Baha'i News -- Is there virtue in a virtual society? The Olympian, Olympia Washington

Saturday, August 3, 2002


Is there virtue in a virtual society?


In 1913, Abdu'l-Baha, son of the founder of the Baha'i Faith, told an audience that there exists in nature a "stupendous force" that hopefully would not be discovered until "spiritual civilization" dominates the human mind.

"In the hands of men of lower nature," he said, "this power would be able to destroy the ... earth."

This has commonly been taken to be a reference to nuclear power. But could it have been a metaphor for the rapidly advancing technologies of the 21st century? As we go plunging into the new millennium on the cybernetic super highway, have we fastened our seat belts? Checked our brakes?

As ability to copy and create images, to spy on each other (and inside our own bodies), to store valuable information create new blessings, will they also allow us to destroy our civilization?

Digital technology has made it possible for an individual to print and publish his own books -- and also to make perfect copies of currency, identification papers, permits, etc. Photos, film and videotape can be altered, a la Forrest Gump, to create any desired grouping of people.

The image process called computer graphics/virtual reality adds considerably to the fun of computer games, television shows and movies. And it can create or alter words in the mouths of leaders.

How can we trust leaders in government or economics when their speeches, their faces, and perhaps even their existences are created out of pieces of electrons?

How can we know what is real? As recently as 40 years ago, those ideas were the stuff of science fiction. The "conspiracy theorists" who insist that the moon landing was a hoax weren't believable because that kind of technology wasn't developed in 1969. Now it is.

Seeing is no longer believing. The camera can, and does, lie.

Another concern is cloning, DNA, and the whole range of genetic engineering. Use your imagination about how it can be used.

I'm not normally a pessimistic person, but when I see the headlines exposing fraud in our corporate and government sectors, endless spirals of revenge wars and terrorist acts, hatred in the name of God, perversions by ministers of God, and all the awful things people we used to look up to are doing, is it any wonder I worry about my grandchildren?

So what do we do about it?

We are all in this together: Christian, Baha'i, Humanist, Buddhist and Wiccan. Where do we begin to put the virtue back into our increasingly virtual world? How? Who will be the teachers and what virtues shall they teach?

How will we teach the virtue of honesty when it is no longer possible to tell lies and truth apart? How will we teach respect when people are treated as things that exist for our prosperity or gratification?

How can we teach love in a world filled with hate?

To paraphrase Jesus: What will it profit humanity to gain wealth and power through unimaginable future technologies and lose its collective soul?

Please think about these things.

Next week we'll explore some ideas. Thanks for your attention.

This week's Perspective was written by Janet Tanaka, a representative of the East Thurston County Baha'i community. Perspective is coordinated by Associated Ministries in cooperation with The Olympian. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Associated Ministries or The Olympian.

©Copyright 2002, The Olympian (Olympia Washington)

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