Paradigms Lost

By Shahin Movafagh (1992)


As we approach the end of the millennium, a sense of global urgency has become widespread.  More than 70 wars were in progress 1991 alone.  Discrimination based on gender, religion, race and culture still persists.  Racial tension is on the rise, whether in the form of violent outbreaks in the west or official persecution in South Africa.  During 1992, 1,490,000 people died of malnutrition around the globe.  Third world countries pay their interest to the global economy with the lives of their children while global military expenditures are in excess of US$800 billion a year.  The lack of ethics and responsibility in the industrial sector has led to the devastation of the Earth's environment.  One third of the populace is unable to read and write, and the overall quality of public education has been steadily declining.


Despite all these problems, world events in the past few years reflect a greater awareness of this global urgency.  Perhaps the same technology that is paving the path to our doom is leading to the evolution of a global society, which can no longer afford to ignore a worldview in its quest for survival.


At this critical juncture in the history of the human race, we have invested a major portion of human resources in horrific devices.  During the past 30 years US$21 trillion has been poured into the world's military system.  Ironically, to cash-in our investments we have to use them.


Although nuclear bombs are the most devastating, the weapons of mass destruction are not limited to nuclear weaponry alone.  The ABC's of mass destruction include Atomic, Bacteriological, and Chemical weapons.  This vast expenditure of money has focused the majority of research on destructive applications.  Currently 70% of university research in the United States is funded by the military.  As a result peaceful technological applications often result only as spin-offs of military research.  This drain on human and natural resources is accompanied by a devastation of the environment.


Racism, materialism and the oppression of women plague much of the world today.  These social diseases are passed down by one generation to the next thriving on the ignorance of their carriers.


Since the United States holds a large population of diversified peoples, the problem of racial "dis-integration" is most evident.  A nation long considered as the "melting pot" of the world has turned to ethnocentricity and cultural separatism.  Victims of discrimination have sought relief by creating their own cultural and social territories and so are strengthening the invisible wall that keeps everyone separated.


Over the past 20 years, the gap separating the rich and poor has widened.  A large portion of society inherits hunger and homelessness along with chaotic and violent surroundings, while others hold a birthright to comfort and quality education.  The United States holds only six percent of the world's population, yet consumes 40 percent of the world's resources.  Still, in the United States, one child in five is poor, nearly one quarter of poor families have inadequate housing, and 5.5 million children suffer from hunger.


"The inordinate disparity between rich and poor, a source of acute suffering, keeps the world in a state of instability, virtually on the brink of war." (Universal House of Justice)


Over half the world's population is either enslaved by the male populace or by a society, which has ingrained in its fabric the "male" stereotype.  Not only do male standards define and dominate today's social system, but they have long been accepted as the psychological norm.  As a result, the few women who advance in such a social system often have to be even more "dominant" and "aggressive" than their male counterparts in order to succeed.


The word "economy" is rooted in the Greek term oikonomia which stands for "house-holding" while "ecology" is derived from oikos logos or the "rules of the household."  Although the connections between economy and ecology are deeply rooted ones, today's near-sighted planetary "house-holding" practices are in direct conflict with the natural "rules of the global household."  Accustomed to an instant gratification attitude and living in a world of disposables, each generation steals from the next.


While one billion of the world's population lives in a state of destitution, another billion live in unprecedented luxury.  The average pocket money of an American child, US$230 a year, exceeds the income of the poorest half-billion inhabitants of the world.  Meanwhile the average British citizen consumes 22 kilograms of chocolate every year.


With the advances in technology, a global economic community has emerged.  Economic survival has dictated international alliances.  The European Community serves as a perfect example of such an alliance.  Nevertheless, the concern for "constant economic growth" overshadows such questions as "How much is enough?"


The web of life that has stretched around the globe over time seems more fragile now than ever before.  Within the past two decades, thousands of plant and animal species have ceased to exist. The world's farmers have lost approximately 480 billion tons of topsoil.  Many third world nations have cashed in their environment in order to pay interest to the more developed nations.  Some scientists claim that "by the year 2000, 100 species may become extinct each day, mainly due to the destruction of the forests in Amazon and the loss of animal habitats that quickly ensues." (Sagan)


The loss of topsoil alone can have a devastating effect on the tightly interconnected planetary web of life.  "It is on this matrix of mineral and organic matter that plant and animal life and ultimately the life of mankind depends." (Snyder)  A 1976 survey, with more than 10,000 farmers participating from the tropics and sub-tropics, showed clearly that most farmers were unaware that the decline in the fertility of their land was due to soil erosion. (Snyder)


Despite all efforts over the past 20 years, the irresponsible exploitation of the planet continues.


In the United States, which has a literacy rate of over 90 percent, many of the states have laws which use the property tax fund of a given district to fund the primary public education institutions of that region.  This ensures that children born in poor neighborhoods receive poor education.  The effects of this birthright to education are perhaps more dramatic in twenty of the African nations which have literacy rates of 19 percent or less.  While US$2 million is being spent each minute on the world military, an insurance too horrible to collect on, nearly one billion people lack the skills to read and write.  If only one day out of the year this money was spend on educating the illiterate, everyone would have an opportunity to learn how to read and write.  Moreover, 1000 classrooms for 30,000 children could be built with the price of a single modern tank!


Some of the biggest crisis of the world today are the results of either perverted or irresponsible use of technology.  Other problems have come about as a direct result of the arrogance or ignorance of the "experts."  How often has a problem been solved with a "high-tech" solution only to cause a myriad of other problems?


With the help of televisions, video cassette recorders, computers and bank teller machines, the human touch is slowly being replaced by screens buttons and knobs.  As a result people live in isolated worlds surrounded by machines.  Rather than providing useful tools, technology has become the foundation of our society.  With the press of a button the spelling and grammar of a document can be corrected, with the press of another the face of the earth altered.


The Baha'i Writings indicate that the solution to all these problems (and countless others) lie in the realization that they are highly interrelated and in reality the symptoms of the same disease.

In words of Bahá'u'lláh:

Behold the disturbances which, for many a long year, have afflicted the Earth, and the perturbation that hath seized its peoples.  It hath either been ravaged by war or tormented by sudden and unforeseen calamities.  Though the world is encompassed with misery and distress, yet no man hath paused to reflect what the cause or source of that may be."


Symptoms can sometimes be suppressed, but the problem will ultimately manifest itself elsewhere.  Any lasting solution has to use a holistic approach.  If humanity is to survive this tempestuous stage of its existence, it needs to be treated as an organic whole.


Humanity is not capable of destroying a world that has lasted at least 4.5 billion years.  The earth and its biosphere may take hundreds of thousands of years or more to reach equilibrium, but compared to its age, that is a mere twinkling of an eye.  We are not able to destroy the Earth, but we have the power to destroy or save ourselves.  Before nature casts us out of existence just as Adam and eve were cast out of paradise, we need to examine our current paradigms and doctrines.  If we would like to live in harmony with nature, we first need to learn how to live in harmony with ourselves.  The fall of the Berlin wall symbolized that all barriers to unity, however formidable, whether physical or ideological, can ultimately be dismantled.


Bahá'u'lláh states:

“Regard yet the world as a man’s body, which is afflicted with diverse ailments, and the recovery of which dependeth upon the harmonizing of all its component elements.”


The body of humanity is cancerous.  Each organ is trying to grow at the cost of others.  Aside from the removal of malignant parts, the only hope lies in the unity and harmony of its components.


According to psychologist Carl G. Jung, there exists a collective unconscious mind, a receptacle and carrier of ideas deposited there throughout time, which plays an important role in our concepts and actions.  Raised in an abused family of humanity we abuse the next generation and we pass down the dogmas of racism and materialism.  To deal with these problems, we first need to bring them to the conscious level by recognizing their existence.


In the words of Bahá'u'lláh:

“The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind.  He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy.  Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration.  The remedy the world needed in its present-day affliction can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require…”


This year, 1992, may well mark a turning point in the history of humankind.  In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today.  There is such a thing as being too late.  Over the bleached bones of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’  If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the dark corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight.”