.