Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Pictures, and some musings.

Sorry for the grainy quality of these images - I had to resize and compress them to be able to upload them.

Here are the kids at the Zamani daycare. BYU students have been working with Zamani for a long time; they have helped build a couple of the buildings, and raised money last year to put another toilet in the bathroom.

Okay, I thought I had turned this picture, but evidently forgot to and now don't know how to do it on this page.
This wasa curious little girl who came in to peek at our meeting with Mama Yoyo, Zamani's director.

Zamani is in Duncan Village, one of the poorest and most dangerous townships in East London. Current townships are the remains of apartheid era squatter camps, when people were removed from their homes and forced to live in areas set aside for their particular race (Group Areas Act).

Note that almost each roof you see is a shack less than 20 foot square, usually more like ten feet square. The poverty here hadn't really hit me, until I saw a woman in town literally scoop a crust of bread out of the gutter and walk away, eating it. That same day, I came to Duncan Village - I want to express the difficult economic situation there to some degree.

A bit in the way of contrast, this was the braai (barbecue) at the Stake Father and Sons activity - the long sausages that were served are called boervoers (bo-er-vours(h))

Musings. This was a writing exercise in preparation to complete a class assignment on development and social change. I post this because I thought it might be interesting. I ought to warn: it's an experiment in sociology and Mormon doctrine, and probably includes a lot of my personal philosophy. I do not and cannot claim it as Mormon doctrine. Also - it's incomplete. I think the answer will, eventually, be simple. This is still quite muddled.
”You must widen your gaze.” What is the point of work? On what does the economic system depend? Society? Culture? In theory? On what should it depend? This is the great question of world order, the central question of the social sciences – what is the engine of the world?

"In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat thy bread, all the days of thy life.” Survival seems to be a basic thrust.

Wait – then it is dependent on the needs the Lord has placed in us. The need or desire to survive, the desire to love and be loved, the desire to become like our heavenly parents.

So, love, family, fulfilling the measure of our creation. These are the impulses that drive us. Truly, I think survival is simply a strong correlary to the other ones, but I do believe that it is subordinate.

Then fulfilling the measure of our creation, trying to gain the mind of Christ. That is what makes people move, act, be restless.

Love, then, and fulfilling our family covenants – making and keeping Gospel covenants – is indeed what impels us onward- inspires us onward.

Then, what are the prerequisites for Gospel service? For fulfilling the measure of our creation?

Mortality – a place to be tested, where we can learn and grow. The Lord has taken care of this one. Atonement – a way to be reconciled to God, after the Fall, a way to be forgiven; a way for us to gain experience, and yet be reconciled. From seminary and the Gospel, I assume then that the Creation is the remaining element – I had rolled this up into Mortality, but technically there was that physical element first, then the moral, then the spiritual.

The prerequisite conditions are then already in place. But what needs to happen in those conditions? The ground is cursed for your sake, and by the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat thy bread all the days of thy life. Work- but more importantly, the exercise of agency in difficult circumstances leading to rewards in accordance with accountability (in the context of justiced and mercy). Work could probably be defined as the exercise of agency in difficult circumstances. Why? To grow, and become more like our Heavenly Father, to have joy – Men are that they might have joy, which requires agency, choice. That they might know to choose the good and reject the evil. The purpose of life then is to choose Christ; which so doing implies exercising faith, repenting, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, being endowed, being sealed in the temple for time and all eternity, and receiving all and any other ordinances the Lord would have us receive.

The point of school, then, is to teach children to choose good; to choose God. Secular schools simply seek to do so covertly, in response to some of the evils taught in apostate churches or involved in the philosophies of men.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. First, what are the prerequisites for choosing God? Life (in mortality, anyway, in this time granted for repentance), and building the kingdom – but what is building the kingdom? Building up the members and structures – no, really just the members. The ”structures” are simply patterns of member behavior; or codified patterns of member behavior. So, building up the members – no, proclaiming the gospel, redeeming the dead, and perfecting the saints. What does it mean to perfect the saints? It means to grow in Christlike attributes, I think.

Growing in Christlike attributes requires living, interacting with others, serving others, -exercising agency righteously, praying for them. It doesn't seem to require economic resources beyond simply being alive. However, living longer increases our ability to grow – it increases the number of choices we have. The quality of our lives appears to increase the degree to which we can help others to grow – it provides a security net which allows for a greater degree of mercy, I think. Mercy ultimately allows us to become what we could not otherwise become, through the Atonement, and in mortality it allows others to become what they could not otherwise become; to learn from otherwise debillitating mistakes. But this happens on an individual level – the wise stewardship of personal resources must be a key element. Gathering resources, (financial, economic, social, political, emotional, intellectual, spiritual) and then using resources for righteousness, ”while the sun shines, before the night of darkness wherein no man can work.”

Social use of resources would probably just be extensions of individual wise stewardship of resources – i.e. those who use their own resources wisely expect that of their government and society. Note that ”wisely” here does not mean ”greedily,” or miserly. Resources are meant to be used and enjoyed; the earth is here for the benefit of man. Not to be exploited – ”not by extortion or excess,” but to ”gladden the eye and enlighten the heart,” given for the benefit of man. Thinking of the earth and its riches like the rch experiences available to us in our bodies seems to be a good analogy (gratitude to Prof. Chip Oscarson for this idea) – if we treat our earth like we treat our bodies, that seems to be about right. Neither a museum piece to be kept in a glass case, nor an object to be abused, but as a temple – to be respected and enjoyed, and used. (Note: unlike a temple, or our bodies, the earth IS separate from humanity, and we are to be wise stewards or caretakers of it. Men and women are the children of God, whereas nature and the rest of creation is the workmanship of His hands – although I love nature, man is more valuable than animal. That said, the rest of creation is an essential part of our lives – subordinate, but necessary and wonderful.)

Proclaiming the Gospel requires the freedom to practice religion freely, to speak freely, the freedoms necessary to live the Gospel. Incidentally, it does not appear to require political freedom, the freedom to elect or choose leaders, although democracy seems to be conducive to the exercise and existence of religious freedoms.

Redeeming the dead requires temples; which demand a certain degree of economic wherewithal and political or social autonomy; however, again, this does not seem to need to be much beyond existence (with the Lord's blessing – see the poverty of the Saints in Kirtland and Nauvoo).

Returning to the recurring theme of all three events, the importance of being alive, the basic need is to live. Beyond that, not much else sems to be required, other than access to the Gospel – to the words of the Lord, to the doctrines of truth, and to the Lord's priesthood power here on the earth.

So, the first link in the chain is to help people stay alive. Adequate nutrition throughout life and the healthcare to extend and improve life as well become high priorities. To get nutrition and healthcare, work must be performed – crops must be planted, seeds must be harvested, meat must be butchered (vegetarians may disagree with the must, but the point remains), etc. Medicines must be produced, doctors must be trained, etc. Shelter is probably more important to health than almost anything else – warmth, sanitation, etc. Homes; houses, places of residence, etc. In economic and sociological terms, the system that supports the greatest number of individuals, then, for the longest period of time, is preferred. This priority allows for differences of opinion and differences in approach – i.e. Some believe corporate agriculture is more sustainable than local agriculture, etc. That question can best be determined by research, especially into ”basic indicators” - infant mortality rates, maternal mortality rates, life expectancies, etc.

This brings me to a rather startling revelation – living apparently ought to, generally be prioritized over dying with freedoms, except where living takes us farther away from God (the benefit of living being to come closer to God). This is difficult for me to reconcile. Men are that they might have joy – so which is better – a life of slavery or glorious death in a noble cause? I feel a kinship with Hamlet – whether tis nobler in the mind to bear with a sea of unending trials, or, by struggling, to end them?

Apparently, this question has a situational answer. In the Book of Mormon, one of the leaders mentions that they go to a defensive war; that if the Lord had commanded them, they would suffer themselves to be brought into bondage, but as the Lord had not commanded them and had instead commanded them to defend their wives and their children even if it required bloodshed, they went to war. I think it is also so in our own lives – sometimes He calls us to bear with our trials, and sometimes to end them, even at the risk - or cost, or sacrifice, or gift - of our own lives. The Lord will ask us to do that which will bring us and others closest to Him; but that knowledge is only truly available to God. This underlies the absolute need of revelation in our lives.

I guess the main point here is that systems that favor more people are usually preferable over systems that prefer less, assuming that they increase the ability overall of people to come unto Christ. I take great issue with rich, white Americans, or powerful minority Americans, who suggest that ”we” (the world) should stop producing so much food, to protect the environment, or whatever. Someone once admitted to me, ”Yeah, perhaps we wouldn't be able to feed as many people, but...” This strikes me as very elitist – the people who make such comments are rarely the ones who would be affected by the loss. They are not the ones who would die.

Anyway, this comes up in context of something I heard at a conference on Tuesday to prevent human traficking. ”Children's rights trump culture – culture is something that should enhance and enrich our lives, not detract from it.” I thought of how rights are culturally determined; although I agree with that position, it requires either ethnocentrism or a philosophical foundation of absolute truth/objective, non-culturally determined standards. I have attempted to demonstrate and illustrate such a philosophical foundation here, based on my understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as Restored to the earth by the hand of the Lord in these modern days.

With such an understanding, I reject the position that increasing standards of living (as measured in medical life expectancies, etc.) is inferior to ”cultural preservation.” Stated positively, life trumps culture. Again, drawing on something from the conference (actually, the next phrase in the previous quote) - ”and culture is always changing! It's always evolving.” I spoke with Rebecca, one of the people there with me, about it – and I came to the conclusion in the conversation that change is inevitable. The point of development or effort, or whatever, is to manage the change that happens; to make certain that the change is positive.

Critques of society, at least in Gospel terms, ought to recognize the prioritization of values in order to best help bring about the ”immortality and eternal life of man.” Perhaps this is my deep-seated objection to much of what I have read in the field of sociology. The vocabulary and mental exercises of the discipline are excellent, but I think that often, sociology is based on or used to justify a worldview rejecting God.

Similarly, critiques of development are only valid insofar as they address the imperfect (and occassionally malicious) execution of helping othe people. I reject the position that we should not strive to help others as best we know how; rather, critiques should help us better know how to help others reach or progress according to absolute goals. With a philosophical foundation allowing for objective criteria, or at least criteria that supersede culture, this is possible. I've heard of Catholic scoiology, based on Catholic doctrine. I guess that I am trying to develop a framework for Mormon sociology.

I make a bit of a mistake here - the priority is not in preserving life, but in preserving opportunities to choose righteousness, to become like our Heavenl Father.Back to the purposes and activity of life. Survival is, usually, a prerequisite of coming closer to Christ. Another activity that generally helps – well, there are a thousand things. Even surivival is not a given – sometime, we may be asked to give up our life.

It's whatever the Lord asks us to do. Hence, the need for continuing revelation, for we often do not know what is best in a given situation. Personally, and as a world – prayer and prophets, service and scriptures.

In these days, we have living prophets who lead and guide us, who help us to understand our duty. We pray to discover our individual path in that world. We follow the Lord's commands and the Savior's example, and we come closer to Christ. We fill the measure of our creation, and experience joy therein. This, truly, answers the questions of both personal and collective activity (when coupled with revelation). It is right to follow and serve the Lord, as He directs, both in our individual and social (or collective) behavior.

It's interesting – as I was wrestling with these ideas – What is the nature of the world? How am I to understand and consider the global and national systems that I study? - I listened to April General Conference in the background. As I typed and considered, the talks from the first general session described duty, responsibility, our relationship to God, and the purpose of life. I found some of the answers I was looking for in the talks playing in the background. I will conclude, as did Bishop McMullin (I believe) - ”Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes I think).

And a bonus picture for those who read through the musing: Hudson, my host family's dog.

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