Homo Globalis

The search for meaning in an infotainment culture.

From Tribalism to World-Citizenship

Educating for world-citizenship is psychology's next great challenge

Between the rockets from the Gaza strip and the endless debate about Iran, last week I participated at an event that showed where Israel could be heading—the first Israel Singularity Convention held at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. The inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil and the space entrepreneur Peter Diamandis founded the Singularity University five years ago at the NASA Base in the Silicon Valley. Its mission is "to assemble, educate and inspire a new generation of leaders who strive to understand and utilize exponentially advancing technologies to address humanity's grand challenges."

Research and Development are speeding up at an exponential pace; yesteryear's science fiction becomes tomorrow's reality. As entrepreneur Yanki Margalit, who initiated the convention, said, the cost of mapping the genome was phenomenal in the 1990s—and now you can get your genome mapped for a few hundred dollars.

While the convention's specific contents were fascinating, I would like to focus on its moral and political aspect—even though the event was completely apolitical. The speakers, whether from abroad or from Israel, share a common set of values. The problems we addressed are not limited to any particular nation, ethnicity or religion. They are truly global issues— developing sustainable forms of energy for earth's population in the hope that ever more of them will rise into the middle class; increasing life-expectancy and quality. The convention's guiding assumption is that technology can lead humanity from an age of scarcity to an age of abundance.

Abundance would lead to ever more individuals, cities, nations and continents to interact in win-win situations. This means that all sides involved understand that they stand to gain from cooperation rather than from conflict.

The convention's optimistic outlook, its spirit of a global community that tries to solve humanity's problem, of course stands in stark contrast to the context within which it took place—rockets from the Gaza strip into Southern Israel, and the mutual threats between Israel and Iran that have overshadowed our lives for such a long time. It seems that the spirit of global cooperation does not penetrate the Middle East, deeply steeped in tribal religious conceptions.

A large majority of its population does not yet understand humanity's global interdependence. The Iranian regime continues to think in terms of tribal religious terms; so do Hezbollah and Hamas—and quite unfortunately a number of the parties in Israel's ruling coalition.

The Middle East represents one of humanity's greatest challenges—as 9/11 and the ensuing wars have shown, in an age of global interdependence, tribal religious conceptions have catastrophic implications; in an age of proliferating weapons of mass destruction, apocalyptic ideologies that want to bring about the messianic age (whether the Christian Apocalypse, the return of the 12th Mahdi or the Jewish Messiah) represent a global danger of growing proportions.

There is only one way to lower the danger of nuclear terrorism and conflicts like that between Iran and Israel—the next generation needs to be educated within an ethics of global cooperation from earliest childhood onward. Psychological research shows that beliefs inculcated in early childhood are almost impossible to change. Children raised to believe that the religion of their parents is the only way to salvation, and that unbelievers are the enemy, are most likely to become bigoted, sectarian and intolerant adults.

Today's communication technologies would allow exposing every child on earth to the variety of cultures, religions and ways of life on our planet. These children would grow up to see this variety not as a threat, but as a source of joy and fascinating interest. They would understand that in addition to being citizens of their country and members of a particular religion, they are also citizens of the world.

This may sound like a utopia, but it isn't. I keep participating in events like the Singularity Convention. There is, today, a global network of people for whom world-citizenship is a lived reality put into daily practice, whether through research on humanity's global concerns, the defense of human rights, or creating art that increases empathy between different groups.

The problem is that fundamentalists of most religions try everything to shield their children from global perspectives, fearing that it will undermine their separatist agenda. It is one of our most daunting tasks to convince them that humanity can no longer afford hatred of the other, bigotry and limited horizons; and that their children will be happier, more successful and productive, if they are allowed to leave archaic tribalism and join the quest for a safer, more fulfilling future for humanity as a whole.

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Carlo Strenger is a philosopher and psychoanalyst. He is Chair of the Clinical Graduate Program at the Department of Psychology of Tel Aviv University.

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