Saturday, April 14, 2018

366. How to extend the boundaries of trust

In item 205 of this blog I discussed the phenomenon of ‘parochial altruism’ and in 208 its implication for the integration of refugees. To recall: there is altruism within the group at the cost of suspicion and distrust regarding outsiders. That may explain the problems concerning refugees. For their integration, then, the boundaries of the group need to be extended to include them in trust.

What determines the boundaries? Here I adopt an idea from Carsten de Dreu that the boundaries of a group are determined by proximity, similarity (in appearance, conduct, habit, religion, political views. ideology, …), and a sense of a shared fate.

Immigration yields proximity in space. Similarity is slow to develop, in cultural assimilation. And then there is a vicious circle of immigrants being discriminated against, then sticking together and maintaining their dissimilarity. How, then, to speed up the growth of similarity, and to achieve a sense of a shared fate?

The practice of crowding immigrants together in large centres then is counterproductive, in settling a fate that is shared only between them, secluded from the host society.

It is better to get them into jobs or shared projects with indigenous people, where they become mutually dependent and need to share ideas, practices, goals, understanding.

Rather than waiting until they are sufficiently integrated and trained before entering jobs, it should be turned around: jobs provide the platform and the incentive to integrate.

In practical action, in  projects, ideologies fade, do not help, and people find out, often to their surprise, that they are much more similar, with similar needs and imperfections, than they were aware of.

The principle applies more widely, to overcome the segregation of a population into different, rival social, cultural groups, in what is sometimes called a new ‘tribalism’. That is enhanced by the ‘filter bubbles’ that emerge in the use of internet: people are fed and choose information congruent with views they already have, in social media and advertising tailored to their previous conduct and choices.

This tendency is especially pernicious with people seeing their identity in terms of the group they belong to and the stands that they take concerning current issues, such as climate, gender, economics, democracy, public debate, freedom, …. Then disagreement is not just a difference of view but is felt to constitute an attack on one’s identity, which enhances culture wars and separation of populists and elites.

Part of this correlates with differences in education levels, employment and prosperity. People of different social groups segregate in different neighbourhoods with different price levels of housing, amenities and the furnishings of public space with coffee shops, bistro’s, delicatessen, etc. Here the group determinants of proximity and similarity diverge further rather than converge.

To counter this, citizens should be involved more in joint work, recreational activities, and political involvement in local development and execution of public policies.

This connects with my earlier plea , in item 283, to move away from a politics of positioning, voting for a political party with a pre-arranged set of policy proposals, every four or five years, to a politics of process where people are involved in the making and execution of policy.

There is an additional argument for this, mentioned also in the foregoing item in this blog. Democracy is by its nature imperfect and messy in its process, never satisfying everybody. Being excluded from the process, citizens seem to increasingly see this at best as incompetence and at its worst as a conspiracy against the people by an elite. By involving citizens in the process they become complicit in the mess of democracy, more understanding of it, and learn to live with it, rather than seeking recourse in the illusory efficiency and coherence of a totalitarian regime.