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Eugene Lang College, School for Liberal Arts ​Translator: Sue Kronenfeld Reviewer: Denise RQ Since I was very little, I have looked with a mix of fascination and horror on the ever-hastening, more and more frenzied rhythm of the technical progress of phones, which are obsolete in a year, because new features are available; the fight against cancer, which makes spectacular progress against certain types of cancer, with different procedures. If I have this mixed feeling of horror and fascination, It is because I notice that in terms of social violence, almost no progress is noticeable. This is the idea: could we not place our genius for technology and science at the service of the struggle against violence? Could we not effectively, intelligently, with our genius, mobilize all possible resources, to get this violence in hand, just as we take in hand the improvement of things as trivial as cameras, telephones, and paper cups? Everything progresses, except controlling violence. Therefore, it is this idea that I have really taken seriously, and I've taken an interest in the start-up conditions of institutions of scientific and technical innovation. Why, at a given moment, does medicine become part of the modern world? Why do new methods and new procedures come to light in one field or another? So I have become interested in the struggle against cancer. I've become interested in chemistry. I've gotten interested in the fascinating story of microprocessors, which have progressed, which for thirty years have doubled their power every 18 months. And I thought I'd find inspiration there, so that the same things that had produced these hotbeds of innovation could be applied in the field of the struggle against violence. And to my great surprise, I have found that only four conditions need be present to make these hotbeds of innovation come alive. I'm going to present to you tonight these four factors that, together, set off, in a mechanical manner, a kind of chain reaction that will allow the progress of weapons, of telephones, of chemistry, etc. Here, of course, it is about the struggle against violence in all its forms. The first condition is faith. Don't worry: it's not faith in God. It is faith in the ability of people to bring advancement to a good end. The ability to mobilize a sufficiently meaningful number of people around that faith in progress, so that something happens. Without faith, nothing happens. Where are we today, in terms of violence? Fundamentally, we don't believe that we can change anything about this state of affairs, about this violence we're drowning in. The second hindrance that we find when we want to promote that idea that progress is possible in the struggle against violence is the perception that every violence is unique, that every violence calls for a specific response and that we cannot envision this fight in a generic manner. We encounter a third resistance; we say, "Violence is unavoidable, and maybe even necessary in many cases." How can we not be violent in the face of violence? These reasons disarm us, they paralyze us, and make us say, "Yes, there will be more wars, rapes, very dramatic divorces, there will be suicides; we can't do much about it." And so we look upon the status quo, fatalistic and powerless. So what can we do to develop this faith in progress? Actually, it's rather simple: it's enough to show that this works, that we can do without this violence, and to develop a sensitivity to violence. I'm going to speak to you of a little experiment that I conducted for an administration. There's nothing dramatic about it. Maybe you'll find that trivial, but administrative violence is a type to which I'm extremely sensitive. (Laughter) Therefore, I'll be able to document this experiment in a few words. An administration called me to improve the ergonomics of a website which was a set of forms. There were 13 of them. Each form had about 20 fields. It was extremely difficult for the user who wanted to fill out the form because he had to choose between 13. Because he had the choice: 13 scenarios, 13 forms. When two situations applied to the user, he had to fill out completely all twenty fields of two forms. I identified a number of criteria, and after a fair bit of work, I handed in one new form. So there was only one now. We had gone from thirteen forms to one, from twenty fields to eight fields. All the fields were useful... (Applause) ... but the most interesting thing is still to come. The most interesting thing was the field describing the problem, which I replaced with a new caption, namely: "A note for the person who will handle your request." (Applause) On the basis of this new caption, the agents began to receive letters: "Dear Sir or Madam, Excuse me, but this is the third time I've lost my number. Happy New Year! Are you going away on vacation? Maybe not. Anyway, I have a small concern. Can you help me fix it?" People began to write notes that the agents really enjoyed, and they began to give priority to answering this mail which was addressed to them. There were no longer agents and clients, just people corresponding with one another in a very simple pattern: "I have a problem. Can you help me?" The familiarity with which these little notes were added to these forms gave remarkable pleasure to these agents. I'll move on to the second condition. Four conditions must come together so that this chain reaction may start. The second condition is a taste for observation. Without a taste for observation, without a passion for observation, without a passion for measurement, for discovery,

for interest in reality, we also cannot observe any progress, whether scientific or technical. Where are we now in terms of the struggle against violence? Do we see things as they really are? Really, we don't. We really don't want to know anything. And that's understandable. We feel so powerless, so doomed, that it's preferable and beneficial not to know. Solid facts, like wars taking place right this moment in Africa, and which cause millions of deaths, are facts which seem to us very abstract, very distant, and they are much too unbearable for us to fully understand them. So we're in denial of reality, of violence, and we're only interested in acts of violence that are small, very spectacular, and that fascinate us in the end by their strange and unique character. And we set aside the great amount of suffering, like a kind of dark continent that we don't want to see. So we don't want to know anything. So obviously we're not at all in that mindset of being curious about reality, in our observation. The second hindrance that we have in trying to understand this violence is that we hide behind the idea that suffering is subjective in nature, that we can't generalize, can't make large observations. All that is subjective and unobservable. We know very well, since we've improved pain management, that that is completely false and that, however unique it is, pain, violence, is always comprehensible. So then, what can we do to change this state of affairs and develop in the field of the struggle against violence a taste for observation, a taste for reality? Well, what we'll be able to do is to observe, keeping in mind that we have something to look for. The reality - if we understand it well enough -will suggest solutions to us. So we don't observe just to cause ourselves pain, to think how really unbearable and indefensible it is. We observe to seek the germs of the beginning of a solution. And again, I'm going to describe a little experiment I conducted. A transportation firm asked me to improve the social atmosphere of a bus shelter. So I planted myself near this bus shelter, and I began to make observations, without much idea of what I was going to find. I saw that the people, like ideal gases, spread out in the bus shelter, as far as possible from one another. I saw that they avoided eye contact, that there were no interactions. So I pasted up a collage that I made myself with scissors and colored paper. I fastened it to the bus shelter. That created a bit of a festive feeling. I tested other techniques. I tried quite a few things, and there was another that worked very well. It was as easy as taking a local news page from that day's local daily paper, and pasting it to the floor of the bus shelter. As the people were idle, and didn't know how to hide their embarrassment, they spontaneously came and clustered around the paper, which spoke to them of their life, and of what was happening that day. Little by little, a common space formed. The people began to laugh over the stories described in the paper. They began to exchange glances, to come close to one another. Obviously, when the bus arrived, the same behavior was no longer observed. It was a very little experiment, which seemed inspiring to me because, on a shoestring, in the literal sense, I was able to bring out latent behaviors. No one wants to act grumpy. No one wants to feel inferior. Everyone wants to be better understood, in all their richness. (Applause) The third criterion, factor that we need to produce this chain reaction, is the dimension of experimentation. We mustn't be afraid to test, to try. It would never occur to anyone making a chair not to ask people to sit in it. In the field of violence, it doesn't work at all like that. We don't want to try anything. We put our backs up almost systematically when it comes to limiting violence, to fighting against violence, we rest on our principles, often moral or ideological ones. I want to linger a moment over a principle which appears to be the immovable bedrock of all morals: "Do not unto others what you wouldn't want them to do to you." If we look more closely at this sentence, it completely ignores the possibility that the person affected by my behavior is capable of telling me whether or not he consents. Why not ask him if he's willing to have done to him what we want to do to him? (Laughter) (Applause) Why is the formula not, "Do not unto others what they don't want you to do to them?" If someone asks you to leave him alone, leave him alone. Listen to him! That is not at all the moral principle. The moral principle is auto-centered. So this little phrase, which seems so lovely, so obvious, is in fact exceptionally perverse. It legitimizes behavior that will affect others, without consulting those others. I'll tell you another little anecdote that comes from my professional experience. For a large charitable organization, I created a social network for resocializing isolated elderly people. So I began to define the ground rules. I found myself thinking that it would be good for people to be able to choose the elderly people whom they wanted to spend time with, and vice-versa, of course. When I defended this idea, I was told: "No! Old people aren't like chocolates! And even with chocolates, we don't pick them out, if we're being... polite." (Laughter) Then I begged them to let me try it out. So we conducted the experiment. And what did we learn? We learned that elderly people were very happy to be chosen. And they were very happy to be able to choose. They did not hesitate to say, "I don't like that one; change him for me!" (Laughter) We learned that, among these volunteers, there were many people, neighbors of these elderly people, who were especially interested in spending time with elderly people who were difficult and ungrateful. We asked these people about their motivations in putting up with this woman who threatened suicide every other day, who said things to them that were very perverse and induced guilt. They spoke to us of their childhood, and of their moms, saying, "I am healing myself. I can respond. I am 40 years old now; I'm not eight. I can face it; I am interested." So far from

being abandoned, the difficult cases, the bitter, ungrateful little old people were completely indulged. At the end of this little experiment, there was no more debate. We knew that it worked. It was a good solution. People had to be allowed to choose the bonds that they wanted to forge. I come to the fourth and last factor, the final condition: and that is money. If there's no money, there's not much. If the activity of research, of innovation is not integrated into economic life, really, not much happens. Imagine for a moment what would happen to the world of medicine, of health, if we claimed that it is not normal for a doctor to want to be paid. That if he really has a passion for his calling, he must be a volunteer. Obviously, the same would apply to nurses, and the hospitals and laboratories would also have to work for free. In fact, there would be nothing. We would probably not even know how to reduce a fever. But when we take on violence, when we're in the social, humanitarian sphere, we have to be volunteers, living on donations. Lack of profitability and social value are terribly confused. As a result, we find ourselves in a logical sequence promoting heroism. One must be a hero, one must be cool. We can have a lot of admiration for a very small number of people who commit themselves in a significant and really important manner. Everyone else will witness these heroes, and in the end, not do much. Meanwhile, people in need are abandoned, because we've given priority to a somewhat narcissistic culture of sacrifice, which isn't at all rewarding in terms of its effectiveness. But we're also all aware that we hate the economic world of today, and that we all dream of a world that promotes soda and weapons a little less and the public good a little more. I could end here, but before concluding, I'd like to tell you that we're very lucky to be in a very favorable era for producing this phenomenon of inflammation, this chain reaction, of which I've spoken to you, in the struggle against violence. We have three small, short-term factors, which really help us out. First, an enormous development of empathy. More and more, we realize that our old moral, ideological and political barometers are a little bit worn out, and that they are powerless to help us live together and to prevent violence. So we rely on something else: empathy, direct connection, mutual dependence, the ability to place ourselves in someone else's shoes. The second helpful thing is humanity is connected like never before. One-third of humanity is on the Internet. We can converse with 12% of all humans tomorrow. They are signed up with Facebook. The fact that humanity is connected allows an extremely fast propagation of ideas. That allows cooperation. It allows us to decompartmentalize and open up the world, and to make good use of each other's experiences, so that each person, locally, can benefit from all. The last factor is that, as you will have noticed, we don't need a huge paradigm change. There is no need, for the elaboration of these four conditions that I've made, for an advancement of human consciousness or anything so inaccessible as that. We don't need to change our economic regime, either. No need to abolish capitalism. We only need to spread certain ideas. And by means of their own propagation, these ideas about: interest in experimentation, interest in observation, interest in not criminalizing engagement for profit. If we spread these ideas, we will potentially be able to bring about this change. That's all; thank you. (Applause) SUNY Farmingdale.