On Saturday, Londoners, in a move that repudiated their Prime Minister’s explicit effort to spread fear and hate, elected Sadiq Khan their mayor. Whether he will prove a good mayor is moot. What matters is that citizens turned their backs on those who promote fear of the other. (For those who weren’t following the pre-election story, PM Cameron accused Khan of supporting ISIL and terrorism — his evidence? that Khan had ‘shared a platform’ with a ‘radical’ imam. The imam proved the spoiler when he came out and said that he supported the Conservative Party in the last election. Of course, it used to be that the essence of democracy was to share a platform — how else to exchange and debate ideas?)
I’ve had enough of fear and hatred. I embrace contamination — perhaps a poor choice of word for its connotations, but I love it because it rings true. A mix of people isn’t clean and orderly. Its not linear or predictable. Its disruptive. Challenging. Disturbing at times. But it makes us think more, go deep, check our assumptions. And I believe that not only is that process healthy, the result is better decision-making and a stronger, more resilient society. (In using the word contamination to describe this process, I borrow from Kwame Appiah in Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006). I recommend Appiah’s work as essential reading for our time. In Cosmopolitanism, he exhorts us to ‘get contaminated’, to embrace different ideas and ways of being as we discover ourselves in strangers.
As we bump up and rub against one another in this increasingly crowded world of massive human migration, in which everyone seems to be on the move http://qz.com/192440/where-everyone-in-the-world-is-migrating-in-one-gorgeous-chart/ many will respond with curiosity and creativity. Unfortunately, too many respond with fear and hatred.
Fear and hatred take many forms. I was startled to read a piece in the National Post on Saturday by Tasha Kheiriddin (a Conservative public policy analyst and author of Rescuing Canada’s Right: Blueprint for a Conservative Revolution (2005), with whom I don’t normally agree, that positioned Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women as apartheid. In critiquing the government of PM Trudeau for continuing to trade with Saudi Arabia (of course, it is the former government of Conservative PM Harper that set up the arms deal that is in question, but that’s just politics, as they say), Kheiriddin notes that if you are a Saudi woman, “You cannot leave your house alone, you cannot have the job of your choice, you cannot drive a car, you cannot own property, and you cannot walk about in public unless you are cloaked head to foot in black cloth. Your children can be taken from you, your husband can divorce you by saying the words, “I divorce thee” three times, and if you are raped, you can be stoned for committing “adultery”.”
Is that a challenge to my love for contamination or what?! What can we learn from this inhumane, identity-destroying, treatment of women? Anything? Perhaps only that there remains much work to be done in the world, and we must continue to push, and push hard, for inclusion, diversity and open-mindedness.
Of course, there are plenty of examples closer to home of the poor ways in which women are treated. Coverage of Hilary Clinton’s run for President has too often focused on her identity as a woman, for good and bad. In The Economist’s “glass ceiling index” (The Economist, March 5, 2016, page 59) we can see clearly that women still rank second in politics, business and education attainment world-wide. Last night I watched the movie Suffragette with Meryl Streep and was struck by the seemingly never-ending nature of the struggle to have women be perceived, and perceive ourselves, as full and equal human beings.
How do we reframe the question of the inevitability of the diversity of the human experience as a social, political and economic good? How do we begin to shift the link with power away from sameness and toward difference?
Perhaps we hit people where it counts, in the pocket book. A team of researchers looked at market failures in the form of price bubbles and the disruption they cause to stock markets world-wide, and found that, “price bubbles arise not only from individual errors or financial conditions, but also from the social context of decision making…ethnic diversity: [it] may be beneficial not only for providing variety in perspectives and skills, but also because diversity facilitates friction that enhances deliberation and upends conformity.” http://www.sslevine.com/?p=390
As the authors state, “diversity undermines trust, and this may be its greatest gift”.
When people who are different get together to make decisions, they are more cautious, more questioning and less apt to just go along. The authors reasoned that, “trust in other people’s reasonableness can cause erroneous beliefs to spread more readily. Diversity makes you better precisely because it makes you less trusting.”
In other words, contamination works.
Hatred, fear and exclusion are for lemmings. (no disrespect to lemmings intended)