#tomorrow13: Guessing at tomorrow – health, terrorism, climate, economy, politics, and of course, Yair Lapid

By far the most engaging panel of the day: Will Tomorrow Be Better? Some great sound bytes in here, and not just because the panel was moderated by Channel One’s Oren Nahari and joined by former newsman Yair Lapid.

Note: Some of these excerpts are transcription, some shortened for readability. 

Israel’s economy: Finance Minister Yair Lapid

When we ask ourselves what is the one thing that distinguish between successful human societies and non successful societies – the answer is – ability to change. Successful societies know how to adapt.

Israel has this ability – we have the ability to change in a non-violent way, the ability to reinvent ourselves.

We did it in 1948 – when a nation of holocaust survivors became a state. In the 1950s, when immigrants flooded and changed the demography. Changed from the nation of Talmud, to the nation of kibbutz, to the nation of education, to the start up nation.

There’s something in the Israeli DNA, the biography of the Jewish people – that is especially legible to the information era. Centuries of studying Talmud and Torah and now looking to the information highway. Intuitive uptake of the data. Ability to dig more and more in the same place and the ability to find within it new things.

In the next two years we’re going to be changed once again: the big move we’re doing now to enter the ultra orthodox into the labor market. It’s seen by many people as a solution to a problem or a financial move. But it’s a great social opportunity.

They know how to think, they know how to explore – if we want to create an economy based on innovation – this can only be compared to when in 1991 hardworking educated immigrants came from the USSR and lifted the Israeli economy to the sky.

Intelligence and flexibility of the young Charedi kids, combined with innovation and possibilities of the Israeli economy, will change again the Israeli society.

The US, our big sister, is emerging from the crisis. Growth is better, markets are recovering. the boom in the east is not going to stop. even Europe is going to recover. One of the first beneficiaries is going to be Israel. The fact that we kept an economy in high growth – innovation based  and one of the least unemployment rates in the western world – puts us in a position without competition now that the global tendency is changing.

I sat with India the other day, discussing R&D opportunities. I sat with the CEO of Cisco the other day – who wants to expand, recently bought an Israeli company (NDS) for 5 billion. I met with a business delegation of 30 from China; a delegation  looking for investment opportunities.

They all know the world is changing. Don’t miss this opportunity. Come and change with us.

Our health: Dr. David Agus, University of Southern California

This week the US Supreme Court decided you can no longer patent human genes. Our DNA is now democratized. This will herald a new form of health care and awareness of each of us, of ourselves. Each of us has the ability, for a small amount of money, to look into our own DNA.

You can control most of your risk with this info. You’re body is talking to you all the time – we just never listened. Health care in the future: we will be listening.

The microbiome is the next field of growth. We have more bacteria in our bodies than we do hormones! Since the global climate is changing, so global micro organisms are changing, which means we are changing.

Growing genetically modified food: we have to because of the climates changing. We already have the remarkable technology that Israel has been developing for years – now we have to scale it not just for amounts, but also health-wise.

The human brain is an art. and the role of our technology is to make it a science.

Terrorism vs Global climate change: Professor Dan Gilbert, psychology at Harvard

Will tomorrow be better? Very easy to answer yes and very easy to answer no. Tomorrow will be better or worse depending on how we respond to a variety of threats.

Global terrorism: we have made great progress in the war on terror. there’s no chance that terrorists will ever wipe out the human race.

Global warming: this is a problem on massive scale  – we have made no progress in the last ten years – only backwards.

Why do humans respond to some threats so well, and some so poorly? We’ve evolved to respond to threats that have four features – and terrorism has all four, whereas climate change has none.

  1. Intentional
    1. The brain devotes specific networks to understanding other human minds – what others think, want, plan hope.
    2. This makes us hyper-vigilant for signs of all things human – that’s why we see faces in the clouds, and not clouds in faces.
    3. It’s why we care about underwear bombers but not the flu (which kills 400,000 a year). Or our children being kidnapped but not about child obesity. Terrorists, child molesters – human agents. Viruses and french fries – objects.
    4. In the same week: Boston marathon bombing – 3 people died. 4 died in fishing accidents, 186 in a China earthquake, 1,000+ in the Bangladesh factory, 
    5. If the WTC had fallen from lightening hitting the towers, we wouldn’t remember the date it happened. 
  2. Immoral
    1. Humans feel disgust and anger as reactions to moral rules. Moral rules, as they’ve been known since the beginning, are generally about food and sex. Most societies have moral rules about food and sex, but not about air conditioning.
    2. Global warming makes us worry, but it doesn’t make us disgusted – the way gay marriage and flag burning do.
  3. Imminent
    1. The human brain is a ‘get out of the way’ machine. Good at getting out of the way of oncoming dangers.
    2. Then, 400,000 years ago, we got a new trick – thinking about getting out of the way soon – not in the moment now. Our ability to think about the future is a new skill, relatively.
    3. Terror is a threat today, and climate change is all of our tomorrows.
  4. Instant
    1. The human brain is very sensitive to changes,like weight, size, light. But it’s not sensitive to these changes if they happen very slowly. It can be massive but still go unnoticed…
    2. For example: baldness happens one hair at a time!
    3. When environmental disasters happen all at once, we get upset – like a massive oil spills.

We are all the progeny of people of humans whose fear was a man with a stick coming to take their food and women. When confronted with these threats, we respond quickly and strongly.

Will tomorrow be better? if we chose our battles like our ancestors, there is no doubt tomorrow will be bleak. But if we can use this new part of our brain to consider the danger coming, our tomorrow can be quite bright.

Israel’s international politics: Ayaan Hirsi-Ali, women’s rights activist

Today Israel is an oasis of peace and economic prosperity in a difficult region. Today Israel has made effort. Today Israel has no peace.

It has something else – quiet.

A better tomorrow would be for this to come to a peaceful end for the Palestinians and Israelis. This peace has become an elusive thing; very few people believe in it, with the exception of Secretary of State John Kerry.

Despite what it is up against, Israel is stronger than it was ten years ago. Sometimes I think that the more they wish for Israel’s destruction, the stronger it becomes.

But what worries me is that Arab and Muslim leaders say they will not rest until Israel is destroyed. In the Arab spring, young Arab and Muslims are trying to stand up to their leaders. But in their passion and hatred of Israel, nothing has changed.

In their tomorrow, Israel does not exist.

Today, the ordinary Israeli man and woman in the street knows this, and is willing to live with this reality.

if Israel’s tomorrow seems incredibly hard to contemplate, we must think about Israel’s yesterday.

People who know that – people as old as the president or older – will maintain faith in Israel today, for I’m sure, if you continue to be as resilient as you are, that tomorrow will be better.

More #tomorrow13:

#tomorrow12: Ayaan Hirsi-Ali speaks about the true Arab Muslim revolution.

Hello from the back of the plenary session on Day 2 of the Israel Presidents Conference, Tomorrow 2012, with our gracious and ever-activist host, Shimon Peres.

I’m huddled with (real) press members in the back after explaining sheepishly excitedly to a The Marker reporter that I’m a blogger (and, uh, former journalist).

The first perspective I’m thrilled to share is the talk by Ayaan Hirsi-Ali who I found wildly more fascinating than former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi AShkenazi (who by the way, made a great statement about the Tal Law and changing army model) or Ambassador Dennis Ross (loved your book, though).

Quick background on Hirsi-Ali:

  • Born in Somalia, Muslim, moved throughout Africa and Saudi Arabia.
  • In 1992 at around 20, came to Netherlands as a refugee.
  • Admired world figure after Islamist-related murder of her colleague.
  • Known for intellectual integrity and bravery.Critical view of Islam.
  • Lives in the United States.
Note: I attempted to transcribe her talk as best I could; it was worth getting every word I could. It’s not perfect, some of it shorthand, but it’s definitely most of what she said and certainly the spirit of her major points.

I have great admiration for what your nation, your country has achieved in a very short time.

It’s not only the only free country, but the only functioning country.

First two decades of my life versus the second half of my life since I came to the Netherlands – the first half of my life was categorized by three aspects.

First aspect is absolute authority. I grew up in a Muslim family, my father’s authority over our family was absolute. Couldn’t argue with him, didn’t discuss – we had to obey him. My relationship to my teachers was exactly the same. Students were expected to learn what they were taught. On a national level, authority was also absolute. If u disagreed with the policeman or the general or the president, then you ended up in jail. And you were lucky.

Second aspect that characterized first half of my life – I don’t know how to formulate it in English – but ‘to compromise is to suffer shame, lose face. If there was a conflict, you only had winners and losers. Makes settling a conflict, if you were clever, didn’t mean you compromised, but you bear a grudge and wait for the moment u can defeat your enemy.

In Koran school, when I got into fights, thats exactly how I behaved and how everyone else behaved.

The third aspect is that all problems from the micro problems of your life to the macro problems – national, international, global – you could find all the answers in the Koran or the Hadith example that Mohammad left.

This was all baked into me. When I left my country and came to Saudi Arabia, I recognized all these aspects. I didn’t feel they were that different.

When my family moved to Ethiopia and I associated for the first time with the non-Muslim community, I realized they were different. Kenya – I went to school in a multicultural society, I associated with children from Yemen, Pakistan, other Muslim countries. These were the three defining features we shared (the three aspects).

Fast forward: I came to the Netherlands and I find almost an exact opposite of that. I find that in the west, in fact, authority is not absolute. I know theres a long history before things came that way.

To compromise is one of the most honorable things you can do.,
and religion, the bible, whatever holy book – does not contain all the answers, there are other books, ways of teaching a solution.

If I extrapolate – and I know I’m being cheeky – from my early life to the issues facing your region, I see that in Israel, and indeed in America and other western countries, there is this disconnect, where you are dealing with a culture where you as a democracy have to negotiate with men who have absolute power and expect it. What I find optimistic about the events of last year and this year – Arab spring turning into Islamist winter – hopefully things will go in a different way – but what I find interesting, I find it thrilling, the first time Arab countries, Muslim countries, have questioned that absolute power. The masses have organized themselves and driven away the despot.

Can it translate into questioning, top down, the authority of the leader to the authority of the father, the teacher? That will be true revolution.

Principle of non-compromise: this region is a region governed by honor and shame. A true revolution will be once people move from this idea; to compromise is to suffer shame. If it can happen, it will impact the region and will have a fantastic impact on Islam and Arab world and indeed the Jewish people and Arab people.

Finally, religion – Islamists and Muslim brotherhood have won the hearts and minds of large Arab population because they offer religion Islam the Koran and the Hadith as the source that they will look into to resolve problems. Again, a true revolution is only likely if people put that aside.

Those three characteristics – absolute power, non compromise, fixation on religion – if all three change can we really speak of a revolution in the Arab world. And its impact on the whole world and the Jewish people, cannot be overstated.

Other Tomorrow 2012 coverage: