Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Look at the Future

I have had a number of similar conversations with many people over the past few months. The main thing we discussed is that we are all aware that modern society is just not working all that well.

There are many aspects of these conversations, but what it really comes down to is that we all recognize that the primary concern, the most important thing of all in our society is the growth of the economy. All our laws are geared towards trying to improve the economy, despite the fact that these laws are not that effective. Our tax system is based on the promotion of corporate profits, as opposed to the well-being of society or families. In case this is not obvious, you only need to notice that you get a better tax break when you invest money in Wall Street than when you give money to charity. This has become so ridiculous that they even consider corporations as people in the United States. Our education system, which used to be based on getting you a better job, is now based on ensuring that schools get the most funding possible, both of which have money as their focus.

It is, quite simply, pathetic. It is also detrimental to the well-being of people, the environment, and the whole social structure. (I'm wondering if I can be more condemning than I am, but I don't think so.) It is, to put it succinctly, "lamentably defective".

These conversations also come in the middle of a series of three interesting things: a book I'm reading, a book I read, and a book I'm writing.

The book I'm reading right now, Abby Wize, is a bit interesting in the way that it postulates what life might be like in a few hundred years. It is, of course, from a Baha'i perspective, which is why I picked it up. Now I don't usually review books that I'm not all that impressed with, because I don't want to come across as negative, so please realize that I am enjoying it, even if I am frustrated with some aspects of it. Abby Wize starts off painfully slow and all over the place, and is almost at the point of ridiculousness with its pointless end notes, but is wonderfully fun when it finally gets into the main story. It is only the set up that needs work. Oh, and the overbearing tendency to "show off" knowledge of word definitions. That really wears thin. But it's still fun, and I have recommended it to my wife, who can put aside my verbal vented frustrations to enjoy the book on her own. With a bit of forewarning of what to skip over, I actually like it, despite what it sounds like here. I think all it needs is a good editing job, but that tends to be the main problem I have with nearly all self-published works. So there it is, a book about a future Baha'i society.

The book, or actually pamphlet, I read a little while ago is called "A Bird's Eye View of the World in the Year 2000". (At least I think that is what it is called. I can't find it right now to verify.) This was published originally in Star of the West, so it dates back nearly 100 years. It is extremely limited in its view, based on optimistic thinking of the day, and not all that rooted in the Writings, but mostly because of the scarcity of information. It is, however, a fascinating insight into the dreams and hopes of one member of the community at that time, if not all that realistic.

My own piece is nothing more than a series of letters that just don't hold together yet, but attempt to describe different aspects of a society in the future based on the Baha'i teachings. Given what I've seen in these other works, I am now more aware of certain pitfalls to try and avoid.

So there you have it. A number of different people all raising roughly the same question of how to improve the world. But where to begin with this whole big idea?

Well, if you're me, you begin by deciding what you think will be the most important thing, the fundamental primary concern. What is the one thing, above all else, that will always be given primary status? You see, in every community, and probably within every individual, there is something that is given the absolute highest priority, and all other things bend to it. For example, in chess, the most important thing of all is the king. Every other piece is expendable compared to the king.

What should be the highest priority of our society? We already know from current experience that the growth of the economy is not a particularly useful or good highest priority. Some, when I asked them, said it should be the individual. Others have said the family, or the environment. Some have said love. The problem with the individual as the highest priority is which individual? What do you do when two individual concerns clash? The same questions are raised with the family as the highest priority. The environment sounds like it might be a good option, but how? Does that mean that we should enforce a vegan way of life? Should we avoid any farming practices as they tend to disrupt the local environment in preference to an imposed one? Even the question of sustainability raises issues. And love? How do we define love? Is it the love of the individual for another individual? Or the love of money? Here I think we need to be far more specific.

Personally, I think it will be unity, which is fairly close to love. This ideal of unity, as described by Baha'u'llah, includes the well-being of the individual, the harmony and well-being of the family, as well as the happiness, harmony and well-being of society. It also ensures that we become the custodians of the earth. For if we let any of these slip, then we no longer have unity.

But what does it look like, to put unity as our primary concern? How would this impact our laws, our educational systems, our family life, even our arts? This is what I like to explore.

To begin, the education of our children would be given a much higher priority than it is today. Right now schools are given way less importance than the military or even banks. Governments are so ready to give tax breaks to corporations, or pay to upgrade the military far beyond what is needed to ensure the safety of our borders, and yet are so unbelievably reluctant to offer anything close to adequate funding to schools. If politicians truly valued children as members of our society, then this funding would not even be an issue. They would rather increase the amount of money spent on the prison system than pay to help people avoid the path of life that leads into the prisons. It truly is lamentable.

In the future education would not be geared so much towards helping us find a job as much as helping us learn how to develop our sense of virtues. Praise would be lavished, rather than criticism, and we would learn how to utilize our skills and talents for the benefit of the world rather than just ourselves. The sense of harmony would be an integral part of the educational system, as would the cultivation of empathy as a natural part of our life. Competition would fall by the wayside as collective endeavours are given more prominence and importance, until even contemplating a crime would be rare.

Our tax system would also reflect this higher importance of unity. I mean, charitable contributions would give you a much higher tax credit than an investment.

But all this is just the beginning, and there is ample guidance in the Writings that can be addressed to each and every aspect of our lives, both as individuals and as a collective.

My question to you, dear Reader, is what aspects of society would you like to see discussed here, or elsewhere?


  1. A Bird's-Eye View of the World in the Year 2000
    by Orrol L. Harper
    published in Star of the West, vol. 15, no. 7, pages 189-96

    1. Thanks, Steve. I can always count on readers to help me out.

    2. Hello Mead,

      It was great to work with you on the blog today. I think I'm getting a better hand at it. Although I can't always bet my luck on that. I gotta sanctify my heart too. :-)

      In response to this post I'd say we'd need to look a little closer at the writings from the Universal House of Justice on the building of communities and the virtues that need to be developed for this.
      The other thought I had was to begin putting more value an emphasis on the principles outlined for a better economy by the Baha'i Faith in our own life. And what would that look like? More than a cultivation of empathy I'd say a culture of compassion. This is already being widely practiced thanks to Karen Armstrong and the Charter for Compassion.
      What would be an interfaith approach?