Monday, 31 August 2015

With This Ring I Thee Wed

I have never met Ashley Madison. I do not even know if it’s a man or a woman. But I do know that Ashley Madison has helped to increase the amount of unhappiness in the world.

People have been paying money to the website of that name, hoping to have an extra-marital “affair” with somebody. Obviously the data hacked from this website means that many of those who have been cheating will get found out, but it seems to me that for many people, it would only be a matter of time before their spouse finds out anyway. A stray email, a text noticed on a mobile phone, lame excuses for some sudden departure… My impression is that most people get caught out eventually.

In whatever way each person may justify their behaviour to themselves, they are setting out deliberately to break the vows they have made to their wife or husband. Does the guilty party think deeply about the disloyalty they are showing to their partner and what it means for their relationship? Cheating on a marriage suggests that the love between the couple is not quite what it could be. In the Bahá’í writings it says that the couple should be “two helpmates, two intimate friends, who should be concerned about the welfare of each other. It they live thus, they will pass through this world with perfect contentment, bliss, and peace of heart.” If you really are concerned about the welfare of your spouse, this would seem to rule out any idea of infidelity. After all, true love implies putting your partner first.

Indeed, if marriage were seen as a spiritual union, as two souls travelling through life together, this might give a more long-lasting perspective than a materialistic viewpoint may give. Again, the Bahá’í writings say: “…true marriage…is this, that husband and wife should be united both physically and spiritually, that they may ever improve the spiritual life of each other, and may enjoy everlasting unity throughout all the worlds of God.”

Any form of successful human relationship requires trust, but particularly between husband and wife. People have a happy and secure basis to their lives if they know they can rely absolutely on their partner. Once this trust is destroyed, the relationship is never the same again. Ashley Madison has encouraged people to cheat on their spouses and has made money out of it. The irony is that people trusted Ashley Madison to keep their details (and affairs) secret. I doubt if anyone will trust Ashley Madison again.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Left, Right or Straight Ahead?

The governments of the United States and Cuba are now speaking to one another, and moves are under way to try and normalise relations, although Cuba is a communist state and many Americans regard any form of communism or socialism as evil! Meanwhile In Britain, the Labour party is electing a new leader, who will either be from the “right” or the “left” of the party.

Do these labels of right and left tell us anything? If you turn the steering wheel hard left, and then try to go forwards, the vehicle goes round in circles. If you turn hard right, you might think this is (ideo-)logically different, but you get the same general effect! If a pilot lifts either the left or the right wing – sorry, port or starboard – higher in the air, thereby raising its importance, the aircraft tilts, and gives the passengers an uncomfortable ride. And yet so many people are ideologically attached to “left-wing” or “right-wing” ideas. What the world really needs to do is to move on, to a future, and that involves looking straight ahead, and definitely using both wings!!

Different industries, different services, different towns and villages, all have separate needs of their own, and these needs change over time. This law of change seems to exist throughout the universe, so why do people think that both politics and economics are somehow free from it, and prefer to cling to somebody’s theory? Every enterprise should be seen as an amalgam of initiative, creativity, thought, care, finance and co-operation. The future will probably require endless mixes of different ideas and structures, as conditions change and new situations arise.

From a Bahá’í point of view, it is clear that local control, whether in business or government, is preferable to over-centralisation. Some level of co-ordination is obviously required, but a local town or village council is usually in a better position to judge what initiatives are necessary, to bring benefit to the community, rather than strangers in an office hundreds of miles away in the capital city. Bahá’u’lláh said that there should be a Local House of Justice in each town or village, which would be close to the people it exists to serve. This body would have greater powers of initiative than a present-day town council, and greater freedom to be of direct assistance to individuals. When making its decisions, the House of Justice would have to consider the needs of people outside its area as well as those within. As is obvious from its name, it must ensure that everyone is treated fairly, and this includes economic justice. Bahá’ís believe that there should be laws designed to eliminate poverty completely, and to ensure that no person has ridiculous amounts of personal wealth. In the words of Bahá’u’lláh’s son, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, “It is important to limit riches, as it is also of importance to limit poverty. Either extreme is not good.”

None of this will work, of course, unless there is agreement and the consent of the community. In other words, everyone has to be united. A Local House of Justice will work most effectively if its members come from diverse backgrounds – it has to represent the entire community. Once this “unity in diversity” is established, every useful idea, instead of being labelled “left”, “right” or “centre”, will be evaluated to see whether it fits the current needs.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

A Climate of Change

In President Obama’s recent television announcement, climate change was presented as established fact. The United States government therefore wishes to reduce the carbon emissions that the country produces. As America has already legislated on certain pollutants, and has reduced the polluting level of its cars – sorry, automobiles – it seems that the target for reduction now is coal-fired power stations. Similar power stations have been closing in Europe, for the same reason.

But people will still need electricity to power their homes and their places of work, so alternative methods of power generation have to be promoted. Apart from the natural reserves of coal, oil and gas which the planet holds, there are the renewable sources, which are essentially replenishing themselves at all times. Some renewable energy sources have unwanted side effects. Wind turbines, for example, are known to cause many bird deaths, including large birds such as eagles. Solar “farms” displace wildlife, and tidal barrages cause ecological damage where they are installed. However, there are other methods which have less impact: using small-scale solar and hydro-electric schemes, ground heat pumps, etc.

Doing nothing about the increasing change in the planet’s climate risks potential disaster. One scenario involves a melting of the ice caps, accompanied by flooding, due to a rise in sea levels. Others include potential food and water shortages, as the rain ceases to fall in some areas, contrasting with disastrous floods elsewhere. Despite the years of collecting evidence of how things *have* changed, there is still no certainty about how things *will* change, even in the near future. It could be argued that while only some countries are reducing their emission levels, there is no real chance of avoiding further climate change. It needs to be every country making an effort at the same time. We do, after all, inhabit just one earth, with just one atmosphere. China’s carbon output is approximately double that of the United States, but, due to its much larger population, emissions per head are much lower. If it reached the same levels as the USA it would be catastrophic! Luckily, China has finally started to replace its “dirty” technology because of its awful internal pollution problems.

So many people seem to just look at their own (supposed) interests, and fail to regard this earth as one immense planetary system, in which the atmosphere, the seas, tectonic and volcanic processes, animals, plants and humans endlessly interact with one another. “The structure of the physical world is like unto a single being whose limbs and members are inseparably linked together.”  The Earth itself is, of course, part of a much wider system, and could not exist without the Sun, for example, “for every part of the universe is connected with every other part by ties that are very powerful and admit of no imbalance”. If we push these relationships too far, we may cause just such an imbalance, and bring about a catastrophe.

In the Bahá’í view, “We need a change of heart, …a new orientation of our activities. The inward life of man as well as his outward environment have to be reshaped.” To do this, there needs to be a climate of change. The change of heart needed can be categorised by the word “spiritual”, conveying a feeling for the world based on a sense of oneness with the world and respect for the world rather than a sense of ownership and exploitation. This would mean less materialism and therefore less need for energy from whatever source.

(Quotations in italics are from the Bahá’í writings)

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

This Earth Is One Country

For hundreds or probably thousands of years, young men, and indeed whole families, have left their homes to go travelling elsewhere in the world, looking for better prospects for themselves. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, people from Europe swarmed across the ocean in ships, seeking to settle in the Americas, or find a way of making a fortune in Africa, Asia or Australia. Provided that no-one was actually killing them, they did not mind whether they were wanted there or not! They went, because they were looking for a better life.

At the present time, Europeans are seeing this process in reverse. Instead of people fleeing Europe to escape poverty, war and persecution, people are now trying to get into Europe to escape poverty, war and persecution. Prosperity has increased in much of Europe since the nineteenth century, and a system of migration designed to help the peoples within the European Union has resulted in the doors being shut to most people wanting to come to Europe from outside. The doors are shut, so people have started coming through the windows. They pay some hard-hearted criminal gang for about 80 square-inches of floor space on a crowded boat and get towed or pushed out to sea.

Because the European Union has a system, it is totally flummoxed when people don’t use the  system, but just turn up on the open sea. What does Europe do in response? Well, nothing very organised, because the “problem” of people entering illegally is, by its very nature, haphazard and uncontrolled.

The United Kingdom has its own part in this, with several thousand people hanging around near Calais, trying their best to get into the U.K. by almost any means, because they do not have the paperwork which would allow them entry. Although the exact details of the “problem” will continue to shift, people trying to move to another part of the world, which seems so much richer and/or safer than their homeland, will continue for a considerable time.

Why? For a number of reasons. Some parts of the world are much richer than others. One big step towards solving this would be the institution of a world currency. This would immediately put an end to currency speculation, to adverse exchange rates and much economic uncertainty. Companies wishing to open a second factory would find it more beneficial to do so in places where the wage levels are lower. Money would shift towards the poorer countries until the financial situation of all countries would be better balanced. If the rich countries really want to avoid being magnets for everyone who sees themselves as dispossessed, more immediate and determined efforts need to be made to distribute the wealth better, so that it reaches all parts of the world.

Of course, it is not only Europe which attracts migrants. Other countries which apparently offer employment and economic opportunities are equally attractive – people cross from Mexico into the United States every day, and Thailand, Malaysia and Australia have “boat people” trying to gain entry. Any well-to-do country which speaks English (the U.S.A., Canada, the U.K., Australia, etc.) may become more attractive to the more determined migrants, because many of these people already speak the language. A world language would help this situation greatly. If all the schools in the world taught the same shared language, then English-speaking countries would be no more attractive to migrants than would other countries.

But a huge reason for millions of people leaving their homes is conflict. People are currently fleeing conflicts in the Yemen, in Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, etc., and some of them are heading for distant lands. Peace and political stability are desperately needed in the world. Bahá’ís see democracy as a way forward for the planet and the Bahá’í writings emphasise that universal freedom is an important part of creating unity in the world. We all need to see mankind as one family, and the whole earth as one home.

The “problem” of “illegal” migration will not be solved until  the causes of the situation have been removed. Bahá’u’lláh said: “This earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens”. Until we look at it from that perspective, and start asking how we can improve the lives of all of its citizens, we will continue to struggle for solutions.