Book discussion about Human Development Index (HDI) 2021-2022, #3

Discussion date: November 30, 2022

Chapter: Chapter 3 “Harnessing Human Development to Navigate Uncertain Times”

Pages: 99-115

Presenter: Meg Niki


Behavioral changes and institutional reforms are mutually interdependent and influential. Human development is not only an end but a necessary means to create a better society; enhancing human development creates new paths for necessary changes by making possible the productive embracement of diverse and plural views.

Assuming people are always “rational” is not a realistic or effective approach in research and in policymaking. People are influenced by emotions and beliefs as well as by cultural/social norms. Understanding people’s behavioral tendencies and the role of emotions in people’s actions can provide a better explanation for people’s actions and help develop better policies and meet people’s needs. By paying attention to and dissecting processes that create misconceptions, it becomes possible to intervene in those processes and potentially mitigate political polarization.

There is a mismatch between existing cultural configurations, such as people’s common behavioral patterns and institutional settings, and the uncertainties that the Anthropocene, transitions, and polarization can bring. The existing and prevailing institutions and systems, including social norms and behavioral patterns, have helped society make progress and achieve some level of certainty. Therefore, many people instinctively want to stick to those patterns and systems. However, we are at a point in history where we need to embrace uncertainty and to enforce systemic changes to our institutions. Human development is an aspiration but also a way to navigate uncertain times and actualize the behavioral changes and institutional reforms that would allow us to shape a more hopeful future.

An interesting, relevant quote from Rebecca Solnit’s book “Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities” (2015) on the relationship between uncertainty and hope: “

“Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes–you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.” (p. xii)


Can you think of examples where people collectively have not acted rationally but rather based on emotions and biases?

  • The situation of mask wearing varies significantly between countries. People are not wearing them/taking them off necessarily because of scientific information but rather based on how many people around them are wearing them or how culturally used to they are to mask wearing.
  • Anti-vaxxers in Shibuya

What are some factors that you think are driving the polarization in the perception of the state of our world?

  • There is a generation gap in how we get information and how we perceive the world. The younger generation are more likely to be impacted by climate change so they are more interested.
  • There is so much information that is circulating at such a fast pace that it is difficult to keep up.
  • Kids these days are growing up with social media (e.g., TikTok and Instagram), and their self-esteem is being impacted by what they see regularly. The social media culture is normalizing drug use, for example.

What are some effective ways to recognize our own biases and the ways in which we deviate from rationality?

  • Look at multiple sources of information
  • Compare countries and cultures

Do you agree with Solnit’s argument that hope is in fact grounded in and an embracement of uncertainty?

  • Very difficult question!
  • Hope requires action; action requires hope.