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Worse than Random: Reflections on What Causes Social Failure

Greg Hodges | Aug 28, 2017

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Greg Hodges | Aug 28, 2017

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Society’s afflictions haven’t happened by chance—they’re rooted in something much deeper.

The Baha’i Faith teaches that the underlying cause of our societal ills lies in a failure to recognize the oneness of humanity. Until we can reform our cultures around that basic principle, we will keep drifting towards the wrong answers to the questions facing us.

This reminds me of something I remember from going to school as a child. We took multiple-choice tests, in which we could answer every question with one of four options: A), B), C), or D). We quickly realized that even if we guessed at random, our average test score would be about 25%. So everybody always had a big laugh whenever somebody somehow got under 25%.

How could that happen?

If they chose at random it could just be bad luck. Another possibility—one that I find more intriguing—is that the student had some sort of fundamental misunderstanding that drew them consistently towards wrong answers. The problem didn’t come from the fact that they were mistaken about many pieces of information—instead, the core knowledge underpinning all their information was generally flawed. Their choices were worse than random. Because of that fundamental misunderstanding of a core principle, their error became basic, thorough, and pervasive.

The Baha’i Faith teaches that this theme can be applied to the condition of all humanity. In the late 1800s Baha’u’llah, the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith wrote:

The winds of despair are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divideth and afflicteth the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 171.

So the world’s problems don’t happen as the result of blind chance: an epidemic here, a famine there, a sudden economic crisis, etc. Instead, they reflect a general failure of society’s leaders to respond adequately to the pressing, central issues of our time. Together, they manifest an unwillingness to recognize the oneness of humanity, and prop up a lamentably defective prevailing order.

In another place Baha’u’llah writes:

We can well perceive how the whole human race is encompassed with great, with incalculable afflictions. We see it languishing on its bed of sickness, sore-tried and disillusioned. They that are intoxicated by self-conceit have interposed themselves between it and the Divine and infallible Physician. Witness how they have entangled all men, themselves included, in the mesh of their devices. They can neither discover the cause of the disease, nor have they any knowledge of the remedy. They have conceived the straight to be crooked, and have imagined their friend an enemy. – Baha’u’llah, The Tabernacle of Unity, p. 5.

The context of this message a century and a half ago was a world sharply divided along boundaries of nation, race, and religion, where only a small portion of the population was entrusted with the fruits of advanced education. It was a world in which the female half of the population was not allowed to apply their talents toward anything but the upkeep of home and family. In many places it was legal to own another person and literally work them to death. It was a world all too familiar, with the sight of blood and the smell of gunpowder.

Like the hapless student mentioned earlier, completely random responses might have scored a little higher.

The central figures of the Baha’i Faith all accorded great importance to the power of understanding. They taught that science enables people to respond constructively to the practical questions of life: things like health, agriculture, engineering, education, and social order. Religion shines light on our relations with one another and with God, our Creator. When our minds become familiar with the essential connections between things, our steps are guided aright. We progress securely from one achievement to the next. So long as our minds are not opened at all, or only a little bit, we are doomed to repeat the awful conditions we face today.

This can change, if we begin to seriously consider and follow the guidance of God’s messenger for the current era, which the Baha’i Faith teaches is Baha’u’llah. Those teachings of love, world unity and global peace provide the framework for humanity to unlock their inner potential:

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. – Ibid.

In the Baha’i Faith, human knowledge is made more powerful when it is informed by the infinite wisdom of God, crystallized in the words of God’s prophets. He guides us down the right paths and teaches us to ask the right questions.

Specifically, Baha’u’llah urges us to strive for unity: to work together, to lift each other up, to teach and learn from one another, to refrain from wasting human lives, whether it be through malice or neglect. This is the remedy he prescribes. If we can’t grasp that, then our troubles will only continue.

To know unity and to understand it well underpins the Baha’i basis for responding effectively to the needs and aspirations of our world. That broad vision can enable humanity to strive for more than just a passing grade, which is much better than answering randomly, and far better than the methods of dominance and exploitation that have brought humanity to its current state.

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Comments

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  • Amad Taeed
    Aug 29, 2017
    -
    Excellent! Very thankful I'm.
  • Steve Eaton
    Aug 29, 2017
    -
    What a good example to show the
    cause of chronic failure! I have
    heard one measure of craziness
    is doing the same thing endlessly
    but expecting different results!
  • Mark David Vinzens
    Aug 28, 2017
    -
    We need the vision of the Spirit. The Spirit sees and knows that all things are working together for good and everything is gently planned – embracing the „past“, the „present“ and what we call „the future“ - by One who knows the best outcome for everyone: „Center your thoughts in the Well-Beloved, rather than in your own selves“ (Gleanings, p. 168) in other words: let us turn toward our Higher Self. „O son of Spirit! . . . Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.“ (Arabic Hidden Words 13)
  • Melanie Black
    Aug 28, 2017
    -
    Understanding the oneness of humanity is so fundamental to our progress, and yet, despite all the progress we've made, there are still misguided leaders, responding with fear of the future, who hold to authoritarian ways, which keeps their citizens from being world citizens. I know this will change in time. Thank you.
  • Aug 28, 2017
    -
    Science has no inherent values other than the independent investigation of truth. The fruits of science, applied by people who do not value unity, will also have a worse than random outcome for humanity.
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