Sunday, March 19, 2017

Thoughts on Economy, part 4

Ok. So the other day's article wasn't as fun as most of my posts, except for the comment about my cat (whose name is Kismet). Sorry about that. (You know, she really likes her ears scratched.) And I didn't have as many fun insights and weird connections as I usually do. (Did you know that 'kismet' means 'fate, or luck' in Arabic?) I'll try to do better today.

Now, where were we? Oh, yes. In the middle of paragraph 7 of that letter from the Universal House of Justice, dated 1 March 2017.

There is an interesting challenge nestled in there, when they quote the Master (which is far easier than typing 'Abdu'l-Baha) saying that no greater undertaking could be taken than "if a judicious and resourceful individual should initiate measures which would universally enrich the masses of the people". I mean, what a challenge to us. He's not even talking about a group of people; He says just one individual can do this. And this would be regarded as "the supreme achievement" in the sight of God? Wow. What are we waiting for?

But come on. Is this realistic? Well, when I think about Elon Musk using his wealth that was generated from PayPal to create a better electric car, as well as solar receptive roofing tiles, and the numerous other ecologically-minded creations that he's helping develop, I would say that yes, it is. And this just one example. There are countless other examples, on the smaller scale, of people getting together in small groups to try out new ideas of living. Some focus on farming, others on engineering, still others on medicine. Some are trying various methods of commune living, while some are trying new business models.

Another example is Bill Mollison, who coined the term 'permaculture', and worked hard to show how we can grow many sustainable plants by letting nature just do the work. He showed people how to farm without complicated machinery or artificial fertilizers, no matter what the environment, whether it was a desert or a swamp, or a small island in the south Pacific. He taught people the basic principles and then sent them back to their home areas, while always maintaining contact with them to help them with their problems, or listen to their discoveries. And then, years later, he visited many of his early students and saw first-hand how they had revolutionized the growing of food in their areas. There are a ton of videos on YouTube about him. Well worth watching.

So yes, I can categorically say that an individual can arise to do this.

And then there is Huququ'llah, that "indispensable discipline". I have written quite a bit about it, this article here and this other one here being the main examples, so I won't go into it here. Let's just say that this Mighty Law does actually "bring one's priorities into balance, purify whatever wealth one possesses, and ensure that the share which is the Right of God provides for the greater good." And it is for this, ensuring the greater good, that helps me feel truly joyous to pay it. Some of you, I'm sure, are just able to get your joy from your obedience, but I'm not there yet. I get it out of knowing that it helps many millions around the world, and will continue to do so for a long time to come.

But, as paragraph 8 says, "The forces of materialism promote a quite contrary line of thinking". They talk about "justice and rights", compassion and all sorts of other lofty ideals, all the while masking their true goal of self-interest. They flee from hardships, delving into distractions with a wild abandon, and giving in to every conceivable pleasure they can dream up.

Here, however, the Universal House of Justice outlines how the Baha'i educational program can assist us in counteracting this disturbing trend. By surrounding our children with other Baha'is, and regularly attending the activities of our community, they are surrounded with a very different norm. Those involved in the programs for the junior youth are consciously shown how to be discerning. And the youth and adults of the community are put on a path of service, of which their economic activities can be a part. All of these combined, they point out to us, can "help individuals to see past the illusions that, at every stage of life, the world uses to pull attention away from service and towards the self."

And if this isn't enough, they give us a beautiful summation, right there at the end of this paragraph: "...the systematic study of the Word of God and the exploration of its implications raises consciousness of the need to manage one's material affairs in keeping with the divine teachings." I'm so grateful for this, for it tells me that we are on the right path, searching the Writings for these implications and seeing how they apply to our daily life.

Then there is the concluding paragraph.

These extremes of wealth and poverty that we are seeing increasing in the world around us are not able to be maintained, nor can they be defended, for that is the very definition of 'untenable'. This very inequity is obviously to be questioned, as more and more are doing every day. If we weren't aware, we surely are now that this is truly a time of great receptivity, for whenever people are put into the position of questioning their beliefs, the culture, their very surroundings, we can easily step in and offer them the healing draught that has been given us by Baha'u'llah. More than that, though, when the Baha'i community is a large enough presence, as they say, there is a greater responsibility. They then have to step beyond this simple offering of the teachings to more and more people, and begin to look at, and address, the root causes of the poverty in their own community. And really, if we are willing to admit it, there are different causes in differing communities all over the world. While they may have similarities, they will be addressed differently.

We may have been able to ignore this aspect of civilization building before now, but the hope of the House of Justice is, rightfully so, that "this exploration become a more pronounced feature of community life, institutional thought, and individual action in the years ahead."

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