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.