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Lions Roar : May 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2007 89 devalued other things that actually turn out to be very important to our happiness. I’ve spoken to tens of thousands of people in Canada and the United States, and to a certain extent in Europe. Time and time again in question period when we’re talking about this issue, it comes down to values. Questions about existential values are the most important starting point, but people have been told since they were ten that they shouldn’t be asking them. If you go to a religious institution, if you go in the door of your mosque or synagogue or church, you’re not given the space to think. You’re just told what to think; you’re given a creed. The muscle that ques- tions and examines existential values is completely atrophied.” In the end of his book, Homer-Dixon alludes to the need to strengthen that muscle through open dialogue and engagement with each other. “I see an open-source democratic environment,” he says, “as a way of providing a forum, a sort of an agora, in which we could begin that conversation. Because it’s really late and it’s really desperate.” This open-source democratic environment—humanity’s “right path” of thinking, according to Homer-Dixon—is what I find perhaps most intriguing about his book. The institutional architecture of decision-making and problem-solving is critically important to what human beings do in the next few years. Existing democratic institutions that took centuries to evolve and worked well for a long time no longer work well, in Homer-Dixon’s view. But an open-source, group effort like Wikipedia—which Homer- Dixon thinks is one of the most interesting and profound social innovations we’ve seen in decades—holds out hope. “If some- body had said ten years ago that you’re going to have an ency- clopedia generated by a volunteer process involving tens of thou- sands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people, with four million entries in the English language, where any entry can be changed by anybody at any time, that’s going to produce an outcome with scientific entries that, according to the journal Nature, are as good as the Encyclopedia Britannica, people would have considered that ridiculous, impossible. We have been convinced by neoclassical economists that human beings are profoundly egocentric, indi- vidualistic, selfish—and what we’re finding in a Wikipedia envi- ronment is that lots of people will do the stuff without any name recognition at all. There’s the remarkable willingness of people not only to volunteer, but to collaborate in problem-solving.” In the end, for Homer-Dixon, the upside of down seems to be that we may discover that we are actually able to work together to overcome the challenges we face. “I’m a fan of individualism,” he says. “I’m a fan of markets. Markets are problem-solving institutions that work very well in certain circumstances. But there’s obviously this other possibility that Wikipedia is demonstrating, something more collaborative and voluntaristic and less egocentric. And I would like to see what we can do with that, take it out for a spin and apply it to some really tough problems. Some of the really desperate ones we’ve got. Here in the world where we’re facing perhaps the biggest challenges the human species has ever faced, we suddenly have this technology, a worldwide-network technology, where we can basically all have a conversation together.” ♦ Join us in July, 2007 for the Summer Learning Forum. Come explore contemplative practice and the inner life while building skills in negotiation and conflict mediation. Week I: July 9-13, 2007 Week II: July 16-20, 2007 Harvard Law School “If HNII isn’t the next important frontier, I don’t know what is.” Douglas Stone, co-author Difficult Conversations Harvard Negotiation Insight Initiative For more information or to register visit www.pon.harvard.edu/hnii 617-495-7711 Spirit in Action