How does your interest in politics, in general, and Norwegian politics, specifically, relate to the work of the Evolution Institute?
The EI is interested in theory and practice that deals with improving the human condition using an evolutionary perspective. As one moves more towards the application side, politics enters into the conversation because the United States is where we are headquartered, and this nation is very much headed in the direction of greater and greater inequality. A significant portion of the population rejects evolutionary theory and denies climate change is occurring. Absent science to demonstrate the hazards of climate change from a health – physical and mental – and ecological standpoint, the consequences can be quite dire. So politics is a means to influence policy, and policy needs to be well developed with good science, with evolution an integral part. Norway provides a good example of an advanced democracy where there still remains a great deal of trust in government and relatively less inequality than in most other economically and technologically developed nation. Politics, then, is my interest, and it serves a very important purpose in the application and policy development area.
In what ways did the March 2014 trip differ from the October 2013 Quality of Life workshop in Oslo?
The fundamental difference between the two is that the first one was academically oriented: carefully planned and structured, university-based, faculty engaged, and small in size. It examined the characteristics of Norway, why it had achieved the highest QoL ratings with the UNHDI, and some of the risks it faces in terms of globalization and in relationship to the European Union. The focus was on (a) what lessons can be learned through evolutionary science and an understanding of Norway’s culture, and (b) what recommendations might preserve this democracy, which has such a high QoL. It was not oriented toward public participation of non-academic organizations like labor unions, civic organizations, or people who are active in politics – whether they are leaders in political parties or individuals who help to shape policy.
Plans for the second trip began after Manifest Analyse asked David Sloan Wilson [see related video in TVOL’s Culture section] to present before representatives of unions, politicians, media, etc. throughout Norway – an anticipated very large public audience of individuals who could talk about some of the crises that are occurring in Norway and elsewhere as a result of globalization and how some governmental and non-governmental organizations are addressing these.
I worked with Ebba Boye, Manifest’s program manager for the conference, to set up meetings with people we did not have an opportunity to meet before: mostly non-academics who came from union leadership positions, members of parliament (Storing), and those administering and staffing think tanks in Norway. The March trip had a broader base of engagement, and it was designed to see what could be done to establish long-term relationships with people who would be interested in learning what EI has to offer, and what we could accomplish together.
What are the most significant results from the recent trip?
We can now say that EI has been invited to participate in a joint proposal with Manifest Analyse, the think tank that invited David to give a presentation before almost 1,000 labor representatives in Oslo, and submit this to a large confederation of labor unions. Additionally, we met with academics focused on the issues of migration, fossil fuels, and the environment. The purpose of this is planning a seminar/workshop to discuss how Norway can be a strong democracy and maintain its equality, philosophy of sharing, and ethos of believing “we are all in this together.”
We anticipate working with our new strategic partner, Manifest Analyse, to address (a) outside influences like the United States and the European Union, and (b) how change occurred in the United States and what lessons can be learned from that. So there’s a tremendous opportunity here for collaboration, as a real partnership is being formed between United States and Norway – with support coming from a Norwegian labor organizations for the purpose of helping better shape their own future.
Simultaneously, we have an opportunity to submit proposals with (and through) faculty from the University of Oslo to the Norway Research Council and to the European Union. Here, we are also looking at what the Nordic model is – as well as what is unique about Norway in comparison to the other Nordic countries. Essentially, “What does this all mean in terms of the European Union and other nations within it that are not as politically, socially, and economically fortunate as Norway? And what is it that the United States and other nations of the world can learn from this experience?”
Who are the most promising Norwegian partners?
Well, I’ve already indicated Manifest Analyse is a good partner. In addition to it, the Campaign for the Welfare State and De Facto think tanks hold promise. Further, we met with the newest think tank being formed in Norway, Agenda, and have had the kinds of discussions that indicate an interest on its part to develop a relationship with us, too, once they are sufficiently organized and staffed. And, I believe we will also see submission of a proposal to Horizon 2020 and an invitation to participate in the Nordic model study that the University of Oslo is applying for.
What do you perceive as EI’s role going forward (and why)?
I see EI as providing the scientific evidence for a cooperative society, such as Norway, to be perceived as part of the natural scheme of things and creating a greater support for the Nordic model as it is exemplified in Norway today: We can provide the theoretical as well as the empirical information to demonstrate this is not an aberration but something that has evolved as a result of cultural evolution and is very much consistent with what a healthy society looks like – based on a respect for the rights of others and the value of working and sharing within a group.
What this offers is our contribution as scientists to the labor unions and the general public to deepen and expand civic engagement on all levels, adding to their confidence and knowledge that they have the ability, as human beings, to sustain a healthy society. Additionally, they can also improve upon this society through a continuation of cultural evolution and an understanding of how the process relates to the impact they have on their environment: how they can affect the environment and improve their own community and – at the same time – find a way to be a benefactor for the entire world. The reason why is that the Evolution Institute is committed to improving the human condition, and this is not a parochial one limited to the United States or one nation state, but it’s an international, global goal.
What do you hope can be accomplished through a continued partnership with particulars in Norway?
I believe that we will establish an unprecedented level of trust between ourselves, as an American-based organization, and Norwegian organizations of diversely populated individuals from academia, politics, labor, etc. In sharing ideas and learning from each other, we can look at ways to think about the future with less reliance on fossil fuels and more sensitivity to nature and with a greater appreciation of what humans can do when they cooperate with one another.
How will Norwegians and the EI benefit as a result?
I think I’ve indicated this, but I’ll summarize. Norwegians can benefit from learning from us what happened in the United States, how it happened and what is it that could be done to make sure the same kind of thing doesn’t happen in Norway to avoid much greater inequality, privatization, and increased selfishness and materialism.
At the same time, they can work with us to think about resolving this perceived conflict between how can you create an economic system that is protective of the environment and life without injuring people whose livelihood is perceived as depending upon damaging or abusing the environment to support themselves and their families. So that building on the economic and political success already in place, but at the same time, envisioning what needs to be done in the future – in the next generation and multi-generationally – to recreate the meaning of work, to reduce stress, and to expand the global partnership so that more can be aware of what options they have between various ways they have for structuring their political and economic systems and considering which are more conducive to their well-being.
EI has already benefited because, as a small organization, we have already gone from an unknown entity in Norway to an organization that is viewed as a partner in not only analyzing the culture of Norway and its system but also in looking at it from the standpoint of supporting our work. And we are on the cusp of receiving resources from Norway – rather than just contributing to the work we’re doing in Norway beyond our ability to raise resources from within the United States. So we are moving towards not only greater recognition of our work from Norwegians, but we are developing our credibility as a think tank: as an organization that can be trusted and be a strategic partner, and as an organization that should be supported internationally, in this case by the Norwegians.
This is something that no other foreign think tank has ever accomplished in Norway. It is something that can launch the Evolution Institute internationally in terms of its ability to become engaged with a nation and gain recognition of its value and, at the same time, bring knowledge back to the homeland. The publicity that was generated is a reality, relationships that have been established are unprecedented, the bottom-up approach is likely to succeed, and it lends credence to the EI as not only a first-class, scientific, theoretical think tank – but one that can also get things accomplished.