The Weekend Australian (May 15-16 2010) publishes an excerpt from Melanie Phillips book, “The World Turned Upside Down …”. If this abstract is an example of what a reader can expect of the book, my thought is to avoid it like the plague. After trying to make sense of the three columns in the Australian, I finally realised that this collage of unrelated ideas were not to be comprehended at any truly logical level. The incoherence of the dragging together such unconnected issues as paganism, the stolen generation, Israel, and left–wing politics verges on the chaotic writings of a paranoid schizophrenic. At the end of the three columns, Phillips states that, ‘with ideology eroding the principles of rationality and freedom, truth and justice on which it rests, the West is failing to understand what it is that it cannot understand, and so cannot grasp the mortal danger in which it stands.’ While the column doesn’t indicate what that mortal danger is, one of them might be to wasted time reading Phillip’s book in full. Already it has made scrambled eggs out of the last vestiges of my own rationality. Even that diatribe in support of freedom, truth and justice, makes me wonder what universe Phillips has been living. To my mind, there has never been a society based on truth, freedom and justice. These in themselves are aspirations, certainly to be recommended, but not be greatly developed in any past or existing society.
So ‘rational’ is Phillips that she wants such things as an immediate onslaught of climate change, for her to accept such a thing. None of this cumulative effect for her. None of this ‘trends point to’ signs so we should urgently work on preparations, ‘nonsense’ for her. No “Ant and Grasshopper” best-to-prepare-for-winter tales for her or her children.
I do feel some sympathy for Melanie Phillips. It is true that much of the population, even those with a good liberal education, are looking for an answer or a nicely packaged cause, to put their support behind. The people do not want to have to do the hard work of reading and thinking through all the issues. And, for all practical purposes, the people cannot do this. And I suspect what Phillips is saying in her flailing around, is that we need to develop a culture of learning in every community in the world. Phillips should take caution as to what that means. The human being is not a logical computer. The human being is primarily a responsive organism. Response is all about the emotions. The emotions are both at the heart of our drive for better social unity and our personal egos. The higher learning functions are feed by this emotional human ALL THE TIME. The higher learning functions are ssslllloooooooowwwww to create response relative to the emotional being.
The human being, to be a learning being, must, starting from within the womb, learn emotional calmness. From emotional calmness, the child can then learn to deal with a variety of hardships: postponement of gratification, deprivation of non-essentials, and loss. If there is a generic concept of child abuse, it might be the constant incitement of high emotions. If there is a generic concept of child neglect, it might be the failure to help the child manage their all-to-natural spikes of emotion under social stressors. Often both the abuse and the neglect go hand in hand, for the adult who fails to be able to regulate their own emotions under stress will be most likely to incite emotional spiking in the child, and then be unable to know how to train their child to calm the emotional spike. Indeed, for what purpose should the child learn to calm the emotional spike. If it is just so adults can have a smoother life, then that is simply a gratification desire by the adult, leading to control of the child. The purpose of any emotional training of the child must have the objective of allowing the higher learning functions to catch up to the problem at hand. Among those problems is what to do with the emotional response. Anger, sadness, and joy are native emotions that cannot be contained, nor is it ever healthy for them to be contained. And all of these play both a role in both our decision-making and our action. Yet without some amelioration of emotional spiking, the human beings decision-making and actions are likely to be rapid responses from the emotional being. With training toward calmness, awareness of emotional content, and the ability to access emotional content as a driver towards an aim, the child can grow into a being with a high capacity for learning and strategic action.
Yet, still, much of what the people need to know to perform this training for themselves and for the child, must be packaged in user-friendly modes. Religion, when it maintains its focus on its core teachings and avoids wandering off on tangents of egotistical explorations such as political domination, makes for the most powerful method for the training of generations of society. Scientific knowledge is more difficult, relying on salient breakthroughs after the culmination of huge amounts of knowledge, for the package to be rendered user-friendly. Much like the ability of every high-school physics student to understand E=MC2, a notion that was out of the range of even the most erudite scientist of the nineteenth century, until Albert Einstein saw the solution, the pattern, within the vast array of data that scientists were grappling. Social and political scientists are in an even more difficult position. How can ‘truth’ be determined by the massive dynamical relationships of social live.
Social and political ‘truth’ cannot be determined in the mileu of the human emotional attachment. Social and political truth at best is always going to be a dialogue between what we need, what we fear, what we are attached to, the complete and incomplete science that applies, and the aspirations with which we are raised. Is it irrational that, Baha’u’llah, from His place in 19th Century Middle eastern Society, raised a religion, a ‘package’ of teachings, to encourage the people that it is more important to focus on the development of the global society, than on fighting for national. This type of vision pulls the divers strands of human polity into that clarifying notion. Although there is ongoing work to refine the methods of education, this ‘package’ of teachings can be learnt by everyone. Within a day, six months at the month, any person, anywhere in the world, can be an active learner, aspiring to develop their family, community, regional, or the global society, through the teachings of Baha’u’llah.
What stand in the way, is not, as Phillips decries, idealisms, but the much larger malaise that fails to recognise the corruption the people are supporting. Some of that corruption lives in the power wielded by politicians who thrive on pitting one ideal against another. Some lives in the corruption amongst individuals supporting certain ideals. Corruption is partly a social problem. But only training children to be less corruptible than their parents, can society resolve its problem. Give away the chaotic approach to world progress, Baha’u’llah brought human logics to humanity over 150 years, and it would be a far better thing to heed His teachings