Monday, May 3, 2010

This Side of the Line

Mid-day Saturday, I remember that I don't have any hot-dog rolls. I recall that yesterday, when it was too late for me to do the shopping, my son had announced that we needed 15 of them for the Lag b'Omer bonfire.

Ok, I think. We'll just take a drive over to Jaljulia and get some. They must have bakeries there, and they don't close on Saturday. Tevel comes with me, and I'm vaguely aware that his dad might think that it's not a great idea to take the kids to an Arab village with me. Not that I don't buy my vegetables there all the time -- but that's on the edge of town and now we are going into town.

I ask at the petrol station where the bakery is, and they tell me that I need to go to Kfar Bara, another mile up the road. No biggie. Still, I experience a vague discomfort as I drive there, thinking, the discomfort is silly. It's an Israeli town, it's 5 miles from my house, I've never heard of any incidents, and yet, there's a vague discomfort.

The bakery owner sells me rolls and pita, tells me, yes, there's been quite a flow of people today and he had forgotten it was a Jewish holiday and the Sabbath, and he hadn't yet prepared for the potential demand.

As I drove out of town, there was a woman hitchhiking. When I see these ladies hitchhiking by the side of the road, it breaks my heart. We have them in my town too, because of the inconvenient bus schedule. When I seem them standing by the side of the road, I always stop, and usually go out of my way to take them to their destination.

Now I know I shouldn't stop in an Arab village and pick up a hitchhiker. But I just couldn't see her at the side of the road like that, so I stopped. I told her I could take her to the outskirts of the next town, but not into the town. She turned me down with body language, probably not because she couldn't speak Hebrew, but because she was in shock. She knows I'm not supposed to stop for Arabs and she knows she's not supposed to get in the car with a Jew. So that settled that.

It's weird, you know, or maybe it's not.

People live in their separate communities. I grew up in America, where the social norm says that pluralism and integrated towns are equivalent. After 200 years of failing to artificially integrate people, you'd think someone would have the thought that integration, in and of itself, may not be morally "good" (or "bad" for that matter). But Americans are stubborn, and the society refuses to accept that people, by and large, want to live with people like themselves. In fact, it's almost considered morally wrong to oppose artificial integration. It's as if there is something unethical about people wanting to live in a homogeneous environment.

In Israel, the social norm is that people want to live separately. Now, I'm not a fan of the "separate but equal" train of thought, because nobody is under the illusion that it's equal. Not in the US, not in Israel. It's not equal. But that's the end of the moral issue. Apart from problems of measuring equality, there is no reason why heterogeneous residential communities should be better than homogeneous ones. People have their tribes, they always have and they always will.

It's not necessarily a question of race. Sometimes "like themselves" means belonging to a socio-economic group, to an age group, or even to a particular profession. Sometimes it's just being someone who loves bar-hopping or a particular sport, or even a particular sports team. It's perfectly natural.

It's almost embarrassing for someone like me, that is, someone who believes in equality, who loves everyone, and who is something of a peacenik.

But when I look around at my friends, the people I hang with are pretty homogenous, socio-economically and culturally.

I was talking about this just last night with meezoog founder Tuvia Rosenthal. Meezoog is a technology that basically allows you to check out if someone is trustworthy or socially compatible. Right now it's a dating application, but clearly there are additional applications for this.

What I said was, indeed, when I meet a guy on Facebook, if we have no contacts in common, the chance of a first date being successful is very low. Tuvia pointed out that this is fairly true in Israel, that is, in a small population, if my social network on Facebook is well-developed and gives a good representation of my RL social chains. I can see that. The main communities in my RL are high-tech, roller-blading, synagogue, and Landmark (self-development). I have dozens of friends from each of those networks. If you don't know any of them, you might be a really kewl person, but we don't have a lot of interests in common, so we aren't going to have much to talk about on a date.

Obviously, an application like meezoog makes sense if you are in New York City or Paris, where the population is much, much bigger, and you need a better measure of trust than 1-degree of distance. 2 or 3 degrees of removal are helpful in this case for checking out whether someone is of dating caliber.

In other words, our compatibility and trust levels are directly correlated to how closely connected we are to the same people. Or to similar people.

Maybe it's the sad truth, or maybe it's just the truth.

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