To our leaders - thank you. Please consider carefully where to from here.
This was meant to be a Letter to Northland, following on from the Letter to Wellington last fortnight, but the events of last Friday in Christchurch have overtaken our thoughts and hearts.
I want to say thank you to our leaders for their considered responses to the terror attacks on the mosques in Christchurch. Our politicians have been articulate in capturing the sentiments of our nation and bringing us together in universal condemnation of these most heinous acts.
I'm thinking of the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's words, those of the National Party leader Simon Bridges, Gerry Brownlee, Lianne Dalziel - the Mayor of Christchurch, and Bob Parker - the previous mayor. Thank you.
I also thought other leaders such as Mike Bush, the Police Commissioner, provided a level-headed response to the situation and unfolding events, and Paul Buchanan, a security analyst provided a clear picture of what we were and are dealing with from international evidence. This was helpful, when things are seemingly incomprehensible.
Paul Buchanan said in his interview on Radio NZ that the shooter was "very clearly a white supremacist" who learned his beliefs and possibly actions online. He said he disagreed with the PM when she said ''this is not New Zealand and this is not us,'' saying "it is us".
The PM is of course right to say what she said - we collectively rest on our democracy and institutions to back her up. But Mr Buchanan was making the point that the thinking and actions developed in our midst and we must come to grips with the social pathology behind it.
There will be many avenues to explore to try and find answers. It is a natural human response.
Unfortunately, we now have fertile new platforms for groupthink and radicalisation – these are called online echo-chambers.
My son did his Masters thesis titled "Online Echo Chambers and Epistemic Humility: Exploring the Intersection of Politics, Human Nature, and Virtue", at Auckland University. Where he ended was not where he thought he would.
Many have zeroed in on algorithms (arithmetic calculations that support what you are searching for) that send you one-sided information; they send you stuff that aligns with your searches. He found the broader problem is that social media plays a role in this kind of radicalisation through ''social proof'' – or seeking confirmation of your beliefs through others.
This becomes a real problem if all you are reading confirms your beliefs. This is called a confirmation bias. People are then able to develop a distorted picture of the world both in terms of risk (the real vs perceived threat of outside groups) and social consensus (the perceived vs actual number of people who share extreme views).
Importantly, though, this isn't because the algorithms are out to promote this kind of thing. They are an inanimate mechanism. They provide us an efficient way of doing what people tend to do quite naturally; form groups of like-minded people who seek to reinforce their own beliefs.
The difference, however, between online echo-chambers and real life, is that online you have the ability to easily dismiss or shut out dissenting opinions with the click of a button, and a greater ability to rationalise the irrational because so many agree with you.
This leads to the notion of epistemic humility; that is, not having a dogmatic position but being able to take on board a number of views before reaching any conclusions, and having a healthy respect for new evidence. Complex problems require considered responses.
We hate that this has happened, we hate racism and bigotry, and we hate that innocent people have become victims of an unenlightened dogma.
The Age of Enlightenment, over 200 years ago, led us to new understandings of humanism, inclusiveness and the value of each and every life. Tomorrow I am attending a forum on inclusive growth. It's a forum that is trying to figure out how we can address inequality in a meaningful way by sharing in the economic fruits.
It takes many parts of society and strong dialogue to address tough issues. Hopefully the forum can contribute in some small way to an inclusive society.
Kia kaha to all those who have been affected by Friday's evil crime in Christchurch.
■ Dr David Wilson is the chief executive officer of Northland's Economic Development Agency, Northland Inc (until March 30), and chairman of Economic Development NZ.