29 December 2011

Baha'i Writings on Language


Philosophers and lovers of wisdom alike have long reflected on the nature of language. This question is not just pointless intellectualizing but is fundamental to our very attitude to life and 'reality.' Is language just a 'will to power'? Does it have any coherence or is it just to be deconstructed as irrational? Can we communicate as much in silence as in sounds? Here's my own understanding and organization of some salient themes on language in the writings of Baha'u'llah:

The Baha'i Writings do not seem to take a direct stand on the correspondence/representation debates about language. (This is probably because such debates were not in the forefront of philosophical debate in the middle of the 19th century and certainly not in Islamic philosophical debates.) Rather, the Baha'i writings' concern with language centers on the nature of the 'Word of God,' which Baha'is' own speech is enjoined to reflect. Words are considered to be able to be the manifestation, emanation, and the power and meaning conveyance of the one who utters them. They manifest a person's feeling and ideas, yet also have the power to emanate those feelings and ideas to others. Baha'u'llah says, "Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible." Words do not simply represent that which they signify but can convey unseen spiritual forces as well. Baha'i writings express these spiritual forces in terms analogous to energy waves - streams, waves, billows, shining lights, effulgences, and animating forces. The words of God are represented as ontologically superior as well as cosmologically a priori to our everyday world and universe. One Word created the entirety of the universe, a Word which is "an ocean inexhaustible in riches, comprehending all things. Every thing which can be perceived is but an emanation therefrom." These writings affirm and elaborate upon the Qur'an's expression that all things were made by the command uttered by God "Be!" This word is formed by joining together the two letters kaf and nun into the imperative 'be!' - kun.

29 November 2011

We Are the 1%!

The attention of the United States has gone from Tea Partiers to Occupiers. The angst of an increasingly impoverished lower class has been directed into protests nationwide, but they will ultimately never resolve the ills that are eating away at American society.

While the Tea Party movement is laden with nationalism, the Occupy movement has a more subtle introversion. Who are the 1%? You are! Well, if you're the average American then you are. Median household income in the United States is roughly $48,000/year, which happens to be the exact mark that divides the top 1% from the bottom 99% of world incomes. In other words, half of Americans are in the top 1%. See this calculator.

But those protesters aren't making median income. Let's say they're making minimum wage. In my state that would still leave them in the top 12% of worldwide income earners. It should be Vietnamese factory workers holding protests against the concentration of wealth.

The fight between labour and capital seems to be eternal, but Baha'is need not just sit around complaining about how ineffective protests are (see above for example). `Abdu'l-Baha traveled to Europe and America during the rise of communism. His talks offer extensive guidance on the issues of labour, and the current protests present a great opportunity to share the Baha'i teachings on extremes of wealth and poverty and the relationship between labour and capital. 

On several occasions, in response to discussing the protests, I have been able to mention the practice of Huququ'llah. Put simply, Baha'is who have wealth are obliged to calculate privately what their basic needs are, and pay a 19% tax on the excess. In the future, when Baha'i funds are well established, they will have two broad categories: one for administration, and another for philanthropic purposes. Therefore, the law of Huququ'llah is a progressive tax that takes from the rich and gives to the poor.

The other Baha'i teaching that is perhaps most relevant to the current protest is chapter 78 from Some Answered Questions, regarding labour strikes. Here `Abdu'l-Baha mentions that while excessive private fortunes are undesirable, "absolute equality is just as impossible," and would "end in disorderliness, in chaos". He says that "difficulties will arise when unjustified equality is imposed." While appealing to the idea of reducing extremes, there is no support for absolute equality. There will always be differences of income, and there is a role to play for capital investors; only that "laws and regulations" should be established to prevent massive accumulation of wealth at the expense of the masses.

What kinds of laws and regulations? `Abdu'l-Baha mentions a few practical steps. First, 20-25% of the profits of a company should be returned to the workers, in addition to their wages (or "in some other way" they should share advantages). Second, each worker should be guaranteed support when they become "feeble and cease working, get old and helpless, or leave behind children under age", either by paying them sufficient wages, or by guaranteeing some form of social security.

But there are two sides of this coin. `Abdu'l-Baha also insists that once fair labour laws and regulations are in place, workers should not "make excessive claims and revolt, nor demand beyond their rights; they should no longer go out on strike; they should be obedient and submissive and not ask for exorbitant wages." In the case that either the workers or the management transgress, the government should step in and enforce the established laws and regulations. This interference, according to `Abdu'l-Baha, is "legal" because the relationship between labour and capital is not like "ordinary affairs between private persons, which do not concern the public, and with which the government should not occupy itself." 

In `Abdu'l-Baha's response to labour disputes, one can see the answers to a number of current issues that are vexing the United States. As a result of government policies, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. The Occupiers are expressing anger at a legitimate problem, but they can hardly assess the ailment, let alone prescribe a remedy. Their claim of injustice is narrowly focused on the United States, and ignores the poor masses of the world's population. Within several protests (e.g. Portland) their ideals of redistribution of wealth brought chaos to the movement itself, as the "poorer" protesters demanded handouts from the better off in their ranks. 

The energy of the current protests will surely be dissipated. As a Baha'i, I believe the attention provides yet another opportunity to share God's current message to a population yearning for spirituality and just institutions.

21 November 2011

Pilgrim's Notes, Mr. Furutan, 26 Feb 2001

I went on pilgrimage in February 2001. Below are the notes from the final night with Mr. Furutan. The notes are slightly modified from the original shorthand.

Monday, 26 FEB 2001
Mr. Furutan's Talk

Someone once asked `Abdu'l-Baha, "People come from pilgrimage saying 'He said this, He said that.' How should we regard these sayings?" `Abdu'l-Baha responded, "Thou hast written concerning the pilgrims and pilgrims' notes. Any text that is not authenticated should not be trusted."

Shoghi Effendi also mentioned that pilgrims notes are for personal use.

Mr. Furutan said that if you need to know something, it would be in the text. Hadiths ruined the very base of Islam.

George Townsend, Hand of the Cause, was at a conference in Stockholm in 1951. A boy asked his opinion on a matter. He asked the boy why he was asking the question, and the boy said, "You know more than me." He responded, "Of course I know more than you, everyone knows that I know more than you, because I've read the writings. Go read Some Answered Questions on such-and-such page and you will find the answer."

08 November 2011

Pilgrim's Notes, Mr. Furutan, 25 Feb 2001

I went on pilgrimage in February 2001. The notes for this day were brief, but worth posting. They are slightly modified from the original shorthand.

Saturday, 25 FEB 2001
Mr. Furutan's Talk

When Mr. Furutan finally returned to Moscow in 1990, he was attending a conference. He spoke on the Baha'i Faith. Afterwards, members of the audience said, "We have had two impossible ideologies, platonism, and utopianism. Now thirdly, we have Baha'ism."

The reference to Platonism is from Plato the philosopher, and his work "The Republic".

Utopianism is a reference to the work of Sir Thomas Moore (killed by Henry VIII).

05 November 2011

Pilgrim's Notes, Mr. Furutan, 24 Feb 2001

I went on pilgrimage in February 2001. I took notes while I was there. Later when I saw my chinchilla chewing on the paper, I took it as a sign that I needed to type up the notes. These are typed exactly as I wrote them.

Saturday, 24 FEB 2001
Mr. Furutan's Talk

Packing going to Moscow, Mr. Futuran packed in the middle of his books  because it didn't sound religious. It was his only book for 5 years and he read it morning and night over and over. One day his friend Nicolae asked him about the book he read so much. He told him a little about it. He asked him "Do you believe in God?" If he said yes he would be in trouble. If he said no he would be lying. So he said "Nicolae, I don't believe in the God you don't believe in." Which is the God that is painted on the walls of churches or has a big white beard.

He told us a quote from the Aqdas (pg 19), summed up it said "The first duty of everyone is to recognize the Divine Manifestation, second, follow His laws." Then he told us some laws. About backbiting, about reading writings morning and evening, about obligatory prayer. "Who else but yourselves is to be blamed, if ye remain unendowed with so great an out pouring of God's transcendent and all encompassing grace," (Gleaning, pg 238)

Mr. Furutan got a letter while living in the Holy Land that said, "you are invited to this National Youth Conference featuring Hand of the Cause, Mr. Furutan." (he wasn't informed ahead of time) He talked to his wife and she convinced him to go. So he told the youth he was going. He arrived in town with his wife and on arriving was pulled aside by an officer. The man was a coroner. He asked him his name and then told him they would have to go downtown for questioning. It turns out the youth putting on the conference didn't get any kind of clearance by the police to gather Baha'is from all over and have a big meeting. He thought this was horrible, not only for himself, but the conference would be cancelled and the publicity would look really bad for the Faith. So there he prayed to Baha'u'llah and decided that he should try not to go downtown and he would stall as long as possible. So he said, "please question me here, there is no need to go downtown." So the coroner did. So they sat down and he said, "name" and he answered, "Ali Akbar Furutan" He said, "don't you want to know why my name is Ali Akbar?" The coroner said he didn't care. Then he said "it's important, you should know about my name. The Prophet Muhammad had a son in law named Ali, who had 3 sons named Ali, after himself. When he called them they all at once turned. So he named them 'Big Ali', 'Medium Ali', and 'Small Ali'. So my name is Big Ali, Ali Akbar." Coroner said, "father's name." He said, "you don't want to know my father's name." Coroner said strictly, "father's name now!" He said, "Karbilai Muhammad Ali Isfahani Furutan." It was an hour later before the name was spelled and explained correctly. "Mother's name" he said, "Soqrat." "Socrat?", "no, Soqrat." "Age", "I will not tell you my age. My wife is here and I have never told her my age. Instead I'll guess your age. 52." The coroner said, "today is my 52nd birthday." He let him go on to his conference.

21 October 2011

Pilgrim's Notes, Mr. Furutan, 23 Feb 2001

I went on pilgrimage in February 2001. I took notes while I was there. Later when I saw my chinchilla chewing on the paper, I took it as a sign that I needed to type up the notes. These are typed exactly as I wrote them.

Friday night, 23 FEB 2001
Mr. Furutan's talk

He told stories of Shoghi Effendi. My favorite was of him just describing the "Beloved Guardian", his manner, how he was. He said EVERYTHING about Shoghi Effendi was different, it was distinct. He repeated that a lot, "different". He said everything down to the way he moved his hand, he was distinguished, and humble.

Another story was about himself. Mr. Furutan grew up in Tehran. At an early age his family moved to Moscow. He finished college there and while applying for a job he was asked "what is your ideology?" He said the Guardian has said if asked of your beliefs you should say "I am a Baha'i." So he said "I am a Baha'i" So he was then exiled to Iran. They gave him a choice to go to Siberia or Iran so he said Iran. He said later he wished he'd have chosen Siberia. In Iran he wrote a letter to Shoghi Effendi and told him he was exiled to Iran and wanted to go back to Moscow. The Guardian wrote back, this was 1930, Communism was growing to its heighth, he said, "Be patient, in time this problem in Russia will subside and you will return to Moscow." With this he was very pleased and he would be patient and confident that some day he would return to Russia. So in the meantime years went by, he became the secretary of the National Assembly of Iran, he became a Hand of the Cause, he lived in Haifa after the passing of the Guardian, and he saw the forming of the Universal House of Justice. In 1990 he was asked by the Universal House of Justice to represent the Baha'is in a conference in Moscow. 60 years after the Guardian wrote his letter Mr. Furutan returned to Moscow, he was patient. In Tehran when he was younger he had typhoid fever, back then the medical field wasn't so advanced and he was in the hospital for 50 days. In the hospital the doctors told his mother he had no hope and she should start preparing a funeral for him. Upon hearing this he reminded his mother of Shoghi Effendi's letter, saying that he would return to Moscow. His mother was happy with this. He had a dream in which Shoghi Effendi visited him. He brought him a flower with 3 pedals, he said "I've come to visit you and wish you well." He turned to put the flower in a vase with water and when he turned back Shoghi Effendi was gone. He knew that the 3 pedals on the flower meant he would be better in 3 days. After 3 days the nurse examined him and declared he was fit to leave the hospital.

He told another story of when he went on pilgrimage. He had heard stories and seen pictures of the Guardian. When he first saw him his first instinct was to prostrate and bow. Shoghi Effendi pulled him up and said, "Don't you know that is forbidden by Baha'u'llah?" "To any living person you should not prostrate, even to the prophet. This is how you should greet me," and he embraced him in a big hug. "Like this, like brothers."

Shoghi Effendi was the one who led them to the Shrine of the Bab upon entering. He prostrated at the front of the room, on the threshold, and chanted for all the pilgrims the prayer of visitation. He then prostrated again, and then walked out, backwards, always facing the shrine. Later Shoghi said in front of all the pilgrims very sternly, "Don't think, that I do this at the Shrine to show you what to do, because I am the Guardian. Don't think that I am trying to show you what to do. You do whatever you feel. There is no tradition in the Baha'i Faith, there are no rituals. There is no tradition on what to do in holy shrines. For me, I do this because I saw Abdu'l Baha do this, why did Abdu'l Baha do this? I don't know why, but I saw him, so I do it this way."

Mr. Furutan also said that Shoghi Effendi got about 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night. He said he had so much to do that had to be done, he just had to, so he didn't sleep. He also mentioned that he was a very attractive man.

23 September 2011

New Book

About one year ago I started writing a post for this blog about evolution. I had just finished reading Keven Brown's Evolution and Baha'i Belief, and I had some thoughts in response.

It was to go something like this. `Abdu'l-Baha talked quite a bit about human origin, and in a way that seems contrary to the consensus of modern science, because he described humans as having evolved over many millions of years from a primitive form, but humans were not derived from animals. This is a serious subject, and one of those controversial topics that polemics like to discuss. Brown's is the only full length book on the subject, but there are tons of shorter articles floating around in various journals and online media. Basically all of them take the same view. They take the scientific consensus as fact, then they try reconcile the issue somehow.

Most of these take the same approaches. Either they redefine the term "human" to be something that shows human traits (i.e. the human line about 200k years ago), or they take `Abdu'l-Baha's statements as a whole as a refutation of the godless direction of society at the time, and then downplay the details. There are also attempts to retranslate the original texts to something that is more in line with science, and yet another approach was to simply say that `Abdu'l-Baha made errors and was not infallible in scientific matters.

After reading all these I became a little frustrated that nobody gave much thought to the possibility of a change in science over time. I think there is a fear of Baha'is being associated with creationists, but there is a huge difference between saying that the earth was created by a supernatural event six thousand years ago and saying that the branching pattern on the tree of life is a little different than first imagined.

18 September 2011

The Problem of Incumbency

With six months left until Ridvan, it’s time to start thinking about the election of the Local Spiritual Assembly!

I’ve been thinking a lot about an issue with Baha’i elections. What is the role of incumbency? Generally speaking, Assemblies don't have natural turnover. Once someone is elected, it is extremely rare that they are removed in the normal voting process, instead they leave due to personal reasons, retirement, or moving to another community. If this is a problem, it should be given serious thought by Baha'is.

I feel the Writings are clear that it is a problem. It can cause stagnation. Shoghi Effendi quite explicitly says that having new members elected "would be nice" and provides "new blood" that "always adds to the energy of the group." In another place he says that he was “happy to see changes” in membership of an NSA, because, "change itself is good and brings a fresh outlook into the discussions of any assembly." Shoghi Effendi was “pleased to see that these changes involved more younger people being on the N.S.A.” Having the election annually, he says, allows "the quality of membership in Baha'i assemblies" to be "continually raised and improved."

21 May 2011

New Blog Project

Jake Grandy and I have started a new blog project called "Bounded Irrationality". If appropriate some of the posts might be cross-posted here. Here is a provisional description of its purpose. 
We believe that the role of knowledge is to advance the interests, both material and spiritual, of the human race. The goal of this blog is to aggregate strands of knowledge and opinion that we find conducive to a better functioning and more unified global community, and to offer our own insight into subjects with which we are familiar with. The major themes will include public policy, economic and social development, environmental sustainability, institutional efficacy, and progressive business strategy.
 We welcome your critical engagement in the blog's comment section..

19 April 2011

If I Had a Letter

Here are some new lyrics for a familiar song--Pete Seeger's " If I Had a Hammer"


If I had a letter
I'd read it in the morning
I'd read it in the evening
All over this land
I'd read about coherence
I'd read about community-building
I'd read about the love between
my brothers and my sister
All over this land....


If I had a method
I'd practice in the morning
I'd practice in the evening
All over this land
I'd build a vision
I'd avoid dichotomous thinking
I'd focus on process rather than events
All over this land....


If I had a plan
I'd build a new civilization
I'd nurture human potential
In my own locality
My mode of learning
Would be humble and open
I'd invite neighbors and friends
To the core activities
All over this land...

Well, I have a letter
And I have a method
And I have a Five Year Plan
For how to change the world
It's a letter from the House of Justice
It's a method called active learning
It's a Plan involving individuals
communities
institutions
All over this land!!!!!

02 April 2011

Feast Communities

My previous post about Monkey Brains discussed the value in decentralizing Baha'i communities as they get too big, to allow for more growth. In the comments I got an earful from people bemoaning the loss of a larger community, "If you split up in groups before you have a cohesive fire started somewhere then those groups will fizzle out... Success isn't in division."

At the time of writing that, my city of Portland had 7 Feast areas, and had been alternating every other Feast from centralized to decentralized. Centralized attendance was in the 50-80 range, and decentralized attendance ranged from 4-20 people, depending on the area. The city has 150-170 active overall. The Baha'i center is an hour from certain parts of the city. After breaking up into 7 areas, overall attendance actually went up noticeably, especially in the outlying areas. So did Fund contributions, which usually follow attendance. A side effect of breaking up was that people became more intimate with Baha'is living close-by, and it gave a further boost to non-Feast related activities. It also became more friendly to new Baha'is, because they didn't feel lost in a crowd. In this case decentralizing was a catalyst for growth, in a city that hadn't seen noticeable growth for well over 10 years prior.

There is a challenge in decentralizing. If the areas are too small, as my friend commented, then the fire goes out. Out of the 7 areas two of them sometimes reached attendance of three people, depending on families being out of town. In some areas, if the Feast got up to 20 people, then it was difficult to host in most homes.

The Assembly just made a somewhat dramatic decision. From now on Portland will have three Feast areas, with no centralized Feasts. This effectively shapes the city into three distinct Baha'i communities, sharing a single LSA and a single cluster boundary, with a few central holy days. The interesting part is that while decentralizing, the areas got bigger, at least for awhile.

There are some serious advantages to this scenario. First of all, it avoids the large group problem of having so many people that personal connections get lost. Second, it creates communities of about 50 active believers, which happens to be the number much toted several years back as the magic number for growth (although since then the International Teaching Centre has discouraged relying on a formula for growth). Third, it also avoids the small group problem of not having enough people to keep the fire going with resources for a variety of activities.

There are also some serious disadvantages to this scenario. First of all, attendance will be in the 25-30 range initially, and will only grow, so most homes won't work for hosting. That puts us back into rented facilities, despite owning a Baha'i center (and spending a lot of $$$ for upkeep). Second, it adds to the travel problem that smaller neighborhoods fixed, so a trip from one extreme to the other still takes about 45 minutes. Third, in the downtown area where people mostly don't own cars, rides will have to be coordinated when the event is not close by.

The Assembly also will appoint two people from each area to coordinate Feast venues and hosts.

I'm very interested in feedback. What have other communities experimented with? What have you learned? What advice do you have?

05 March 2011

Knock, Knock, It's the Assembly!

Many Local Spiritual Assembly members struggle to balance their work as part of an institution of the Faith with their personal and team teaching goals and the need to model participation in the goals of the wider community. Home visits are an ideal way to integrate the basic practices of the Ruhi Institute and the goals of the cluster into the work that must necessarily fall on the shoulders of the Assembly. Here are 10 ideas for incorporating home visits into the business of the LSA:
  1. Visit with engaged couples to deepen them on Baha'i marriage and provide counseling and encouragement.
  2. Visit community members to deepen on recent guidance from the Universal House of Justice and encourage the development of individual teaching plans.
  3. Visit to welcome new members to the community and assess their needs and hopes (deepening, children's classes, avenues of service, etc.)
  4. Veteran Assembly members visit the newly-elected in order to help them grow in their role, and those who formerly held a certain office (such as treasurer) visit new officers in order to ensure an effective transition.
  5. Visit those who were unable to attend a Cluster Reflection or Feast to fill them in on the details and receive their input, sharing knowledge of the nature and importance of these gatherings as needed.
  6. Visit the hospitalized and homebound to strengthen their sense of community, especially on Holy Days.
  7. Visit with 14-year-old Baha'is in the community in order to have a discussion about the nature of the age of maturity and the ways in which the Assembly can assist them in their endeavors as youth.
  8. Visit members of the Core Team to pray for the advancement of the Cause in the region, and to build stronger bonds of unity and fellowship between the institutions.
  9. Visit community members who have relocated from elsewhere in order to help them find their place and path of service without their having to scramble for information about their neighborhood, cluster, or available resources.
  10. Visit with friends who are struggling with a particular aspect of Baha'i law, especially when a specific visitor or visitors (one that is the same gender as the community member to be visited, or who has struggled with a similar issue, or who is a personal friend) might be more appropriate for a first conversation than the Assembly as a whole.
This is, of course, just a jumping-off point. Any other suggestions? How does your Assembly integrate home visits into its business? In what ways would you like it to?

Watching Libya Burn


The government of Libya in the past few days has accumulated massacres that are blatantly counter to any international standard of legitimacy. I feel the situation is already an avoidable stain on the pages of human history.


The resolution to the problem seems so simple. A dictator losing his mind is using extreme violence and outright lies to keep himself in power. He has given orders to bomb and machine-gun down unarmed civilians in mass. Today his troops rushed through the town of az-Zawiyah shooting dead any person they saw. At one point the troops broke into a hospital and began executing patients in their beds. There is no need to insinuate anything, he has openly admitted that he plans on killing as many people as possible if he is forced from power. He relies on blatant lies and bribes to keep his few supporters going, but those few have incredibly powerful weaponry. Clearly the international community should step in to prevent the massacres, put Qaddafi on trial for crimes against humanity, and restore order and justice.


The condemnation from outside of Libya has been strong, but it's been little more than sharing words, freezing assets, and starting an investigation. Some countries are simply more concerned about the flow of oil than the flow of blood. China is far more concerned with quelling any internal unrest than it is with preventing a massacre in Africa (Chinese reporting about Egypt and Libya have only focused on the scared Chinese nationals fleeing the chaos). As usual, China is trying not to set a precedent for the international community to step in and prevent governments from violently suppressing protests. This almost total avoidance of military intervention in any country by a permanent member of the UN Security Council has been a drag on the effectiveness of the UN, just as the United States' total reluctance to allow condemnation of Israeli transgressions has allowed injustice to continue in Palestine far too long.

28 February 2011

Gifts

I live in the most materially prosperous nation in the world, and it strikes me as odd some of the etiquette around gift-giving.

13 February 2011

Guidance Remix

I've been experimenting with Wordle as a new graphical way of looking at the language of the Universal House of Justice. I find it illuminating. Thoughts?

The 28 December, 2010 Message:

Wordle: December 28, 2010 Letter from the Universal House of Justice
The Ridvan 2010 Message:

Wordle: Ridvan 2010 Message

06 February 2011

Young Heroes and Junior Youth Groups: Comparisons and Lessons Learned

From 2001-2002, I served as a corps member with City Year Cleveland. City Year is a year of service program for 17-24 year olds that draws inspiration from the nonprofit, corporate, government, and military models in order to engage young adults in an annual campaign of service. I was 18 years old when I joined, fresh out of high school, and the impact CY had on the way I work, serve, and lead has been immeasurable. One of my primary areas of service in City Year was the Young Heroes program, which eventually led me on the path to becoming a junior youth animator.

Young Heroes is a service-learning program for 6th-8th grade students, led by City Year corps members. At the time I was involved in the program, Young Heroes Cleveland engaged about 80 students in educational service activities all day, every other Saturday. Teams of ~10 students were each led by two corps members, who were in turn coordinated and organized by a small leadership team of other corps members.

What did I learn from Young Heroes?


Most of the cooperative games, unity-building activities, and icebreakers I know come from my experience with Young Heroes. My understanding of hoon a given saw to work with 11-14 year olds does too. I also learned a lot about documentation and organizational partnerships, which I think I ought to utilize more effectively as a junior youth group animator. But there are a number of ways in which the Young Heroes model is not conducive to what the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program hopes to accomplish. I've had to learn to keep these in mind in my work as an animator, in order to avoid unhelpful cross-pollinations.

23 January 2011

The Problem of "Artificial States"

There is now quite a body of literature that points to the problem of so called "artificial states" which lack  "legitimacy", due to the fact that they were arbitrarily and haphazardly drawn up by European colonizers in the latter part of the 19th century (in Africa's case), with very little regard for preexisting human and political geography. Crawford Young, in his book "The African Colonial State in Historical Perspective" describes the impact that African colonialism had in a relatively short period of time in embedding either distorted or completely foreign political structures:

The colonial state in Africa lasted in most instances less than a century-a mere moment in historical time. Yet it totally reordered political space, societal hierarchies and cleavages, and modes of economic production. Its territorial grid-whose final contours congealed only in the dynamics of decolonization-determined the state units that gained sovereignty and came to form the present African polities. The logic of its persistence and reproduction was by the time of independence deeply embedded in its mechanism of internal guidance. 

Pierre Englebert, in his book "State Legitimacy and Development in Africa", explores the idea of "state legitimacy" in the context of Africa. His measure includes vertical legitimacy - the degree to which the state is responsive to the plurality of its citizens, and horizontal legitimacy - the degree to which the boundaries of the state relate to any coherent precolonial logic. He then correlates these measures to measures of good governance and development capacity. He begins his conclusion by saying:
"The historical endogeneity of the state, its congruence with underlying political institutions and norms of political authority-in a word, its legitimacy-is a crucial variable in understanding the choice of policies that rulers of developing countries adopt and the quality of the overall governance they provide. Both, in turn, are important factors contributing to economic development. Deficits of state legitimacy are therefore at the core of the development failure of many African states. 

22 January 2011

Friends

I previously left a post titled Monkey Brains, where I showed that human brains want to be in social groups of 150, with a small group of about 12 friends.

Other research has shown that it only takes 6 good friends to be happy. Less than that and the individual's happiness drops off. Too many and the effect is diluted with an overall drop in happiness. Another study proposed 10 close friends as the magic number.

As strange as this might sound, I have too many friends. I think a lot of people struggle, especially moving to a new town, to find a small group of close friends, the kind where you can totally relax with and really connect emotionally. I had such an experience living in Wenatchee, WA for 3 months in 2008, and again in Madras, OR for 3 months in 2009. I experienced the sadness that comes from being alone in small towns that are largely emptied of 20-somethings. In both cases, the only real friends I made came from the Baha'i community, so I can also sympathize with countless studies indicating a marked increase in happiness of church goers. I also saw the depression (among some coworkers) that comes from losing the ability to make new friends later on in life. I think one of the worst end-of-life scenarios is to spent one's final years alone watching television.

20 January 2011

Roots and Seeds

Most places I go, I am asked to speak on the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment program, due to my (relatively) extensive experience with it. I have been an animator since the spring of 2007. And I have never had a successful junior youth group.

This is not to say that I have not had success with the program. I have assisted in its implementation in at least five clusters. But I have never animated a group in the way it was intended, beginning with a group of 11-12 year olds and growing together through the program for three years.

Why? In my adult life, I have never lived in a single place for three years. 

17 January 2011

Xtranormal Baha'is


Xtranormal is the latest greatest method for making your own videos. It's actually really easy, and there's an option for a browser based creation tool. All you have to do is choose a background, characters, and voices, then you type in the dialogue. The robotic voices are convenient to add some comedy to the scenes, and the movements are all easy to embed into the dialogue.


I made this as an exercise. The possibilities are endless.

13 January 2011

Development Blogs

There are a lot of great blogs in international development. I think that Baha'is have a lot to offer to and learn from these discussions and we should be active in engaging (discussion/comments) if not potentially collaborating with the practitioners and academics involved.  As a resource for those interested, I thought it might be useful to provide a list of development blogs that I have enjoyed and followed (with the help of Google Reader), in no particular order. If you know of other good ones, please list them in the comments.
Chandan Sapkota
Chris Blattman
Dani Rodrick
Blood and Milk
David Roodman
Eric Green
From Poverty to Power
Owen Abroad
Africa Can...End Poverty
African Arguments
Aid on the Edge of Chaos
Aid Thoughts
Aid Watch
Barefoot Economics
Developing Jen
Development Horizons
Give a Damn about Poverty?
Greed, Green, and Grains
India Development Blog
Microfinance Blog
On My Way
Waylaid Dialectic
The White African
IPA's Blog
Beyond Profit
IFMR
Private Sector Development

09 January 2011

First day

My wife and I just had the first meeting of a junior youth group. As with any group, it doesn't exactly fall into the ideal situation. There are 5 starting out, instead of 9 or 10. They are all boys, so no mix of gender. They are very unfocused and don't quite know what's going on.

On the other hand, this is the most ideal junior youth group I've started. For the first time I'm beginning with actual 11 year olds, as opposed to a mix of ages (my first group) or starting with mostly the same age but starting in either 7th grade (second group) or 8th grade (third group). That means for the first time, I could potentially study through all of the available curriculum with them, and it means I can start at an early age where they are still forming habits and attitudes.

As with any group, there are always little moments that make it all worth it. Out of the five, two of them are from Baha'i families, and one of those announced that he had read the section of the first book before coming, even though we didn't start the book on the first night. One of the boys not from a Baha'i family asked, "What if I don't want to come?" and I said, "Then you don't have to come?" The puzzled look on his face was part of his realizing that he's starting to make his own decisions, and if he attends then he'll have to own it.

After discussing the goals of the group and talking about expectations, we asked them to come up for a name for the group. The ideas ranged from, The No Name Group, The Awesome Group, The Group, The Couldn't-Think-of-a-Name Group, The Five Amigos, and much much more...

We did an activity of what I call "drawing telephone", a game where everyone writes a description of some crazy scenario on the top of a stack of stapled paper, then everyone passes the stack and has to draw a picture of the description, then the stacks continue getting passed around, alternating between drawing and describing. At the end everyone was rolling around laughing as their story was converted into some totally different scenario.

We concluded the night by everyone, including me, running around the house whacking each other with foam toys.

08 January 2011

The Second Way

There is a way
to look at the crisis,
and not to cry. To see injustice,
famine, the virus of the blood, and yet stand
straight enough to speak
is difficult, but not impossible: forget your glasses.
Bring instead your weak
myopia, your astigmatic haze,
dulling the vistas of hopelessness until
there is only your nose and one pot of maize,
one school fee, one welcome song, one child
wailing in your arms. This way,
survive, and serve again.

There is only one way
to look at the crisis,
and not to cry.

But if you would cry, get up!
Walk out of that body, prostrated
and voiceless in its shame. Baptize
yourself in its tears and turn your back.
When you see the fires of impossible hope,
jump in! Blaze. Immolate fear in the coals
of your joy. This is the second way.
Then watch: these sparks,
they are heating a nation,
they are lighting the world.

07 January 2011

On Human Resources

When I find myself wishing I could avoid a given core activity for a day, it's not the logistics I dread.  Planning, documenting, forging ahead--these things come naturally to me now.  It's the massive emotional investment in building genuine relationships that exhausts me, introvert that I am. 

The institute process has made me into a fine resource. 

I'm hoping it can make me into a better human, as well.

05 January 2011

New guidance regarding homosexuality

The below letter was recently sent from the US National Spiritual Assembly to the American believers. It quotes from a letter to an individual on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, and directly clarifies what is perhaps the greatest social issue of my generation. It clearly encourages Baha'is to fight against discrimination and work for social justice, while leaving intact the clear moral guidelines around marriage. The prominent reference here is that with regards to homosexuals, "freedom from discrimination" can be actively supported, while "opportunity for civil marriage" would neither be promoted nor opposed.


This letter won't satisfy those looking for a reform of the underlying belief of homosexuality being an aberration. It does not present a technical case that would hold up in court, and it leaves the obvious conclusion that as the Baha'i Faith spreads, the social attitude towards sexuality will also spread with it. But to Baha'is caught in the line of fire between a polarized pro- and anti-gay society, this message seems to authoritatively address several recent issues. The Congressional bill that repealed the exclusion of homosexuals in the US military can be actively supported by Baha'is (in fact, I was going to blog about it as such but got busy), as can any effort to stem the harassment in public schools that leads to an unseemly high suicide rate among homosexual youth. Regarding the California Prop 8 debate raging in court, Baha'is can change the channel.