The Missing Middle
The notion that entrepreneurs will somehow salvage the economies of crumbling countries has gained a lot of intellectual currency in recent years, not least because governments have failed so miserably. (Hey, somebody’s got to make things work.) But moving from buzzwords to business in the real world demands critical judgments by local authorities and international aid donors, and they’ve never had a great feel for the marketplace. A report last year from the Council on Foreign Relations, Entrepreneurship in Postconflict Zones, noted the tendency of Western benefactors to focus on microenterprises. Big corporations, meanwhile, presumably take care of themselves, one way or another. The problem is precisely in the middle. Medium-sized enterprises could—and should—be turbochargers for weak economic engines. But most face massive problems with access to markets, finance, networks, and skills. Now some successful businessmen and women from troubled regions are coming together in organizations like Wamda, in the Arab world, to develop what Wamda chairman Fadi Ghandour calls “corporate entrepreneurship responsibility.” The goal is to create exactly the kind of entrepreneurial ecosystem the council’s report calls for, where that missing middle can get the nurturing, guidance, mentoring, and financing needed to succeed.
Hunting the Hunters
Most African nations have strict anti-poaching laws to protect their wildlife. And most of them prosecute ... (wait for it) ... nobody at all. But in 2002 Ofir Drori, an Israeli freelance writer who was outraged by the slaughter of gorillas in Cameroon, founded a nongovernmental organization, the Last Great Ape organization (LAGA), to help officials there enforce their own laws. It’s been an uphill battle. The booming Asian economy has driven up prices for contraband ivory, rhino tusks, baby gorillas, and chimps. But LAGA conducts sting operations, follows up on arrests to stop bribery (attempted in at least 85 percent of the cases), and then follows up again in prisons to make sure criminals don’t buy their way out. Big-time crime and terrorist organizations are increasingly prevalent: jihadists recently kidnapped a French family of seven in a Cameroon game preserve; the infamous Janjaweed militias from Sudan are involved in many cases. And one new trend in the underground trade is especially sinister: traffickers selling the meat of apes have been caught with caches of human body parts for use in occult rituals. On the upside? Cameroon now prosecutes on average one case a week.
Maybe because political correctness is so last century, there’s increasing recognition among young people that they really possess a lot of hard-wired prejudices. Twenty years ago when Harvard social psychologist Mahzarin Banaji asked her intro-psych students whether they held any biases, 95 percent would say no. Now, 80 percent admit yes. This recognition of unconscious attitudes is largely the result of work that Banaji and her colleagues have done with the Implicit Association Test, which measures the way we relate symbols and faces to other information. The test has been taken by millions of people, many of them online at implicit.harvard.edu. Unrecognized biases can affect, among other things, the bottom line of corporations where prejudice prevents the best personnel from advancing. So what to do? That’s the subject of Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, which Banaji co-authored with Anthony G. Greenwald. Some methods are simple: when musicians started auditioning behind a curtain that made it impossible to see their gender, the number of women hired by major symphony orchestras doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent. But other “mindbugs,” as the authors call these unconscious biases, require more complicated solutions. In every case, the first requirement is to know they’re there.
Adults have lots of ideas about what children should and shouldn’t see on the Web. But what do kids have to say about things that pop up on their screens? For the survey “In Their Own Words: What Bothers Children Online?” almost 10,000 kids between 9 and 16 in 25 European countries were asked what they found upsetting on the Internet. First on the list: video-sharing sites that show violence and pornography they weren’t looking to see—or that turned out to be much more shocking than they expected. The study specifically mentions YouTube and RedTube (which is X-rated), because those are the ones the kids talked about. A 9-year-old Danish boy complained about “pictures of intestines in the body.” A 15-year-old girl was shocked by video of a boy falling from a Ferris wheel while someone filmed—but nobody helped—and of animals being skinned alive. Bullying is another big concern. But some of the issues that make headlines among grown-ups barely registered on this survey. Less than 1 percent of kids mentioned self-harm or the danger of sharing personal information. And “stranger danger” is only a vague concern, it seems—which is probably worrying in itself.
The shocking result of the recent Italian elections, which turned blogger Beppe Grillo from an irascible comedian into the country’s most important kingmaker, has led to lots of commentary about Italian craziness. But Douglas Carswell, whose book The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy came out in October, was hardly surprised. Politics in the West, he wrote, is going to be “shaped by groups of like-minded people, mobilizing on line.” He argued that the Internet would allow new contenders to emerge very quickly and take over a large share of “the political market.” As Carswell pointed out in a post-election column written for the British weekly The Spectator, “Before we had blogs and Twitter, it was the job of established political parties to aggregate opinion and votes.” Now that can be done online, and political parties that fail to master the Web, or respond to the sentiments expressed there, are going to suffer. Of course, some politicians know this perfectly well. One in the United States is named Barack Obama. But in European countries where proportional representation rules and fractions of the vote can give small groups enormous power, this is a revolution that’s just beginning.
Zombies: A Cold War Hangover?
Why are relentless, angry zombies all the rage, as it were, in pop culture? Angela Becerra Vidergar, a scholar at Stanford, argues that they’re largely a holdover from the Cold War, when the very real threat of nuclear Armageddon changed society’s previously hopeful views of the future. Of course, H.G. Wells was writing about The War of the Worlds and the cannibalistic Morlocks of the future more than a century ago. But Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Holocaust, and then the standoff with the Soviet Union have had a more pervasive impact, leaving people with “this cultural fixation on fictionalizing our own death, very specifically mass-scale destruction,” Becerra Vidergar told The Stanford Report. As a character in the hugely popular cable series The Walking Dead proclaims at a pivotal moment, “We are the walking dead!” OK. But there’s a twist. Stories about the end of the world also suggest the possibility for fresh starts. “There is a kind of freedom in thinking about starting anew,” said Becerra Vidergar. “We still want to think that we would be a phoenix rising from the ashes, that we would do things differently—that we would rebuild and make the world a better place.”