[Solution]How norms evolve

For much of human history, norms mostly evolved organically in local and national communities. Over the last century, however, a formal process for debating, agreeing,…

For much of human history, norms mostly evolved organically in local and national communities. Over the last century, however, a formal process for debating, agreeing, codifying and implementing global norms has come into being, housed within a number of international institutions, such as the UN and the International Labour Organization so revered by Miguel Rivera.
Today that normative framework advances through a bewildering proliferation of conferences, ‘high level panels’, international targets such as the Sustainable Development Goals, treaties and conventions. It’s a merry-go-round I often prefer to avoid, due to the prevalence of rhetoric and platitude over substance. I now think my aversion (though understandable) is unwarranted. The merry-go-round is complex and unpredictable, but undoubtedly important. The body of international agreements that has emerged captures and nudges along the world’s evolving understanding of its condition, building our sense of belonging to one ‘humanity’.
Very little of it is ‘hard law’, enforceable in the courts. But it sets standards that national movements can use to rally for change in legislation and in public attitudes on everything from whether bribery is acceptable or parents have the right to beat their children, to discrimination against migrant workers, indigenous people or those living with a disability, or what activity should be considered as ‘work’.
At an individual level, norms start to develop from the moment of birth, as children soak up notions of what is ‘natural’ from the behaviours and words of those around them. As an institution (albeit a hugely varied one), the family is probably the greatest forging ground of the values and norms that shape a person’s life. Within a few years, schooling starts to play a…….

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