Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ecology. Diversity. Social Inclusion

Last week in Malmo I had the chance to meet this amazing group of people: Guys, I had a really great time with you! I hope we keep in touch!

During the discussions, two types of issues stood prominently: ecology and social inclusion. And it makes sense.


Only in a sufficiently advanced society, like the Western World, people can afford to think about ecology, about how we can make sure we are going to have an inhabitable planet 100 years from now. The rest of the world population is just too busy surviving past the next few days - weeks - months. Above all, it is the moral duty of these advanced societies to raise such issues, to provide leadership for the future, to clean up the planet and invent new, sustainable ways of living because, otherwise, nobody will.

Social inclusion:

As a society is getting more and more advanced and as its standard of living rises, it becomes more and more attractive for immigrants, for people who want and are willing to start a new life, hopefully better than the one they can afford in their own countries. Throughout history we have witnessed many  waves of immigrants, leading to profound changes in the societies they affected. Most of the time, they initially provoked fractured communities, with an increased gap between the rich and the poor, cultural clashes, segregation, extremist movements, social tension, crime, hatred, discrimination, riots.

Extremist parties have always gained political capital by proposing isolation, expulsion and restriction as a solution for the problems above. Can we do better? Are we civilised enough to manage our most inner drives to build a society where we can all live a good life?

Our brains are not wired for diversity:

  • It is natural and evolutionary normal for people to quickly classify things based on simple, visible criteria - if an something moves and has long teeth, our brains tell us to run if we want to survive. Those who stay behind to investigate do not have a chance to pass on their genes often enough to become biologically relevant. Even more, it is complex, time and energy consuming to dive into details and to consider all options. We have evolved to store energy and use it only when it is critical for our immediate survival. We like to decide quickly, based on clear differentiators.
  • We evolved in tribes, not as lone hunters. We, as humans, like to draw borders around us and quickly say who is in and who is out. All our society is build on borders: family, city, nationality, country, company, etc. We know them and we have a clear sense to where we belong. We need to belong as the group gives us an identity. We are very quick to judge who is in and who is out and we like borders because they make us feel safe. 
  • It is very hard for us to work with big numbers. Our brains are not wired to easily understand what is the difference between 1 in 10, 1 in 100 and 1 in a million. We actually understand an event with a probability of 1 in a million as still something that could happen to us which is not really the case. Otherwise, people would be much more reluctant to play the lottery.
  • Media does not help: bad guys stand out and make the news more often than decent, hard working people. As we have an internal drive to watch out to maintain our safety, we are very curious about bad things. Media loves to exploit our tendencies and present drama to increase its sales. Corroborate this point with the other three points above and it results in an explosive combination. Drama-oriented news is hurting our society, feeding us reasons to promote hate and discrimination and gives us a false sense of insecurity towards our peers. (Doesn't this look like stark contrast? as opposed to public data about crime in Bucharest which positions the Romanian capital as the safest capital in Europe - guys, there are many more Romanians in Bucharest than in London. Please don't draw any conclusions about us as a nation based on what is written in the press).

We need to accept that it is unnatural for us to easily acknowledge diversity as a part of our lives. It may seem that segregation is a problem only for immigrants but: we do not accept gay people, sometimes women still don't have equal opportunities, we fight because of religion and nationality (how many wars did we have in Europe, including the war ignited 15 years ago by the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, how many bombings in Ireland, how many riots, expulsions, extremist goverments) and even because we support different football teams. We naturally don't like diversity, so what can be done?

Diversity sparks innovation:

But before that, why do we struggle? Beside the ethical debate, I would like to give one simple reason: diversity is the basis for creativity and innovation. Innovation does not come from thin air. Innovation usually comes by combining different unrelated ideas into a new product or revolutionary thought. Just imagine how can a bunch of football fans who only know about football invent a new team game? What probability of success would you give them? What if the team is made up of football, basketball, tennis and even some obscure African and Chinese traditional sport fans? Would they have a higher chance to come up with something revolutionary?

We are too expensive:

But why so much talk about innovation? Why can't we just stick to what we have? The reason lies in simple economics. We are too expensive compared to the rest of the world. Everything that has already been invented is manufactured offshore for a fraction of the local cost. So the only thing that is left for advanced economies is to open up new markets, to create new a demand, to invent new things. Our only chance of maintaining our high level of living is to constantly innovate. And for this, just like in the example above with the football game, we need diversity. We need people who think differently, who have different experiences, who come from different backgrounds. Including them in our economic activities is a necessity, not a act of benevolence.

We need to draw boundaries based on values:

I believe that all humans are good and willing to help each other. I believe that the main reason we like to draw boundaries is because we can't connect to the others, because we don't know the others and we feel the need to protect ourselves. Once one knows his / her peer, once one sees what value his/her peer is bringing to him/her, once one knows that it is safe, I believe that he or she will gladly open the door to welcome the outsider in. We need, as a society, to counteract the negative distortion promoted by media and start a global awareness campaign. We need to put things into the right context. We all need to gather and collect positive stories. We need to show that those immigrants / gay / football fans of another team are the same people that defend our homes as police officers or firemen, are building our homes, raise our children or cure our sick.

We will still need to protect ourselves and we can do it by drawing a hard line against criminality of any kind. We need to start to publicly define our deepest values (like honesty, respect, tolerance), understand them and make sure they are respected by the whole community - uncompromisingly respected. Such a large scale dialogue requires leadership, openness, education, tolerance, self-questioning, respect and a strong will to stay in until the right solutions are found. The less responsible attitude of excluding large parts of the population based only on the ethnical or racial criteria, just because it is much easier, is neither ethical nor economically viable. I believe that we need to involve more our moral philosophers to help us define our values and build on them a genuinely free society, where everyone can express his or her personality in a safe environment, as long as it does not harm the others. We need to educate people to pay attention, to stand up, to speak their minds and provoke true social dialogue, by confronting the reality and not by vague, conflict-avoiding, politically correct speeches.

I believe that such a society can and needs to be built and would end up having a secular basis, valuing science, reason, art, research, respect for the free spirit, innovation, law, dialogue and personal initiative.

I am optimist seeing that people debate such issues, seeing people of different nationalities working together, learning together, playing together, I am optimist that the world is advancing blazingly fast towards an era of collaboration and tolerance.

[Link to Video]