Sunday, February 25, 2007

Diverging Diversity Data

Last night we attended a Harvey Robbins' soul music tribute to James Brown, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner and Marvin Gaye. Great fun and a wonderful celebration of one of Black America's contributions to our society. About 500 people turned up at the 90 year old Regent Theatre in Arlington MA. About 30 of them were Black American. Anyone watching the sold out Oldies shows on PBS will note the same sort of disparity: the music is black and the audience is white.

There are probably many explanations of this particular phenomenon, but, in general, we are Caucasians who usually find ourselves in situations where there are very few non-whites present. This has many negative consequences to our life experience, our mind sets, our mental models, and our learning. The experience many, if not most, both white and black, is to live in a social world without racial diversity. This creates a sort of sad symmetry of distance, misunderstanding and mutual alienation. Not all of us suffer from this absence of connection across the races, but a lot of do.

Of the many structural drivers standing behind this situation, none is more important than economics: it's easier for whites to get higher paying jobs. Their employment enables them to buy homes in neighborhoods where the population is mostly like them. This condition has many consequences, and a lot of the explanations about why this happens contradict each other. We're not exploring those arguments at this moment, however. We're just looking at the simple fact that one is more likely to be poor if one is non-white, and poverty limits one's life options.

A recent action by Wal-Mart may prove to be an important step in making better paying jobs available to non-whites. The world's largest retailer just announced that it will be establishing diversity targets for its 60,000 suppliers. The structural consequences of this move could be enormous. For better and for worse, Wal-Mart dominates the way work gets done in its supply chain. Thousands of vendors have revamped their processes as a result of their "success" in selling product to Wal-Mart, and many, like Vlasic Pickle, probably wish they hadn't. Be that as it may, what Wal-Mart wants, Wal-Mart usually gets. Overtime, Wal-Mart's initiative will contribute greatly to racial diversity in American, and we think that is a good thing.

Human system diversity needs to be considered within the context of the larger world system. Species diversity and biodiversity are features of that larger milieu. Unfortunately, the number of different types of life forms on our planet and the quality of their existence are on the decline in virtually every domain. Humans are destroying their habitat. It's irrational to the point of being insane and it's immoral, but there it is.

The alarming reality of the situation is brought home on an almost daily basis. This week included a vivid example with the story in the NYT of the mutilation of several giant and colossal squid, including the tragic death of one. The squid, whose ecosystem resides one mile below sea level, were repeated tempted by baited probes, to which they finally succumbed. Japanese scientists announced with glee the searing off 18 inches of a squid's tentacle, which they were amazed to find in possession of regenerative properties. They expressed disappointment that a 24 foot long young female giant squid died during her third attempt to escape their efforts to catch her so she could be scientifically dissected and researched. "She put up quite a fight. She got away twice, and something must have traumatized her the third time because she died." American newscasts trumpeted the death of another member of this rare species a few days later saying, "If you were to get a calamari from this half ton squid, it would be the size of a tractor tire. Wow, can you believe that?!"

There are many people who have no concern for the well-being of the planet. Some hold that these are the "end of days," and the fate of the planet is sealed. Other religious conservatives believe that all the fruits of the earth are made for the well-being of our species and we are, therefore, not obligated to concern ourselves with their protection. One might think that the advocates of a fetus' "right to life" would be in the forefront of advocating protection for the multitude of species that have no defense against humankind's technologies, but this is not the case. In fact, a 2004 study found that the 230 members of the US Congress that received an 80% or higher rating for making "pro-life" votes on abortion-related issues voted in favor of environmental protection less than 10% of the time. The procreative abilities of Mother Earth haven't been a concern of theirs (

So, the news is mixed.

Wal-Mart's insistence that its suppliers document their diversity policies and pursue diversity objectives strike us as a good thing. Ditto for the movement that they and other mega-corporations are making in the direction of sustainability in their business practices. GE's commitment to use "ecomagination" to reorient billions produced by various business lines is, ultimately, going to be very good for biodiversity, for example (

On the other hand, the world system continues to be clear cut by rapacious and desperate peoples in almost every community. What good will it do us if the market place will protect the planet's biodiversity twenty year from now when all of that diversity will have disappeared?! Wal-Mart's big move may end up being nothing more that a melodic digression in the much larger cacophony of the earth's decline.

This rumination is another demonstration of the urgent need for whole systems thinking. Humanity needs a mental reboot to comprehend and address the enormity of the challenges we're facing; we need an OS XI, and we need it now! When we get it--and we think we will--we'll be amazed at how quickly so many seemingly insurmountable problems yield to new ways of thinking. May tomorrow be the first day of the rest of our lives.

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