Creating the common good by habit: Nate Garvis at TEDxTC


Translator: Leonardo Silva
Reviewer: Elisabeth Buffard Let’s talk about this fabulous world
that we live in, and let’s talk about
how can make it a little bit better, because it seems like we’re having
a little bit of trouble making it a little bit
better these days. You know, from the dawn of time, we’ve looked at the stars
and we’ve said, “Where am I?”
and “What does that mean?” We’ve asked other really important
questions of ourselves, questions like, I don’t know, “Why are my crops failing?” “Why are rivers rising?” “Why did a puma
eat my kid this morning?” “Why are armies marching?” And, “Why are very bad things happening to very good people?” It is a fabulous world, but we have always had
very big challenges. There’s a lot of nature and a lot of human nature
to overcome, but throughout our history, we’ve always reverted to one thing. And we do it quite well. We like to make tools. We’re very good at making tools. You know, maybe, I don’t know, maybe I want to track the sun, I want to grow some crops, maybe I would like to, you know, turn it into something tasty, right it down into a recipe. It’s such a good recipe, I want to sell it
and buy myself a big house, and make sure it’s heated as well. Or maybe, I want to just have
an aspirin and a cocktail and fly away from it all, right? These are all tools.
This is our technology. And, friends, you heard it here first: whiskey is a tool. (Laughter) But there is a different
side of the toolbox. We don’t usually think of these things as invented and as tools,
but they are. These are the institutions
that populate our lives. All of the civic organizations, all of our governments, all of our religious traditions, all of the businesses that make
the technology that we love and drives us nuts, they were all invented as well. They’re all designed. And our tools have a ton of power. Not good, not bad, but both. You know, we can look here
in the United States and we can think of that
as a designed tool as well, and the designed documents
are things that we know as the Bill of Rights
and the Constitution. And this intention goes into our larger conversation of our tools and making sure that they do
good things for us and aid to the common good, because they have this power. You can capture fire and invite the neighbors over
for a bowl of chilli. Or you might want to lob
some flaming arrows at them. Capture an atom. You could,
you know, power a city, or if you choose to,
you could wipe it off the map. You can understand the human genome and start solving some problems
around disease, or you can pervert that
and create mechanized death. All versions of our tools. Because they’re powerful, we need to purpose them
for the common good. We need to make them regulated. Put this regulation more than,
we’re at large, something accountable, something accountable
to the common good. But we’ve been having some problems about this accountable conversation, because we’ve been thinking
in a very narrow way. We usually think of regulation as something like this: a law. But there’s a problem thinking
about regulation as only a law. First of all, it’s made in a place like this. This is a temple of conflict, populated by professionally
pissed-off people. (Laughter) Now, think about it.
No, seriously. It’s a great design, but it isn’t an adversarial design. You know, committee hearings, party identification, issue identification. It’s actually a great design when the issue at hand is a policy: “I’m black; you’re white. We’ll debate. We’ll get to gray.” But too infrequently,
that’s what it looks like. Too often, it’s about politics, and this is how that design
works in politics: “You’re black; I’m white. You have to be blacker;
I have to be whiter. And we get killed,
if we even look gray.” That’s a problem. We can’t produce
very good laws right now, but, guess what,
there’s a bigger issue at hand. You see, we live in a world that looks like
a whole world right now. We have globalized. And laws are products of physical,
political jurisdictions. Think of the financial crisis. Money, at the technology of money, flowed from New York, to London,
to Tokyo, and back, but the tool of law did not follow it. Our technology outstripped an institution. We don’t have a global regulatory
framework around finances. We have other kinds of regulation,
though, and we always have, quite frankly. In this case, we have global cooperation
with central banks, but we have always populated ourselves with other kinds of regulation, whether it is things like table manners, or rules of the road, accords, religious tradition, contracts. There’s lots of ways
that we regulate our world. What if we looked at regulation as something of habit? What if it was just stuff that we did? I used to describe habit as something
that we’re not told to do. And habits live in “habitats”. What if we looked at regulation
as building habitats? Let me give you an example. I’m 46, but [in the] home I was raised in, tolerance was not an issue.
It was a value. Now, for my parents, it was an issue. It was a political issue. There were martyrs,
there were murderers. There was a lot of bad things, but for the world I was raised in,
in my home, it really wasn’t about laws of tolerance. I had something very powerful
in the house. I had The Jackson 5. (Laughter) I had the Jackson 5
and their very funky music, and their even funkier clothes. I also had these fury friends. I had Sesame Street, and Sesame Street told me
that people of color and women in my society
could be beautiful, and funny, and productive
and a great part of my world. And I’m not arguing that laws like the Voting Rights Act of 1964
are unimportant. Incredibly important. It’s just that the culture, the habits that we built along that law are the reason why, in my lifetime, we’ve gone from “I have a dream” to “I have this guy as my president.” We did something
that was a very big deal, because we raised an entire generation to think it wasn’t a big deal. And when I look at what’s
happening right now with environmental stewardship, I see the same thing. Again, it’s not that laws
are unimportant. It’s just that sexy
electric sports cars are as well. When green becomes luxury, we know we are acculturating things. When green becomes fashion, we know that we are changing
our culture as well. Even something as mundane
as laundry detergent gets pretty darn exciting, when you think about how
we are integrating green as a built-in designed value
into the world around us, to complement the laws
that we are discussing. So, that’s how we’ve done it. That’s how we’re doing it right now. Here’s how we could do it
in the future as well. Think of healthcare. You can’t pass a law
that will make you healthy. In fact, what happened
last year in Congress wasn’t so much healthcare reform as it was access to sick care reform. And why was that important? Because we have built a habitat. We have built a habitat
that seems to value two ideas. One is: get sick and we’ll fix you. And the other is, for some reason, we think that death is optional, but that’s where we’re
spender of money. But what if we treated you like you weren’t born broken. Let’s keep you that way. Wouldn’t that truly
be healthcare reform? Now, if we did that, we’d start building more of this
into our daily diets, we’d start thinking about this as more of a daily part
of our mobility. And look who’s even
giving up the cookies! The last part is pretty important, because if we are going
to create cultures, if we’re going to create habits
and habitats, we’d better start playing
with things like intrinsic motivation. We’d better get pretty serious
about having fun, because when I tell my girls
to run around the park, that’s different than run
“a round” the park. And if they’re in the playground, I can’t get them off. If I ask them to do a lap, I get one and many: one lap, many complaints. And yet, all I care about is the outcome of movement
in their lives. If we were more interested
in the public policy of outcomes, rather than output, then we would start thinking
about building cultures, and habits and habitats, and we could have some fun
making the world better. You know, no one does well
in a bad neighborhood. (Laughter) No business does well
in a bad neighborhood. No government does well
in a bad neighborhood. No church, no mosque, no synagogue, no non-profit does well
in a bad neighborhood. The problem is that we’ve been thinking about building this neighborhood
with one tool. And do we swing it hard, or do we swing it softly? Do we swing it from the left
or from the right? If you had a remodeling project, would you ever walk up to it and say, “OK. What needs hammering?” But that seems to be how we’re
looking at our world right now, when we could be looking at our world as a hammer in a sea of other tools. We have never had so many tools
at our disposal. We have never had so much technology and so many institutional forms to go at creating a better world. And we can do that by using
all those tools, integrating common good values into the products and services
that we use everyday, having fun doing it. And then, once again, we might look at those stars and we might say to ourselves, “Aren’t they beautiful? and aren’t we lucky
to be here tonight together?” Thank you. (Applause)

6 thoughts on “Creating the common good by habit: Nate Garvis at TEDxTC

  1. This is a truly thoughtful statement of values regarding our need (and our opportunity) to build better tools (rules and habits) for modern self-governance. I'm curious to see what kind of specifics he offers.

  2. Regulations suck and this guy did not make a very good case for it. One bad thing about regulations is that they are all assumed to be 100% good and necessary and that is rarely the case. Also regulations rarely go away.

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