Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fundamentalism Bubble Burst

This pilot study plots a Universal House of Justice (UHJ) member fundamentalism index across UHJ elections, 1963-2010, showing a dramatic fundamentalism bubble peaked in 1993, decreased steadily in the subsequent four elections, and fell off a cliff in 2010.

The overall objective was to explore the supposition of many pundits that so-called conservative forces have firm control of the Baha'i community, by plotting a "UHJ Member Index" in the Y-axis over time shown in the figure.

Methods
The talk.religion.bahai (TRB) unmoderated forum was used to collect raw data. The content of this forum represents a wide range of topics of interest to Baha'is, and in particular, more controversial subject matter. Further, UHJ members and many others have a record, or not, in TRB where persons and activity deemed related to conservative, fundamentalist, anti-intellectual, authoritarian, theocratic, anti-freedom, etc, themes has historically generated the most posts, perhaps because this was and remains an unmoderated forum. Finally, its database, as managed by Google, is searchable.

For each UHJ member from 1963 to present, the name as shown in the Appendix: Raw Data below, was entered for a "Search this group" operation and the number of results was recorded as an "Index" associated with the person throughout. Notice the TRB database results may reflect references to a person before, during and after the period of UHJ membership. In short, it is an attribute of the person which is a constant in the present analysis.

The chart reflects changing UHJ membership. For each election where UHJ membership changed, the individual indexes for the nine elected members were summed to obtain the UHJ Member Index plotted in the chart.

These indexes and their sums are definitely crude, unfiltered, noisy metrics. For example, much or even all content for a particular person might be favorable. In some cases, a result count might not refer to the person at all as in a post with the words "Hugh" and "chance".

However, a higher index value does correlate with a greater amount of general mayhem associated with the person in TRB. That is, the signal-to-noise ratio to quantify fundamentalism was believed to be more than sufficient for this pilot study.

Results
The "Peak Fundamentalism" chart shows a stable low baseline before 1987, across some five elections (1963-1983), and where membership changed, a point is plotted. The election of Peter Khan in 1987 is associated with a huge impulse up, roughly quadrupling the UHJ Member Index.

As if a sudden new trend had been established, the Index rose further in the next two elections to peak during 1993-1999 at an astounding height of 2616, some seven times greater than the 1963-1983 baseline. The addition of Adib Taherzadeh and Hooper Dunbar in 1988 and finally, Douglas Martin and Farzam Arbab in 1993, pushed the UHJ Member Index to its zenith.

As seen in the Appendix, the all-time, uncontested champion among UHJ members for stimulating commotion and havoc among TRB participants is Peter Khan. Doug Martin is a distant second, with less than one half the results found for Dr. Khan. The result Index for the others mentioned above are one step lower in this clearly skewed distribution.

The 1993 nose-bleeding heights were maintained for seven years until the 2000 election, when the fundamentalism bubble started to burst, with down-hill momentum. An uninterrupted down-trend followed the 1993-1999 peak for four elections. Generally, new members had lower indexes than those they replaced.

Finally, by 2010, a "panic sell-off" signature drops the UHJ Member Index to 707, where it stands at this writing, a puny remnant just 27 per cent of the high. This amounts to a mind-boggling 73 percent loss for fundamentalism among UHJ members, according to the TRB metric, over just 10 years (2000-2010).

Discussion
1. In general, the rise and fall of fundamentalism reflected in the UHJ Member Index recalls similar patterns, such as the recent dot com and housing price bubbles, followed by busts.

One common feature is a so-called parabolic rise which is a common chart signature for an unsustainable move. The rapid rise is most often attributed to emotional factors such as greed ("I want to be in on the action") in financial markets. In the present case, perhaps some readers might identify the emotion as "lust for power" given the attempts to control intellectuals in the West being a major theme in TRB data. At least that is the conventional theory. On the other hand, this does not explain why the collateral damage of the associated mayhem was mostly among intellectuals in the West.

A hypothesis is that this focus of increased control might have occured because these academics and scholars were deemed to be more likely than anybody else (say, in the East) to uncover things the fundamentalist proponents wanted to remain hidden. Why so much action in the West remains an open question. On the other hand, maybe intellectuals in the non-English-speaking East were also targeted, and we just do not know about it.

The "panic sell-off" of fundamentalism up to 2010 may likewise have an emotional component, and the usual suspect is fear. Those who "bought into" the market near the highs, hoping that fundamentalism was entrenched forever and indeed, had much further to rise in the Baha'i community, may have suddenly found themselves compromised and looking at big losses.

The 1993-1999 fundamentalism peak, if some parallel to financial markets is tenable, marks a period ending in inability to find "greater fools". When few are bidding for the asset, a plunge of major proportions is in the offing.

Finally, note that as of 2010, the Index is still about double the base-line prior to 1987. So fundamentalism may fall much further, given the strong downward momentum. In these cases, after a bubble, there is often an over-shoot, where the index actually falls below the prior base-line before stabilizing. This would mean that so-called liberal influence might exceed for a time the prior base-line levels.

2. The voters -- members of National Spiritual Assemblies (NSA), determine the reported changes in UHJ membership. Many commentators feel these voters have relinquished power, so to speak, by tending to elect members of the ITC, which itself is appointed by the UHJ. The present results may provide a somewhat brighter picture -- namely that the electors of the UHJ seem to have turned a page and are applying a new rule: persons with notoriety in opposing, or suppressing activities by, Baha'i intellectuals will not get votes.

How could this be? For one thing, it is painfully obvious to anybody surfing internet content on Baha'i matters that mayhem arising from conflict between liberal and conservative players results in an ugly permanent record on the internet, which almost everybody agrees is detrimental to growth of the Baha'i community. Thus, perhaps ironically, this is a game-changer for anybody crazy enough to want to be elected to the UHJ (it's too much work). The take-home message from voters may be: "Leave the academics, intellectuals, free thinkers, scholars, wackos, nut-cases, marginal personalities and what-have-you alone. Do not mess with people. Hands off. Live and let live. Else you may be marked for life via the internet record of your deeds as ineligible for votes". More respect for free thinking and expression may be the new normal, according to the voters.

No doubt, reading by NSA member voters has gone well beyond the bloody and profane streets of TRB, to include other open forums, new web sites and blogs. The collapse of fundamentalism at the highest level seen in the present report suggests that many of these non-official alternate analysis sites and authors have achieved tangible success in deepening Baha'is in the wonders of their, um, fundamental teachings.

3. The distribution (frequency plot) of UHJ members over Index range (0 - 1180) reveals a big cluster of members with zero or very low values and a cluster with much higher values. Statisticians use this kind of plot to define groups, and there seems to be at least two groups: (1) the zero or very low values might be likely to be neutral to positive concerning liberalism and (2) the high values, more likely to favor conservative policies and programs, if past deeds is any indicator.

In this light, the Appendix Raw Data shows six of the nine current UHJ members are in the potentially liberal-inclined group, with only three which might be in group #2 above, perhaps to a more modest degree than seen during peak fundamentalism (1993-1999).

4. Although this pilot study may be of some interest, there are some qualifications that should be mentioned.

First, this top-down approach can be very limited. If the Baha'i community were a business, analysts would not ignore changes in its Board of Directors at the top, but they would be most interested in what is going on in the field, on the ground, on the production line, and beyond that, in the world beyond (customers, the economy, etc), in evaluation of growth prospects. I think the same applies to the Baha'i community. Exactly who is or is not elected for a particular period to the UHJ is almost a non-event compared to the reality of what is happening on the ground in the Baha'i community.

Second, I am not enthusiastic about attempts to "count votes" among UHJ members regarding, say, whether or not a liberal or conservative policy or program may be likely. For one thing, a single individual, in almost any group, can have an enormous impact. Imagine, for example, those cases when you were a minority of one and eight or more people disfavor your idea. And through consultation, all the eight, more than needed for a majority, come to support your idea. In other words, the vote counters may often be vastly underestimating the havoc, so to speak, a minority of one or more can create in a group. [Smile]
© 2010 James J Keene

Appendix: Raw Data
From Name                   To   Index
1963 Hugh Chance 1993 1
1963 Hushmand Fatheazam 2003 0
1963 Amoz Gibson 1982 0
1963 Lutfu'llah Hakim 1968 0
1963 David Hofman 1988 49
1963 Borrah Kavelin 1988 0
1963 Ali Nakhjavani 2003 81
1963 Ian Semple 2005 172
1963 Charles Wolcott 1987 13
Total..............................316
1968
1963 Hugh Chance 1993 1
1963 Hushmand Fatheazam 2003 0
1963 Amoz Gibson 1982 0
1963 David Hofman 1988 49
1863 Borrah Kavelin 1988 0
1963 Ali Nakhjavani 2003 81
1968 David Ruhe 1993 4
1963 Ian Semple 2005 172
1963 Charles Wolcott 1987 13
Total..............................320
1982
1963 Hugh Chance 1993 1
1963 Hushmand Fatheazam 2003 0
1963 David Hofman 1988 49
1863 Borrah Kavelin 1988 0
1982 Glenford Mitchell 2008 74
1963 Ali Nakhjavani 2003 81
1968 David Ruhe 1993 4
1963 Ian Semple 2005 172
1963 Charles Wolcott 1987 13
Total..............................394
1987
1963 Hugh Chance 1993 1
1963 Hushmand Fatheazam 2003 0
1963 David Hofman 1988 49
1863 Borrah Kavelin 1988 0
1987 Peter Khan 2010 1180
1982 Glenford Mitchell 2008 74
1963 Ali Nakhjavani 2003 81
1968 David Ruhe 1993 4
1963 Ian Semple 2005 172
Total.............................1561
1988
1963 Hugh Chance 1993 1
1988 Hooper Dunbar 2010 170
1963 Hushmand Fatheazam 2003 0
1987 Peter Khan 2010 1180
1982 Glenford Mitchell 2008 74
1963 Ali Nakhjavani 2003 81
1968 David Ruhe 1993 4
1963 Ian Semple 2005 172
1988 Adib Taherzadeh 2000 268
Total.............................1950
1993
1993 Farzam Arbab 187
1988 Hooper Dunbar 2010 170
1963 Hushmand Fatheazam 2003 0
1987 Peter Khan 2010 1180
1993 Douglas Martin 2005 484
1982 Glenford Mitchell 2008 74
1963 Ali Nakhjavani 2003 81
1963 Ian Semple 2005 172
1988 Adib Taherzadeh 2000 268
Total.............................2616
2000
1993 Farzam Arbab 187
2000 Kiser Barnes 7
1988 Hooper Dunbar 2010 170
1963 Hushmand Fatheazam 2003 0
1987 Peter Khan 2010 1180
1993 Douglas Martin 2005 484
1982 Glenford Mitchell 2008 74
1963 Ali Nakhjavani 2003 81
1963 Ian Semple 2005 172
Total.............................2355
2003
1993 Farzam Arbab 187
2000 Kiser Barnes 7
1988 Hooper Dunbar 2010 170
2003 Hartmut Grossmann 2008 7
2003 Firaydoun Javaheri 0
1987 Peter Khan 2010 1180
1993 Douglas Martin 2005 484
1982 Glenford Mitchell 2008 74
1963 Ian Semple 2005 172
Total.............................2281
2005
1993 Farzam Arbab 187
2000 Kiser Barnes 7
1988 Hooper Dunbar 2010 170
2003 Hartmut Grossmann 2008 7
2003 Firaydoun Javaheri 0
1987 Peter Khan 2010 1180
2005 Paul Lample 85
1982 Glenford Mitchell 2008 74
2005 Payman Mohajer 0
Total.............................1710
2008
1993 Farzam Arbab 187
2000 Kiser Barnes 7
2008 Gustavo Correa 0
1988 Hooper Dunbar 2010 170
2003 Firaydoun Javaheri 0
1987 Peter Khan 2010 1180
2005 Paul Lample 85
2005 Payman Mohajer 0
2008 Shahriar Razavi 1
Total.............................1630
2010
1993 Farzam Arbab 187
2000 Kiser Barnes 7
2010 Stephen Birkland 214
2008 Gustavo Correa 0
2003 Firaydoun Javaheri 0
2010 Stephen Hall 213
2005 Paul Lample 85
2005 Payman Mohajer 0
2008 Shahriar Razavi 1
Total..............................707