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TEDxTallinn-Mart Raukas-11/20/09

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Honorable listeners, as the first speaker at the very first TEDxTallinn I feel the need to express briefly what I think is fantastic about TED. It’s not just about sharing our thoughts or sharing the same emotions. For me what’s fantastic about TED is the fact that we get to share our DREAMS. And what is a dream? A dream is a way of sharing ideas in the broadest sense. I mean – not only the ideas that we have now. All previous generations are here with us when we are dreaming. Not only with their thoughts and deeds but also with their dreams. Dreaming is like reaching out. You can’t do it in a narrow space and I feel that there are no narrow minds in this room today. One also needs a solid ground to stand on, because if the ground is soft and doesn’t carry you then you sink lower instead of reaching out. The speech that I want to make has quite an ambitious title: ‘What makes us better?’ In order to dream ambitiously we must be able to distinguish between a dream and a confused fantasy. A great dream is based on something that’s real. To ask what makes us better presumes that we know who we really are. Only then can we answer the question: what is it that makes us better? Let me tell you a story. It’s short and sketchy, but it’s something that shocked me. The more I think about it the more illuminating it seems to me. I’ve told it in different auditoriums and on the radio and I’ll tell it to you now as an introduction, because to understand who we are enables us to see what we should be striving for and what is it that actually makes us better as social beings. 4-5 years ago I gave an introductory lecture to law students at a big university. There were about 60-70 nice young people in the auditorium and I asked them, ‘Do you consider the people in this room to be normal?’ They looked at each other, surprised, and started to laugh, ‘Of course we are all normal people! Why not?’ I continued. ‘How do you know that?’ ‘Do you have a criterion for normality?’ They said, ‘Yes, we have a criterion for that –‘ ‘a normal person is someone who wishes for things to go well, instead of them going badly.’ ‘That the roads would be less bumpy,’ ‘that people would be healthier,’ ‘that there would be more sunshine,’ ‘more wisdom, less evil …’ ‘Normal people wish good things,’ ‘whereas non-normal people wish for bad things to happen.’ ‘All right,’ I said, ‘let’s do an experiment.’ ‘Imagine that there is a big red button in front of each of you.’ ‘And as soon as you push that button,’ ‘a miraculous change will happen in the auditorium.’ ‘Everybody in this room will be’ ‘twice as smart, twice as good and twice as beautiful.’ ‘What does it mean to be twice as smart?’ ‘Well, a good memory is not the same thing as wisdom’ ‘but having a good memory is in a certain way connected to being smart.’ ‘So if normally you can memorize for example 10 words,’ ‘when your memory is twice as good,’ ‘you can effortlessly memorize 20 words.’ ‘Your bodyweight will be exactly what suits you best.’ ‘You’ll become more beautiful.’ ‘Whatever amount you have on your bank account – it will be doubled.’ ‘If you have a loan – a half of it will be erased.’ ‘And your whole appearance will resemble to what you see in the airport,’ ‘when a holiday charter flight from the Mediterranean arrives – I mean,’ ‘all these relaxed faces, with the wind and the sun still visible on their cheeks…’ ‘All you have to do is to push the button in front of each of you’ ‘and this miraculous change will happen to everyone – except you.’ ‘Who would agree,’ I asked the students ‘to push the red button right here and now?’ Can you guess how many of them were ready to push the button? How many of these 70 people? What’s your guess? - 25? Guess again... - 15? 7? ZERO. Zero. I was deeply shocked. I asked them, ‘Why won’t you push the button?’ ‘You can do something very important to a part of the society,’ ‘you can do a favor to your class mates, why won’t you push the button?’ And they replied, ‘But what’ll happen to me?’ I said, ‘Nothing bad will happen to you –' you’ll be just as nice as you’ve always been.’ ‘But it’s not right, it’s not fair.’ I said, ‘It is right and fair – just think about it!’ ‘Your class mates will be able to memorize things twice as well,’ ‘so you won’t have to give them your new phone number repeatedly.’ ‘They’ll remember it right away, they’ll write it down.’ ‘Is it nicer to be surrounded by beautiful people’ ‘or not so beautiful people?’ ‘By beautiful people, of course.’ ‘And as for the fact that they’re well-rested –‘ ‘who wouldn’t prefer their colleagues and friends to be stress-free,’ ‘instead of them being depressed and stressed out?’ ‘Why won’t you push the button?’ When they thought about it a little, they realized – if I pushed the button, perhaps someone else in this room would push the button too. And then we would all become better, including me. That experiment – well, it can’t really be called an experiment because maybe I would have gotten a different response from a different auditorium… But it shows us something important about human nature. What it shows us is the fact that deep down a human being – a normal person – is quite a selfish creature, and not only is he unwilling to do something for the good of others if his own well-being is not involved in that very process, but he’s sometimes even more than willing to hinder the processes which might do good to others, provided that his own condition won’t be improved. Quite a pessimistic image of human nature, as you can see. But there is also good news. The positive message is that when they started to give it some thought, not only were many of them ready to push the button but they were ALL ready to push the button. I would now like to come back to my ambitious problem: ‘What makes us better?’ I mean – not only individually, but as a society and mankind? I’m convinced that RANDOM CHOICE as opposed to the compulsory character of party politics is the “red button” that people should push in their political lives much more than they’ve done so far. Let me illustrate. Random choice is something like this. Just imagine a big box filled with many little stones. If I take out some of the stones, then it’s more or less a random choice which ones I get. But if there are only five stones available in the box and I have to take out the five stones, then it’s an enforced choice and not a random choice. And even if there are many boxes, all of which contain only five stones, then the choices I make are still enforced choices, although seemingly I can choose between a huge number of stones. What happens to us individually or what happens to us in an auditorium is amplified even more on the level of society. A human being is a social creature. Among all the hardships that mankind has suffered during its historical journey – such as earthquakes, typhoons, diseases, wars… I’m convinced that the worst kind of troubles arise when power is in the hands of professional politicians. In comparison with all the other hardships that I mentioned the troubles created for humankind by professional politicians are of the worst kind. Well, how could we eliminate a professional politician? My formula is simple: through random choice. Is my idea about random choice just a dream? Is it something that a man might tell in the morning, trying to remember a crazy fantasy after waking up or do we have real grounds to believe that something like this might actually work? I’m saying YES. We have such an experience. We have an experience from a great era which could be defined as the most miraculous period in the history of humankind. That experience dates back to 5th century BC Athens. Just imagine the classical culture and classical Greek values. The classical Greek world is a world of dozens, hundreds, thousands of beautiful little things. It’s the systems of thought, it’s the works of art, it’s the Hellenic spirit with its diversity of colorful characters, with great heroes, it’s the architecture. And it’s the Athenian polis, the citizens of which could at least for a certain time practice their true civic virtues. In this picture you can see Apollon of Olympia calming a drunken centaur. It can be interpreted as ethos trying to calm pathos. When we look at the election systems of classical Athens, we see something similar, namely how the principle of random choice gave maximum opportunities to free citizens to do great things together and how the pathos of professional politicians was eliminated by the ethos of normal civic virtues. Because unlike any real expert who knows his field, a professional politician is an expert in one thing only. And what’s that? How to come to power again and again and again... And what’s the common value of such expertise? The political system of classical Athens used the ethos of random choice by assembling the Athenian Parliament of 500 annually, the members of which were elected – how? By drawing of lots. The lottery gives us the names of citizens who are just a random choice among normal people. That's the only condition - to be a doctor, a general, a musician… You have to be some sort of a real expert. But in order to be a member of the Parliament, you first and foremost have to be just a normal person who is guided by good will, not will to power. I believe that everyone in this room could be a mayor, a minister or the prime minister. I’m convinced of that, provided that we’re normal people guided by good will. Did I say that the Athenian Parliament of 500 was re-elected annually? What does that mean? It means that once you’ve been elected to be one of these 500, then you can’t be a member of that parliament again for the next ten years. You’ll give other people the chance to practice their civic virtues. Consequently the idea that comes with it is – rotation. And so we’ll find a society where entire families have experience of ruling the polis close up. I was a member of the parliament last year and now I’m not, but I can be an expert in some other field. My uncle and my father were there before me – it becomes our common experience. This is how we can involve a large part of the free and intelligent society. Well, it might be said that not too many people in 5th century ancient Greece could actually vote – women and slaves were excluded, so the electorate consisted of about 30 to 50 thousand free citizens. But do you see, what is the essence of democracy? It is not about how many people get to choose, because you can go to a casino and choose to push no matter how many buttons, the result will always be the same – a huge disappointment. Likewise, with professional politicians – as soon as we wish to elect a better politician, we usually always get someone even worse. What’s so wonderful about the classical Athenian polis is that the citizens are involved to the utmost. And the basic idea of democracy is not how many people get to choose, but how many people can potentially and actually be chosen. This is the authentic meaning of democracy. In using the fair lottery method any of us could be the next mayor, minister or prime minister. But not a pilot, not a musician, not a doctor, not a teacher. So, to summarize my vision – I’ve expressed a dream which may sound unreal. But even so, I believe in clear ideas. Some dreams that might seem unattainable in our modern society acquire a strength when they are presented to us in a clear manner. Therefore – wherever we see political ambition and not expertise, we should implement as much random choice as possible. To involve people who are just normal and who are guided by good will, not by ambition of political power. Thank you. (Translated by Triin Sinissaar)

Video Details

Duration: 17 minutes and 20 seconds
Country: Estonia
Language: Estonian
Genre: None
Views: 94
Posted by: tedxvideo on Dec 19, 2009

TEDxTallinn, Mart Raukas

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