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Towards A Broader Conception Of Self-Interest

[The website openDemocracy recently asked a group of writers and thinkers to answer the following question: What are the sources of inspiration that can improve global and national prospects in 2011? What follows is Michele Wucker's response.]

by Michele Wucker

Citizens of every country need to see their self-interest more broadly instead of pitting themselves against other groups, nationalities, religions, and classes. If people were to embrace this one idea in 2011, we’d see a world of greater cooperation and prosperity instead of the polarisation and malaise that affects so much of the world today. When your neighbour is better off, it’s more likely that you will be too.

We do not live in a zero-sum world. Yet if the xenophobes and hate-mongers have their way, we’ll be in a less than zero-sum world: everyone will be worse off, not only the purported targets. Concentrating wealth in the hands of the mega-rich while leaving less than crumbs for the working class destabilises society and shrinks purchasing power that could create more wealth for everyone. A country or community that cracks down unfairly on immigrants and minorities is biting off its nose to spite its face; it pulls the rug out from under families, economies, and communities instead of supporting new communities and economies. Demonising another religion instead of seeking dialogue puts precious energy into destruction instead of building. An extremist political party that puts up roadblocks, no matter what the issue, ends up destroying people’s trust in the political process instead of creating positive change.

The unintended consequences of division undermine the very goals that politicians and leaders invoke to justify actions intended to punish the few instead of to reward the whole. It’s time to change that dynamic.

Michele Wucker is president of the World Policy Institute. She is the author of Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola (Hill & Wang, 2000) and Lockout: Why America Keeps Getting Immigration Wrong When Our Prosperity Depends on Getting It Right (Public Affairs, 2006). 

 

Image courtesy of Flickr user Vetustense Photorouge.

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