United States NSA Election – 2011

The delegates of the 103rd Baha’i National Convention in the United States have elected the new members of the National Spiritual Assembly (in descending order of votes):

Kenneth E. Bowers
Jacqueline Left Hand Bull
David F. Young
Muin Afnani
S. Valerie Dana
Erica Toussaint-Brock
Robert C. Henderson
Juana C. Conrad
Fariba Aghdasi

The new member is Dr. Fariba Aghdasi (elected with the least number of votes among the nine) who replaced William L.H. Roberts (acting as Treasurer last year) who also had the lowest votes among the previous NSA members. All other members of the NSA were re-elected as we’ve come to expect from the effect of incumbency.

For why such tiny incremental changes in membership really amount to no changes at all, please see the “Fable of the 5 Monkeys”.

I couldn’t find much information about the new NSA member except this short biography from a Baha’i site:

Dr. Fariba Aghdasi has served as the Deputy Secretary of the Regional Bah??’?­ Council of the Southwestern States since the formation of that institution. She is also the Director of the Regional Teaching Office, an office of the Regional Bah??’?­ Council serving the advancement of the clusters in the region. She has been a long term pioneer to South Africa and to Zimbabwe and has served on its National Spiritual Assembly. She has also served as the Regional Coordinator for the Regional Training Institute in the Western States in its formative years. She is a professional engineer holding a doctoral degree in Mechanical Engineering and was previously professor and head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering in Zimbabwe. She is married with two children and currently lives in Central California.

Here is a short video of Dr. Fariba Aghdasi speaking at the Grand Canyon conference held during the Christmas holidays last year in Arizona. Taking part in such a high profile event just months before voting couldn’t have hurt her chances to be elected to the NSA.

  • Frank

    Yep,

    Exactly you said it to the point.

    About myself been an born Baha’i from Iranian
    Family and raised in iran. Find myself
    Very much like minded with views in this blog.

    I have found this site quite recently and
    Do read almost all your posts.

    You are great writer and very well to
    Point.

    The situation in other parts of world
    Seem to be no different to us.

    I wish I had talent to write even close to
    What you can do.

    The issues are menu in Baha’i community
    And sometimes I think may be the use
    Of internent is the only way to force
    Proper change.

    I do see many great old Baha’is that
    Get pushed out and smashed by the
    Machine of administration.

    Bahai faith at moment is more a crunching
    Machine rather than saving the humanity.

    I could just pray to real change happens
    Soon otherwise many sacrifices and
    Human energy and lifes gone to the waste!

    Once again thanks for such great and refreshing posts

  • Fubar

    Hey Frank,

    Thanks for the excellent comments.

    If you study social theory, you will realize that all bureaucracies/ organizations in the world become dysfunctional very fast (they fail to reach their goals or mission – and then need “scape goats” to blame their failures on). Habermas and many others have described the problematic patterns and archetypes in detail.

    All conformist organizations produce “misfits” – dissidents, critics, nonconformists – people who do not like to be liars.

    There is very little “enightened” awareness of these issues in bahaism.

    NSAs/UHJ are basically a bunch of people staying in power for ego gratification.

    They are almost all liars , many have been trained to be clever, professional liars (corporate types, lawyers, academics, etc.).

    The “old bahais” that do not believe in such lies are “crunched” and “wasted” by corrupt bahai administration.

    American bahais (with help from some iranians and others) attempted reforms of the NSA 30 years ago, and were not successful. The NSA became reactionary and fundamentalist, and viciously attacked reformers for 15 years. The UHJ helped in most of the attacks on reformers.

    bahaism has become an evil religion that almost certainly can not be reformed.

    same as big banks, big corporations, big government, big education, etc.

    there are over 1,000,000 NGOs and other similar organizations in the world working for social justice, peace, environmental sustainability, and spiritual enlightenment.

    another bad religion isn’t needed.

  • Will

    Oh please. Very few of the delegates from around the country were even at the Grand Canyon Conference. Fariba Aghdasi’s participation in service to the community and her sterling characteristics were what caused sufficient votes for her.

    As for the comments below about members of these institutions trying to stay in power, I know virtually all of them and not only is such power-hungriness beneath them, every one of them would gladly accept not to be in this service. The elections are sacred and the absolute freedom of the electors to vote only for those whom their conscience upholds is a more precious thing than any attempt to force some kind of change you think will make the operation of the Faith more to your liking.

    It makes me wonder who is more interested in power and influence…

  • Baquia

    Will, you’re right, having the stage hindered her chances to get elected (eyeroll). Every single person in an institution wants to be there – whether for virtuous motives or otherwise. Any member who doesn’t wish to be there can simply not be elected (it has been done many times). So obviously when you have people being elected to the office for 10+ years running, there is a clear sense of entitlement that sets in. As I said, if they wanted to recuse themselves or serve in another capacity, they can easily do so.

    To not see that the current form of Baha’i elections has inherent flaws is to either be ignorance by choice or ignorant by nature. To simply call something ‘sacred’ without attempting an understanding is merely superstition.

    And again, you’re right, I am seeking power… which is why I write anonymously… (giant eyeroll)

  • Shahram

    Perhaps Baha’is do suffer from the act of conforming, when it comes to elections. Ideally, selecting individuals to serve God’s cause should start on April 22nd, with thorough investigation to find the most fit for the responsibilities. Not the night of the election, checking out the list from last year to re-elect the same people with a sigh of relief.

    But if your intention is to educate Baha’is dear friend, while complaining about their level of maturity, you may wish to consider the following:

    “Let your thoughts dwell on your own spiritual development, and close
    your eyes to the deficiencies of other souls. Act ye in such wise,
    showing forth pure and goodly deeds, and modesty and humility, that ye
    will cause others to be awakened.”

    “Refrain
    from reprimanding them, and if you wish to give admonition or advice,
    let it be offered in such a way that it will not burden the bearer.”

    �Abdu’l-Bah??

    Please be fair in your judgment. Making generalized statements that Baha’is suffer from “the effect of incumbency” or the Institutions have fallen under the “Fable of the 5 Monkeys” effect…

    “Never speak disparagingly of others, but praise
    without distinction.”

    �Abdu’l-Bah??

    The person is imperfect, but the Cause is not. Maturation takes time. Be patient.

    http://www.bahai.org

  • http://bahainmoscow.blogspot.com/ Anton

    Shahram,
    words of Abdu’l-Bah?? are always nice and powerful. And I have nothing against those
    advices. What is bothering me is that when we close our eyes on mistakes of
    institutions (not individual Baha’is) we prone them to repeat the same mistakes
    again and again.

    I think
    Baquia is trying to wake up at least some Baha’is and make them to improve
    the situation in the community.

    �The
    person is imperfect, but the Cause is not’. Yes, I agree, Shahram. But how
    is about the institutions? You wrote that maturation takes time. Well, yes. Who
    would disagree with you on that? But 168 years?! 1/6 of the time till the next Manifestation
    has already gone and Baha’i administration is still in its infancy (or embryotic
    stage, if you want).

    Maybe
    it is time for them to start in a humble posture of learning to learn something?!

  • Baquia

    Dear Shaharm,

    Thank you for your comment. While it suffers from a strong case of quotitis, I appreciate the sentiment. The guidance that you refer to is appropriate and meant for individual interactions. In this venue, I’m not speaking to any specific individual but only “thinking” out loud as a member of the Baha’i community.
    Therefore, the guidance is not relevant at all.

    In any case, have you read the letters that Baha’u’llah wrote to the kings and rulers? My words are a pale shadow of the scorching words and tone that Baha’u’llah used towards those individuals.

    Finally, with regards to your sentiment that “Maturation takes time.” this is a pablum that we Baha’is been fed so much that we now regurgitate it for others without thinking.

    If we do pause to consider what we are saying for a moment, we may realize that while maturation is a process, for that process to be active, it needs to show itself. If we do not see change, there is no maturation. Therefore, calls for patience are hollow when there is neither any change nor any attempts made for development and maturation – and calls for it are swatted down or labeled heretical.

    In other words, “maturation” requires action, not mere flowery words or empty calls for patience. I don’t ask that the Baha’i community be perfect or instantly “mature”. Not at all. Even if we were crawling forward, I’d be more satisfied.

    Look at the UK secular democracy as an example. They just held a referendum about their electoral process. That is evidence of a healthy, dynamic society that is open, developing, maturing. Now consider the Baha’i administrative process that has stagnated and ossified in the past 40 years to deliver incumbency after incumbency. The contrast becomes rather clear, does it not?

    I’m only pointing out that there is nary evidence of maturation for the institutions. And there won’t be as long as we peddle these useless excuses and become apathetic to the realization that we have not seen an iota of development or change in our lifetimes.

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  • Patch

    Hi Baquia

    It strikes me that you are frustrated with the election outcome(s).  I’m not sure whether (?your assumption that) voting the same people into the NSA is necessarily a bad thing.

    It seems appropriate to suggest that change for the sake of change is pointless. If I am a delegate, I would contemplate and then vote for individuals who I deem to be most capable to serve as NSA members.  It could well be that those individuals were already serving a previous term.

    Are you saying that the delegates should be encouraged to vote differently and let new people serve on the NSA, just for the sake of mixing it up a little, or in the hope that it will lead to maturation?  If not, then aren’t they free to vote for whoever they wish?

    My understanding is that serving on any elected Baha’i body carries with it a sacrifice of one’s own time form personal and professional pursuits.  It might be fairer to assume that people serve out of love and not for the sake of self-promotion.  I could well be wrong, but i interpret you to be making the assumption that there are ‘professional NSA members’ who are only serving their own interests.  This would be making a big judgement call.  That would be your right of course to make that judgment, but it would only be just that.

    Without wanting to spark conflict, I would comment that comparing yourself to Baha’u’llah when talking about the manner in which we address others is not entirely appropriate if you accept His message.  If we accept that He is effectively a voice of God on earth, surely there is room for Him to address humanity with authority, and at times, with ‘scorching words’.

    I don’t think that writing in anonymity necessarily rejects the notion that you may be interested in power and influence, in what you have written here.  The tone in which I read Will’s suggestion was derogatory. But his point remains.. surely we are all communicating here with a desire to influence each others’ thoughts on the subject, and in a way to advance our own position..  Influencing others should be the natural consequence of a persuasive argument, and we all have a right to it.  It seems appropriate that we talk with mutual respect and patience.

    Regards from Adelaide, Australia

  • Baquia

    Patch, thanks for your comment.  Unfortunately it seems you misunderstand both my words and intentions. I’m not advocating change for the sake of change.

    What I am pointing out is that the current state of Baha’i elections is impaired by incumbency. This is a fact borne out by anyone who takes even a cursory look at a history of LSA, NSA or UHJ elections.

    Without campaigning or nominations, being a member of an elected institution serves as a de facto ‘nomination’ in the eyes of the electorate and changes the probability of a person being elected in a subsequent election.

    Now, before you misunderstand me even further, please note that I am not suggesting that Baha’i elections start campaigning!

    It is irrational to think that a country which has thousands and thousands of active adult Baha’is, can only find the same 9 or 8 people who have served for the past concurrent 15+ years.

    As a delegate you may believe that you are electing “individuals who I deem to be most capable to serve as NSA members” but you are wrong. Psychologically, knowing that a certain person is already a member makes a difference and it is disingenuous to argue otherwise because the data shows this to be the case.

    I am also not telling people how to vote (in contrast to the words you jam in my mouth). What I’m suggesting is that we re-examine the Baha’i election process and incrementally improve it, as we have done in the past to make it function better. After all, elections exist to serve a community function. They are not simply a ritual bereft of a real life end purpose.

    What evidence do we have that elections need improvement? For one, the rate of participation. Another is thatelectoral  incumbency is mathematically built into Baha’i elections as they currently exist, especially for larger communities. This is because you can’t vote ‘against’ a candidate, only for a candidate, therefore any vote for non-incumbent candidates is diluted..

    Term limits are one simple idea. Another is to introduce simple adjustments to voting methods. Believe it or not, there are other valid private ballot election methods. I won’t go into the details of these and other ideas here as space is short but the important thing is to begin to have a constructive dialogue on such important matters within our communities.

    The fact that there is pseudo-clergy created by the reinforcing incumbency bias within Baha’i elections is clearly evident. It is natural for people who have been in a position for 20 years to come to a sense of entitlement.

    And while I’m sure there are many Baha’is who serve on elected institutions sacrificially, there are also many who benefit socially, financially and otherwise from such a position. Especially when it is a position they have come to hold for a long period of time through incumbency.

    Change is, after all, the hardest task for a human and when something is set for so long it becomes that much harder. Another consequence is that cliques are formed when several members have been serving together for so long. Everyone knows each other’s biases, favorites, prejudices, etc. New ideas are strangled if they even ever dare show up! Ossification and group-think takes the members hostage.

    Finally with regards to your comments on my anonymity, I reject wholesale your empty assertion that my intention is to seek power or influence. As a member of the Baha’i community I am merely speaking within a process of consultative dialogue by sharing the dictates of my conscience and rational mind as any other person would.

    Further anonymity removes any hint of personal gain and instead strips the ideas to their core, leaving them bare; without a name attached to them or a person behind them the ideas stand alone or fall according to their merit, leaving the listener free from any bias they may accrue had they known their author.

    Abdu’l-Baha also wrote anonymously, as you probably know, for works such as “Sermon on the Art of Governance”.

    Now to the charge that I am comparing myself to Baha’u’llah (or perhaps now you’ll charge me with comparing myself with the Master!). This is yet another ridiculous assertion empty of any rationale. In the comment above the person suffers from quotitis (mangling a quote for their perceived word-salad meaning while ignoring its context). The guidance cited is about inter-personal relations while the discussion here is about an abstract concept within the community.

    Instead of changing the topic to malign my intentions or to put words in my mouth, it would be much more fruitful  to focus on the issue at hand and to have a true and frank Baha’i consultation.

  • marydenise

    I am looking for an old friend her name is Farideh and I knew her in Pasadena, Cal. She can reach me thru my email.