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Morning Lecture Previews

Celebrated ‘New Yorker’ cartoon editor Mankoff to reflect on career, what makes good jokes for CLS

Bob_Mankoff

LAURA PHILION – COPY & DIGITAL EDITOR

Mankoff

Bob Mankoff spent 2020 like the rest of us — locked down, in his home in suburban Westchester County, New York. Amid pandemic life, though, he’s been cooking up new jokes. 

“I went back to the city a couple of times,” he said, “and it’s still there. I was worried I might come over the bridge and it would be gone. That was the first time I was ever happy to see a lot of traffic.”

Mankoff is the former cartoon editor for The New Yorker, and currently serves as the cartoon editor for Air Mail. He will speak on his career and comics at 10:30 a.m. July 29 in the Amphitheater as part of the Chautauqua Lecture Series Week Five theme, “The Authentic Comedic Voice,” a week in partnership with the National Comedy Center. 

Mankoff is also the founder of CartoonCollections.com, home to half a million cartoons from major publications, including around 30,000 New Yorker images. After he retired from The New Yorker, he spent two years as humor editor for Esquire.

“I’m a mini mogul of cartoons,” he said. “It’s not enough to shoot me into space, though. I’ve been looking at ways to get my car into very low earth orbit — in that moment when you fall, you’re just as weightless as Jeff Bezos.”

Mankoff began sending in cartoons to The New Yorker in the mid-1970s, when the magazine took cartoon submissions by mail. 

“When I first went there to hand one in, on 43rd Street, I had long hair and a beard — I was hippie-fied,” said Mankoff. “I accidentally walked into the Princeton Club. I got scared and left.”

In those days, when cartoonist Lee Lorenz was art editor, Mankoff remembered, “he looked at the cartoons very carefully. He cared. Most places at the time just slotted them in. (The New Yorker) fact-checked; checked for duplicates; treated cartoons like any other piece going into the magazine. That wasn’t done for any commercial reason; just done because that’s what The New Yorker was.”

After 20 years as a cartoonist for the magazine, Mankoff replaced Lorenz as cartoon editor in 1997. Under his leadership, the magazine brought notable cartoonists such as Emily Flake and Farley Katz to the department, and also founded The New Yorker’s Cartoon Caption Contest, which has become one of the enduring elements of the magazine. Participants view uncaptioned works online and submit and vote for captions to be added. 

(The New Yorker) fact-checked; checked for duplicates; treated cartoons like any other piece going into the magazine. That wasn’t done for any commercial reason; just done because that’s what The New Yorker was.”

Bob Mankoff
Former cartoon editor,
The New Yorker

“There are 5,000 to 6,000 responses each time,” said Mankoff. He is interested in what analyzing that data means — “Who is funniest? What do they submit? Why do men submit more captions than women? We have really interesting data for ranked humor.”

Mankoff also plans to reflect on his own humor today. His most famous cartoon for The New Yorker depicts an office phone call: “How about never — is never good for you?” The best humor, according to Mankoff, is relatable. 

“The humor isn’t coming from caricature or exaggeration,” he said. “You’re not trying to exaggerate as much as you’re trying to be intriguing.”

He likes poking fun, though.

“I don’t know whether I have an edge or if it’s coffee,” he said. “I was born in Brooklyn, and whenever I go to the Midwest, I think, ‘Are they ever going to let me in here?’ ”

Mankoff doesn’t set out to offend, but he says some things — like gluten-free jokes, for instance — will attract many comments. 

“I don’t really mind,” he said. “I tend to ask, ‘After you were offended, what happened?’ Turns out, nothing at all.”

Laughter Lab co-founder Caty Borum Chattoo to explore comedy’s social impact

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SARA TOTH – EDITOR

Borum Chattoo

Caty Borum Chattoo is not a comedian — but, she said, she was a funny kid. That funny kid from the South grew up to become an award-winning media producer and executive, working in Los Angeles with the likes of Norman Lear. And it was her work with Lear, Borum Chattoo said, that ultimately made her realize that, yes, her dreams could be a reality … and her work could help make others’ dreams come true, too.

“I had a decade working for a guy who would literally look at impossible things and say, ‘Let’s go make that happen,’ ” she said. “This man was wildly successful, but in his soul is this deep emotional feeler and believer in impossible things. … It’s rare to work for someone that makes you believe you can really create things out of thin air.”

Borum Chattoo is also a media scholar, and the executive director of the Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI), a nonprofit innovation lab and research center housed at American University and professor at the American University School of Communication. So when her research led her to see the need for strengthening the pipeline for marginalized voices in the comedy world, she went ahead and did it. 

Borum Chattoo is co-founder and co-director, in partnership with cultural strategy group Moore + Associates, of the Yes, … And Laughter Lab, a creative incubator of comedy for social justice. 

At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 28 in the Amphitheater, she’ll discuss the work of the lab (with the acronym YALL — she’s from the South, after all) as part of the Chautauqua Lecture Series’ Week Five theme “The Authentic Comedic Voice: A Week in Partnership with the National Comedy Center.”

“We needed an opportunity to diversify the entertainment pipeline for comedy, and to hear marginalized voices — women, people of color, LGBTQ, disabled — and we couldn’t sit around and wait for that to happen,” she said. “We could be the people to make it happen.”

The Yes, … And Laughter Lab is part of a family of initiatives within CMSI focused on research and production work in media and social change. That work includes the Comedy ThinkTanks program, which brings together professional comedians and social justice organizations, while the lab fosters comedians from historically marginalized communities, who shape and pitch their projects before annual showcase days in Los Angeles and New York City before industry professionals (the lab has partnered with MGM, Netflix, NBC Universal, CBS, Viacom, MTV and Comedy Central) and social justice organizations.

“We realized, if we know the science of why comedy is meaningful in getting us to contemplate civic and social issues differently — if we know that, how can we create space for more of those comedy projects to make it into the entertainment industry, and possibly to collaborate with civil society groups, humanitarian groups, racial justice organizations, et cetera?” Borum Chattoo said. “So the Yes, … And Laughter Lab is basically a competitive incubation and training program where we invite comedians with something meaningful to say about topical issues and is explicitly also about diversity and sharing their lived experiences.”

Borum Chattoo is the co-author, with Lauren Feldman, of the award-winning book A Comedian and an Activist Walk Into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice, and the forthcoming The Revolution Will Be Hilarious: Comedy for Social Change and Civic Power. In both, she draws on a theory from Chicano Studies called cultural citizenship, and applies it to comedy. 

“Cultural citizenship is such a powerful concept because it more or less means you can have the rights and privileges as a citizen … but if you are culturally erased, you feel this kind of invisibility,” she said. “So cultural citizenship is the idea that when representation happens, there’s a full feeling of cultural citizenship, of asserting representation and identity.”

She’s argued that its especially important when comedy gets to do that.

“When we’re talking about communities of people who have been dehumanized for decades by media portrayals — let’s take the Muslim community — we know from a lot of research that we almost never show those communities in ways that are not as terrorists or villains or criminals,” she said. “It’s a completely unilateral story. So when you think about comedy and cultural citizenship, that idea is at work because it’s saying, ‘Come in and get to know us, and play in this space with us where we can find our shared humanity.’ ”

Borum Chattoo points to shows like “Ramy” or “Momo’s Amerika” — an in-development animated television show she’ll play clips of today — as comedic media that do “something a little bit different.”

“Sometimes, with empathy, there’s a little bit of a hierarchy of power that we create, but comedy is about solidarity,” she said. “Solidarity is a different kind of power, because we say we’re actually all in this lived human experience together. And rather than me feeling pity or sadness, we care because of solidarity.”

NPR’s 1st TV critic Eric Deggans to cover evolution of Black comedy in art form

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SARAH VEST – STAFF WRITER

Deggans

Historians spend a great deal of time studying the past by looking at primary sources and excavating dig sites for hints of how people used to live and think. 

Eric Deggans, a historian on the evolution of Black comedy, does his research through watching TV shows. Deggans will be giving a morning lecture called “From Amos ‘n’ Andy to A Black Lady Sketch Show: How the Comedic Voice of Black America Evolved on TV” at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 27 in the Amphitheater.

Deggans is NPR’s first full-time TV critic, where he is featured on shows like “Morning Edition,” “Here & Now” and “All Things Considered” while also writing content for NPR’s website. In addition to his work in radio, Deggans is a contributor and media analyst for MSNBC and NBC News. He is also the author of Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation

“In journalism you can be in situations where you define the parameters of what you do, based on what you’re good at and what you’re interested in, and what you think needs to be done,” Deggans said. 

He thought that there was a need for a TV critic at NPR, where he had been doing three to four freelance stories a month before being brought in as a full-time employee. According to Deggans, there are only about two or three people who work at NPR full time whose job it is to give their opinions on air. 

For Deggans, moving from newspapers to radio was a “big deal,” but one that allowed him to better tell his stories. 

lenging to have to teach himself a whole new story structure, but that it was important to create stories that were “radio stories first” — in other words, filled with sounds that could take the listener places. 

“I didn’t have to tell you what a scene was like in a show like ‘Succession’ or ‘Watchmen,’ I could just play audio and kind of take you there by listening to the sound,” Deggans said, “then afterwards, kind of tell you what it meant and how that sound sort of fit into a take on the show.”

Deggans wants to talk about the evolution of the voice of Black performers starting with the earliest shows where a Black character starred. Shows like “Amos ‘n’ Andy” and “Beulah” that were “horrifically stereotypical” but still important when it comes to looking about race relations in the United States. 

According to Deggans, in the same way that there are periods in history, there are periods in television history. People were depicted in a specific way because of societal constructs, the sophistication of technology and the “stories that we were telling ourselves as a nation” at the time. 

“There was a reason why Black people have been more featured in comedy over the years,” Deggans said. “There’s a reason why the first two major shows on television featuring Black people were comedies, and a reason why those comedies featured characters that were pretty demeaning and stereotypical.”

Deggans’ lecture will focus primarily on Black people because Black characters have a much longer history in television than most other ethnicities. That isn’t to say that the same way he is looking at Black characters cannot be applied to other characters of color — like Desi Arnaz, who played Ricky Ricardo in “I Love Lucy.”

“The Black-white dynamic is a really elemental component of America’s fitful relationship with how it treats nonwhite people,” Deggans said. “Black people were kind of Ground Zero. We’re the most extreme case, and the itch that America can’t stop scratching.”

As opposed to the historical precedent, Deggans thinks that currently, there is the “widest variety of people of color in comedy on television.” However, there is a “push-pull” relationship with representation — three steps forward and one step back.

In today’s TV environment, authenticity is highly valued by viewers. This has made many executives realize that the best way to create authentic characters of color is to hire “talented people of color and just give them the agency to tell their own stories,” Deggans said. This opening of the doors, so to speak, is what has changed today’s media. 

“You get TV shows that feel real,” Deggans said. “They feel like they’re saying something that’s important and present and visceral, as opposed to a bunch of white people in an office trying to imagine what life is like for Black people.”

‘SNL’ cast member Ego Nwodim and NPR’s Eric Deggans to open week with wide-ranging interview

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SARAH VEST – STAFF WRITER

Nwodim

The Week Five Chautauqua Lecture Series on “The Authentic Comedic Voice: A Week in Partnership with the National Comedy Center” will open with a conversation between “Saturday Night Live” repertory player Ego Nwodim and NPR’s television critic Eric Deggans. The conversation will be taking place at 10:30 a.m. Monday, July 26 in the Amphitheater. 

Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair For Education, said he is  “thrilled to start the week with Ego Nwodim, one of the most versatile stars of ‘Saturday Night Live.’ ”

Before she joined “SNL” as a featured player in 2018, Nwodim was a mainstay at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles and her one-woman show, Great Black Women … and Then There’s Me, had a sold-out run at UCB in 2017. She also performed as a New Face at the Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal in 2016. 

Recently, Nwodim has been seen in Hulu’s “Shrill,” IFC’s “Brockmire” and the feature film “The Broken Hearts Gallery.” She is a fan favorite and regular on the “Comedy Bang! Bang!” podcast. She was recognized by Variety as part of their 2021 New York Women’s Impact Report.

Deggans said that Nwodim has had an interesting career and that “SNL” itself has had an interesting year this year. According to Deggans, other than “The Crown” and “The Mandalorian,” “SNL” received more Emmy nominations than any other program. 

Nwodim was promoted from a featured player to a repertory player before “SNL’s” 46th season in 2020. Though she had experience on the show, Deggans is curious to hear more about how it was transitioning between filming episodes at home to moving back in front of a live audience, before any other show, over the course of quarantine. Ewalt is, too.

Deggans

“From their first experiment with a show entirely via Zoom, with cast members joining from home, to when they finally had a live audience, we saw the cast and crew of ‘SNL’ tell a one-of-a-kind story of producing a weekly live show through a pandemic,” Ewalt said. 

Deggans will be giving a solo morning lecture Tuesday about the evolution of Black comedy in television, so he is curious about what it was like for her joining the cast as a Black woman, given that “Saturday Night Live” had been criticized for a lack of Black women in its cast.

“When Maya Rudolph left, and before Leslie Jones joined the cast, there was a real dearth of Black female performers,” Deggans said. “It got to the point where Kenan Thompson has refused to play Black female characters anymore.”

Deggans also hopes that Nwodim will also be willing to talk about what it was like to join the “SNL” cast, given this criticism and how she thinks the show has done in terms of improving diversity. 

Deggans points to other cast members like Thompson and Pete Davidson who are starring in sitcoms and movies in addition to being on “SNL.” He wonders if Nwodim is lining herself up for anything outside of her role on the show, something that “SNL” stars have been doing more than they ever had in the past. 

“There’s tons of stuff to talk about,” Deggans said. “I don’t think an hour is going to be long enough.”

Princeton professor Eddie S. Glaude to discuss race relations through James Baldwin’s works

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SARAH VEST – STAFF WRITER

Glaude

Time continues to move forward, yet as people have seen time and again, history repeats. Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Week Four’s joint Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle and Chautauqua Lecture Series presenter, looks to the past writings of James Baldwin as a way to address the current political climate in the United States to close the theme of “Many Americas: Navigating Our Divides.”

He will be speaking at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, July 22 in the Amphitheater. There will also be a CLSC Special Week Four Program, with Glaude, at 4 p.m. today on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, bringing together both CLSC picks into a broader conversation. 

Glaude is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor and Chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University. He holds a master’s degree in African American studies from Temple University and a doctorate in religion from Princeton. His books include Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul and In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America. 

His most recent, Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own is a New York Times bestseller and one of Week Four’s CLSC selections. 

Glaude said he was initially afraid of reading James Baldwin’s work, but once he started, he was unable to stop. He was drawn to Baldwin because of the power of his writing and the sense that he was “demanding something of (Glaude)” as a reader.

“When you read (Baldwin’s work), there’s the sense that he forces you back on yourself,” Glaude explained.

In his book Begin Again, and in his morning lecture, Glaude wants to think about Baldwin in relation to the current moment in the United States. He feels that Baldwin’s writings can help people think about the contradiction of race in the country and the ongoing betrayal of America’s ideals. He wants to do this by giving a close reading of some of Baldwin’s works before moving into how they relate to the current political climate. 

“(Glaude) argued that we had this opportunity after the Civil War during the Walker Social Era, and we thwarted this opportunity because of Jim Crow coming in. We had another opportunity after the civil rights movement that went down the drain in the ‘80s with the ascendance of Ronald Regan as President,” said Sony Ton-Aime, Michael I. Rudell Director of Literary Arts. “Now he’s finally arguing that now we have this opportunity where everything is laid bare in front of us. If we see the things that Baldwin was arguing for, … we can achieve this idea to begin again.”

No Name in the Street was published by Baldwin in 1972 Baldwin published after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. This piece struck Glaude as one that he needed to be in conversation with because it is “pained.” According to Glaude, the book is saturated with trauma and is about Baldwin trying to make sense of the pace of history.

“I was trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces after Trump’s election. Like ‘Look, this country has done this again,’ ” Glaude said. 

He was working through many of the same thought processes that Baldwin had been working through almost 45 years prior, and No Name in the Street was able to help him with this. In a number of ways, Begin Again deals with history repeating, and Glaude thinks the U.S. is at a moment where the cycle can be broken.

“It all depends on us. We see it now, right now, and where we were in the middle of last summer, all the protests in the streets. Folks are demanding fundamental transformation — not only in terms of policing, but in terms of the stories we tell ourselves about who we are as Americans,” Glaude said. “You see us really kind of doubling down on our ugliness in the face of the demand for change, the kind of insistence on our innocence in the face of the demand for change.”

Glaude thinks that the kinds of changes that need to happen are possible, but that Americans have to accept who they are, all the ugliness included, before that can happen. This can occur only if “something about this country dies,” and the old ghosts of history can be laid to rest. Glaude doesn’t deny that this will be hard work, but it is work that is essential to the survival of the country.

“We have to confront this idea that white people should be valued more,” Glaude said. “We have to confront that idea and conclude that it’s not redeemable. There’s nothing redeemable about the idea that some people, because of the color of their skin, are to be bound with others; but that doesn’t mean we’re irredeemable.”

Despite the book painting a bleak picture of current and past race relations, Glaude thinks that if Americans can figure out how to work toward a better America, together, there is the possibility for a better and brighter future. 

“I end on a hopeful note, not an optimistic note, there is a distinction I feel,” Glaude said. “… My hope is in us. To paraphrase a formulation from Baldwin: ‘Human beings are miracles and disasters. We have to protect ourselves from the disasters that we become. But if we show up, if we risk everything — in that moment, there’s a possibility for a miracle.’ ”

Political science professor Katherine Cramer to discuss rural consciousness and navigating the rural, urban divide

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ANNALEE HUBBS – COPY & DIGITAL EDITOR

Cramer

Her Midwestern accent may be a sign that she’s not from around here, but author Katherine Cramer’s origins and scholarship uniquely situate her for a discussion on rural consciousness and the divide between rural and urban areas — it’s a discussion that communities all across the country can relate to. 

At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 21 in the Amphitheater, Cramer will give a lecture, titled “Listening to Disrupt,” centered around her book, The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker as part of Chautauqua Lecture Series’ Week Four theme of “Many Americas: Navigating Our Divides.”

“I would love for people to pause and reflect on what their preconceptions of rural folks in the upper Midwest are and whether these dynamics are reflective of a split in perspective between the coasts and central parts of the U.S.,” Cramer said.

Cramer’s book focuses on the common feeling among people in rural places — like Wisconsin, where her research is primarily based, but also in other small communities outside metropolitan areas — of not getting their fair share. She said there’s a sense of feeling left behind, feeling like citizens aren’t getting what they deserve in terms of resources from taxpayer dollars, and failing to get attention and respect from decision makers. 

The Politics of Resentment is based on the sentiments Cramer has heard from inviting herself into conversations around Wisconsin. 

“The book is also about the way politicians in our current era make use of that sentiment and tap into it to convince people that the government is the problem,” Cramer said,  “and that since the government has been ignoring them, the solution is to have less of it, as opposed to reforming government, or reforming the way our representation works, so that people can have their voices heard and acted on.”

Cramer is the Natalie C. Holton Chair of Letters & Science and a professor in the political science department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

She is also a visiting professor with the Center for Constructive Communication at the MIT Media Lab. 

She considers herself a public opinion scholar, and the political science program at the University of Michigan, where she got her doctorate, is widely known for survey research. 

“When you tell people this, they assume you field surveys and analyze the opinion data,” Cramer said. “But I don’t do that, exactly.”

Cramer definitely makes use of polls, but she learned pretty early on that what fascinates her most is how people make sense of politics and how they do that through talking with other people in their lives. The University of Michigan was great training in survey research, she said, but it inspired her to study public opinion in a different way — by listening.

With respect to what people in the country think and feel and want from their government, we have a real deficit of information — a real lack of information about what people who are unlike us think.”

– Katherine Cramer, Natalie C. Holton Chair of Letters & Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison

In her lecture today, Cramer will also discuss how her understanding of public opinion has changed since the 2016 presidential election. Overnight, when Donald Trump won, people around the country and globe were calling on her to explain to them what people in rural Wisconsin were thinking. 

“I’m really not a spokesperson for rural Wisconsinites, and the kind of sentiment I describe is not necessarily felt by everybody in rural Wisconsin, but I was happy to step into that role to try to help people understand,” she said.

Cramer said our understanding of public opinion is shallow in this country — that people often think they’re suffering from information overload when it’s really the opposite. 

“With respect to what people in the country think and feel and want from their government, we have a real deficit of information — a real lack of information about what people who are unlike us think,” she said. 

Much of the information comes from the coasts, so people in the middle of the country often feel like they don’t get a lot of attention, Cramer said, and that people on the coast don’t understand their lives.

The rural/urban divide is one of the fundamental disconnects in the U.S. right now, Cramer said, and it’s important to pay attention to and to understand because many of the other U.S. divisions are wrapped up within it ­­— including racial divisions. 

“Especially in the north, in the upper Midwest, where our rural areas are very, very white and there’s very few people of color,” she said, “our racial divides are represented by our geographic divides and our economic divides.”

Cramer plans to talk quite a bit about the complexity of racism in the U.S., and she hopes that it, along with her other topics, spurs a conversation. 

“I’m really excited to be in the midst of so many people who are deeply concerned about the world and who are trying to better understand it,” she said. 

‘Dispatch’ senior editor David French to call for unity in divided America

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MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER

French

The United States is starkly divided, and commentator David French said that division goes beyond politics.

“There is no single, truly important social, cultural, political or religious trend that is pulling Americans together more than it is tearing us apart,” French said.

Such division is the topic of his latest book, Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation, and of his lecture, “Divided We Fall: Understanding and Healing a Broken Land,” at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 20 in the Amphitheater. His lecture is a part of Week Four’s Chautauqua Lecture Series, themed “Many Americas: Navigating Our Divides.”

“On every front, we’re beset by polarizing forces, and those forces are far from merely political,” he said.

French is senior editor at The Dispatch, which is “fact-based reporting and commentary on politics, policy and culture — informed by conservative principles,” according to its website. He is also a columnist for Time, was a staff writer for the National Review, a fellow at the National Review Institute and was president for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Lipscomb University, French went on to earn his juris doctor degree from Harvard University. He later became a major in the U.S. Army Reserve and earned a Bronze Star for his service in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“My daily work is focused around writing, podcasting and speaking — all things I enjoy immensely,” he said. “My motivations are pretty simple: I want to help readers and listeners understand an increasingly fractious and polarized time, and I want to do what I can to defend the classical liberal values that make this nation possible.”

Despite his conservative perspective, French left the Republican Party in 2018, and although initially saying he would vote for Donald Trump in 2016, he changed his mind before that election. 

“I want people to understand that our divisions are about far, far more than politics, and while there are political decisions that can ease the crisis of American division, the ultimate solution is more cultural and even spiritual than political,” he said.

If French had given this lecture in 2020, his message would have been different than it will be today.

“Before Jan. 6, my main task was convincing people that we’re on a truly dangerous path,” he said. But now, his task is convincing them “that there is hope for a better, more rational and reasonable future.”

“We can’t expect to continue dividing — and dividing angrily — indefinitely and hope to remain united. America has divided before,” he said. “There is no law of history or human nature that prevents it from dividing again.” 

Award-winning journalist Amanda Ripley to discuss book on high conflict

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NICHOLE JIANG – STAFF WRITER

Ripley

As human beings, it’s hard to avoid any conflict. Yet conflict and disagreement can actually be beneficial for people, according to Amanda Ripley. However, the line between good conflict and high conflict is thin, and getting trapped in high conflict can become all-consuming. This is what investigative journalist and New York Times bestselling author Ripley will be discussing at 10:30 a.m. Monday, July 19 in the Amphitheater as the first presentation of the Chautauqua Lecture Series’ Week Four theme, “Many Americas: Navigating our Divides.”

Ripley graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in government. At the time, Ripley wanted to go into political journalism, so she started writing for the Congressional Quarterly on Capitol Hill. 

“I remember vividly going to my first congressional hearing, and there were 10 other reporters there, and we were all writing down the same thing,” Ripley said. “And I just felt like, ‘Is this really adding value?’ Particularly at the national level, it’s kind of an echo chamber.”

Ripley realized she wanted to make a bigger impact, and she began freelancing. 

“I worked with a great editor named David Carr, who had these young writers and taught us about literary journalism. … It was a great way to learn and experiment,” Ripley said. “That blew my mind. It was a great way to develop a voice and get out of what my idea was of what journalism should be.” 

From there, Ripley worked for Time magazine for 10 years, reporting on topics such as disaster, terrorism and crime. Each book she’s written has stemmed from trying to uncover something for a magazine, when she would come to a wall about whether or not there was any sort of hope for that particular problem. This was the case for her study on high conflict, which will not only be the center of Ripley’s lecture, but is also the center of her most recent bestselling book High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out.

Ripley describes high conflict as being a situation where people, once drawn in, find themselves stuck. People become increasingly certain that they are right and will be quick to make negative assumptions about those who have different opinions. 

This all-consuming feeling can at times even lead to war. Each side doesn’t realize how much the conflict is negatively affecting their own lives or the lives of those around them. 

In today’s lecture, Ripley will be telling stories about people and communities who found themselves stuck in this dysfunctional conflict, both personal and political, all over the world, who were then able to make a shift into some kind of good conflict. 

“There’s a distinction between high conflict, which is all-consuming and ultimately destructive, and good conflict, (which) is stressful and difficult but generally healthier and productive,” she said.  

Ripley highlights that one doesn’t need to necessarily give up what they’re fighting for, but rather to shift into a more productive manner of advocating. An important aspect of doing so is recognizing what leads to high conflict. 

“There’s four forces that reliably lead to high conflict, and I’ll be talking about them,” Ripley said. “One example is probably the most underappreciated force, which is humiliation. You also have another force, which is the presence of conflict entrepreneurs. These are people or platforms that exploit conflict for their own ends. And they will often frame every loss as a humiliation, no matter how small. There are patterns that you want to watch out for if you want to stay out of high conflict.”

Ripley will apply this concept to present day incidents.

“I’ll talk about a synagogue in New York City that almost imploded in high internal conflict over Israel,” Ripley said. 

What sparked Ripley’s initial interest in this issue of high conflict occurred five years ago, in 2016. 

“My motivation was after Donald Trump won the election in 2016,” Ripley said. “It started to feel like journalism wasn’t working the way it had in the past. It started to feel like it just didn’t matter what facts you managed to dig up and how pretty you made them look, because people weren’t changing their mind, and I couldn’t really understand what was going on until I started learning from people who study intractable conflict as a system. And then it was like a light bulb moment, where I realized this is not normal; traditional journalism just doesn’t function in high conflict.”

One example of this is  perception. 

“Democrats think there are twice as many Republicans with extreme views as there actually are. And the same with Republicans. Both sides think the other side hates them much more than they do,” she said. “And you get into this kind of feedback loop of fear and resentment that really kind of perpetuates itself, so it becomes conflict for conflict’s sake.”

Ripley will also highlight the importance of understanding the root of what is being argued about in the first place. 

“You want to find ways to help people get underneath the conflict, so to speak — to understand what are we really arguing about — because in every conflict, there’s the thing we fight about endlessly and then the thing it’s really about,” Ripley said.

In today’s lecture, Ripley will also discuss how one can escape high conflict once in it. Though not an easy task, Ripley says it is possible. 

“The best defense against high conflict is to never get into it,” she said. “Once started it’s very hard to get out of. It’s just really magnetic for totally understandable human reasons.” 

She said that humans are also wired for good conflict, and that it can be a productive force in the world.

“Most major achievements of civilization have been in good conflict,” Ripley said, “but it helps a lot if you cultivate the rituals and rules that lead to good conflicts.” 

MIT Center for Constructive Communication director Deb Roy to discuss social media issues and alternatives

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MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER

Roy

Social media, as we know it, is a bit of an illusion, said Director of the Center for Constructive Communication at MIT Deb Roy. 

“Social media has created this illusion that now that we have direct access, and we can listen and see others directly; we don’t need to rely on the media,” he said.

He argues we don’t have as much direct access to others as it would appear because of the filters and algorithms of social platforms, especially Twitter and Facebook. At 10:30 a.m. Thursday, July 15 in the Amphitheater, Roy will discuss this idea and offer alternatives to the current state of social media as a part of Week Three’s Chautauqua Lecture Series, themed “Trust, Society and Democracy.” 

With the Center for Constructive Communication, Roy is focused on understanding the interplay of people and how they communicate through technology. 

On the research front, Roy said his team is interested in analyzing and understanding patterns of communication, then translating some of those insights into new technologies. Outside of the laboratory, they work with partners who try to build constructive communication.

In defining constructive communication, Roy actually focused on the current state of what he terms “destructive communication.” 

“There’s a growing recognition that many people feel that if you look across the different options for engaging in civic and public life, there’s an awful lot of shouting going on, where the most extreme perspective and points of view tend to get the most amplification and spread,” he said. Moreover, he said this is playing out more in mainstream media in addition to sites like Twitter and Facebook. These extremist views garner reactive responses and divisiveness that take away from other conversations, he said. Roy wants to create a space where people can have conversations about things that matter in their day-to-day lives. This notion, he said, is essential for a functioning democracy that relies on resolving disagreements through peaceful debate.

“If you don’t have the ability to see the humanity in others, then our ability to have social trust that is the foundation of democracy — which is you don’t always get your own way and there’s sometimes a need for a different side or group to have its way — can break down,” he said. “If we find ourselves no longer following the rules, so to speak, that basic social trust breaks down.”

Roy’s lecture will focus on fragmentation occurring in politics, on the streets and within households. He will then critique social media, and give a case study of an alternative method he and his team have developed. He described the illusion social media creates as one where people feel more connected, when in actuality the social media platforms’ filters and algorithms distort the messages users receive and don’t receive.

“Back to the extremists, if you say very provocative and enraging things, you’re just algorithmically more likely to get your content picked up and shared,” he said. “We’re not actually seeing and hearing each other in an unfiltered way — there’s very distorting filters in between.”

Roy does not want to rid society of online social platforms, nor does he expect an overnight shift. He recognizes there are positives to social media, but said he wants to reach a point where it can be more targeted so people want to engage and participate more for the benefit of democracy. Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt said Roy’s lecture would be a chance to understand answers to complicated questions.

“I’m excited for (Roy) to help us gain understanding in how the very tools that have aided in fracturing societies and reinforcing political divisions can potentially be used to rebuild trust and strengthen democracy,” he said.

Social media, cancel culture, trust: Christine Rosen to discuss phenomenon for morning lecture

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DAVID KWIATKOWSKI – STAFF WRITER

Rosen

It is hard to go anywhere, turn on the television or go on social media without hearing or seeing anything about “cancel culture.”

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of cancel culture is the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.

Christine Rosen, senior writer for Commentary, will be discussing this phenomenon in a lecture as a part of the Chautauqua Lecture Series at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 14 in the Amphitheater. 

Rosen will be speaking about the origins of cancel culture and how college students and the media have interpreted and misinterpreted it. 

She also plans to contrast this with America’s rich history of protests and how hashtag activism — empty social media messages without actual intent — are dulling the culture of activism America inherently has. 

“I have spent a fair amount of time studying the culture of technology and the history of (it),” Rosen said. “I helped found a journal called The New Atlantis, where we spend a lot of time looking at the ways that our embrace of personal technology, in particular, has transformed the way we interact.”

While Rosen is critical of college students and their form of activism, she also wants to make sure to commend them, as well. 

“I have a lot of hope in younger generations,” Rosen said. “I am raising two teenagers myself, so I really am impressed at their optimism, and I think that story doesn’t get told enough. We do a lot of criticizing of younger generations for not living up to older generations’ ideals, so I want to make sure that I leave the audience with a sense of hopefulness about this and some of the ways we can rebuild trust in each other and in our institutions.”

While her work at Commentary does lean right, Rosen says she is conscious of making sure to read all sides, and doesn’t want to build straw man arguments and merely attack others. 

“I don’t want to be provocative for the sake of angering people,” she said. “I want to base things on fact. I want to give the benefit of the doubt to the people whose ideas I might be challenging, so I read pretty widely across the political spectrum. I really do try to combat what is an unhealthy tendency, particularly (in) right-wing media, of sensationalizing the arguments of their opponents rather than treating them seriously and really tackling the ideas.”

Social media is powerful in spreading information, and Rosen argues that it has the potential to do as much harm to social order in America as it does good.

“We need to be careful and be willing to pivot and change how we use those tools,” Rosen said. “We need to be very focused on finding the areas for younger generations, in particular, where these tools are actually actively harmful — not just to their sense of themselves and their self esteem and their ability to grow into thriving adults, but in their willingness and ability to understand how politics works, how a healthy democracy should function, how political parties should function, and how people should have the freedom to express differences of opinion and different ideas.”

Rosen considers herself a Libertarian, but has voted for candidates on both sides of the aisle and plans to appeal to all political ideologies, since she says the principles of this country welcome disagreement and debate. 

“In particular, younger generations often forget that that is truly anomalous even in the Western world to have this kind of freedom that the government cannot step in and tell you there are certain things you can’t talk about,” Rosen said. “… In a culture that is wonderfully diverse as ours with more than 300 million people, we’re not all going to agree, and we shouldn’t. I think that’s actually part of our strength.”

Repairing the divide: Media studies professor Meredith D. Clark to analyze role of reparative journalism in rebuilding trust

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DAVID KWIATKOWSKI – STAFF WRITER

Clark

America’s free press is one of the foundations of its democracy; however, journalism is something that can never be immune to criticism or public discussion. 

Meredith D. Clark will be delivering a lecture as part of the Chautauqua Lecture Series at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 13 in the Amphitheater. She will be discussing the concept of reparative journalism, how the press has actively operated within the structures of white supremacy, and how the press should proceed.

Clark has written for newspapers, including the Capital Outlook in Tallahassee; the Tallahassee Democrat; the Austin American-Statesman and the Raleigh News & Observer.

According to her website, Clark’s research has focused on the intersectionality of race, media and power both in newsrooms and the infrastructure of social media. 

Clark is a two-time graduate from Florida A&M University, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s degree in newspaper journalism. She went on to earn a doctorate in mass communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

She has been an assistant professor in the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas and in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. She also serves as the faculty adviser for the UVA chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists.

In a piece for the Nieman Journalism Lab, Clark wrote about reparative journalism and how it is essential for the future of not only journalism, but also our democracy.

“Reparative journalism is explicit in its commitment to doing the work of racial justice, and by extension — without apology — social justice,” she wrote. “It positions Black women’s social, economic and political vulnerabilities as its locus for development, and acknowledges how intersections of race, gender identity, class, physical and mental (dis)ability, and enfranchisement are at play in making the news.”

In her decade of studying Black Twitter and being a journalist, she has realized that the field can not fulfill its duty of informing the public if the field as a whole does not inform itself of its role in contributing to the oppression of marginalized communities.

“We cling to the premise of journalism as an institution of truth-telling without addressing the broken foundation on which it was built,” she wrote. “But how can journalism as an institution developed through the perspectives of a few adequately address the news and information needs of the many?”

Clark calls for reparative journalism to be rooted in the ignored history of marginalized identities; be visionary rather than reactionary; comprehensive in holding names like Ida B. Wells and Alice Dunnigan in the same regard as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein; and redistributing power in newsrooms. 

“The development and adoption of reparative journalism is, like the work of all anti-racist practice, part of the ever-present struggle for the immediacy of justice in the interest humanity’s future,” she wrote. “It is the work of generations.”

Recommitting to trust: Trust Barometer creator Richard Edelman opens week by exploring national trends

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SARA TOTH – EDITOR

Edelman

When global communications firm Edelman released findings from the annual Trust Barometer survey in January, the company’s CEO Richard Edelman noted with the report that “this is the era of information bankruptcy.”

Findings were bleak: the COVID-19 pandemic had put trust to the test, with drops in trust in the world’s two largest economies (China and the United States) and in those countries’ governments. The firm found drops in trust scores among all the societal leaders it tracks — from government heads, CEOs, journalists and even religious leaders. A “global infodemic” had fed mistrust, and only 53% of respondents had demonstrated trust in traditional media.

But the firm also offered some steps forward in its annual report, writing that “in times of turbulence and volatility, trust is what holds society together and where growth rebuilds and rebounds. Every institution must play its part in restoring society and emerging from information bankruptcy.”

And at 10:30 a.m. Monday, July 12 in the Amphitheater, Edelman will deliver a lecture titled “Recommitting to Trust” to launch the Chautauqua Lecture Series Week Three theme of “Trust, Society and Democracy.”

Edelman leads the global communications firm of the same name, which was founded in 1952 by his father. 

He is the creator of the Edelman Trust Barometer — an annual survey and leading standard of trust and credibility of the world’s four major institutions: government, business, media and NGOs (non-governmental organizations). Edelman himself has become one of the foremost authorities on trust in these fields.

It’s Edelman’s expertise that makes him an ideal fit to frame the week, said Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt.

“Having established the Trust Barometer as an annual study of trust of institutions more than 20 years ago, he provides a foundation for our week of conversation on the state of trust as it shapes and impacts society and democracy,” Ewalt said. “To look at the state of trust at this moment is particularly important, as we consider the traumatic impact of COVID-19, from anxiety and related mental health concerns to growing inequality and political polarization.”

The release of the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer came just six days after the storming of the U.S. Capitol, throwing its findings into stark relief.

“This is the era of information bankruptcy,” Edelman said with the release of the report. “We’ve been lied to by those in charge, and media sources are seen as politicized and biased. The result is a lack of quality information and increased divisiveness. Fifty-seven percent of Americans find the political and ideological polarization so extreme that they believe the U.S. is in the midst of a cold civil war. The violent storming of the U.S. Capitol last week and the fact that only one-third of people are willing to get a COVID vaccine as soon as possible crystallizes the dangers of misinformation.”

Edelman expanded on this idea of “information bankruptcy” in a Feb. 25, 2021, conversation with New York University’s School of Professional Studies’ Department of Integrated Marketing and Communications Department. 

“Fundamental to this is a battle for truth,” he said then. “People have gone into thought bubbles — those on the right see Fox, those on left do the The New York Times, and never the twain shall meet. There’s not an agreed set of facts, and into this void goes misinformation. The key finding for this year’s study is the information bankruptcy, the idea that we cannot get to truth.”

‘Living’ space as the newest frontier: MIT’s Ariel Ekblaw to focus on self-assembling space architecture and habitats in CLS

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ANNALEE HUBBS – COPY & DIGITAL EDITOR

Ekblaw

Ariel Ekblaw doesn’t know yet if space is the final frontier — there’s still much unknown about the universe. But she does know that at this time, space is one absolutely compelling and captivating frontier to explore … and inhabit. 

Ekblaw is the director of the MIT Space Exploration Initiative, a research group of 10 people that serves a community of 50-plus graduate students, faculty and staff. Founded in 2016, the Initiative works on prototyping the artifacts for the future of life in space: architecture, food, health, wearables (space suits) — all things for the interior life of a future space tourist or astronaut.

Ekblaw’s research focuses on space architecture and designing habitats (closed volumes that people live in) that self-assemble in space. Her doctoral degree at MIT focused on that self-assembling space architecture, called TESSERAE, which can be thought of as Legos that snap themselves together in orbit. 

Currently, the modules astronauts live in are aluminum shells that are prefabricated on the ground, like the International Space Station currently in orbit. 

At 10:30 a.m. Thursday, July 8 in the Amphitheater, Ekblaw will delve into Week Two’s theme “New Frontiers: Exploring Today’s Unknowns” with a lecture on the future of space habitation and the ethical questions that arise from these processes. 

“By designing space habitats that can keep humans alive in one really extreme environment, against the vacuum, in extreme temperatures in space — we learn a lot about how to help human life adapt on the surface of the earth,” Ekblaw said. 

Ekblaw grew up reading a lot of science fiction. She loves books that paint an imaginary, or sometimes a very realistic, vision of what life in space is like. 

Ekblaw’s parents are both Air Force pilots, and there’s a long tradition of Air Force pilots becoming  astronauts. Her parents didn’t choose that path, but the importance of exploration and serving her country always lived large in Ekblaw’s childhood — in addition to her deep and profound love of space. 

Ekblaw and her team are currently working on the next space flight test mission for TESSERAE  (Tessellated Electromagnetic Space Structures for the Exploration of Reconfigurable, Adaptive Environments). In March 2020, they prepared and deployed a 30-day experiment mission on the ISS, launching miniature tiles to space to test the self-assembling concept — they launched on SpaceX CRS-20. The test flight was successful, so now they’re working on building the first large-scale, human-sized tiles to launch. 

The team tests both the self-assembly and self-disassembly of tiles. The miniature ones came together and apart on their own. Ekblaw said there’s sensing intelligence in each tile, so there is no human controlling the process — something they call a quasi-stochastic, or somewhat randomly determined, process. 

“There are ways that they want to come together,” she said. “There are magnets on their edges that are drawing them together to bond on their own. Via their onboard sensing system, the tiles determine whether they did a good job — whether they came together correctly or need to try again.” 

One of the aspects Ekblaw thinks is most timely for society, and why she’s interested in space, is that there are extreme environments on the surface of the earth, but that space is also an extreme environment itself. She hopes that the systems they design for life in space could be robust enough that they can learn from them and apply them to earth-based populations as well. 

One technology she thinks might be transferable is “environmental control and life support systems.” The TESSERAE platform is the exo-shell, the self-assembling architecture, but this system is the engineering that would go on the inside for the environmental control. 

“There’s a lot of different environmental controls they can design for the inside of space structures that might also come back down to benefit life on earth,” Ekblaw said.

Ekblaw is looking forward to sharing the best-in-class new technical ideas for making life in space a reality, and she is looking forward to asking if it sounds appealing to people. She said pretty soon “everyday people” will be wanting to go to space, not just astronauts. 

“Part of our mission as designers and engineers for space is to make that an appealing future, so that more people see themselves in the future of space exploration,” Ekblaw said. 

Space is a profound common environment (shared areas that require humans to have good behavior and to treat the environment well), Ekblaw said. So, there is a huge ethical question in space exploration that humanity needs to address: How can we respect the space commons and take care of it as a domain? 

Space debris is just one issue Ekblaw plans to discuss in her lecture today. She said there is a lot of debris in orbit around the earth from our early spacefaring activities as a species (Apollo Era to present day) and that it’s posing a significant challenge. Space debris can be a serious danger to spacecraft orbiting in the same area as the debris, as the spacecraft can be punctured or damaged. More space debris can cause more collisions, which cause more space debris — an effect called the Kessler Syndrome.

Ekblaw thinks the “New Frontiers” theme for Week Two is an interesting topic because it’s important to share the advanced progress in space exploration and pose these ethical questions with a broader swath of people, she said. 

“Earth citizens, U.S. citizens, frequenters of Chautauqua should get to have a say in the future of things that might affect their lives, and these are technologies that could come to affect millions, eventually billions of people’s lives,” she said. 

Ekblaw said it’s important for people to learn about the science behind such advancements, but it’s also important for them to question it — it’s about dialogue. 

The reason space fits as a new frontier right now, Ekblaw said, is because there is currently a surge of activity in the space industry, something that hasn’t been seen to this degree since the Apollo Era.

The U.S. is planning for the first woman to go to the surface of the moon (Artemis mission) and looking ahead to possible human missions to Mars; there’s also potential for commercial space habitats in low Earth orbit — not just the government-funded ISS that’s already out there, but companies having space habitats that could someday be space hotels.

“All these big developments — moon, mars and low Earth orbit — are coming in this next decade, and maybe into the 2030s for a human Mars mission, and this is a really big, literal frontier,” Ekblaw said. “It is exploring the ‘final frontier’ for humanity.”

Intervening in Intervention: Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Elizabeth Kolbert to share ‘Under a White Sky’ for joint morning lecture, CLSC talk

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SARAH VEST – STAFF WRITER

Kolbert

People have been hearing that the sky is falling for years, but now the Doomsday clock has ticked uncomfortably close to midnight. 

And yet, the very technology that people have used to dig the planet into a hole may be the only way to pull it back out — according to Elizabeth Kolbert, the author of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle’s Week Two book Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future. 

She will be giving her joint Chautauqua Lecture Series and CLSC presentation for Week Two’s theme “New Frontiers: Exploring Today’s Unknowns” at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 6 in the Amphitheater. 

Sony Ton-Aime, the Michael I. Rudell Director of Literary Arts, said Kolbert “wrote the best nonfiction book of the past 10 years with The Sixth Extinction, and this book Under a White Sky is as good as The Sixth Extinction.”

This year’s CLSC theme is “The People,” which focuses the lens of events that are happening globally though the people who are experiencing them and, in the case of Under the White Sky, the people who are working to change them. According to Ton-Aime, “this book really captured the idea of the people well.”

Kolbert is a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer and journalist. She has written two other books — The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History and Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change — which both began their lives as articles in The New Yorker, where Kolbert has been a staff writer since 1999. She studied literature at Yale University and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the Universität Hamburg in Germany. Before working at The New Yorker, she was a political reporter for The New York Times. 

According to Kolbert, the driving theme behind Under a White Sky is that humanity is “finding ourselves intervening in natural systems to counteract, or try to correct for, the impacts of their previous interventions.”

Her book is written in a series of anecdotes that span from Chicago to Geelong, Australia. They cover topics ranging from editing the genes of Cane toad using CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) to injecting CO2-infused water into lava rock in order to quickly mineralize the CO2 and keep it out of the atmosphere.

In her presentation, Kolbert will feature a story about the Chicago River, which had its flow reversed in the 1900s and has since been electrified in an effort to keep Asian carp, a subset of invasive species with no predators, out of Lake Michigan. 

“It is a very, very vivid example of the pattern that I’m talking about,” Kolbert said — that of intervention and then reintervention when the first one inevitably creates more problems than solutions. 

Her book paints a bleak picture of the planet’s future, but she said that is part of the reason she wrote it in the first place. 

I think understanding things does have a certain calming effect, even if what you’re understanding is pretty grim or bleak or scary,” Kolbert said.

Despite the fact that the message she is delivering to her readers could be anxiety-inducing, she hopes that the vessel with which she delivers the message will soften the blow. 

“A lot of it is alarming, but it’s sort of a dark comedy,” said Kolbert, who is a recipient of the Heinz Award. “It’s sort of written, weirdly enough, to be a fun read.”

What Kolbert really wants people to get out of her lecture is that we live in an “unprecedented moment.” The ways people are changing the world might seem normal now, but the measures that will need to be taken in the future are unprecedented, and will require the kinds of decisions that cannot be made lightly. 

It boils down to a debate between what society — which is a term Kolbert labels “broad” — is able to do with science and the technological advances that are coming down the pipeline, and if we should actually utilize them. 

“We should have structures in place where these decisions get made in a way that’s both sensible … and equitable,” Kolbert said, “and that’s a lot easier said than done.”

Lauded science fiction author Ted Chiang to frame week looking to future with exploration of genre’s relevance

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SARA TOTH – EDITOR

Chiang

When people talk about science fiction, Ted Chiang thinks, they mostly use the genre as a “synonym for nonsense.” He’d like to correct, or clarify, the record.

“Think of the TV series ‘Westworld,’ ” he said. “There are actors on that show who, in interviews, say, ‘Oh, “Westworld” is not science fiction. It’s dealing with actual issues.’ They’re far from alone in thinking that, but it just makes me think: ‘What do you think science fiction actually is?’ ”

He knows what these actors are trying to say: That “Westworld” and its counterparts are “serious television.” 

“But what they’re basically saying, what they’re implying, is that science fiction isn’t capable of being serious or substantive,” Chiang said. “I’d like to address that.”

Chiang is a celebrated science fiction author whose work has won some of the top prizes in his genre: four Nebula awards, four Hugo awards, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and four Locus awards. 

His debut collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, has been translated into 21 languages; his collection Exhalation was named one of the top 10 books of 2019 by The New York Times Book Review. His short story “Story of Your Life” was the basis of the 2016 film “Arrival,” starring Amy Adams, and he’ll open Week Two of the Chautauqua Lecture Series — themed “New Frontiers: Exploring Today’s Unknowns” — with a lecture titled “Science Fiction and the Idea of the Future” at 10:30 a.m. Monday, July 5 in the Amphitheater.

“I’ll be talking about the march of history as seen through science fiction,” said Chiang, who recently wrapped up the academic year as Artist in Residence at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study. “I think what makes science fiction interesting is the ways that it is relevant to our current situation. Science fiction, I think, has a lot more to say.”

It’s not that other genres of literature are incapable of dealing with certain issues, Chiang said, but he thinks that science fiction is “uniquely well-equipped to deal with the current moment.”

“We live in a real, technologically saturated world,” he said. “And if you think of traditional literary fiction, general-audience fiction, until recently, there’s been very little mention of technology. Even now, novels being published today might not mention technology almost at all. I don’t think that’s an accurate reflection of our lives today.” 

That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, and Chiang understands the reasons why an author may make the choices they do — any accurate depiction of technology “is going to be subject to becoming dated, because that’s the world we live in now.” It’s an uncomfortable situation for a writer to be in.

“With regard to science fiction, there is a willingness to acknowledge facts about our lives, that things are changing very rapidly. … But that is still something that we actually have to live with, and deal with,” he said.

Science fiction’s goal is not to predict the future with any kind of accuracy, Chiang said, but essentially, get readers comfortable with the fact that the future will, in fact, be different than the present, “and we don’t know how it’s going to be different. Anyone, anyone who thinks they know what the future is going to look like is going to be mistaken.”

But the point of thinking about the future, even if we can’t plan for it, is at least to mentally prepare for those new differences, Chiang said.

“Even coming to terms with the fact that the future will be different than the present, that is important,” he said. “And that is one of things that science fiction can do.”

In Chiang’s own work, he said he’s mostly interested in questions of philosophy.

“I like using science fiction as a way to explore and dramatize philosophical questions,” he said. “I think that philosophers often posit scenarios that engage in that kind of thought experiment. But those experiments can seem very remote and abstract to a general audience. … One of the things that I like about science fiction is that it offers a way to make philosophical thought experiments more emotionally engaging, more visceral. It offers a way to make you feel why these questions are interesting.”

In a week filled with speakers who are experts in their field, Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, said Chiang would set the stage for these discussions, taking a big-picture look at the frontiers of the future.

“In this week we delve into the hard science and ethical implications of our decisions at the frontiers of climate change, genome editing and exploring the cosmos,” he said. “But that journey beings with renowned writer Ted Chiang as our guide, examining the role science fiction has had and continues to play in shaping the ideas of the future and helping us to think through our  biggest questions.”

Political scientist Dexter Roberts to forecast China’s uncertain economic future

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Roberts

NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER

It was hard for Dexter Roberts to find an affordable cup of coffee or a good pizza when he arrived in China in 1995. This was before China’s huge economic growth, when there were few cars on the road and the foreign community within the country was very small. 

At 10:30 a.m. Thursday, July 1 in the Amphitheater, Roberts will speak about China’s uncertain economic future and the global implications of that future, closing out the first week’s theme of the 2021 Chautauqua Lecture Series, “China and the World: Collaboration, Competition, Confrontation?”

Despite the lack of access to Western goods while in China, Roberts noticed the great diversity of China’s geography. He’s stayed in every province, from the mountains of western China near Tibet, the frigid northeast near Siberia, and the semi-tropical areas in the southeast near Vietnam and Myanmar. 

As China’s economy grew, Roberts noticed wealth imbalances along geographic lines. Large coastal cities like Beijing and Shanghai held much of the money, while rural areas teemed with poverty. The country’s large middle class — around 400,000 people who mostly live in cities — is dwarfed by the lower class of almost a billion in rural areas. This inequality shows its face when comparing the schools and health care across regions.

“Particularly over the last couple years, there’s been this tendency to look at China as a monolith: one very big, often ominous power that we need to be worried about,” Roberts said. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t be worried about lots of things that are happening in China and with policies of the leadership there. But this idea that it’s monolithic, that there isn’t diversity (is wrong).”

Roberts is an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Montana and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Asia Security Initiative. As a China bureau chief and Asia news editor at Bloomberg Businessweek, he lived in China for more than 20 years. 

Roberts, like most people in the ‘80s and ‘90s, didn’t realize how far China’s economy would climb. He wanted to travel the world and was fascinated by Chinese culture, so he moved there in the mid-‘90s, right when the country was in the midst of a great transition: more cars on the road, people moving to cities and heavy investment in infrastructure. 

“I like to joke that I looked into the future, that China would become the second-largest economy, on track to becoming the world’s largest economy,” Roberts said, “but that’s completely untrue.”

Roberts lived in China from 1995 to 2018. He saw much of the population move into cities for factory and construction jobs. China currently has around 300 million internal migrants, meaning Chinese citizens who travel long distances within the country for work. 

This large group of migrant workers, he said, often come from poorer areas and are some of the most vulnerable populations. Roberts will discuss this group in his talk today. With China transitioning again, this time from an economy driven by exports and factories to one relying on the spending power of their own people, the group reliant on those jobs may become even poorer.

“If they cannot overcome the issues of inequality,” Roberts said, “then they are not going to be able to build an economy much more driven by the spending power of their own people.”

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