Critical of TED

I just finished listening to a TED Talk interview with Jonathan Haidt who is a social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University‘s Stern School of Business. He was interviewed by the owner of TED Talk Chris Anderson. It came out after the election and it was entitled Can a divided America heal? I was hoping to hear something that would give me hope. 

I was skeptical about this interview because they were two white middle-aged gentlemen discussing the state of the country after our election. My critical consumer eyes went into this wide open. How can anyone talk about the state of the country and not be a person of color who was directly affected by the election? I did recognize that could be a member of the LGBTQ Community though which has many worries themselves about the President-elect. Professor Haidt starts early in the interview reciting an old Bedouin saying.

“Me against my brother; me and my brother against our cousin; me and my brother and cousins against the stranger.”

So far so good. I agree with his statement. We have to start off making sure we are on solid ground before helping others. I would feel more of a moral obligation to help my brother before my cousin, as well as my cousin before a stranger. Some may be more evolved than I am. Others may agree with me.  Either way, I believe that our country is in a struggle right now with idea of who the stranger actually is. What do the strangers look and act like? Are the strangers anyone who doesn’t look and act like the majority of white America?

The argument put forth in the talk was people are more likely to share resources with other people whom they accept as part of their tribe.

The line in the TED Talk that provoked me is, “…what the globalists, I think, don’t see, what they don’t want to see, is that ethnic diversity cuts social capital and trust.”

What exactly does that mean? He goes on to explain.

“And basically, the more people feel that they are the same, the more they trust each other, the more they can have a redistributionist welfare state.”

How exactly do people allow themselves to see others as like themselves? Is it race, class, gender, religion? I would imagine it would be a combination of all four. This is a problem.

Mr. Haidt next helps us understand why Scandinavian countries are doing so well. (He doesn’t mention how he determines their wellness.) 

“Scandinavian countries are so wonderful because they have this legacy of being small, homogenous countries.”

So they have a world where everyone has the same culture, language, and religion. Once they start letting in people who don’t share these same features he states:

“That’s going to cut social capital, it makes it hard to have a welfare state and they might end up, as we have in America, with a racially divided, visibly racially divided, society.”

So what he is saying is that people get mad when others who don’t look and act like them come into their country so they stop wanting to share and work together. This is what humanity looks like. This interview was really starting to bug me.

The interview continues with Chris Anderson asking Jonathan Haidt to confirm,

“…that people of reason, people who would consider themselves not racists, but moral, upstanding people, have a rationale that says humans are just too different; that we’re in danger of overloading our sense of what humans are capable of, by mixing in people who are too different.”

People believe that humans are too different? We are having our senses overloaded because people who did not look and act like us were coming into the country? That is an incredulous statement to make right there. How is this possible in 2016? What are the major differences between people? At our core, we are all humans. Push culture, language, and religion on top of that and we appear different. We see culture, hear language, and fear religion. They are blinding our senses, blocking the fact that we are human beings. It is disheartening to believe that we are only willing to accept a set amount of difference. After that we “just can’t handle it”. 

The interview really started getting wild when Chris Anderson made it more “palatable for us (his words) by quoting a study showing that race isn’t the problem; its people’s culture that is the problem!  How can you separate race from culture so easily? Are you telling me that religion, food, and language were the cause of people’s hatred and not because of skin color? How is that justifiable even if it was true? If people only hated others due to their culture, the harshest word in the English language wouldn’t be about the color of their skin.

The next statement was more mind boggling than the previous one. He tells us that immigrants should assimilate. They have to adopt the same language and culture. It’s a simple idea to him.

“…an assimilationist approach to immigration removes a lot of these problems. And if you value having a generous welfare state, you’ve got to emphasize that we’re all the same.”

This makes perfect sense! If we all worship the same god, eat the same food, and speak the same language I will accept you. However, if you do not worship the same god, eat the same food, and speak the same language I will reject you. Assimilation is not the problem. The problem is people who won’t accept others that are different from them. The goal is not for everyone to be the same. It’s to accept and take the best of everything that everyone brings to the table. 

This interview doesn’t bode well for people who aren’t the dominant culture. This is a theory that bothers my PLN. The great news is that these are only theories being brought to us. We do not have to make this theory a permanent law. I am part of the human race. My actions affect others. I will use my actions to make sure that this country continues to believe in the idea that you can succeed in this country regardless of their cultural identity. Malcolm Gladwell speaks about human capitalization rate. That is, “…the rate at which a given community capitalizes on the human potential… what percentage of those who are capable of achieving something actually achieve it.” This doesn’t mean giving people everything without requiring them to earn it. It means that if someone wants to work hard and succeed, and possesses some sort of skill they can succeed. That is the ideal that this country has set for itself. We are not even close to there yet.

My class will be a place where I allow students to succeed. This means understanding their cultures which make them who they are. My class will be a place where students feel comfortable to learn. This will happen regardless of their culture or the dominant culture surrounding it. 




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