Monday, December 7, 2009

Yoga as the Art of Sculpting the Body, Heart and Mind

Hinduism gave birth to three major faiths of Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism as well as to the spiritual discipline of Yoga. As offshoots of Hinduism, each of these offspring emphasizes a unique characteristic of the parent religion by making that aspect its core principle. For example, the focal point of Buddhism is compassion and love for others; the primary emphasis of Jainism is the sanctity of life and an attitude of reverence towards all creatures; the major concern of Sikhism is experiencing meaning in life through the service of other human beings and the crux of Yoga is the disciplining and molding of the human body, heart and mind in order to live a spiritual life on this earth.

Patanjali, a scholar-sage of India, presented the basic principles of the original Yoga system in a book called the "Yogasutras" in 500 B.C. During its 2500 years history, Yoga, through the presentation of a down-to-earth philosophy and a step-by-step scientific method to live by, has provided a fulfilling way of life to its practitioners. Yoga's explicit goal is to empower each individual with a clear worldview and a practical method so that a person could take control of one's life and its destiny.

Yoga's worldview is simple and clear. First, it regards human life on earth as a wonderful gift. This reward is bestowed upon us by the underlying spiritual component of nature. The physical body, heart and mind are given to human beings so that through their cooperative-harmonious-effort, the spiritual essence or the life-force within finds expression in everyday thought, speech and action. To be born a human being is a privilege, an excellent opportunity to conduct one's daily life so that one's short life on this earth becomes a delightful spiritual journey.

How do we accomplish this laudable goal? Yoga gives a realistic philosophy consisting of ten simple principles and a practical time-tested experiential method of living a spiritual life here and now. Both philosophy and method must become a way of life for the seeker. Each step needs to be perfected first before one could move on to the next one. The ten philosophical principles are non-violence, non-lying, non-craving, non-stealing non-possessiveness, purity, contentment, self-discipline, reflection and egolessness.

Non-violence gets the highest priority and is the requirement for the other nine. Violence, which involves destruction, is the root cause of all personal, social and spiritual stress. In contrast, non-violence stressing sanctity of life, when practiced regularly in thought, speech and action, minimizes hostility towards others.

For Yoga, the adoption of these principles leads to many beneficial consequences: when the attitude of non-stealing is cultivated, wealth comes to the person; control of one's desire leads to unusual vigor; practice of purity and contentment results in one's independence from addictions leading to a non-stressful life; and regular indulgence in reflection and egolessness is conducive to knowledge of one's inner self and spiritual connectedness to other human beings. A practioner realizes that though human beings come in different colors and forms, the same brush has painted them.

Skeptics might doubt the practicality of these Yogic principles. However, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King, and Bishop Tutu stand out to be the model practitioners. They gained much spiritual strength from adopting the Yoga principles of non-violence, truthfulness and sanctity of life. They used them to end the British Colonial rule in India, racial inequality in the USA and apartheid in South Africa respectively.

These ten philosophical principles provide necessary wisdom, which equips the practioner to pursue the scientific method of Yoga consisting of physical, breathing and meditation exercises. Since the body is the field for the growth of the spirit, it can be transformed into a perfect vehicle through the practice of physical postures. Yoga provides 64,000 exercises to make the body disease-free and ageless. In the West, due to the influence of Hollywood, most people associate Yoga only with the practice of 15-30 of these physical postures.

Since breathing purifies blood and effects emotions, Yoga emphasizes its systematic regulation to gain voluntary control on one's emotional life. Yoga offers proper breathing techniques, which help reduce stress by strengthening the lungs and heart.

Yoga provides meditation exercises to slow down the hold of the analytical mind thus freeing one's spiritual resources for a fuller expression. Meditation reshapes and retrains the mind with the help of a mantra or sound-symbol (Aum or So Hum). By teaching good physical, emotional and mental habits, Yoga helps to sculpt the body, the emotions and the mind thus leading to the living of a disease-free, emotionally balanced and joy-centered spiritual life. In the words of a popular writer of the new age, the Yoga technique offers the promise of an ageless body and a timeless mind.

By Ashok Kumar Malhotra

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New Exhibit Sheds Light on a Lost European Civilization

There's a new exhibition at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University that will be of great interest to the ISCSC. The exhibition is called The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000-3500 BC. According to the Institute,

"The Lost World of Old Europe brings to the United States for the first time more than 160 objects recovered by archaeologists from the graves, towns, and villages of Old Europe, a cycle of related cultures that achieved a precocious peak of sophistication and creativity in what is now southeastern Europe between 5000 and 4000 BC, and then mysteriously collapsed by 3500 BC. Long before Egypt or Mesopotamia rose to an equivalent level of achievement, Old Europe was among the most sophisticated places that humans inhabited."

This past week, John Noble Wilford wrote an excellent New York Times article about the exhibition, in which he notes how remarkable it is that this society -- now elevated to civilization status -- appears to have had no written language.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hinduism: One Truth - Many Paths

Hinduism is the oldest and most misunderstood religion. It is older than the Western religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and the Eastern religions of Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, which are its offspring. Hinduism originated in India and has slightly more than a billion adherents throughout the world.

Hinduism is unique, because unlike the other major religions, it has no single founder, no single scripture, no single deity, no single prophet, no strict priesthood, and no single way to reach salvation. Because Hinduism has numerous sages as spokespersons, scores of religious books for open discussion and various paths available for enlightenment, it is liberal, tolerant of differences, accepting of other faiths, inclusive and secular in orientation.

What gives unity to Hinduism is the belief that it is based upon eternal principles, which are explicitly stated in the Hindu sacred texts of the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita and the Yoga Sutra. The quintessence of Hinduism is affirmed in the ancient text of the Rig Veda as follows: "There is one reality, the wise call it by many names; there is one truth, reached by many paths." This statement becomes the starting point of Hinduism and the Hindu way of life.

The Hindu mindset views the sacred books of all religions including its own, as nothing more than limited human perspectives on the unlimited reality. Though each perspective captures an aspect of this truth, no single perspective is capable to conveying it totally. The ancient Indian story of seven blind men and their limited perspectives on the elephant epitomizes this attitude. This is a clear example of Hinduism's tolerance of differences and acceptance of other faiths.

Hinduism uses the term Brahman for this single reality. Since Brahman is the source of everything, the plurality and divisions are only on the surface. Brahman permeates every aspect of existence ranging from inorganic objects to organic things, from plants to insects, and from animals to humans. As our unique bodily cells, while contributing to the development and sustenance of the various parts, are organically connected to the entire body, so are the different aspects of existence as cells connected to the body of Brahman. Though no single description of Brahman is capable of capturing its nature totally, Hinduism gives a partial account by identifying it with infinite blissful consciousness.

In Hinduism, the notion of a personal god is subservient to the notion of Brahman. A personal god is nothing more than the human attempt at conceptualizing what cannot be captured through the limited categories of the limited minds. Since no single concept of god can confine the infinite spiritual depth of Brahman, which is the boundless ocean of cosmic consciousness, Hinduism has no problem accepting many gods and goddesses (polytheism), a single almighty god (monotheism) and a single non-personal spiritual principle (monism). These deities are nothing more than limited attempts of the human mind at revealing the innumerable qualities of the one all-encompassing cosmic consciousness. Moreover, these deities are mere personal pathways through which one comes in contact with one of the manifestations of Brahman.

Brahman is unlike the creator in the Western religions. It is not an artist or a sculptor that creates a painting or sculpts a statue and remains separate from its creation. Rather Brahman is a cosmic dancer where the dance and the dancer are indissolubly connected. The creator and its creation are non-separable from each other because there is no creator without the creation and no creation without the creator.

Brahman has been creating, continuously and joyfully the varied forms of the entire universe. Brahman as cosmic consciousness is like an infinite circle whereas each object, animal and human being is a concrete center of it. Each human being is a miniature fountain of creativity just like the blissful creative consciousness of Brahman. Hinduism asserts unambiguously that all life is a gift of the divine consciousness. The birth of a human being is an opportunity to get in touch with this joyful-creative-force that resides within.

Hinduism believes that this joyful-creative force is the divine spark in each human being. It resides in each of us as our conscience, which can act as our spiritual mentor. This divine conscience is our inner sacred spiritual space. Through the regular practice of meditation, one can gain access to one's conscience and can live a divine life on earth.

Moreover, this cosmic consciousness is available to anyone who approaches it with openness and without malice. Through meditation, this joyful creative force can be made to descend into oneself to nurture and revive the conscience within and could be used for cosmic transformation of oneself and others. Mahatma Gandhi, the Buddha and Mother Theresa were transformed by it and they expressed it through "serving everybody, feeding everyone, and educating every individual."

By Ashok Kumar Malhotra

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Two Victories

On the eve of the Winter Holiday season, just a short note to report two secular progressive victories against Christianity, the now archaic Western religion.

The first is from across the pond, where our European intellectual betters have decided that displaying a crucifix is a violation of human rights. On November 2, 2009, the European Court of Human Rights fined the Italian government 5,000 Euro for having crucifixes in the classrooms in its schools.

Supporters of this decision should remain vigilant against a possible reactionary backlash. After all, this sort of thing has been tried in Europe before. The Nazis (generally considered more brutal in their methods than secular progressives) began removing crucifixes from Bavarian schools in 1937. The reactionary Catholic Bavarians (generally considered less temperamental than Italians) finally had enough in 1941, when in one town a crowd of over 500 confronted the mayor, relieved him of the contraband crucifixes, and, in a fit of religious intolerance, put the crucifixes back up in the local school. The lesson to be learned from this unfortunate incident is, obviously, that the Italian crucifixes should be destroyed immediately upon removal from the schools so that such mob violence can not be repeated.

Speaking of Nazis, they were also alluded to at a PTO meeting in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, in which town the PTO has banned any Christmas items from being sold at its holiday gift shop at the Byam [elementary] School. Banned items include red and green wrapping paper, which looks too “Christmasy”. As usual, some reactionary parents complained at a PTO meeting, but one of the parents present sensibly commented to the effect of, “But what if someone wanted to bring in swastikas to sell. Would that be OK, too?”

The local school Superintendent bravely supported the PTO. He stated that the PTO was taking a “conservative” position regarding the separation of church and state and that it was working well. He was apparently not asked to define “conservative.”

These two cases simply confirm that the West is post-Christian, which, in my view, indicates that we are in the extremely late stage of Western Civilization.

By W. Reed Smith


Friday, November 20, 2009

The Path of Taoism

Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism are the three major philosophical-religious traditions of China. While Taoism and Confucianism are native to China, Buddhism was an import from India. At the core of Chinese philosophy is self-realization through personal transformation. This personal perfection is possible through the cultivation of the inner life in harmony with the outer world. Confucianism underscores this makeover through the social and political life whereas Taoism emphasizes the development of the inner world in harmony with nature. While combining Confucianism and Taoism, the Chinese culture expresses this wisdom as "sageliness within and kingliness without." "Sageliness within" is the spiritual perfection developed in tune with natural processes whereas "kingliness without" is the expression of these inner spiritual laws in living of a life of peace and harmony in the outside world.

Taoism considers our life on this earth to be a wonderful gift given to us by the original creative force called the Tao. Each one of us is born with a mark of the Tao called the Te. This Te is our nature or the natural ability. It is unique and singular and yet it is the force that connects us to other forms of life and the universe. To use the scientific terminology of the "big bang," theory of the creation of the universe, we are fashioned by the same source that created the entire universe of galaxies, solar systems, and planets including our earth. This "stardust" that is the life force within us is the Te of the Taoists.

Human life is an extraordinary opportunity accorded to us to express this inner force in harmony with the natural processes. Whether you are a child, man or woman, student or teacher, musician or tennis player, or whatever may be your occupation, the more you express your natural ability in conducting your daily life, the more content, happy and fulfilled you will be. Your family, society and its institutions might not be functioning in tune with nature. When you grow up within a cultural milieu that goes against the natural flow of events, the result will be your forgetfulness of your inner nature.

You will spend your entire life being trapped in pursuing goals that others have picked for you without regard to your inner nature (Te). This may lead to the ultimate disaster where one day you might "wake up to find that you are dead." This rude awakening will be a warning that you have not been in touch with your natural ability and thus have been unhappy and stressed out. But before this happens, you should wake up and get in touch with your inner force.

Taoists suggest that the nature of the Tao is peace, contentment and serenity. Continuous absorption in it leads to happiness and fulfillment. There are two ways to grasp this sageliness within or inner harmony. Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, suggests that this inner harmony can be learned through the contemplation of nature. Nature is the most exciting book of wisdom. It is always open to any one who approaches it. Every part of it is sending messages of wisdom. Anywhere you look, see, smell, hear, taste or touch, there is a pearl of wisdom waiting to be picked and enjoyed. The flight of the birds, the running water in the brook, the dewdrop, the majestic hills, the wandering cloud, the brilliant rainbow, the clear blue sky, the ever giving earth and the sun are there to offer profound wisdom. Our life should be modeled after that of a child who sees the universe with innocent eyes where everything is new and exciting, intriguing and pleasing. By observing harmony in nature, we might be able to internalize it within to attain serenity.

Another Taoist, Chuang Tzu believes that one can experience this harmony by taking the inward journey of contemplation by going beyond sensations, feelings, emotions, ideas and ego. This accord that resides in our inner being can also be experienced through idleness. Here one becomes forgetful of the external world by letting the Tao to reveal itself through one's inner being. Idleness should not be confused with laziness. Unlike laziness where a person is dull and unaware, in idleness, an individual is fully alert to the reality within and without.

Since the goal is to be happy, content and fulfilled, such a life could be achieved through the contemplation of nature and the practice of idleness on a regular basis. The Taoists suggest the following life style to achieve it: live a simple life; prefer obscurity; regard all values as human creations and thus relative; eliminate the fear of death; abandon the need to win; develop cosmic humility, and center your being on the Tao rather than on yourself.

At the societal scale, these ideas have resonance as well. What, for example, happens to a society when it "goes against the natural flow of events," such that it own destroys its ecological bases? What is the fate of societies that get "trapped in pursuing goals that others have picked...without regard to their inner nature" -- when a society loses its sovereignty or has its economy controlled from without? What does it do to the individual citizen living in such a society? Does it twist one's entire subjective and intersubjective life?

Your thoughts on these questions are most welcome!

By Ashok Kumar Malhotra

When Is Education Not Enough?

Sometimes language is not specific enough. We talk about how wonderful Democracy is-without exploring the institutions that make democracy possible. Most of us think that voting is the most important thing-which we should question when we see elections in nations still trapped in feudalism. The recent elections in Afghanistan should have clued us in, not to mention Iran.

One of the most important aspects required in participatory government is literacy-and not just the literacy of the men, but the women as well. A literate woman will have literate sons and daughters whereas a literate man might not be as concerned with this. In traditional societies, men often specifically bar women from school precisely because they want no interference with their control over them. Afghanistan’s Taliban makes this a specific issue, which they demonstrate by destroying schools and throwing acid on little girl students and their teachers.

But even literacy should be reexamined. If we are not looking at what people read-what they study in school-we really do not appreciate that many such people are still abysmally ignorant even though they have gone to school.

Even the United States falls short in its effort to educate all its youth. Our own educational system is sometimes spotty-ranging from superb to inadequate, but the superb do provide for us.

What should we expect of an educational system? Being able to read and comprehend at least at daily newspaper level; knowing enough math for use in daily life in commerce and budget management; knowing enough history to put contemporary events in perspective; knowing enough science and technology to keep up with the rapid changes in these areas; and knowing the basics of our system of government. This is basic. Added to this would be inculcating a sense of eagerness to create a life-long learner and a critical thinker. In our culture’s past, everybody who was schooled (and that was never everybody) pretty much passed muster on all of the above. Consider the schooling available to President Abraham Lincoln-and yet remember how he could write!

But now comes the really critical issue. The Economist (October 17, 2009) had an article on “Education in the Arab World - Laggards Trying to Catch Up” that spelled out the problem of assuming that schooling or literacy are enough to consider the populations “educated.” They say that “one reason that too many Arabs are poor is rotten education.” For an example, the American journal Science printed articles about the newly discovered 4.4 million-year-old hominid species whose discovery helps us to understand more about human evolution.

This article was picked up and covered in the Arab world as a debunking of Darwin, which it was not. Such an analysis delighted letter writers from all over the Arab world as a blow to Western materialism and a triumph for Islam. This is not surprising since surveys in Egypt, the biggest if not most literate Arab Muslim country, show that barely one third of Egyptian adults have even heard of Charles Darwin and even science teachers teach evolution to dispute it. How do you produce world class scientists with such education? You don’t.

With all the money that Saudis spend on education, why have they so few competent modern professionals? They devote 31% of classroom time to religion and only 20% to math and science. More Saudi graduate students get degrees in Islamic Studies rather than in engineering, medicine, and science put together.

Such policies carry a cost that goes far beyond the classroom. Arab countries spend more today (says the Economist) than the world average and have eradicated illiteracy-but have not eradicated ignorance and incompetence in modern professional disciplines. This accounts for the high rate of youth unemployment and why these governments cannot lift populations out of poverty.

Is there any wonder that we have an enormous clash of civilizations with the Muslim world? This is a problem that will not easily yield to fixing until Islam is dislodged from governance and education. As one Harvard philosophy professor noted, they do not need a Luther to reform Islam; they need an Adam Smith to reform governments and economics.

By Laina Farhat-Holzman

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Afghanistan Torture Allegations: Is Canada Worthy of a Museum of Human Rights?

In April of 2005, the Federal Government of then-Prime Minister Paul Martin authorized $100 million towards the establishment of The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and two years later current Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced it would be first national museum to be built outside of the National Capital Region in Ontario. Now under construction in Winnipeg, the Museum promises to become a "a centre of learning where Canadians and people from around the world can engage in discussion and commit to taking action against hate and

The significance of the museum and its potential impact on national and international human rights discourse is such that recently, Arthur Mauro, founder of the Centre for Peace and Justice at the University of Manitoba stated his belief that Winnipeg could become the Geneva for the 21st Century, as a centre for peace and cooperation.

However, Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin's disturbing allegations that bureaucrats and other officials in the the Harper government -- perhaps even the Prime Minister's office itself -- may be complicit in torture and war crimes, threaten to expose as fraudulent Canada's commitment to human rights in general and its newest museum in particular.

The allegations are shocking: that Canadian troops turned over all of their prisoners to Afghan security forces for whom torture was "standard operating procedure." Moreover, Canadian troops were widely known for capturing many times more prisoners than their American counterparts, and that many of these were not "high-value" combatants but rather, according to Colvin, "just local people: farmers; truck drivers; tailors, peasants – random human beings in the wrong place at the wrong time...In other words, we detained, and handed over for severe torture, a lot of innocent people." The Globe and Mail article, interestingly, omits Colvin's concluding statement: "Complicity in torture is a war crime."

Clearly these allegations must be independently investigated. If confirmed, they represent a profound betrayal of values Canadians have long held to be universal, and, most distressingly, principles that we have thought helped to define us as a nation and distinguish us from those we fought against -- namely the Taliban -- as well as the shameful history of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

That Canadian government officials would ignore, discourage and apparently seek to cover up Canadian complicity in torture and other human rights abuses is appalling and shameful. If those being accused of these crimes are not soundly and convincingly cleared of these allegations, or else appropriately punished, they will have undermined every positive thing Canada has declared itself committed to in Afghanistan and will probably destroy much of whatever trust
remains in our forces there. They will also certainly embolden the Taliban and place our soldiers in greater danger.

However, this episode could have an even more lasting and shameful legacy. At this moment, the foundations of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights are being constructed at the Forks; in 2012 this fabulous building and the inspiring institution it contains will be operational. Yet in the eyes of the world Canada will have been exposed as a committer of war crimes, an abbettor to torture and atrocity. Regardless of official statements and millions of dollars in support of the Museum, our country will have shown itself to be unfit to build such a noble institution.

The only way we as a nation can show ourselves worthy of the Museum is to follow Colvin's accusations wherever they lead, investigate them to the full extent of our abilities and hold those responsible to justice. As citizens of this nation, we too must hold our elected leaders accountable; to dismiss this as another mere "scandal" that will eventually go away to be replaced by another will not do. To do anything less than a full accounting makes as all culpable as Canadians for what has been committed in our name.

For Winnipeg to truly become a Geneva for the 21st Century, all of us -- Winnipeggers and Canadians alike -- must face these allegations honestly. Only then can we prove to ourselves and the world that we are in fact civilized enough to warrant being home to a Museum for Human Rights.

If not, then in the eyes of the world the Museum will likely be seen as a monument to our hypocrisy.

By Michael Dudley

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Schizophrenia Issue

I have been pondering a question which I believe is one of the paramount issues facing the West today, if not the single most important one. It is a question which affects the entire West, but the U.S. in particular, and it affects everything from nuclear proliferation to trade policy to immigration policy and the Fort Hood terrorist.

Simply stated, the question is: “Is the historically non-Western world Westernizing or not?” In my view, the question can be restated as follows: “Is the United States the universal state of the historical West or of the entire world?” The West, including most importantly the U.S., is of two conflicting minds on this question. The U.S. in particular seems to want to be the leader of the world political system and is utterly confounded when some other country decides to march to its own tune. Therefore, I refer to the problem as the Schizophrenia Issue.

The Schizophrenia Issue is an old problem which was considered by Spengler. Predictably pessimistic, Spengler feared that the besotted, post-industrial West would be overcome by the non-Western “coloured races” once they mastered Western technology. Thus, Spengler’s view was essentially that the West was the historical West (Europe from the Atlantic to Poland and the Baltic countries, the Americas, and Australia-New Zealand), and that the rest of the world could and would adopt Western technology without Westernizing.

Toynbee, of course, was more optimistic. He believed that it was clear that the entire world was Westernizing along the lines of Japan. As late as 1962 Toynbee stated: “So far, at any rate, the non-Western peoples have used their recovered political freedom not to repudiate the Western way of life, but to embrace it.” (America and the World Revolution, p. 37).

Integrally related to the Schizophrenia Issue is the question “What does Westernization mean?” At one level it might mean that the rest of the world would need to become ethnically European and religiously Latin Christian. The more accepting, culturally less defined view asserted by Toynbee is that Westernization means something like using Western political processes and modernizing.

In The Clash of Civilizations, Huntington went to great lengths to show that societies are in fact modernizing while refusing to Westernize. Huntington also seriously doubted whether nations could switch their civilizational membership, which view presumes that such nations are already established members of civilizations.

In my view, the West is old and decrepit; and it is questionable whether the West is robust enough to assimilate---or even to want to assimilate---all peoples or nations, even those still emerging from what Toynbee referred to as "barbarism."

So who was right? Should we fear the vengeful “coloured races” becoming technologically adept a la Spengler, or should we buy the world a Coke, hold hands, and sing “Kumbaya”, a la Toynbee? One’s mindset regarding the Schizophrenia Issue has far-reaching implications. Consider the following examples:

1) Russia. Whether Russia has been part of the West or not for the last two hundred or so years was a question considered by both Spengler and Toynbee. If the fall of communism means that Russia is Westernizing or continuing her Westernization, then we have little to fear from a militarily resurgent Russia, because Russia will be fully integrated (or re-integrated) into Europe. However, if Russia intends to lead an Orthodox Christian Civilization separate and distinct from the West, we can expect conflicts along the lines of the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

2) China. Why worry about the Chinese making everything, including a nuclear-armed navy, and controlling the U.S. national debt if the Chinese communists are going to become upstanding members of Western Society? So, grant China MFN status, let her join the WTO, return Hong Kong, etc.

3) Immigration. Implicit in Western acceptance of mass non-Western immigration is that the immigrants intend to and are able to Westernize, a view which is increasingly being called into question, especially but not exclusively with regard to Muslim immigrants. But if the whole world is Western, these concerns are ill-founded.

4) Islam. One would think that the West’s present conflict with radical Islam is the archetypical “Clash of Civilizations” which would have thrown a wrench into the gears of the minds of those who think that the whole world is Westernizing. On the other hand, Toynbee said that the world was Westernizing, not that there would not be setbacks and not that it would happen overnight.

One could go on with many more examples, but the point is that the Schizophrenia Issue affects one’s entire worldview. My own view is that the non-Western peoples of the world will act in what they believe are their own respective interests, which undoubtedly in some cases will mean cooperating with a dying but militarily still powerful West. It does not mean that the rest of the world will Westernize.

Therefore, we Westerners had better view the world realistically and objectively, cast off our hubris, accept that there are other peoples and cultures that are not going to Westernize, and act accordingly in our relations with them, including in matters of immigration and defense.

By W. Reed Smith

Monday, November 9, 2009

Religion As Service

The other day when I was writing this column for the Daily Star, I came across a profound book on religion called "How to Expand Love." It was written by the Dalai Lama who has been presenting his understanding of Buddhist Spirituality to the Western audience through a number of profound and readable books such as "The Wisdom of Forgiveness;" "Path to Tranquility" and others. I found "How to Expand Love?" to be an appropriate book to read at a time when there has been much religious misunderstanding and intolerance among the people of the world.

Since "How to Expand Love" epitomizes the quintessence of religion, love and spirituality, all of us can learn a great deal from this book. For the Dalai Lama religion means, "being motivated by compassion and love respecting the rights of others. Serving others rather than dominating them is the core of religion." We are not born for the sole purpose of acquiring wealth but to contribute something meaningful that is aimed at the welfare of humanity as a whole. Spirituality, in true sense of the term, implies that our responsibility is not just limited to our selves but extends to all human beings.

At the heart of religion is "Compassionate Humanism." It thrives on one's kind nature that wants to express compassion by serving others. The Dalai Lama emphasizes that mind's real nature is to be pure and empty. It is comparable to the blue sky. Clouds may envelop it temporarily but it remains untouched. Similar to the clouds, anger, hatred and jealousy might pollute the purity but the religious mind remains untouched by them. Since the core of the pure mind is love and compassion, it expresses itself through the intense desire to serve others by alleviating their suffering.

One can train the mind to develop love and compassion for others through certain techniques practiced by the Buddhist monks for centuries. The first consists of visualization aimed at getting rid of enmity. Visualize a friend, an enemy and a neutral person. Reflect on what attracts you, repels you and keeps you neutral of feelings. Envision treating all three equally as human beings. Tell yourself that each one seeks happiness and avoids pain. Focus on this realization intensely. Let it descend into your heart and become a seed that grows into love for all and malice towards none. Moreover, imagine each of them to change by becoming its opposite like the one you hate becomes the one you love; the one you love becomes the one towards whom you are neutral and the neutral becomes the one you love. Decide not to single out any one for any singular kind of treatment. This visualization is a good starting point. However, the following seven steps are recommended for a complete development of compassion: create a positive attitude toward others; recognize the kindness friends and family had shown to us; develop kindness towards others; acknowledge how people suffer by learning to love and to become friends of all; cultivate compassion by developing a deep desire to release others of suffering; become fully committed to altruism; and show love towards all beings!

In these turbulent times of uncertainty and stress where people are confused about the worth of religion and its genuine purpose, reading "How to Expand Love?" was a breath of fresh air. The religious books of the various faiths were created to bring diverse people together in order that they could live a meaningful life. If we follow the basic premise of the Abrahamic religions that we are born of Adam and Eve, then we are not only neighbors but also brothers and sisters. The same blood rushes through our veins. Those who believe in the "big bang" theory that it all began with a "dot" of energy creating all the universes, galaxies, solar systems, planets, our earth and all of its creatures including human beings, can come to a similar conclusion, which is that all of us are the children of the same star-dust and thus are related to each other through it.

We might look different, speak different languages, understand the almighty in our own unique ways through the books we have read and discourses we have heard, but remember that we are carved from the same spiritual block and painted with the same brush. The Dalai Lama might have a message for all of us: "We are born not just to acquire wealth but also to serve others because the real meaning of religion and religious life is hidden in the secret of compassionate service."

By Ashok Kumar Malhotra

Monday, November 2, 2009

Comparative Civilizations in Japan - An Update

This autumn has been a busy time for Comparative Civilizations in Japan, with several conferences and other events taking place. On August 24-26, the Second International Conference on Moral Science was held at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, near Tokyo. Reitaku University has long been closely associated with the field of Comparative Civilizations, and was also the site of the 1998 Conference of the ISCSC. The founder of Reitaku University, Chikuro Hiroike (1866-1938), had a keen interest in comparative studies, especially as they related to ethics and morality across cultures. As such, it was only fitting that the ISCSC acted as a co-sponsor for the 2009 conference, which incidentally marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of Reitaku University. Among the presenters were two former Presidents of the ISCSC, as well as three former and current Vice-Presidents, meaning that the organization was represented in a manner befitting its close historical ties with Reitaku University.

The conference brought together scholars from almost a dozen countries to revisit the works of Chikuro Hiroike and to consider the current state of moral and character education in various parts of the world. The discussion included contributions from representatives from a large variety of disciplines, including philosophy, religious studies, history, and education, and smooth discourse was ensured by full simultaneous interpreting services in Japanese and English throughout the three days of the event. The presence of scholars involved directly in educational fields in regions as diverse as Japan, India, Burundi, the United Kingdom, and the United States made for an especially lively and memorable discussion, as the circumstances in different countries necessitate their own practical and theoretical approaches. The works of Chikuro Hiroike provided a suitable focus and reference point for channeling discussion, much of which centered on the necessity and relevance of such a trans-civilizational project and viewpoint in the current global age. The papers and proceedings from the 2009 conference are currently in the process of being revised by the contributors in light of the discussions that took place, and will hopefully be available early next year.

In addition to acting as a major sponsor for the Second International Conference on Moral Science, the ISCSC has also agreed to act as a co-sponsor for a symposium to be held at Reitaku University on November 14th to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the birth of Arnold J. Toynbee. The main organizer of this event is the Research Center for Comparative Civilizations and Cultures at Reitaku University, and central themes to be discussed in a series of presentations will be the idea of Toynbee as the “conscience of the twentieth century” and the continued relevance of his thought in the present day.

Another event in November will be the 27th annual conference of the Japan Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations (JSCSC), to be held at Rikkyo University in Tokyo on the 28th and 29th of the month. The theme for this year’s conference is “From Exploitative Civilization to Refluxive Civilization.” Although a wide variety of sub-themes are included on the agenda, the central focus of this conference will be the reexamination of the “Modern Civilization” that has dominated the last five hundred years, and which has been argued to have a strong exploitative component with regard to its treatment of natural resources and the environment. Instead, some presenters will argue for the possibility of an alternative paradigm of a “Refluxive Civilization” that incorporates the increasing awareness of environmental concerns and the depletion of the planet’s resources.

Oleg Benesch

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Can Civilization Survive? And if so...What Will That Mean?

The 2009 State of the Future Report -- a Millenium Project co-production of UNESCO, the World Bank, the US army and the Rockefeller Foundation -- has been released, and it contains a grim warning: that "billions of people will be condemned to poverty and much of civilization will collapse". According to the Independent,

"Although the future has been looking better for most of the world over the past 20 years, the global recession has lowered the State of the Future Index for the next 10 years. Half the world could face violence and unrest due to severe unemployment combined with scarce water, food and energy supplies and the cumulative effects of climate change.And the authors of the report...set out a number of emerging environmental security issues. 'The scope and scale of the future effects of climate change – ranging from changes in weather patterns to loss of livelihoods and disappearing states – has unprecedented implications for political and social stability.'"

The Millenium Project is not alone. James Lovelock writes in his new book The Vanishing Face of Gaia that it's too late to do anything about climate change, that cap-and-trade schemes are a scam and that humanity will be "culled" by billions of souls in this century. He does believe, however, that some form of urban civilization will survive:

"Those who survive will be responsible for maintaining a high-tech, low-impact, low-energy society advanced enough to keep the flame of progress alive but small and smart enough to carefully husband what arable land remains. Lovelock guesses the rump human race will cluster around a few temperate islands in the far northern hemisphere, including his native U.K. He believes that if emergency preparations are made in time—he compares the present moment to 1939—and if the worst-case scenarios of geopolitical conflict are avoided—namely resource scrambles leading to global thermonuclear war—then something resembling a modern and even urban lifestyle could await the survivors."

If the Millenium Project and Lovelock are correct -- that "much" of civilization will collapse, but that some form of civilization will survive -- then it would seem pretty essential that we start thinking now about what that would mean. What would such a civilization look like? How would it be structured? How would it function? Most importantly, how would it avoid the sheer unsustainability of the one that preceded it?

Roger Osborne, in his 2006 book, Civilization: A New History of the Western World, argues early on that we err when we equate the term civilization only with the "positive" aspects of human societies, such as our arts and cultural productions. Any discussion of civilization must also include in his view the less savoury aspects, such as the will to power and militarism. In this he echoes Lewis Mumford, who, in his 1961 book The City in History, acknowledged these violent “unbuilding” tendencies inherent in metropolitan civilization. However, Mumford stressed that the will to dominate and exterminate that originally came with the institution of kingship and forms of political hierarchy have always coexisted with life-affirming reciprocal relationships, spiritual aspirations,arts and learning. These contradictions are expressed in the web of our social,religious, economic, political and spatial arrangements.

As such, a "post-apocalyptic" civilization will need to be a self-conscious one. It will need to re-evaluate what civilization is going to mean when all those values and accomplishments we cherish as life-affirming face unimaginable pressure under the exigencies of crisis. For, under such conditions of crisis, it will be all-too easy to lose our tenuous grasp on those things that will be most needed to save us -- and make our societies worth preserving.

For a glimpse of what I'm talking about, one could do worse than consider the new book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. It's a postmodern "mash-up" of Jane Austen's classic novel and a zombie apocalypse. While it is on the surface a patently ridiculous proposition, Grahame-Smith noted in a recent interview that

"Many of Austen’s characters are rather like zombies...They carry on single-mindedly in their bubbles of immense wealth and privilege, no matter what’s going on around them. They pride themselves on discipline and politeness and repression and subservience. These people simply carry on with their gossip and romances and manners and balls, despite the fact that people are being gored and eaten alive. You get the sense that they would act the same way even if the rest of England was falling apart around them. In this version, it just so happens that England IS falling apart around them."

As a result of these conditions, Austen's characters recede from recognition. Despite their impeccable manners, fine speeches and good breeding, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are brutal and skilled killers, inured to death and mayhem. At one point Liza even thinks to herself that the occasional slaughter of innocents is of no concern, as long as zombies are being dispatched.

As a thought-experiment, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies illustrates the tension between the veneer of civilization and the threat of calamity. Against such threats, a civilization must respond, but to do so in such a way that it does not become coarsened, cruel and lose sight of those very things that make it worth preserving.

No "rump" of civilization (as Lovelock puts it) will long endure if all it seeks to preserve are the material productions of civilization. An entirely new set of civilizational processes -- including non-exploitative social and environmental relations -- will be required.

By Michael Dudley

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"An Underground View" of the 2009 ISCSC Conference

By William McGaughey; edited by Michael Dudley (This is a greatly abbreviated version of McGaughey’s narrative. For the full version, please see his World History website)

Thursday June 4th Program - Morning

It started at 9:00 a.m. in the Kirsh auditorium at the Fetzer Center. ISCSC President Andrew Targowski Targowski’s presentation was titled “Will Business End or Revive Western Civilization? From Malthusian Trap to Business Growth Trap.” Targowski observed that business was important to civilization from its beginning considering that most scholars believe it began with irrigation projects in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Also, he said, business is the “religion” of global society. While per-capita wealth increased by 153% between 1000 A.D. and 1820 A.D., it increased by 800% between 1820 and 1998. Economic growth is the “religion” of business. Yet, growing population reduces per-capita wealth. If the earth reaches its carrying capacity of 8 billion persons by 3000 A.D., we will need two additional planets to support these people in comfort; and that is obviously impossible.

Targowski presented the concept of a “death triangle” facing humanity in the convergence of growing population, destruction of the natural environment, and shortages of energy and other resources. In other words, the current growth model of business cannot be sustained. He said the United Nations Millennium goals do not address the real problems. Its goal with respect to providing clean water to people is unrealistic. As a refugee from communist Poland, he was not recommending communism but capitalism in a moderate form. The capitalist system needed to promote “sufficiency” in use of resources rather than unbridled growth.

The Session A presentations beginning at 10:45 a.m. In a talk titled “Globalization and International Development: Critical Challenges of the 21st Century”, Dr. Asefa argued that foreign direct investment and international trade were more potent tools for reducing poverty in the poor nations than foreign aid. Asefa believed that globalization is a force to reduce wealth disparity around the world. His main point was that the anti-globalists failed to balance the benefits of globalization with the cost. He favored further globalization, debt relief, and campaigns against infectious disease to aid the poor.

Dr. Lee Stauffer next spoke on “the origin of civilization in ecological crisis.” She teaches at Northern New Mexico University in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Her main point was to challenge the prevailing view that civilizations began when irrigation projects in the near east required large-scale political organization. New Mexico also experiences arid conditions. In her experience, small communities with informal political arrangements can adequately address water shortages. Stauffer also noted that civilizations tend to develop in areas of ecological instability. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, as well as the Nile, have an irregular flow of water. Either there is flooding or drought. The rivers often change course. In India, society has to contend with the monsoon seasons.

Finally, Michael Dudley, the city planner from Winnipeg, spoke on “Cold war, hot war: city planning in times of crisis.” He compared the current push for “green cities” to meet the environmental crisis to the proposed design of cities to avert nuclear catastrophe during the Cold War in the 1950s. Then the object was to disperse populations from the urban core so that a nuclear-tipped missile delivered to a city would not destroy its entire population. Now the object is to increase population density in the city so that mass transit can be more effectively used and the surrounding lands are preserved. Today, we are trying to combat runaway suburbanization. The main argument was that planning solely for a “green” urban form is not sufficient for planning a sustainable civilization.

Thursday’s Program – Afternoon

For the afternoon session beginning at 2:00 p.m., I picked one of the book-review sessions. In her review on “The role of race and prejudice in the Russia-Chechnya conflict” by Mariana Tepfenhart pointed out a long period of conflict between Chechens and the Moscow government, going back to Peter the Great. Today Chechnya remains a member of the Russian Federation. A Putin-appointee, Ramzan Kadyrov rules the country with an iron hand. The professional class has largely left the country. Chechen militants are largely discredited after the 2004 hostage-taking incident in a Beslan school. The challenge is to build the Chechen economy.

The 3:45 p.m. session was titled “Origins of Civilization” and was chaired by Anthony Stevens-Arroyo. David Maurer led off the session. Much of his talk had to do with archeological evidence of stages in the development of early civilization. The hunter-gatherer society had existed for millennia. Starting around 9,000 B.C., archeologists found evidence of agriculture, domestic animals, and primitive urban culture; but not until the Uruk culture in the 4th millennium B.C. did they find anything suggesting “command economies” and forced labor that are associated with civilization. Maurer uses terms such as “aristocrat/tribal society”, “aristocrat/peasant society”, and “democratic/market” society” to describe civilized societies as they become socially more advanced.

A key point made in Maurer’s presentation was that a temple culture preceded royal government in the development of civilizations. It was the priests who first developed the command structure that was able to force peasants to surrender grain to the central authority, whose surplus permitted other arts to flourish. Coercive power vested in a hierarchy is the defining mark of civilization. Kings later took over that function. When kings in turn rewarded their followers with grants of land or other wealth, an aristocratic class appeared. The essential function of civilized society was to create a pool of surplus wealth from grain confiscated from peasants so that the higher functions could be developed and maintained.

The panel chair, Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo, spoke next on the subject of “eschatology: the mysterious internal dynamic to the rise and fall of civilizations”. He gave a history of Jewish prophecy and its Christian consequence. The third speaker in this panel was Anne-Marie Oulai, an African American who teaches at Western Michigan University. Her topic was “From Tom-Tom to Wireless Communications: Advancing African Civilization into the Global Civilization.” She described how telephone service in Africa was originally provided by the government and was bureaucratic and ineffective but now cell phone service is cheap and convenient for [hundreds of millions of] people living on that continent. The cell-phone phenomenon belies our image of Africa as an economically backward place.

Friday’s Program - Morning

The “Rise and Fall of Civilizations” session included three speakers [including myself]. David J. Rosner, speaking on “Conservatism and chaos: Martin Heidegger and the decline of the west”; me, speaking on “Why civilizations decline”; and Donald G. McCloud, speaking on “Globalization - the rise, decline, or mutation of western civilization.”

David Rosner argued that in the early 20th century western civilization seemed to be falling apart. The old values were disintegrating and no replacement values were in sight. Facing a spiritual “abyss”, humanity sought solace in archaic images reminding one of a lost “golden age”. There was the idea of “rootedness in the land”, the Folkish movement, and racial nationalism. He was referring, of course, to pre-Nazi Germany. But then came the resolution of this cultural anguish in Hitler’s promise of a strong leader who would revive German power and prestige after the debacle of World War I. Militarism gave the illusion of strength. In fact, it led Germany and the world into still deeper troubles.

[In my session] I aligned myself with Spengler and Toynbee who believed that civilizations followed life cycles. They rose and fell according to a natural progression of events but, likewise, could be extinguished if external catastrophes such as conquest by another people or mass starvation occurred. I then discussed consciousness and self-consciousness. Using my own scheme of civilizations, I explained that the Crusades and other troubling events in the Middle Ages discredited the Papacy and led to the replacement of religion-centered culture during the Renaissance. So also the next civilization, Civilization III, was replaced by a civilization based on entertainment in the aftermath of World War II. (Anyone wishing to read my entire talk can go to my world history website).

The third speaker, Donald McCloud, discussed whether globalization would replace or alter western civilization. Today, we are seeing the global trading system that emerged after World War II replacing older modes of business. We can now move money globally without banks. Technological knowledge spreads quickly. McCloud discussed the idea of “global cities” which he said were places which had the intellectual capacity to create a new global culture. There were also cities, without this capacity, which acted as “service centers” for global culture. The key to creating global culture was education of the young. Such education allowed young people to step beyond their national identities and see themselves as citizens of the world.

At 10:45 a.m. I went to Session C, “Economic Issues”, which was chaired by Dong Hyeon Jung, a South Korean economist. The first speaker in the economic session was Cheol Hun Park. His topic [related to] authoritarian [governmental] leadership [in the economy which] seemed to be required to combat economic instability. The questioning concerned the need for authoritarian government in nations that industrialized rapidly and also the phenomenon of corruption.

I left this session early to attend Session A – Scholarship issues. Vladimir Alalykin-Izvekov's talk was focused on his unified theory of evolution of cultures and civilizations and used as a point of reference concepts of Pitirim Sorokin, Samuel Huntington and other eminent scholars of civilization of the 20 century. To illustrate the main stages of the cultures and civilizations evolution, the speaker had presented a number of diagrams in which cultures and civilizations could be seen and mapped as containing the elements of systemic and differential nature, as well as "congeries." Vlad argued that the evolution of cultures and civilizations appears to follow a certain predictable sequence with creative fluctuations and cycles throughout the process.

David Wilkinson, who is the book editor of Comparative Civilization Review, gave the next presentation after I arrived. His talk concerned the ideas of major thinkers in the field: Hegel, Danilevsky, Spengler, Sorokin, Toynbee, Caroll Quigley, Matthew Melko, and Samuel Huntington (proponent of the “clash of civilizations”).

In the discussion period that followed, some suggested that other scholars of civilization such as Lewis Fry Richardson (who studied the causes of war), Fernand Braudel (an economic historian, author of “Civilization and Capitalism” ), and Feliks Koneczny (a Polish philosopher and scholar of civilizations) ought to be added to our list of landmarks.

Friday’s Program - Afternoon

Matt Melko addressed a plenary session at 2:00 p.m. on the subject of “war, peace, and civilization.” Over many years, Melko had attempted to correlate the outbreak of wars with other conditions. Peace was the prevalent situation but wars frequently occurred throughout history. It was sometimes hard to distinguish war from peace and harder still to provide explanations. Matt Melko at least had attempted a systematic study of this subject.

At 3:30 p.m. the Session B, “Books: Mediterranean Area”, session was chaired by George Von der Muhll. The other reviewer, besides Von der Muhll and myself, was Midori Yamanouchi-Rynn.

Midori Yamanouchi-Rynn led off with two book reviews. The first was of a book by Vassos Karageorghis titled “Early Cyprus”. The east Mediterranean island of Cyprus exported copper to Sumer (Mesopotamia) in the 18th century B.C. It later provided timber to the Minoans on Crete. There was brisk trade between Cyprus and Egypt during the reign of Pharaoh Ikhnaton.

The other book reviewed by Midori Yamanouchi-Rynn was Sybile Haynes’, “Etruscan Civilization”. The Etruscans were a people who controlled central Italy before the Romans. They are sometimes called “Tarquins”. Toynbee connects their civilization to that of the Hittites in Anatolian Turkey.This book may be the definitive visual collection of artifacts gathered from Etruscan society.

My review of Andrew Targowski’s “Information Technology and Societal Development” came next. Targowski’s computer background shows in the organization of this book, I said. It was filled with flow charts and diagrams of various sorts. I was critical of some of the categories used to frame the discussion and of the mathematical formulae that quantified concepts but, on the whole, praised the book as a comprehensive study of development in computer technology [and] how this technology was being applied to functions in contemporary society.

George Von der Muhll reviewed Kevin Butcher’s book, “Roman Syria and the Middle East.” This was a study of Roman rule in territories now including Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq, but not Egypt, from 63 B.C. to 636 A.D., when Muslim armies conquered the area. The three themes explored in the book as stated by Von der Muhll were: (1) organizing time and space, (2) economic production and consumption, and (3) construction of communities.

At 3:45, Pedro Geiger’s paper ran through the history of world politics starting from a Marxist perspective. Karl Marx had predicted that socialism would replace capitalism and the changes would occur internationally. Geiger conceived of a three class system: capitalists (who own the businesses), wage managers who are educated people running the businesses, and uneducated wage laborers. The wage managers are the new element in the equation. They are the CEOs, managers, and professionals who are siphoning wealth out of the economy to benefit themselves. Geiger also saw a convergence between the new left and new right, both having fascist tendencies.

The formal dinner started at 7 p.m. Michael Andregg introduced our speaker, Michael Palencia-Roth. He has a distinguished background as a professor of comparative literature at the University of Illinois in Champaign. A native of Colombia, he was fluent in several languages. Palencia-Roth had been president of the ISCSC for six years, between 1986 and 1992, right after Matt Melko.

The topic of his after-dinner talk was the origin of our organization, the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations. It grew out of a week-long conference held in Salzburg, Austria, between October 9 and October 15, 1961. The theme of the conference was “The Problems of Civilization”. In 1964, the proceedings of this conference were published in the Netherlands. Palencia-Roth passed out a sheet which listed, on one side, the participants at this conference - 26 persons in all - and, on the other side, the conference schedule of events for each day.

Arnold Toynbee and Pitirim Sorokin were the two big guns. Both actively participated in the conversations, sometimes clashing in their points of view. There was a different chair for each day’s session. The topics of daily discussion were, in sequence: (1) “the ‘reality’ of civilizations”, (2) “the study of civilizations”, (3) “civilizational encounters”, (4) “the problem of universal history”, (5) “the future of civilizations”, (6) “one world: the contribution of the human sciences to the peaceful unification of humanity”.

Saturday’s Program – Morning

Laina Farhat-Holzman, gave a “Keynote Address” starting at 9:00 a.m. in the Kirsh auditorium entitled “Will Religion Mitigate the Clash of Civilizations?” Farhat-Holzman pointed out that religious or cultural conflict exists between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria between Muslims and Hindus in the Indian subcontinent, between Muslims and Buddhists in Thailand, and, of course, between Muslims and Jews in the Middle East. She characterized religious militancy as a minority of believers becoming caught up in an idea. Often religious orthodoxy masks greed and the desire for power. This led to what Farhat-Holzman called “irrational history” which was a main theme of her talk.

Can religion mitigate the clash of civilizations? On the whole, Farhat-Holzman thought not. Irrational religion would eventually alienate its own supporters as people grew tired of the culture of death and Arab regimes lost the ability to finance religious wars when “green technology” replaced petrochemicals as a source of energy.

Session C, “Russian Pedagogical Issues” was co-chaired by Liubov F. Mihaltsova and Olga A. Milinis. For both talks, we had the text of the speaker’s presentation on a screen in front. Some [of the themes in the Mihaltsova’s talk] were: What does it mean to be a Russian? Why is Moscow the Russian capital? What is the most respected icon in Russia? What state is Christianity borrowed from?

The next presentation by Milinis was similar to Mihaltsova’s but placed greater stress on the importance of moral development in a creating healthy life as the President of Russia has been emphasizing the importance of moral values. Milinis went into some of the problems facing Russia today. Dissatisfaction with self is the core of these problems. When people face spiritual crises, Orthodox values can help to bring them back to a healthy condition.

Sunday morning - We wind up the conference

Most of the conference participants had left by Sunday. Scheduled events included an 8:30 a.m. breakfast for those with meal tickets at the College of Arts and Sciences, 20-minute presentations by six students at Western Michigan University who were winners in a competition sponsored by Targowski, lunch at noon, and then two more student presentations. The conference would officially end at 1:50 p.m.

The student presentations, beginning at 9:00 a.m., took place in the Putney Lecture Hall. Luydmyla Pustelnyk spoke on “The Orange Civil Society or the Orange Social Movement”. It concerned the citizen uprising that occurred in 2004. The theme of Pustelnyk’s talk was the difference between a “social movement”, which could unite people around temporary grievances, and “civil society”, which had staying power.

The next student, speaking on “Carbon credits and the global trading market”, was Steven Srivastava, who is enrolled in the Engineering College at WMU. His was a detailed presentation of a new economic invention, the carbon credit, which grew out of international treaties to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions. The basic idea was that industrial and other enterprises that emitted such gases would receive an allowable limit in the discharge of carbon dioxide or “equivalent GHG” emissions.

Benjamin Roush, a sophomore at WMU, next spoke on “Viable solutions for sustainable water systems”. Clean water is an essential but sometimes ignored resource used by human beings. Needed improvements to urban water systems are being postponed. A key concept in Roush’s talk was that waste water needs to be recycled according to its subsequent use. Drinking water needs to be processed to a higher degree of cleanliness than water which will be used in industrial processes, toilets, canals, and rural irrigation. Save the “good” water for drinking. Most rainwater can be immediately used for non-potable uses.

Next, Richard Seims spoke on “The New Enlightenment: The Age of Consilience in the Sciences.” Seim suggested that we are entering into a new period of enlightenment today mainly because the separate academic disciplines are beginning to work together. There is a unification of the natural and social sciences. Such convergence of academic disciplines is called “consilience”.

Michael Kreutzjans talked on the “credit crisis demystified”. It concerned the invention of derivatives. Of what economic use are these financial instruments?

After this came Carrie McDonald Swift’s talk titled “Barack Obama: a prospect for a new enlightenment or just another superstar CEO.” Was President Obama an example of “transformational leadership” or was he simply a “charismatic” leader. In Obama’s first hundred days, it was hard to tell which kind of leader he was. The important thing was that the presidential administration have an ethical focus and pursue policies that benefit society over the long term.

The final talk of the day was delivered by a student in the School of Education whose name was Masashi Izumi. Its title was “Role of world teacher’s summit to improve educational context.” The speaker had taught school in Japan for ten years. He was troubled by the growing lack of discipline among students. These students skipped classes, smoked cigarettes, destroyed school property, and often argued with teachers. How could the schools deal with delinquent youth? Izumi thought that one answer, implemented in American schools, was to establish separate schools for delinquent students. Japan has a single set of schools for everyone.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Civilization Planning?

When we think of cities in antiquity, we don’t hesitate to think of them in association with their respective civilizations. After all, the words civic and civilization share the same root word in Latin, civitas. Similarly, we can now say that we live in a globalized civilization largely structured on what author Jeb Brugmann refers to in his new book Welcome to the Urban Revolution as the global City.

However, in our focus as planners on addressing concerns with current development projects and other local issues we might be forgiven for sometimes losing touch with this larger picture: that the city is still the focal point and driver for those processes we refer to as civilization.

I was reminded of these connections last week when I attended the 39th annual conference of the InternationalSociety for the Comparative Study of Civilizations (ISCSC) in Kalamazoo Michigan. The Society was foundedin 1961 by a group of historians including the famed Arnold J. Toynbee. It is ahighly interdisciplinary organization that

is committed to the notion that complex, civilizational problems need diverse, multidisciplinary analyses. Initially the members of the Society came from history, anthropology, and sociology; now, the Society includes such disciplines as philosophy, psychology, comparative religions, economics, political theory, literary criticism and textual analysis, art history, comparative government, comparative literature, science and technology, linguistics, archaeology, architecture, geography, biology, physics and ethnohistory.

(While urban planning isn’t on this list,the society once included amongst its prominent members the late CorinneLathrop Gilb, former Planning Director for the City of Detroit).

The theme of the conference was Civilizations and Cultures in a Time of Change and Crisis and it did not disappoint. The Society’s President Dr. Andrew Targowsky gave a keynote address setting out in deeply unsettling terms the environmental and social challenges facing our global civilization. We have, he argued, managed to avoid a “Malthusian Trap” through the use of technological efficiencies, but are now facing what he calls a “Business Growth Trap” as the very forces which allowed the global population to escape its former limitations now threatens our global ecosystems with collapse.

Not all papers dealt with this unfolding crisis directly, but many nonetheless made explicit the connections between cities and civilization. One of these focused on the contrasting views on cities held by two of the leading scholars of civilization, Oswald Spengler and Arnold J. Toynbee. Spengler saw in the emerging megalopolitan society all the deleterious forces of secular modernism, including a deterioration of traditions and values and the ruination of rural life. Toynbee by contrast was as dismissive of rural life as Spengler was of the metropolis. Can the crisis of the modern metropolis be resolved by the preservation of more traditional values?

This theme was taken up in another paper discussing German conservative thought in the transition from the 19th to the 20th Centuries: a rejection of city life and the industrial revolution and a yearning for the continuity of a “volkish” rootedness in nature. In the same session another paper argued that, far from rejecting cities, we need to recognize that they are going to be essential in our development of a sustainable global civilization. Further, the leaders of this transition will be true “global cities” – outward- and forward-looking cities where immigrants and diversity are not only welcomed but integrated into all levels of society.

This is but a small sample of the papers. I also presented a paper on planning and crisis (excerpted on my blog here and here). Overall I was impressed with the multiplicity of viewpoints and the attention paid by the scholars present to resolving some of the most pressing issues of our time.

The ISCSC experience made me wonder to what extent we as planners might be able to also adopt this larger picture: that we aren’t just planning cities, we are contributing to the planning of a civilization, so as to ensure that it has a future. In this light, the call for papers for the 2010 ISCSC conference at Bringham Young University -- Civilizational Futures -- looks to be of particular interest to city planners.

See you in Provo?

By Michael Dudley

(This post originally appeared on the Planetizen urban planning news site, June 12th 2009)