D&I could be a powerful alternative to Nationalism – if pitched effectively

It felt as if overnight many achievements of 20 years of D&I work were ruined when nationalistic and post-truth campaigns received support and were partially successful. A root cause analysis shows how badly managed globalisation and virtualisation led to fragile communities. D&I has the power to offer an alternative – but for that, it needs to be re-framed.

Who are We? Part 1: Societies and collective identities

Heated debates about National identities have been going on in an increasing number of mostly Western countries over the past five years. The controversies often focus on shared values, religion or ethnicity and link migration – in a manipulative way – with terrorist and economic threats. We sometimes wonder, why this is happening at all and why now, and what D&I has to do with or about it.

Aftereffects of two drivers of the third industrial revolution: Globalisation and Virtualisation

Two main factors seem to have driven the development, and both started to emerge 25 years ago: Globalisation and the Internet. They triggered what is known as the third Industrial revolution, which is described as a disruptive force in many areas. We have to realise that disruption is also happening in societies – and it appears to be more than just another side effect.

Nationalism and norms as a response to dissolved cultural coherence

The fall of the iron curtain kicked off globalisation as it allowed for a new level of mobility and migration. At the same time, European enlargement and integration accelerated. Both developments created fundamentally new emotional realities for the citizens of many countries, including those where we see nationalistic, protectionist and hostile tendencies today. Many people experienced an identity crises because the change toward internationalisation was not managed well and it was not explained well either. In this situation, nationalist ideologists had an opportunity to offer their solutions, which not only included mono-cultural norms around nationality and culture but also covered the areas of gender, religion and sexual orientation.

Desire for real experiences and belonging as a response to a virtualised life

Similarly, virtualisation – as a combined result of digital (micro) technology and the global network of the worldwide web – has created a new reality for people. Some have experienced the transition from offline to online while the younger generations only know the world with the Internet as a connective tool. While the life of people becomes increasingly virtual, they develop a desire for concrete, personal, live experiences, including outside in nature. We hence see a revival of trekking, snowboarding, mountaineering etc. At the same time, the infinite scope of the Internet creates a wish for people to be identified as an individual. Individualistic tendencies are notable in music, fashion and in the workplace. To balance these trends, people need the feeling of belonging (to a group or tribe).

Although the younger generations tend to hold open, global mind-sets, not all of them experience personal benefits from internationalisation. Looking at societies overall, strong National identities and simple gender roles offer a solution, a balance or an answer to the randomised virtual world for many people. And the simplified messages and ideas include, more or less subtly, various forms of racism, sexism, homophobia and others hatred.

We sometimes wonder: How can this be so successful (at the moment)?

Post-factual online campaigning has made the new nationalism much easier

It can be seen as a side effect of the Internet that Post-Factual campaigns are both possible and successful. For it has become common – and initially positive – that everyone can express their opinions (online). However, it also became more difficult to distinguish opinions from facts, especially when people started to create myths to set and promote their agenda. When myths include generalisations, it becomes easier for people to believe what they already suspect, and when that information is repeated, it is more likely to be perceived as a fact.

The inglorious role of Media and the filter bubble

Both the filter bubble and the media play an inglorious role in strengthening and multiplying the divisive effect of post-factual campaigns. The filter bubble selects information that confirms held opinions and the Media promote content that generate readers or users, and they unwillingly help marginal positions to be accepted as mainstream. This currently happens with normative ideas about societies and nations. And many people are attracted by these ideas despite the fact that historically, all mono-cultural systems failed. They were all overthrown by their people, went bankrupt or defeated from the outside.

D&I must help people to rediscover their identities

In the current situation, when many societies and their collective identities are confused, fragile and tempted by evil ideas, D&I has a new mission to accomplish. And even we know how to do it as it used to be a starting point of most Diversity journeys:

Helping people to reflect who they are, what is important to them and what makes them unique.

We have to make everyone understand that their individuality is part of the diversity we promote and that inclusion creates the belonging they want and need.

We have to encourage and support people and tell them: “Start with yourself, from yourself and by yourself

The ideas of the three parted analysis “Who are We?” were first presented to the public in a keynot address by Michael Stuber at the World D&I Congress, Mumbia, 17 Feb 2017.