Morning Lecture Recaps

Author and journalist David French illustrates deep divisions and long road to heal hearts



David French, sr. editor at ‘Dispatch’ talks about America’s divides during morning lecture Tuesday July 20, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

David French hopes he was wrong. The thesis of his book, Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation, was that every force in the United States is pushing people apart more than they are pulling together. 

“When I wrote my book, I thought, ‘Lots of people are going to think I’m too alarmist,’ ” said French, a journalist and author. “Now, when I talk about the book, the question I get is: When is it going to happen?”

Even with the pandemic, when society had a singular enemy in COVID-19, cultures were warring. 

“It might be the most remarkable cultural war in the history of the culture wars: over whether or not to wear a mask in a pandemic spread by droplets in the air,” French said. “Ten to 15 miles south from where I live, if you wore a mask, you could be smeared in public.”

As well as being an decorated author, French is the senior editor at The Dispatch and a columnist for Time. During his lecture, “Divided We Fall: Understanding and Healing a Broken Land,” at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 20 in the Amphitheater, French discussed three major causes of increasing polarization; he said the way forward was healing the heart of America, though this process will take multiple years. This was the second lecture of Week Four of the Chautauqua Lecture Series’ theme of “Many Americas: Navigating Our Divides.”

We can be the seeds of something new. We can be the seeds of renewal.”

– David French,
Senior editor,
The Dispatch

Big Sort and Overton Window

Recently, The New York Times released an online test that showed how dense people’s ideological bubbles are. It works by checking voting records and party memberships by state and county.

So French checked how big his own bubble is and realized that his area is 85% Republican. Then he checked other places he has lived, from Manhattan and Philadelphia to Tennessee and Alabama, all of which were 85-90% a particular party.

“I’ve lived in nothing but a bubble,” French said.

This is part of the “big sort,” which French defined as people naturally becoming stuck in ideological bubbles, based on geography, political affliction and other factors. 

Eighty percent of Americans live in ideological bubbles because of people’s tendency to choose to live in places with like-minded neighbors. French said this is a large reason that most districts in the U.S. are “landslide districts,” meaning that they vote for a particular party or candidate with 80% of the surrounding population.

And this phenomenon doesn’t end with elections and politics. French said that TV viewership can be mapped using ideological views of the audience, such as the biggest show on television for many years, “Game of Thrones,” which was primarily watched by Hillary Clinton voters. 

“By itself, it’s benign. By itself, it’s very understandable,” French said. “You tend to like people and like to be around people who share your common interest. It’s just human nature.”

Coupled with the big sort is the Overton Window, which refers to the concepts that are inbounds and outbounds for a particular conversation and group of people, meaning that there are acceptable words a person can use in conversation.

A positive effect of the Window is that it gives society a common language to discuss complex issues and has largely eliminated the use of blatant hate speech and racist terms in popular discourse.

“We have now moved into team red and team blue so sharply that in many areas we don’t even have one window anymore. We have two windows of discourse,” French said. “So that the language that you use in one community disqualifies you from even consideration … in the other community.”

However, French has experienced the negative effects of the Overton Window, on both sides of the aisle. He said that if he uses the term “systemic racism” in more Republican crowds, then all the ears will shut.

“If you talk about systemic racism as a concept (to those audiences), you are then outside the bounds of acceptable discourse; you have identified yourself as a member of the opposition and you are not somebody worth listening to,” French said.

David French, sr. editor at ‘Dispatch’ talks about America’s divides during morning lecture Tuesday July 20, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Law of Group Polarization

French defined the Law of Group Polarization as the tendency of groups of like-minded people to become more extreme when they gather.

“If you go to a meeting that is designed to combat climate change, and you’re brainstorming ideas for things you can do in your community to combat climate change,” French said, “are you going to leave the meeting less concerned about the state of the planet? No.”

This can cause every member of the group, after the gathering, to become more extreme than the most extreme member before the meeting, which French called a cascade. He said this was prominently the case with President Donald Trump.

“I was living in rural Tennessee when the rise of Trump occurred,” French said. “In fact, the identification, and the affiliation, and zealous loyalty to Donald Trump was evidence of this cascading effect upon polarization.”

French said that some of his neighbors went from saying Trump was their last choice for president, to supporting the president avidly. 

While in years past, graphs of American ideological views had a bell curve, with the majority in the middle and a few at the extreme left and right, French said the graph now looks like a “U.”

“Even large-scale differences can be manageable, if not accompanied by large-scale animosity,” French said.

Many people are now more motivated to vote by a distrust of the opposing party than they are by faith in their own party. French said 82% of Republicans strongly or somewhat disliked Democrats, while 78% of Democrats strongly or somewhat dislike Republicans. And 20% of America would be OK if a large percentage of the opposing party died — “I’m not saying they would kill them,” French said; rather that those respondents think if those with whom they disagree “just went away,” things would be better.

“Twenty percent of Americans are now ascribing dehumanized characteristics, animalistic type characteristics to their opponents,” French said. “And it’s not the quiet 65 million.”

And social media is doing little favors. French said social media has nationalized “all our beefs, all our dramas.” Even in times of great national strife, local events mainly stayed local, such as in 1968, when French said there were two to three political bombings a day in the U.S., yet the national newspapers rarely covered them. 

Now, people can see almost everything in real time.

“So what ends up happening is we have instant access to every political atrocity in the United States. No, no, that’s not actually correct,” French said. “We have instant access, because of our curated feeds, to every atrocity committed by another side.”

French defined this as nutpicking, when people take an extreme example and portray it as typical. One example of this was when First Lady Barbara Bush died. While most people from both sides of the aisle mourned the beloved mother and wife of two presidents, one liberal professor from California, with a few thousand followers, tweeted she was glad Bush died. 

“She becomes this symbol of all that’s wrong with the left,” French said. “So for about a week, she is the most famous professor in all of America.”

Unfortunately, Twitter and other platforms have no shortage of extremists, which French likened to “a never-ending amount of fuel.”

To combat the polarizing nature of social media, French started to follow a progressive user for each conservative he added. His bipartisan Twitter feed allowed him to realize how stark the difference was between the world conservatives and liberals saw on social media. 

During the protests following George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, French saw this divide in real time. The right side of his feed showed violence, people burning down buildings and attacking police officers.

“You would think that every city in the United States of America is being systematically destroyed and looted,” French said.

The left side of his Twitter feed told a different story: police officers attacking peaceful protesters. 

French said he was not saying everyone is equally at fault.

“No, I only saw one team take the Capitol on Jan. 6,” French said. “There’s a justice to the matter here. The justice of the matter is one side tried to overthrow the government of the United States and is now in the business of minimizing that and pretending it didn’t happen. That has to be opposed.”

David French, sr. editor at ‘Dispatch’ talks about America’s divides during morning lecture Tuesday July 20, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

What can we do?

French said people need to recognize the reality of the state of polarization in the country. He said the U.S. needs to de-escalate partisan politics.

“That’s not going to happen anytime soon,” French said. “And the reason is we’re locked in such a partisan struggle that every conflict, as I said, is national. Every conflict is national.”

It’s going to take more than policy reforms.

“We have to have a reform at the heart level,” French said, “then dissolve this animosity and then engage with true tolerance.”

He ended his lecture with two quotes from the Bible. The first was a favorite quote of President George Washington and was featured in the musical Hamilton.

“Every man shall sit under his own vine and his own fig tree, and no one will make him afraid.” — Micah 4:4.

French said people need to know they have a place in this country and not fear for their livelihoods based on who the president is. 

The second, French said, dealt with how to reach a society where everyone has their own space under a fig tree. Chautauquans knew this quote, and many of the crowd recited it along with French. 

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” — Micah 6:8.

As part of the Q-and-A session, Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, asked French what small acts people could take.

French said to take his last Bible quote to heart, and truly love mercy.

“We can be the seeds of something new. We can be the seeds of renewal,” French said. “America has faced dark grim times and dark, grim division, and it’s emerged from the other side, not perfect by any means in any stretch of our history, but better. But better.”

Journalist and author Amanda Ripley shares keys to supporting good conflict



Investigative journalist and New York Times-bestselling author Amanda Ripley talks about her book, High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out, Monday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were close friends before they were political adversaries. Adams took a young Jefferson under his wing, and the two collaborated to write the Declaration of Independence. But even the strongest connections, whether between family or friends, wither under the pressure of high conflict.

Amanda Ripley, a New York Times-bestselling author, defined high conflict as a period of argument or disagreement in which the conflict itself becomes the focus, instead of the logical facts or even feelings.

High conflict has three key features: group identities, humiliation and outside conflict entrepreneurs. Both Adams and Jefferson initially opposed the idea of political parties, then were swept into different factions, until they stood as competing candidates for president. 

Running against his protégé in the 1796 presidential election and almost losing was a public humiliation for Adams. Ripley, quoting Nelson Mandela, said, “You mustn’t compromise your principles, but you mustn’t humiliate the opposition. No one is more dangerous than the one who is humiliated.”

The last nail in this conflict coffin came from Jefferson’s camp, specifically from another future president, James Madison. When Jefferson drafted a letter apologizing to Adams, Madison recommended he not send it because it could damage Jefferson’s reputation if it got leaked. 

“For the sake of the young country, there was a lot they should have discussed,” Ripley said. “But that’s not what happened, because this was high conflict, in which everyone suffers to various degrees.”

And, well over 200 years since Adams and Jefferson, much of society lingers in this trap of high conflict: 80% of Americans are stressed about the future, half have stopped talking to someone about politics because of the person’s beliefs and two-thirds hold a political view they are afraid to share. 

As well as her book, High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out, Ripley’s work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and many others. At 10:30 a.m. on Monday, July 19 in the Amphitheater, Ripley discussed the nature of good and high tension, the hard trek of bridging divides and multiple real-life examples of people in different fields, from politics to organized crime, working toward a better-connected society. 

Her lecture, “The Conflict Trap,” opened Week Four’s theme of “Many Americas: Navigating Our Divides” of the Chautauqua Lecture Series.

Around five years ago, Ripley realized facts weren’t enough and traditional journalism wasn’t equipped to bridge the growing fragments of the U.S.

“I wish I recognized this earlier: Our perception matters more than the facts all the time,” Ripley said. “I hate that it’s true, but it’s especially true in conflict.”

So she sought out people who had a lot of experience in high conflict situations, from health care workers to politicians to soldiers. Through these conversations, Ripley saw how conflict can transition from good to high. 

Good conflict, as Ripley defined, is dynamic, when both sides discuss, listen and act. Even if the arguments are tense and emotions are high, good conflict leads somewhere. 

“People do escape high conflict. They don’t suddenly agree, and this is important: They don’t surrender their beliefs. They don’t censor them, either,” Ripley said. “Instead, they do something much more interesting. We become capable of comprehending that with which they disagree. And that changes everything: Curiosity returns, IQs go back up, conflict becomes necessary and good instead of destructive.”

Investigative journalist and New York Times-bestselling author Amanda Ripley talks about her book, High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out, Monday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Ripley noticed a pattern in her conversations. In times of high conflict, people were able to break out when they are able, or are forced, to pause. Usually, this is the point where people realize they are losing more than they are gaining.

This point could occur when a child becomes sick when parents are fighting, or a catastrophe during wartime. For 10 years during the Colombian Civil War, Ripley said 52,000 people left the armed conflict voluntarily.

“People left the conflict when they reached a saturation point. Sometimes it was when their side experienced major casualties. Sometimes it was when their unit ran low on money,” Ripley said. “Misery can create opportunity.”

Ripley said during soccer games, the Colombian government ran ads inviting rebel fighters to come home and watch games with their families. The day after each soccer game, there were 20 extra demobilizations — 10 times the daily average.

“But, really, the best defense against high conflict that I’ve seen is to create a counterculture of good conflict. That sounds so starry-eyed, I know, like a fantasy,” Ripley said. “So to prove that it’s possible, I want to tell you one last story today.”

B’nai Jeshurun, an influential Manhattan synagogue, had major tension among its congregants after the rabbis praised a United Nations vote favorable to Palestinians. Some members adamantly supported Israel, while others held harsh critiques. The conflict landed on the front page of the The New York Times, members withheld their donation and left, and others remained silent.

“The rabbis were stunned. It felt like an earthquake,” Ripley said. “People they loved and respected and thought loved and respected them were saying terrible things very publicly.”

So the leaders of the synagogue decided to bring in outside experts on conducting conversations. 

“So it wasn’t ‘Kumbaya;’ it was more like training for an Ironman competition, just to be clear. It was hard. There were structured workshops and intensive staff training, in-depth sessions with the rabbis and the board,” Ripley said. “The goal was to understand, not to agree: a huge, but underappreciated, difference.”

Ripley said that being heard often makes a person more willing to listen to others. People shared personal stories about their “connections to Israel, about feeling torn between their sense of justice and their sense of duty.”

“One woman explained how so many of her relatives had been killed in the Holocaust. She’d been raised to believe that any criticism of Israel was sacrilegious,” Ripley said. “This didn’t make other people agree with her suddenly, but it’s helped them to be less mystified by her.”

After months and months of listening sessions, the synagogue discovered the underlying conflict: fear for the future and a fear of speaking out. Ripley said most had ambivalent feelings toward Israel, with some changing their opinion day by day depending on how questions were asked. 

The discussions, for three years, barely resembled those of a high conflict. The synagogue continued to use these methods through many different conflicts and discussions. Then something different came along: Donald Trump’s election in 2016.

“This didn’t seem to be a conflict they could lean into. It felt unique,” Ripley said. “How could they cultivate good conflict with people they’ve never met?”

Most of the synagogue’s congregants voted for Hillary Clinton, so they couldn’t resolve this conflict without reaching outside their organization. Very far, in this case — all the way to Michigan, where 16 conservative Christians who worked in a prison were willing to join in deep conversations. 

The program worked like this: First the members of the New York synagogue would live with the Michiganders for three days, then a few months later, the reverse would happen. Ripley talked to and interviewed both sides, and saw similar fears. 

Investigative journalist and New York Times-bestselling author Amanda Ripley talks about her book, High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out, Monday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The New Yorkers expected bigotry; one was fearful they would be shot. The Michiganders, on the other hand, expected condescension; one was fearful they were inviting Antifa into their homes. 

“It occurred to me that it might have been less nerve-racking for these Americans to host actual foreigners rather than fellow Americans,” Ripley said. “But, for reasons none of them could fully articulate, about a dozen New York liberals and a dozen Michigan conservatives signed on, and they all agreed to let me come along.”

Despite their political, geographic and religious differences, the two groups grew to understand each other. Some of the New Yorkers even took their companions to Trump Tower to buy memorabilia. 

“It was a strange encounter to behold, slightly contrived but less awkward than it sounds. I had left Washington D.C., where the politicians remain locked in combat, to watch these Americans doing something much more interesting: Coming together with copious misunderstandings and many questions. Despite everything, they still wanted to make sense of each other.”

As part of the Q-and-A session, Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill asked Ripley what the first step is to escaping high conflict. 

Ripley said a good first step is to create a non-aggression pact. While this is a step short of a full peace treaty or resolution, rules of engagement often stop tensions from starting. One example is an agreement between gangs in Chicago to not taunt each other on social media, and for gang members not to go to areas they did not control. Ripley said this was a very important first step because 70% of gang conflict in Chicago starts on social media. 

“So, basic parameters … create that cause of the conflict,” Ripley said. “Then here’s the interesting thing: Someone always violates the pact. Always. But you have a process in place to slow down the escalation.”

This was the case in Chicago. One gang member posted a photo on Facebook of him with a gun on a street corner, “mocking the organization who had this territory,” and mediators were able to contact the other gang and ask for a two-hour window before retaliating. Within an hour and a half, the photo was taken down, and the situation ended without any shots fired. 

“So, this is an example of how you can slow down those forces of humiliation especially,” Ripley said.
“Why would we ask traumatized young men in violent situations to do something we have not asked the members of Congress to do?”

Hill then asked Ripley if COVID-19 and the Jan. 6 insurrection could not interrupt the high conflict in the U.S., what can?

“I do think that some people did escape high conflict in the aftermath of both of those shocks,” Ripley said. “… (There were) families that were estranged, and then the pandemic happened and they’re not anymore.”

When she wrote about polarization for The Atlantic, researchers would half-jokingly tell her that if an alien invasion happened, society would have a common enemy and unify to solve a lot of its problems.

“Then we got it. But we have conflict entrepreneurs in charge,” Ripley said. “So that was a missed opportunity, not in every place, but in a lot of places. Unfortunately, there will be more opportunities, I promise you.”

MIT’s Deb Roy analyzes divisions caused by social media-dominated world



Deb Roy, director of the MIT Center for Constructive Communication, delivers his lecture “Social Media & Democracy” Thursday, July 15, 2021 in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Social media has a unique phenomenon: Even though technology allows people from across the world to connect, it has ultimately fragmented society’s interactions. 

And this isn’t unique to Facebook, Twitter or other platforms. Even the telegraph and the train, technologies that allow humans to travel great distances, create psychological distance, in the same way people yell at each other during traffic.

Deb Roy, executive director of the MIT Center of Constructive Communication, said this phenomenon is partly due to the lack of negative feedback loops on social media. He said these feedback loops are vital for society because they make people aware of mistakes they make and provide them an opportunity to improve. But now, many people only become aware of their mistake when it is too late. 

“(Social media) breaks down that ability to self-regulate, but it doesn’t mean there are no consequences,” Roy said. “It just means the negative signals are diffuse and the actors are not aware.”

As well as working at the center, Roy is a professor of media arts and sciences at MIT and a visiting professor at Harvard Law School. At 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 15 in the Amphitheater, he presented his lecture, titled “Social Media and Democracy,” as part of Week Three of the Chautauqua Lecture Series’ theme of “Trust, Democracy and Society.” Roy discussed how social media has caused societal fragmentation and degradation of human interactions, and laid out a way forward using a new technology he helped develop. That technology has already proved its worth by forging local connections across the country and assisting in a police chief search in Wisconsin and the mayoral race in Boston.

Deb Roy, director of the MIT Center for Constructive Communication, delivers his lecture “Social Media & Democracy” Thursday, July 15, 2021 in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Roy wanted to know how exactly people tend to interact on social media. So in 2015, using artificial intelligence, he helped create a map of every single mutual follow on Twitter. The graph looks like a circle on one side and an-almost crescent shape on the other, with little connections between. 

The circle, colored red, represented people who followed President Donald Trump’s account. This group had little mutual follows with people outside the circle, but many connections with others in the circle. The first part of the crescent were people who followed multiple candidates, and the second was Hillary Clinton followers, who were much less connected compared to Trump followers. The last portion of the crescent was Sen. Bernie Sanders’ followers, who had quite a few connections with Trump followers. Then, Roy and his team marked the public Twitter accounts of thousands of journalists; even the most right-leaning of them, some who worked at Breitbart News Network and Fox News, were not in the circle of Trump followers. Roy said part of the many journalists’ surprise at the results of the 2016 election stemmed from the mass fragmentation.

And there is a lot of toxicity and divisions within the social media platforms. One of Roy’s colleagues had particular problems with an online troll. His colleague is a Muslim woman of color, and this troll was relentless, saying phrases that the colleague wouldn’t repeat to Roy. She eventually figured out the troll was from Kansas and offered to get lunch when she was passing through.

And, as she sat in the restaurant, a mother of two wearing a cardigan walked in and sat with her.

“After a few awkward words of exchange, they entered into a real conversation,” Roy said. “They talked about their lives, about their jobs.”

The mother stopped her trollish ways — for five weeks. 

“It’s a sad ending, but I share this story with you to make two points. The first is: same two people over Twitter versus in person — what a different outcome. Maybe there’s just a little glimmer of a (personal connection) that emerged in that lunch, and it actually had an effect for weeks,” Roy said. “The second is one-time interventions, one-time fixes won’t do it. We have to actually create new life habits.”

So if singular interactions don’t cut it, how can people forge connections in the age of social media? Roy said it starts at a local level, “a place that we can make substantial change.” 

To forge these connections, Roy helped develop technology and a practice that helps bring people together, instead of driving them apart. Roy and the center paired small group meetings with engaging with local leaders and their own invention. It’s called a Digital Heart, a device that transcribes conversations and sorts the audio based on topics, such as education or fear of police. During conversations, the facilitator will search for audio from another recording about the same topic, effectively bringing a new voice and viewpoint into the discussion. Then the participants will respond to that viewpoint. Roy shared a recording of one such interaction this technology spurred in the town of Madison, Ohio. This is from a teacher, who is white, in Madison:

“My experiences with officers in the schools is that they do everything they can not to arrest kids,” the teacher said. “They’re extremely kind and very, very, very positive role models for kids in schools. The schools I’ve worked in, some of the resource officers are people of color, and they’re working with students of color, and they’re able to see a police officer in a responsible role, being good with kids, being supportive.”

A facilitator of another conversation asked their participants, who were all formerly incarcerated men, to respond to this quote. 

Deb Roy, director of the MIT Center for Constructive Communication, delivers his lecture “Social Media & Democracy” Thursday, July 15, 2021 in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

One man said he couldn’t see how police in school were effective. He said when he was a teenager and in an institution, he had a “teenager temper tantrum, and I was just out of control.”

“I remember a guy by the name of Bruce. He grabbed me, because I was out of control. He just grabbed me, put his arms around me and just held me, and I was trying to get away and all of those things, he just didn’t let me go,” the man said. “He didn’t allow me to hit him or none of the above. Ultimately, I just tired myself out, and I just cried.”

Bruce didn’t hurt him.

“He didn’t disrespect me. He didn’t belittle me. He allowed me to calm down, and then he started to talk to me. And I say that because to this day that was an act of love. And it was not an act of disrespect,” the man said. “And so I think when it comes from the family and from the community, it’s a better perspective versus it coming from the police, because police can’t do just that — they’re gonna police.”

This technology can be used for specific tasks as well. After Madison, Wisconsin, police officers shot a Black man named Tony Robinson and the police chief suddenly retired, the Madison Police and Fire Commission asked Roy’s group to help the department listen to the community and use the people’s voices and concerns to craft questions, and do so in a transparent, trusted way.

He said his group worked closely with local community members to engage with marginalized communities and people who do not routinely show up to town hall meetings. He said town hall meetings can be sometimes performative, especially given the three-minute speaking limit and the requirement to speak in front of a large crowd, and that smaller, group conversations are often effective in welcoming new voices. 

“We heard a very different kind of perspective, (from) people who would not show up (to town hall meetings), or even if they did, would not share in the way that they did through these smaller conversations,” Roy said. “They knew they were being recorded. They were actually wanting their voice to create a durable record that was transparent and accountable.”

Roy’s group pored through the audio, with the help of artificial intelligence, and sorted recordings into different themes. Here are some of the voices that shaped the questions to the Madison police chief candidates: 

“It’s hard to get away from how powerful the institution and the badge and having a gun is and how much that emboldens individuals,” said Carla, whose quote was sorted into the fear theme.

“Growing up, one of the first values and principles that I was taught was to never trust police in any situation or the circumstance. That was kind of proven to me around age 12 and 13, when I saw a family member be shot in the back eight times,” said James, whose quote was sorted into the trust theme.

“They are police and they police. That’s what they do. They’re not counselors, they’re not social workers, and so all of those factors (are) not even in the equation,” said Felix, whose quote was sorted into the scope theme.

“The police in this community and the communities across our country don’t look at people who need support, and people who need someone to guide them, or just be there for them through their struggles — they see them as a problem. They’re not a problem. They are people,” said Kimberly, whose quote was sorted into the disabilities theme. 

These quotes were then used to help craft questions during public interviews. Roy said the public had access to how they came up with these questions and could even listen to the full conversations they sprouted from. 

Currently, Roy’s group is assisting in the mayoral race of Boston, a historically segregated city, in a similar way.

“I hope you will also consider this simply as a case study of how some of the same technologies, where we see some of the problems in social media, can actually be leveraged to create new possibilities,” Roy said.

Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, ended the lecture by asking Roy one question: How can people get involved in this work? 

Roy said they are looking for more communities to get involved in, particularly ones that have “experience or the capacity to facilitate conversation and dialogue.”

“We would love to hear from you,” Roy said, “because we are really set up to provide training and support and try to grow these kinds of efforts.”

‘Commentary’  writer Christine Rosen discusses fall of civil discussion and rise of cancel culture



Christine Rosen, senior writer for Commentary, delivers her lecture “Trust, Freedom, and Cancel Culture” Wednesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

The divide in the United States over cancel culture is more of a gap between generations than it is between political parties, said Christine Rosen, senior writer at Commentary, an opinion magazine founded in 1945. In 2015, the Pew Research Center found that 40% of millennials believe the government should be able to prevent people from publicly makingly offensive statements against minority groups, versus 24% of baby boomers. 

In contrast, in 2018, a majority of college students said that diversity and inclusivity was more important than free speech, that there should be punishments for people who make racist remarks, and safe spaces established on campuses. 

This is true for young Republicans as well: 70% say they need safe space on their campuses.

“Talk to college students, if you know any,” Rosen said. “The most deadly sin one can commit is to offend. Identity politics on college campuses has created hierarchies of oppression, which are rigidly enforced, and it’s unmoored from the complicated realities of how those people live.”

Rosen compared the experience of college students to those of “the shell-shocked soldier just navigating the minefield.” Students will equate certain ideas and phrases to physical violence, she said, and silence is another form of violence.

According to Rosen, this has brought about a misunderstanding about what it means to be tolerant.

“A tolerant person is someone who listens to things about which he or she might have personally disapproved,” Rosen said. “Tolerance is something one exercises from strength or character, not something they demand out of fear or seeking of power. It doesn’t prevent us from judging the behaviors or opinions of others. It simply insists that one accepts the reality that not everyone will always agree with you.”

As well as being an opinion writer, Rosen is a chair of the Colloquy on Knowledge, Technology & Culture at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. Her lecture, “Trust, Freedom, and Cancel Culture,” was part of the Chautauqua Lecture Series’ Week Three theme of “Trust, Society and Democracy.” At 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 14 in the Amphitheater, Rosen discussed the harm that shaming and cancelation has on discussion and society, and how social media fueled this culture. 

Rosen discussed those affected by the quick trigger of cancel culture. Former New York Times Editorial Page Editor James Bennet was fired for publishing an article from Republican Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, which Rosen said made other members of staff feel unsafe.

“So even if you accept that some of what’s happening here is a new form of accountability,” Rosen said, “this method of needing our justice and holding people to new norms builds to some of these long-term consequences of cancel culture.”

Alongside firing people who seem to have done nothing wrong, Rosen said, cancel culture — particularly self-censorship — undermines the First Amendment and self-expression. 

When Rosen says self-censorship, she does not mean when a person tells someone else a term makes them uncomfortable, and the other person listens and apologizes. 

“That’s civility. That’s conversation. That’s how we used to do things,” Rosen said. “Not always successfully.”

Christine Rosen, senior writer for Commentary, delivers her lecture “Trust, Freedom, and Cancel Culture” Wednesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Self-censorship refers to a person refraining from questioning an argument, or giving their side of it, in fear of being targeted. 

“There are certain times where you shouldn’t say everything that comes to your mind,” Rosen said. “But again, the rules can’t be made out of fear; they have to be made out of empathy.”

Rosen said people sometimes place morals unnecessarily onto conversations for self-promotion, such as a person posting on social media for likes and attention — but also as an “expression of dominance.”

“These people use moral talk to shame or silence others and to create fear,” Rosen said. “They verbally threaten and teach to humiliate — and humiliation, in particular, has a tendency that I think to be taking too much hold on our institutions, particularly politics.”

She blamed social media platforms, which prompt an “engagement by loudness” and reward younger people for tirades through likes and shares. 

“All of these platforms privilege immediate reactions, not contemplation,” Rosen said. “They encourage the development of an outer-directed self that becomes reliant on validation from others.”

She then gave the example of online quizzes, like “Which Harry Potter character are you?” or “What is your spirit animal?,” which Rosen said are harmless by themselves. But, she said these quizzes signaled to her that this generation, lacking a sense of who they are as people, look outside to find themselves. 

“The younger generations, who have been raised with smartphones and the internet, have also been raised to value speed and immediacy, which are the opposite (of) the kinds of things upon which communities and institutions need to grow,” Rosen said.

Duke University professor John Rose, an instructor at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, is one of the people standing up for the values of freedom of speech and expression. In a poll of his students at the beginning of the semester, Rose discovered that many shared the same problem of needing to self-censor, no matter their political party. One wrote that it was difficult to be both a liberal and a Zionist at the university, and another said that though they agreed with most of the ideas of Black Lives Matter, they couldn’t have a conversation that lightly criticized the movement.

So Rose created rules in his classroom to ensure the safety of discussion, such as letting students talk about how they are no longer allowed to talk. Students would have no social or professional penalties for what they said in the classroom.

“That used to be something that goes without saying in the classroom,” Rosen said.

Rose indicted both political parties for the state of civil discussions in the classroom and the country: He blamed progressives and liberals, who dominate these institutions, for defending moves that suppress free speech; and he blamed conservatives for quickly writing off universities as “irredeemable bastions of progressive privilege.”

Rosen quoted Rose: “We’re all wrong. What we need to do is create these spaces where genuine debate can occur, and students can have disagreements in civil fashion.”

As part of the following Q-and-A session, Geof Follansbee, senior vice president and chief advancement officer, asked Rosen if it was possible to argue that cancel culture has always existed — looking to McCarthyism as a prototype. 

“It is human instinct to ‘cancel’ one’s opponent, ideologically and politically,” Rosen said.

Rosen said society is talking about cancel culture more because social media is such a powerful tool, and institutions cave immediately to very small groups from within their own organizations.

Follansbee then asked Rosen when it is appropriate for social media to censor people. 

Rosen said she is fine with private companies, like Twitter and Facebook, censoring people.

“I think any of those platforms can ban anyone they want,” Rosen said. “What they can’t do is say that they are doing it out of either rules broken, principles crossed, and then not be consistent in their application.”

‘The time is now’: Media scholar Meredith Clark outlines need for reparative journalism



Media Studies professor Meredith D Clark talks about reparative journalism and the role media plays in rebuilding trust during her morning lecture on Tuesday July 13, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

When Meredith D. Clark was growing up, she wondered why newspaper photos of Black people always looked off. 

“I could never quite figure out why the newspaper couldn’t print more flattering photos of people who looked like me,” Clark said. “But then I began to work in the field.”

She later learned that it was because the industry used “Shirley Cards,” photos of white women that are routinely referenced to calibrate light, shadows and skin tones.

“Which means if you are darker, even if you are more pale, the camera doesn’t quite see you as you are seen. It doesn’t quite pick up on the intricacies of your appearance. Similarly, news media is calibrated this way,” said Clark, who previously was an assistant professor in media studies at the University of Virginia and was recently named associate professor at Northeastern University’s College of Art, Media and Design.  

A recent opinion piece by Brent Staples of The New York Times, titled “How The White Press Wrote Off Black America,” delves into how newsrooms have historically had primarily white, well-off reporters who targeted white, wealthy audiences. This lack of diversity caused wide gaps in coverage, such as a correction that ran on the front page of Clark’s own hometown newspaper when she had recently graduated college. 

It read: “It has come to the editor’s attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the civil rights movement. We regret the omission.”

“It was in this moment that I began to understand exactly why our preacher called the Herald-Leader the ‘Herald Misleader,’ and why my parents refused to subscribe,” Clark said.

She said journalism schools, which were also founded by white, land-owning men, always teach the importance of objectivity.

“How objective could it be, leaving out entire swaths of the American populace?” Clark said.

And she said this wasn’t just a journalism problem: Everyone has a role to play.

As well as being a professor, Clark is the author of DRAG THEM: A Brief Etymology of Cancel Culture. At 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, July 13 in the Amphitheater as part of the Chautauqua Lecture Series, Clark explored the importance of reparative journalism, the role that Black women play in the movement, and ways society can move forward. The lecture, titled “The Time is Now,” was the second presentation of Week Three’s theme of “Trust, Society and Democracy.”

Visionary, not reactionary, and grounded in the history of the ignored

Media Studies professor Meredith D Clark talks about reparative journalism and the role media plays in rebuilding trust during her morning lecture on Tuesday July 13, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Clark said she was radicalized on Jan. 6, 2021, when she saw the U.S. Capitol riots on TV. 

“Jan. 6, for an American, was one of the most difficult days of my life,” Clark said, “because it was the day that I learned that the principles that I had been taught my entire life could be for sale — that they were available for purchase to the highest bidder.”

And the highest bidder wasn’t the president or the rioters, Clark said. It was the news media.

“The news media … is subject to a cycle of 24 hours a day, seven days a week, making sure that there is something on the television, on our screens, in our newspapers that will keep us angry, afraid and on edge,” Clark said. “It took a while to recover from this hurt.”

What is needed and has been needed for a long time, she said, is reparative journalism: reporting that not only acknowledges the mistakes of the past, but actively repairs the gaps in coverage and treatment of underrepresented communities. She identified six key traits that journalism needs to strive for: It needs to be visionary, not reactionary; grounded in the history of the ignored; critically intentional, and comprehensive. It needs to find alternative funding and, what she said is usually the most controversial point, redistribute power.

In terms of the first two, Clark said journalists need to approach stories from a bottom-up mindset, interviewing those most affected first. She said that, currently, the trend in news media is to interview people in charge, and then slowly, if at all, move down the ladder of power.

“How do you begin to see the world differently when you look from underneath?” Clark said.

Journalism also needs to move away from reacting and waiting for events to happen, Clark said, and move toward actively seeking stories. 

“We know that there is plenty of uncovered news and information that the world needs to know,” Clark said. “That’s why we celebrate unknown stories and unknown histories when they come to light.”

Though there has been more of a push in recent years for more diverse newsrooms, people in power have known about this problem for decades. In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered a review of the dividing society in America. This report, called the Kerner Commission, found that “Our Nation is moving toward two separate societies, one white and one Black, separate and unequal.”

Clark said that the report also put much of the blame on the growing divide on the news media, not because it was sensationalizing or fear-mongering, but because “the news media simply did not have the depth of understanding that it needed to communicate to different sectors of society, what it was like to live outside of privilege.”

Critically intentional and alternative funding

Media Studies professor Meredith D Clark talks about reparative journalism and the role media plays in rebuilding trust during her morning lecture on Tuesday July 13, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Black women, Clark said, are at the center of the push toward reparative news and being critically intentional in order to better represent every part of society.

She defined many key features of Black feminism. Black feminists have historically been a part of an oppressed group, from journalism schools not admitting Black women until the 1950s to Black women, currently, having a disproportional amount of college loan debt.

“They were subjected to the same sort of oppression that white women experienced with the added layer of racism. … Black women experience disparities in terms of health care, maternal mortality, and even their opportunity to move in the ways that this country says we can be effective in terms of social mobility,” Clark said.

Another key point is that Black women are a diverse group with different beliefs, class, education and age. 

“I mentioned this to help us remember that when we see people from different backgrounds, who are held up as an exemplar of what the Black community is or does or what the LGBTQ community is or does, we have to remember that we are talking about a range of experiences — with some commonality,” Clark said.

Black feminists throughout history have found alternative ways of making progress, such as organizing child care during the civil rights movement so that people could attend protests and, now, utilizing hashtags on social media to spread information. 

And Clark said the journalism industry, like Black feminists, needs to find alternative ways to progress, especially when it comes to funding. With print advertising decreasing, local journalism shrinking and large corporations taking over small newspapers, she said, this is a large issue the industry is trying to address, and that she did not have the answer. 

Comprehensive work and redistributing power

In 2019, the Associated Press changed their stylebook to say that journalists could write that things were racist — something that was actively discouraged previously. It was a good first step toward reparative journalism, but more should be done, Clark said.

“It’s not enough to simply repair the surface issues. We must look beyond, into the wounds that have been leveraged against our respective communities and find what needs to be addressed,” Clark said.

As well as being comprehensive, Clark said reparative journalism requires a redistribution of power, not through violence, or even through one side losing, but simply by thinking about who is put at the center of stories. 

Clark said this is part of the hard work ahead, for journalists, executives, economists and readers. 

“Reparative journalism, like the struggles for freedom, for justice, for equality, is the work of generations,” Clark said. “It begins with us today. It continues long after we are gone, and I invite you to join us into this great work.”

As part of the Q-and-A session, Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, asked Clark to discuss the role of transparency in reparative journalism.

In a study Clark conducted in 2018, she talked to people in communities who didn’t pay attention to the news media.

“They said one of the reasons that they didn’t was because it was so artificial, that there was no transparency about how stories came to be,” Clark said.

She said readers want to know how the article was created, and for the writer to acknowledge their own biases. 

Ewalt then asked what the ideal structure for journalism could be.

Clark said that the perfect structure isn’t known yet. She said that the industry, as it currently exists, supports many jobs and families — so upending it isn’t realistic.

“We cannot wait for one system to become obsolete in order to take up this challenge. Some of that work has to begin where we are right now, and so there are pushes that are happening from inside the house that help with that regard,” Clark said. “I will never say that I see a singular model or a singular form for reparative journalism.”

Richard Edelman, creator of eponymous Trust Barometer, opens Week 3 by tracking trends in trust over past 20 years



CEO of global communications firm Edelman, Richard Edelman, during morning lecture on Monday July 12, 2021 in the Amphitheater KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

People’s trust can be viewed as a pyramid. Previously, said Richard Edelman, the government and those with power held the top as the most trusted. Now, it is flipped, as people turn more to those closest and share news articles with those in their political bubble.

So, Edelman, CEO of the global communications firm Edelman and the creator of the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey of trust in government, business, media and nongovernmental organizations, said businesses are now more trusted than governments — even in addressing systemic racism, climate change and health care reform.

On the most recent Barometer, business is 40 points more trusted in competence and 20 points more trusted in ethics than government.

“When the pandemic hit, the way we all absorbed this was (asking) which institution can actually make a difference and save us from this horrible scourge a year ago — the government?” Edelman said. “Well, the government failed us. The government failed in terms of getting vaccines to us at the right times. The government failed in terms of living up to its halo.”

Though businesses are seeing a rise in trust, society as a whole is also becoming more fearful.

“Every generation has felt that they can do better than what their parents did. It’s not true anymore,” Edelman said. “Fears have eclipsed optimism. They’ve made hope disappear and the pandemic is actually accelerating fears in general.”

Edelman has been at the forefront of mapping trends of people’s trust through the last 20 years, heading the eponymous global communications firm that his father founded in 1952. During his lecture “Recommitting to Trust” at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, July 12 in the Amphitheater, Edelman illustrated trends in national trust in different institutions — such as business and media — opening up the Chautauqua Lecture Series Week Three theme of “Trust, Society and Democracy.”

There are five key factors to build trust: ability, dependability, integrity, purpose and sense of self. In recent years, ability has been deemed less important, going from 75% of what determines trust, to 25%.

“It’s the dependability part that is the big question mark,” Edelman said. “Can I rely on these people to do what they say? Can I actually believe that they have integrity of their soul, as opposed to the next quarter’s earnings? Do they have a purpose?”

The Great Recession helped spark this change.

“The Great Recession really showed how empty the promise was to the 13 million Americans who took subprime debt and lost their houses,” Edelman said.

Richard Edelman delivers his morning lecture, “Recommitting to Trust,” to open Week Three’s theme on “Trust, Society and Democracy” Monday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Many experts thought the economy would recover from the 2008 recession in three to four years, as it had from past recessions. Edelman said this wasn’t the case. Thirteen million people lost their homes, and the automobile industry took a large hit.

Edelman said the distrust in politicians shown during the Great Recession led to President Donald Trump’s election, showing that many voters were fed up with traditional politicians; and the Brexit referendum, that showed voters distrusted experts and were influenced by nationalist rhetoric. 

The government is doing better than the media, however, in terms of trust — traditional media has the lowest score among all the institutions Edelman tracks, including government, business and NGOs. News organizations are facing a multipronged threat, including society’s heavy dependence and distrust of social media and many platforms’ “bubble-like” nature, meaning people only share articles with others that agree with them.

“The perception is that the media is biased, that it’s chasing clicks, that it’s desperately clinging for attention. That’s a dysfunctional relationship with its customer,” Edelman said. “It’s not really serving its customer. It’s serving its customer candy.”

To rebuild trust, Edelman said, people are going to have to be brave, speak their grievances, and admit they are wrong or don’t know all the answers. He also said that there is value in talking about uncomfortable history, such as the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Edelman believes that stories like these should be taught in schools because acknowledging and sharing the truth is essential in repairing trust.

Richard Edelman delivers his morning lecture, “Recommitting to Trust,” to open Week Three’s theme on “Trust, Society and Democracy” Monday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Edelman said he is an optimist by nature, and that two-thirds of people polled by the Barometer this year believe that the future will be better after COVID-19.

“Tomorrow demands trust,” Edelman said. “We have work to do to get there.”

During the subsequent Q-and-A session, Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill asked why Edelman started the annual Trust Barometer.

Edelman said it became apparent that a marker of trust was needed. He said he saw shifts in trust throughout the country during U.S. globalization in the ’90s, and later during the Iraq War and Great Recession.

“A lot of our illusions have been smashed, and we demand answers,” Edelman said. “Well, we should.” 

Hill asked how people can move away from tribal impulses. 

“I just think we need to have a bit more bravery,” Edelman said, “and stop going to our little opinion bubbles, and stop being self-referential and recognize that the other side probably has some valid points.”

He also stressed the importance of listening, especially from those in power.

“We should listen more and not just talk,” Edelman said. “The more senior we are, the more we should listen.”

MIT’s Ariel Ekblaw looks to the potential of cutting-edge space architecture in CLS



  • Ariel Ekblaw, founder and director of the MIT Space Exploration Initiative, speaks about the future of space habitation during her lecture Thursday, July 8, 2021 on the Amphitheater stage. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR
  • Ariel Ekblaw, founder and director of the MIT Space Exploration Initiative, speaks about the future of space habitation during her lecture Thursday, July 8, 2021 on the Amphitheater stage. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR
  • Ariel Ekblaw, founder and director of the MIT Space Exploration Initiative, speaks about the future of space habitation during her lecture Thursday, July 8, 2021 on the Amphitheater stage. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR
  • Ariel Ekblaw, founder and director of the MIT Space Exploration Initiative, speaks about the future of space habitation during her lecture Thursday, July 8, 2021 on the Amphitheater stage. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR
  • Ariel Ekblaw, founder and director of the MIT Space Exploration Initiative, speaks about the future of space habitation during her lecture Thursday, July 8, 2021 on the Amphitheater stage. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

When the Cold War ended, space travel stalled. With less political pressure, the government gave NASA and other space-related organizations less money. This was understandable because the Earth had, and has, a whole host of other problems that need to be addressed. 

But now, private companies are spurring on the space industry, though SpaceX and other groups do receive a lot of funding from the government. 

“This time, unlike Apollo, where it was just the government, really, in a Cold War space race, we now have an ecosystem of economic actors that will help continue to propel this exciting period of space exploration forward,” said Ariel Ekblaw, founder and director of the MIT Space Exploration Initiative.

As director, Ekblaw charters annually recurring parabolic flights and suborbital and orbital launch opportunities and leads space-related research in multiple fields. At 10:30 a.m. Thursday, July 8 in the Amphitheater, Ekblaw discussed the initiative’s achievements and what they hope for the future; the historical and future politics surrounding space travel; and how she and others are collaborating to help democratize space. Her lecture, which was part of the Week Two Chautauqua Lecture Series theme of “New Frontiers: Exploring Today’s Unknowns,” came 10 years — almost to the hour — of the launch of NASA’s final manned Space Shuttle mission.

One of the initiative’s major goals is to build better space stations. Building the International Space Station required launching 27 rockets, and astronauts risked their lives to manually build the station while in space suits.

It was an “incredibly dangerous, incredibly exciting and a beautiful moment for those astronauts, but even this partnership between human labor and robotic arms — it won’t scale,” Ekblaw said.

To solve this problem, Ekblaw is helping design a self-building station, with highly magnetized, lightweight hexagonal and pentagonal tiles that are able to configure themselves into a breathable, livable area for humans. 

This structure is called TESSERAE, short for Tessellated Electromagnetic Space Structures for the Exploration of Reconfigurable, Adaptive Environments.

“We are working on this opportunity to have you find delight and safety and comfort in the future of life in space,” Ekblaw said. “Can we take it from a domain where it’s just purely survival, building on the shoulders of giants here — NASA and others — who have made it possible to even consider a different paradigm, and go from surviving to thriving in a space exploration context?”

One of the major problems with current space stations is that their structures cannot change without major reconstructions. Billions of dollars are needed to send the material to space. This is a sharp contrast to cities and towns on Earth, which are constantly expanding and morphing. So for inspiration, Ekblaw and others looked to plants.

“There’s a certain logic, almost a fractal pattern, to each individual note and unit,” Ekblaw said, “but they also spiral in a way that you can predict and plan for where your space city might expand into.”

The structures made out of the magnetized tiles are able to assemble and disassemble all on their own. Ekblaw said the panels could one day be used to build larger concert halls or cathedrals. She showed one artist’s rendering of the structures connecting together to make a ring around the earth. 

Ekblaw and the initiative are working to not only advance space architecture, but also bring about conversations concerning ethics. The initiative brings together over 50 graduate students, staff and faculty and fosters conversations with independent artists, CEOs and film directors to help create the next chapter of human space exploration.

“We’re not simply a design house or a speculative-fiction group thinking about futurism and technology,” Ekblaw said. “We’re building these prototypes, and we’re launching them.”

The initiative, she said, has over 40 projects it is developing, testing and sending into space. These projects involve all aspects of everyday life — from designing new bathrooms to creating new instruments.

“We think about musical instruments that (can) only be played while floating, so that we have this opportunity to design new artifacts for the unique culture of space exploration, rather than assuming that we will always simply carry up with us the artifacts from Earth’s culture,” Ekblaw said. “It’s a very interesting blank slate.”

TESSERAE has accomplished all of this in two and a half years. Ekblaw said this is largely because her team is not completely reliant on the government, while some groups wait for years to simply have their idea approved for funding.

But there are many problems along the way, now and in the future. NASA estimates that there are 27,000 traceable pieces of debris in space around the Earth, with the amount of debris too small to trace estimated to be many times that. This debris is mainly due to miscalculations of scientists and poses a large threat in a future where space travel is more regular. Now, the international community requires a review of the calculations of reentry on almost every mission to space. 

In the future, when space travel becomes more regular, traffic may become a problem along routinely used routes. Another important issue is the security of satellites, with the machines ensuring communication between those on Earth, space and Mars.

As part of the Q-and-A session, Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair of Education, asked about China’s role in international space cooperation and about the prospect of another space race.

Ekblaw said that during the most tense parts of the Cold War, one of the only projects that the Soviet Union and U.S. collaborated on was space travel, with Americans flying on Mir Space Station and the U.S. bringing the Soviet Union into the early planning of the ISS. In the future, the same can happen, with many countries coming together for mutual benefits. 

Ekblaw said one key difference between space programs in the United States and in China is that while NASA is, essentially, civilian scientists who communicate with scientists from other countries, China’s space program is more intertwined with the military and Communist Party. 

“It can be difficult in that way to sometimes reach across the civilian-to-civilian conversation, but I think we need to do more of it and would look forward to opportunities to avoid a deeply militaristic race, if we can, for space,” Ekblaw said.

Ewalt asked what would most disappoint her — and what would most thrill her  — when it comes to her work. 

She would be disappointed if the tiles her team is working on break down and contribute to debris in space. She would also be sad if, in the future, outer space isn’t a peaceful place.

“It’s still an open question and takes a lot of our engagement to tell our government what we want, and also to engage with global citizens around that area,” Ekblaw said.

Ekblaw would be thrilled if the infrastructure helped people experience life in orbit.

“You can come back home, but (imagine being able to) share the magic of the cosmos with more people,” Ekblaw said. “You can imagine a yoga session; instead of sitting here on Earth, you are floating in a windowed, space habitat, truly immersed in the stars.”

Alta Charo explores history, misconceptions, future and the ethics of genome editing



R. Alta Charo, Warren P. Knowles Professor Emerita of Law and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, delivers her lecture, “Now I Am Become Life, Creator or Worlds: The Era of Biotechnology,” Wednesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Is there a difference between genetically modifying a fish or a rabbit to glow in the dark and breeding dogs for a preferred look?

As technologies that can change parts of the DNA of animals ­— and humans — expand, R. Alta Charo, the Warren P. Knowles Professor Emerita of Law and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said humans will have to reckon with these kinds of questions. 

Altering DNA has a lot of uses, from eliminating genetic diseases and making animals more resistant to changing climates. The application most in the spotlight, though, is potential changes to humans.

“Are we really upset about the technology, about the underlying thing it accomplishes, or simply about the fact that it’s now easier to do it and maybe more people will try?” Charo asked.

Charo, who spoke at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 7 in the Amphitheater, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine, and the inaugural David A. Hamburg Distinguished Fellow at the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

R. Alta Charo, Warren P. Knowles Professor Emerita of Law and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, delivers her lecture, “Now I Am Become Life, Creator or Worlds: The Era of Biotechnology,” Wednesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Wednesday morning, she explored society’s attitude toward genome editing, different current practices and how the advancing field has raised questions about what it even means to be human. Her lecture, titled “Now I Am Become Life, Creator of Worlds: The Era of Biotechnology,” was the third part of Chautauqua Lecture Series’ Week Two theme, “New Frontiers: Exploring Today’s Unknowns.”

Scientists weren’t always conscious of how far their work could expand. In the 19th century, many were simply enamored with the inventive power of science. But, as more and more catastrophic weapons were conceived and deployed in the 20th century, this captivation turned to terror. 

J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, was eerily conscious of the power his work created. While testing the Manhattan Project during World War II, he witnessed the first detonation of a nuclear weapon, and quoted Hindu scripture: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

In the late 20th century, fear rose around the environmental impacts of genome editing. One experiment with genome editing attempted to protect strawberries from frost using a commercial product called Frostban; the woman spraying the strawberries wore a full hazmat suit.

“That image of having to wear a hazmat suit while spraying the field — something incredibly innocuous as genetic changes go — is probably what helped to lead to things like the fear of genetically engineered food that we now see,” Charo said.

Then public attitudes transformed again, this time with growing fear about reproduction. Instances of cloning, such as Dolly the sheep, Charo said, caused a media frenzy; some states even issued bans on cloning. 

Charo gave two examples of more recent genome editing: the first was mammoths and another was tomatoes. 

The first revolves around some scientists claiming reintroducing the mammoth would be beneficial to the ecosystem. Critics say that there is no way to measure the impact of reintroducing the species to an environment that has changed over thousands of years.

“It was really driven by this magical idea of bringing back extinct species,” Charo said. “There’s something really very romantic about that.”

R. Alta Charo, Warren P. Knowles Professor Emerita of Law and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, delivers her lecture, “Now I Am Become Life, Creator or Worlds: The Era of Biotechnology,” Wednesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

The second revolves around hybrid tomatoes. The tomato was bred over the years in order to last longer and travel better, though this made it less flavorful. Now, there is an effort to create a tomato that is flavorful and able to grow in more places, so that the produce does not have to travel as far. 

“If it was exactly the same, every base pair, every last one was identical between the one that we created, and the one that you picked off the vine originally — they’re literally identical in every possible chemical way — would it bother you that one of them has been engineered?” Charo asked.

Beyond extinct mammoths and everyday produce, the main focus within the field of DNA manipulation is combating genetic diseases, such as some forms of blindness and sickle cell. 

Charo said the two forms of manipulation are treatments that change the genes of a single person, with the changes essentially lasting one lifetime; and changing the genes of embryos, with the changes able to be passed down.

One scientist focused on changing embryos in order to give children more immunity to HIV. His work caused controversy, Charo said, because of the touchy subject of the work; critics also said his work was completely unnecessary, considering that none of the mothers participating in the trial had HIV, and that medicine was already advancing to treat HIV.

“We have absolutely nothing near the level of basic science research that you need to even think you have a good way to predict how well this is going to work, and what level of risks you’re facing,” Charo said.

All of these are examples of how far humans have progressed, and Charo said humanity has more power than ever before. This change in humanity’s power has made people ask what being human even means and what it means to “play god.” 

Charo’s final example was Mendel’s Dwarf, a novel about a geneticist with dwarfism. In one scene, he is looking at embryos in a dish and realizes he can choose which one to “bring to birth,” whether it be one with his genetic disease or not.

“He has this revelation that, for him, the deity actually is the one who just rolls the dice. The deity is the one who sets up a system,” Charo said. “He says, ‘If I choose, that is not being God, that is being human,’ a complete reversal of the way that phrase, playing God, is understood.”

R. Alta Charo, Warren P. Knowles Professor Emerita of Law and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, delivers her lecture, “Now I Am Become Life, Creator or Worlds: The Era of Biotechnology,” Wednesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Amy Gardner, vice president of advancement and campaign director, asked as part of the Q-and-A session international review boards exist for genome editing. 

Charo said that she is on one of these boards, but enforcing and practicing policies mostly comes down to individual countries. An individual country’s policies around genome editing often come down to how they govern themselves, and the country’s primary religion. Majority Christian, Jewish or Muslim countries often hold different views on this topic. 

In some countries, like the United States, everything is essentially allowed until the government says otherwise; in other countries, if the government doesn’t explicitly state that the practice is allowed, then it is not. 

Gardner then asked what can be done to help societies adapt to the incredible rate of change of gene-editing technologies. 

“Often the change does not happen across all segments of society. It doesn’t happen in a very big way,” Charo said. “There are technologies that people worry about because they think everyone is going to use it, but they won’t. So we don’t have to worry about (an) enormous societal impact.”

In terms of sperm donations, many thought, and still believe, that people would choose the donors who are taller and more conventionally attractive. One business used a model that almost guaranteed that the child would be tall, blonde and strong. Charo said this organization failed quickly because the business model counted on its customers prioritizing conventional beauty.

“You don’t get people doing it because they want to see if they can have a kid that’s going to be more athletic or not,” Charo said. “They do it because they don’t want a kid who is going to have cystic fibrosis and is going to be in the doctor’s office, day after day, month after month, trying to breathe.”

Pulitzer winner Elizabeth Kolbert examines humanity’s desire to control nature



Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Elizabeth Kolbert gives a morning lecture about her book ‘Under a White Sky’ on Tuesday July 6, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

In the early 1900s, the Chicago River was so overrun with sewage that people said a chicken could walk across without getting its feet wet. The river connected to Lake Michigan, where the city got most of its drinking water. So the city’s leaders decided to reverse the flow of the river so that the water went back into the Mississippi River.

A massive construction project was undertaken, said Elizabeth Kolbert, an award-winning reporter and author, and 43 million cubic yards of dirt were moved.

“The project did succeed in achieving its primary aim to preserve the city’s drinking water, which of course is tremendously important. Chicago probably would not be the major city that it is today without that,” Kolbert said. “But it created a new problem, which no one was really thinking about at the time.”

Namely, after the construction project, aquatic animals and plants were able to invade other ecosystems. 

Especially carp. 

Grass carp were brought into the Mississippi to eat invasive aquatic plant species, stopping their spread without the use of herbicides — only the animals escaped their small enclosures, and now, they make up 75% of the biomass of the Mississippi. They are one of the many invasive species wreaking havoc on the ecosystems of the Great Lakes. 

People are trying to solve this problem, caused by human engineering, with more of the same engineering. To deter carp from coming up the Mississippi, engineers added electrified sections, with warnings not to dive, swim or even touch the water. Kolbert said the next plan is to build what one researcher called the “Disco Barrier” that would have water jets and blasting sounds. 

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Elizabeth Kolbert gives a morning lecture about the changing climate and her book ‘Under a White Sky’ on Tuesday July 6, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“The response to the problem of control or, if you prefer, control gone awry, is to try to layer on new forms of control. We act as if we believe that if engineering got us into this mess, more engineering will get us out,” Kolbert said. “The projects become more baroque, but we keep at it, either because we don’t see any other options, or because we reject the other options.”

Kolbert is the author of The Sixth Extinction, an influential nonfiction book that won a Pulitzer Prize, and has worked as a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1999. At 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 6 in the Amphitheater, she presented her lecture “Under a White Sky,” taken from the name of her new book Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future, as part of Week Two of the Chautauqua Lecture Series’ theme of “New Frontiers: Exploring Today’s Unknowns.” She discussed humanity’s continued desire to control nature and the lack of will to decrease carbon emissions despite growing concerns and proven evidence.

Throughout the lecture, Kolbert explored a phrase etched on a pillar outside one of University of Wyoming’s buildings built in the 1920s: “Strive on — the control of nature is won. Not given.”

“There was a great deal of faith in the idea that nature could and should be harnessed for human ends,” Kolbert said. “This was at the very heart of what it meant to be an engineer.”

The University of Wyoming quote struck many engineers and scientists and, in particular, authors Rachel Carson and John McPhee.

Carson, in her landmark book Silent Spring, didn’t see humanity’s control of nature as triumphant. Instead, she explored it in a darker key, Kolbert said. Carson wrote about how humanity had visibly changed the environment, through roads and buildings, and also invisibly, through pesticides that indiscriminately killed the creatures it was designed for, but also bugs beneficial for farming, fish, birds and — in some cases — people. 

She then read from the final pages of Silent Spring: “The control of nature is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Elizabeth Kolbert gives a morning lecture to a crowd of Chautauquans about her book ‘Under a White Sky’ on Tuesday July 6, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Decades after Carson, McPhee wrote his book The Control of Nature. Whereas Carson struck a dark note of people’s impact on nature, Kolbert said McPhee’s tone was “bemused and skeptical.” In his book, he explored a volcanic eruption in Iceland, where people used around 8 million cubic yards of water to hose down the magma. They claimed that this effort helped save half the island from destruction. McPhee was less sure, to say the least.

“But, as McPhee then notes,” Kolbert said, “the truth of this will never be known, the role of luck being unassessable, the effects of intervention being ultimately incalculable and the assertion that people can stop a volcano being hubris enough to provoke a new eruption.” 

Kolbert herself was inspired by the University of Wyoming phrase, and it became a central subject of Under a White Sky.

“Now in 2021, the issue is not so much that we are trying to control nature, either arrogantly per Carson, or ineffectively per McPhee,” Kolbert said. “It is that without even seeking to, we do control nature, and what I mean here by ‘controlling nature’ is that we dominate it, both by design and in many ways, completely inadvertently.”

She described the scale of humanity’s impact. People have directly transformed roughly half of the earth’s ice-free land and indirectly changed the other half. Most of the world’s major rivers are dammed or diverted; the only remaining ones with natural courses are in remote parts of the Arctic, the Amazon and parts of Congo, though Kolbert said that more dams are planned. Humans also cause 100 times more carbon emissions annually than volcanoes, which used to be the world’s main source of emissions. 

Ninety-six percent of mammals are either humans or livestock; the total weight of human-made objects is roughly the same as the weight of everything else; the biomass of every animal on earth is 4 gigatons whereas plastics are 8 gigatons; and the world is on track to have more plastic than fish in the oceans in 2050.

Though one solution with much support is to reduce carbon emissions, Kolbert said that there is little evidence that people are changing their ways.

“I, myself, am not an advocate,” Kolbert said. “I’m a journalist, and I see my role not as looking at what we should be doing, but more looking at what we are doing. I just don’t see much in the way of evidence that we are scaling back. Or, to put things more starkly, that we have the will to scale back.” 

So what are people doing? As Kolbert said, humanity is “basically betting the future of the planet on more engineering. We are hoping that a new round of engineering can fix the problems created by the old engineering.”

One example is a project in Iceland with large “air conditioners.” These machines take the CO2 out of the air, store it until there is a significant amount and pump it deep underground, where it turns the surrounding rocks into, essentially, chalk, or calcium bicarbonate. 

Another more controversial example is solar geoengineering, also called solar radiation management. The concept is that if a large aircraft flew into the stratosphere and released a large number of reflective chemicals, it would lessen the amount of heat Earth would receive from the sun, thus causing global cooling.

“If your reaction to this is, ‘Well, that sounds pretty scary,’ you are not alone,” Kolbert said. “Solar geoengineering has been described as dangerous beyond belief, as a broad highway to hell and it’s unimaginably drastic. The possible side effects are manifold.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Elizabeth Kolbert gives a morning lecture to a crowd of Chautauquans about her book ‘Under a White Sky’ on Tuesday July 6, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The negative risks would be disrupting ecosystems even further by suddenly changing their temperatures, damaging the ozone layer and even changing the sky to a whiter color. This prospect of a whiter sky is where Kolbert got her book’s title Under a White Sky.

“I also think it’s important to consider geoengineering, and other world-altering technologies against the alternatives. In the case of geoengineering, the alternative is not going back to the climate that we had before we embarked on the world-altering project that is extracting fossil fuels and burning them,” Kolbert said. “That climate is gone. And it is not coming back in any foreseeable future.”

As part of the Q-and-A session, Mark Wenzler, director of the Chautauqua Climate Change Initiative, asked what can people expect from literary arts in helping explore these issues. 

Kolbert said that the proof was in the pudding; while many, including her, have tried, there hasn’t been a transformational text covering climate change — yet.

“To be honest,” Kolbert said, “the book of the future may be a miniseries. It may be a tweet. I don’t know what it is going to be. Maybe an Instagram feed. So I don’t know if a book can galvanize public opinion the way that Silent Spring did.”

After the release of Silent Spring, Congress called Carson to testify on the use of pesticides. 

“It’s since terribly dated and terribly sexist,” Kolbert said. “But JFK says to her, ‘You’re the little lady who started this all,’ which is a reference to Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which had an enormous galvanizing effect for the abolitionist movement.”

Wenzler asked what the older generation can say and do for the younger generation so that they have hope and can take action. 

“The simplest answer I could give is: There’s no choice but to face these issues. We’re not being given a choice,” Kolbert said.

Kolbert talked about her children, one of whom is going to graduate school for climate science.

“He knows the science better than I do. It’s not a pretty picture. I don’t have to tell anyone here that,” Kolbert said. “If you want to do meaningful work, there’s going to be a lot of meaningful work to be done in the climate sphere. So let’s go out and do it.”

Celebrated author Ted Chiang shares how ‘literature of change’ shapes idea of future



Hugo Award- and Nebula Award-winning science fiction author Ted Chiang delivers his lecture “Science Fiction and the Idea of the Future” Monday, July 5, 2021 on the Amphitheater stage. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Aluminum was once worth more than gold. In 1884, the Washington Monument was capped with aluminum because of its value and durability. Yet today, the metal lines the shelves of Walmart and Wegmans. 

Ted Chiang, a decorated science fiction author of works including Exhalation and Stories of Your Life, said this is a consequence of the almost-daily changes caused by the industrial revolution. The world in which parents raise their children is vastly different than the one in which they themselves were brought up. 

Enter science fiction. True science fiction, Chiang said, is the literature of change.

The winner of four Nebula Awards, four Hugo Awards, four Locus Awards and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, Chiang opened Week Two of the Chautauqua Lecture Series, themed “New Frontiers: Exploring Today’s Unknowns,” at 10:30 a.m. Monday, July 5 in the Amphitheater. During his lecture, titled “Science Fiction and the Idea of the Future,” he explored the differences between fantasy and science fiction, how the industrial revolution has changed how humanity views the future, and his belief in a machine-like universe. 

The differences between science fiction and other genres, Chiang said, are more than cosmetic. Some stories, such as “Star Wars,” are falsely labeled as science fiction because they have aliens and spaceships, but are really adventure tales: a young man saving a princess, defeating a dark force and returning the world to order. 

This type of story, where the world is in the same state both before the beginning of the tale and again at the end, Chiang said, was common before the industrial revolution and Enlightenment.

“For me, the underlying assumption for real science fiction is the idea that arose during the Enlightenment. It’s the idea that the universe can be understood through reason,” Chiang said. “It’s the idea that the universe is a kind of machine, and if we study it carefully, we can figure out how it works.”

Chiang said that The Dead Past, a novel written by Isaac Asimov and published in the 1950s, exemplifies the nature of science fiction. This novel ends with everyone in the world gaining access to a technology that is able to look milliseconds in the past. Much to the characters’ dismay, this advancement effectively ends personal privacy.

The most important characteristic of this story, Chiang said, is that it ends at a different point than it begins, unlike traditional good-versus-evil stories like “Star Wars.” These more traditional stories usually have a message that the past was good, and that humanity needs to preserve the past.

Hugo Award- and Nebula Award-winning science fiction author Ted Chiang delivers his lecture “Science Fiction and the Idea of the Future” Monday, July 5, 2021 on the Amphitheater stage. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

“Many critics believe that this implies a political message, and it is a conservative one because the efforts of the protagonists are directed at maintaining the status quo,” Chiang said. “The underlying message of these stories is that things were good before, and we should try to keep things that way.”

Real science fiction, on the other hand, follows another pattern, Chaing said, starting with the familiar, new technology disrupting daily life and the world changing.

Another key part of science fiction exemplified in The Dead Past is the democratization of technology, like the machine that can look into the past or, in real life, smartphones. He said that true science fiction often asks two questions: What if this technology exists, and what if everyone had it?

The availability of technology, Chiang said, is a major difference between science fiction and fantasy. He said that some people claim that the only difference between the two genres is cosmetic: they say that if The Lord of The Rings had aliens instead of elves, then it would be called science fiction. 

Chiang disagrees. He then gave two stories: one where gold could be created for cheap by anyone and another where only a few people had the ability.

The difference between the two examples is the importance of the practitioner. The second example — found in the genre of fantasy — depends on the individual, with the universe choosing a particular person for a particular reason. The person may have an innate gift, or a purified soul,  for example. Reasons could also include good intentions, hard work, intense concentration or personal sacrifice. 

The first, which he said is more reminiscent of science fiction, requires none of these.

“None of these things are true of scientific phenomena,” Chiang said. “When you pass a magnet through a coil of wire, electric currents flow, no matter who your parents are, whether your intentions are good or bad. You don’t have to concentrate power or offer a sacrifice in order for a light bulb to turn on. Electricity doesn’t care.”

In fiction, magic typically requires individuals and responds differently to each one. 

“Magic is evidence that the universe knows that you’re a person,” Chiang said. “Magic is an indication that the universe recognizes that people are different from things and that you are an individual who is different from other people.”

Science fiction, in many ways, does the opposite.

Hugo Award- and Nebula Award-winning science fiction author Ted Chiang delivers his lecture “Science Fiction and the Idea of the Future” Monday, July 5, 2021 on the Amphitheater stage. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

“Sometimes people say that the scientist’s way of viewing the world is cold and impersonal,” Chiang said. “I am not sure that I would agree that it’s cold, but definitely agree that it is impersonal.”

Chiang said that people, in fiction and in real life, tend to anthropomorphize the universe, thinking of it as a person, with its own will and thoughts. One such example is the idea that positive thoughts lead to positive outcomes. One author, Chiang said, wrote about a character designed after themselves, and when they wrote about bad things happening to the character, bad things happened to the author. 

“It’s the idea that the universe recognizes the interpersonal, because that’s what people do,” Chiang said. “But mass production cannot be understood this way, because people do not behave this way. No one would grant a favor, once a second, all day, every day, 365 days a year.”

The idea of a lack of connection between humanity and the universe grew in Western cultures during the Enlightenment. Instead of relying on the written works of old philosophers, scientists of this era started to rely on their own experiments and looked for replicable results. 

And capitalism has thrived under this philosophy. 

“Capitalism excels at making people feel unimportant. Working on an assembly line takes a lot of joy out of working,” Chiang said. “This is a direct byproduct of living in a mechanistic universe. In a universe where magic works, that type of alienation cannot happen, because magical nature is inextricably tied to (the) individual.”

Chiang said that the world needs more fantasy and science fiction, as both are essential in understanding the universe and humanity, and help people understand the value of themselves and the world around them. 

Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, asked Chiang, as part of the Q-and-A session, which authors should people read that exemplify science fiction. 

Chiang recommended writers Greg Egan and Kim Stanley Robinson. 

Ewalt also asked Chiang about science fiction’s role in inspiring a sense of awe in the reader. 

The awe readers experience while reading is the same emotion that scientists feel when studying the universe, Chiang said. For many early scientists during the Enlightenment, the surprise and inspiration they felt during experiments were vastly tied to their practice of religion because they were gaining a greater understanding of their god’s creations. 

And it is similar for secular scientists. 

“The awe that you get from understanding the universe,” Chiang said, “is the closest thing a non-religious person can get to religious awe.”

Political scientist, author Dexter Roberts examines Chinese wealth gap between urbanites, rural migrant workers; delves into country’s economic future



Political Scientist Dexter Roberts speaks on China’s economic future during Thursday’s morning lecture July 1, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

While Mao Zedong was radically egalitarian, his successor, Deng Xiaoping, was more practical. He helped open China up to the world and convinced its people to let some among them become wealthy first. The rest of China would follow naturally.

Dexter Roberts, a fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Asia Security Initiative, said Deng was very successful over the next several years. Too successful, some thought, to the point his own successor was worried the wealth gap between China’s rich and poor was becoming too big. 

This is one of the main problems that China faces today, Roberts said. China is now tainted with wealth gaps even greater than the United States. 

Roberts reported in China for over two decades for Bloomberg Businessweek, is a fellow at the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center at the University of Montana, where he is also an adjunct instructor of political science. At 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 1 in the Amphitheater, Roberts delved into China’s uncertain financial future and the hurdles 300 million internal migrant workers face. His lecture, titled “The Myth of Chinese Capitalism: Challenges to China’s Future as a Global Superpower,” was the last presentation of the Chautauqua Lecture Series Week One’s theme of “China and The World: Collaboration, Competition, Confrontation?”

In 2000, Roberts reported on China’s young migrant workers. He met many of these people in Guizhou, often called the factory of the world because it has the world’s highest number of exports, from clothes and toys to iPhones. One of those migrants was Mo Pubo.

Mo left his village when he was 15 before starting high school and spent the next five years traveling around China working at factories. He eventually landed in Guizhou, where he met Roberts.

Roberts talked to Mo’s coworkers, many of which were his distant cousins, and also Mo’s girlfriend. 

“She had been very shy. She had always seemed afraid. When I addressed her, she would look down at the table,” Roberts said. “It was quite the experience to then see her several months later back at her village. She was really transformed. She was actually pretty proud of her village.”

Mo’s girlfriend returned home for two reasons: Her parents needed help during the rice harvest, and her identity card expired. 

This ID is more important than one might think, not only to migrants like Mo, but to the future of the Chinese economy. It states where a person is born within China. According to Chinese law, a person cannot use health care, public education or pension funds outside of their birth area. This means that the 300 million workers must travel back to their homes in order to receive medical care. Similarly, they must send their children back home for their education, or pay high prices for private urban schools. 

And it is a large risk to have an expired identity card. One of Mo’s cousins was held for ransom because theirs had expired.

“In places like Guizhou, the local police often saw migrants as a source of extra income. They would get them on the streets for any infraction they can pick up,” Roberts said. “Certainly an expired card would be one of the classic reasons they would grab someone. They would hold them in what they would call black jails and, in fact, hold them for ransom.”

Political Scientist Dexter Roberts speaks on China’s economic future during Thursday’s morning lecture July 1, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Mao and his government initially created the card policy as a means of controlling the rural population and restricting migration across the country. Roberts said Mao wanted a “captive” rural population living in communes to produce cheap grains and foods for the urban population. 

“The economic rationale was: Sacrifice the livelihoods of the Chinese rural people in order to support the city,” Roberts said.

Unlike Mao, his successor, Deng, allowed the rural population to travel and live wherever they chose. But, Roberts said, Deng still tied social welfare — like health care, education and pensions — to where each person is born. 

“The issue here probably does not come as a surprise: China’s rural health care, China’s rural education, is far, far inferior to what is available in cities,” Roberts said.

Like in the U.S., the wealthier the area is, the more resources the local schools and hospitals have. With rural areas lacking the factories and foreign investments that urban areas have, villages are usually poor. A lot of the money that these remote villages receive, Roberts said, comes from migrant workers’ earnings and local agriculture. 

In 2000, the average wage of people in urban China was three times the average wage of those in rural China. Today, the ratio is around 2.5 to 1. 

Roberts said migrant parents can spend a high amount of money for private urban schools for children from rural areas, but even these schools are often not much better than their rural counterparts. Rural schools have a very high dropout rate; Roberts said very few actually finish high school in these areas. Furthermore, around 100 million children of migrant workers grow up separated from their parents. 

China and its migrant workers are reckoning with the welfare rules around the identity card, but also with another Mao-era policy lingering into modern times. 

In urban areas, homeowners are essentially free to sell, rent or buy their property and keep most of the profits. Roberts said this has led to an explosion of wealth within the real estate industry.

But, in rural areas, when owners sell their land, they receive very little because the local Party members take most of the profit. 

The policies around the identification cards and selling property leave migrant workers with little money, and the extra money they do have, they need to save for emergencies. This is especially dangerous for the Chinese government because their economy is transitioning from factory- and export-geared to one that needs to be driven by the spending power of its own people. 

China’s old economic model is not working as well, Roberts said, because the one-child policy has left the country with few working-age adults and factory wages have increased. China’s economy initially grew at unprecedented rates partially due to the very low wages the companies paid their workers. Since those wages have grown over time, China’s profits have decreased, and are still decreasing.

Additionally, migrant workers often save as much as 23% of their wages, which is 15% higher than the global saving average. It is either this, Roberts said, or risk going bankrupt.

So, China’s leadership wanted to increase its household consumption, Roberts said, which is at a very low 39%, 15 points below the world average. In comparison, Roberts said American household consumption is between 70 and 75%.

Chautauquans gather to hear Political Scientist Dexter Roberts talk about China’s economic future during Thursday’s morning lecture July 1, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair of Education, opened the Q-and-A by asking why the Chinese government is resistant to expanding education to rural areas. 

The main issue, Roberts said, is money, as funding for schools and hospitals comes from the local area. Another issue is that there is not much benefit for rural governments to invest in schools. Their reasoning is, Roberts said, if they invested heavily in educating children, the students would still leave for wealthier cities as soon as they come of age, instead of staying within the community. Urban populations also do not want to share their access to welfare, particularly with education. 

“Some of the bigger protests we’ve seen in recent years (in China) have actually been the parents of city kids who have gone and protested against the well-meaning efforts by the central government to try and allow more young people from rural China to also attend these schools,” Roberts said. “We’ve seen parents go march outside of the board of education and say, ‘Keep them out.’ ”

And, Roberts said, President Xi Jinping is not a strong supporter of reform.

“He does not necessarily believe in allowing young people to decide to live where they want to live and to sell when they want to sell,” Roberts said. “So I think there’s a large issue of control by the Communist Party — this perception that it’s socially destabilizing to allow rural people to move around the country.”

With Week One of the CLS ending, Ewalt ended the lecture by asking who the audience should read to learn more about China’s role in international affairs.

Roberts recommended journalists and authors Peter Hessler, Ian Johnson and Mei Fong — a friend of Roberts’ who lectured at Chautauqua two days before him.

Longtime policy adviser Michael Pillsbury discusses multiple questions Biden administration must consider in U.S.-China diplomacy



Michael Pillsbury, senior fellow and director for Chinese strategy at the Hudson Institute, speaks about the challenges the Biden administration faces regarding Chinese policy Wednesday, June 30, 2021 on the Amphitheater stage. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

The first thing, Michael Pillsbury said, that President Joe Biden needs to understand when approaching diplomacy with China is the balance of power. During his campaign, Pillsbury said, Biden did not seem that concerned with China.

But Pillsbury is impressed that the president’s sentiment has changed. Biden is now saying that the United States is in major competition with China and has brought up the country multiple times during the recent G-7 conference, for example.

Currently a senior fellow and director for Chinese strategy at the Hudson Institute, Pillsbury has served in the U.S. government for more than 40 years, working with presidents including Jimmy Carter, both Bushes and, most recently, Donald Trump. 

At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 30 in the Amphitheater, Pillsbury discussed multiple questions he believes the Biden administration needs to consider as they tackle large issues regarding China. His lecture was the fourth installment of the Chautauqua Lecture Series of Week One, “China and the World: Collaboration, Competition, Confrontation?”

Biden’s advisers, Pillsbury said, have grouped issues with China into three categories: adversarial, which includes the U.S.’s condemnation of what it considers the genocide of the Uyghur people; competition, which includes Chinese corporations selling technology that rivals the U.S.; and cooperation, which includes both countries working together on climate change initiatives. 

Pillsbury said there is rare bipartisanship in Congress when it comes to diplomacy with China. Most senators, for example, voted for a bill that requires a Congressional review when China buys any small, tech-focused American startups.

The next aspect that Biden needs to consider is how tough to be on China, including in trade, technology and economic investments. Pillsbury said there is a lot of debate around this topic. President Barack Obama and his administration, around seven years ago, called for the arrest of five Chinese hackers, some of whom focused on getting nuclear reactor information from a company in Pittsburgh in order to advance Chinese technology.

Biden needs to consider the great risk involved with letting China steal military technology, Pillsbury said, while also not stoking the flames too much and risking another Cold War.

And what would a cold war with China look like? That was the next question Pillsbury brought up, one which he called “devilishly difficult.”

  • Michael Pillsbury, senior fellow and director for Chinese strategy at the Hudson Institute, speaks about the challenges the Biden administration faces regarding Chinese policy Wednesday, June 30, 2021 on the Amphitheater stage. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR
  • Michael Pillsbury, senior fellow and director for Chinese strategy at the Hudson Institute, speaks about the challenges the Biden administration faces regarding Chinese policy Wednesday, June 30, 2021 on the Amphitheater stage. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR
  • Michael Pillsbury, senior fellow and director for Chinese strategy at the Hudson Institute, speaks about the challenges the Biden administration faces regarding Chinese policy Wednesday, June 30, 2021 on the Amphitheater stage. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR
  • Michael Pillsbury, senior fellow and director for Chinese strategy at the Hudson Institute, speaks about the challenges the Biden administration faces regarding Chinese policy Wednesday, June 30, 2021 on the Amphitheater stage. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Despite their history as allies in World War II, within a few years, the Soviet Union and the United States were engaged in the Cold War. During this time, Pillsbury said the U.S. government established the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense (which unified the branches of the military), the Air Force (which used to be a part of the Army), and the National Security Council.

Pillsbury said that in comparison, the U.S. has not done much to prepare for a cold war with China.

Pillsbury told a story about dedicated, China-focused offices in each department of the U.S. government. When members of the Chinese military were visiting Washington, Pillsbury was involved in a tour of those offices. At that time, only four people dedicated to China issues worked in the Pentagon.

“The Chinese general says, ‘No this isn’t the real one.’ They were talking amongst themselves: ‘The Americans are deceiving us, they are making us think that they don’t take China seriously,’ ” Pillsbury said. “So we never again did that.”

Pillsbury then transitioned into the next issue Biden must understand: unity within China. To truly understand this issue, Pillsbury said one must know about the four T’s.

The first is Taiwan. Different presidents have taken different positions on Taiwan. President Richard Nixon’s policy was that Taiwan was a part of China, while other presidents, like Bill Clinton, said that it wasn’t, but also that it wasn’t an independent country. Aligning with China would open more doors for cooperation, but not all presidents have taken that tack.

The second and third T’s were Tibet, where the Dalai Lama is in an exile government that has power over the area but is not recognized by China; and Turkestan, the homeland of the Uyghur people, a mainly Muslim, Turkic ethnic group who live in China’s North-Western Xinjiang Province. 

When President George W. Bush was compiling a list of terrorist organizations in the world in the early 2000s, China said that if the East Turkestan Independence Movement was not added to the list, the country would likely not help in the war on terror.

“So everyone rushes to the files. People at the CIA and other places (say), ‘What the hell is the ETIM? There’s nothing on it,’ ” Pillsbury said. “So ordinarily you would have said, ‘No, sorry, we can’t confirm there’s any such thing.’ But some people, and there was really harsh discussion, … some people said, ‘The Chinese say it is a terrorist organization, it goes on the list.’ ”

Pillsbury said that 20 years later, the world learned that Uyghurs were in “re-education” camps. One Chinese diplomat claimed that all the doors in the camp were open, and they were free to leave whenever. The New York Times asked to visit the camps to verify this claim, but China declined.

The truth is, my fear is we know way too little about China, especially in the important areas. So more work with China, and more work to understand Chinese strategy, is very important.” 

-Michael Pillsbury, Director for Chinese Strategy, Hudson Institute

The last T is Hong Kong — though Pillsbury admitted that there is no T in Hong Kong.

Pillsbury said a question among media coverage is if China’s treatment of Hong Kong has broken the 1984 declaration between Hong Kong and the United Kingdom — an agreement that gave Hong Kong all the rights of autonomy.

“The first year of the Trump administration, the Chinese announced this declaration is null and void,” Pillsbury said. “President Trump did not object at that time. President Biden faces this issue now.”

As he wrapped up his lecture, Pillsbury made one final point: the need for those in the West to better understand China.

“The truth is, my fear is we know way too little about China, especially in the important areas,” Pillsbury said. “So more work with China, and more work to understand Chinese strategy, is very important.”

Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill asked Pillsbury how he thought China would celebrate its 200th anniversary of the Communist Party in the country. Its 100th anniversary was on the same day of Pillsbury’s lecture. 

Pillsbury said many think that China will collapse eventually, either because the Communist Party will break up or because its economy will slow down.

“In a 100 years, you’re looking at the balance of power clearly going towards China,” Pillsbury said. “The China experts who say China is going to collapse, the Communist Party is going to collapse, hopefully they’re right. But I don’t think so.”

Too Old, Too Few, Too Male: Pulitzer-winning reporter Mei Fong explores China’s long-term consequences of one-child policy

  • Award-winning journalist and author Mei Fong discusses the long-term effects of China’s one-child policy as part of the Chautauqua Lecture Series on Tuesday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • Award-winning journalist and author Mei Fong discusses the long-term effects of China’s one-child policy as part of the Chautauqua Lecture Series on Tuesday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • Award-winning journalist and author Mei Fong discusses the long-term effects of China’s one-child policy as part of the Chautauqua Lecture Series on Tuesday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER


‘Too Male’

China has 30 million bachelors. That’s more than the population of California.

The one-child policy in China, designed to control population growth in the mid-20th century, was a law that mandated families could only have one baby. In a patriarchal society, the law led many Chinese to choose to only keep male babies, often terminating pregnancies or abandoning baby girls in favor of trying for a boy. 

As Mei Fong — a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist currently an executive at Human Rights Watch — said, the prevailing opinion in China was and is that “raising a daughter is like watering someone else’s flowers, because they will marry into another family.” 

In her morning lecture on Tuesday, June 29 in the Amphitheater, Fong told many stories of how the policy has affected individual people. One man, from a village with 30 adult men and no single women, helped pay and arrange for 30 women to marry the community’s bachelors. Then one day, all the women simply left.

“When I first heard the story, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, good for these women.’ I had these images of brides racing across the paddy fields with their veils flowing in the wind,” Fong said. “The man told me that he couldn’t blame them for this because he knew that they were under a lot of pressure. I thought it was very forgiving of him. This is the problem for many men: they are stuck in a problem not of their own making.”

This man, and the other single sons of his generation, are also feeling the effects of the policy. Because China does not have a strong social security program, a young man will often have to provide for his two parents and four grandparents — essentially becoming six people’s retirement fund. 

As part of her lecture, “Long-Term Consequences of China’s One-Child Policy,” Fong explored the one-child policy and its cultural and financial impacts on China and the global community. Hers was the second installment of Week One’s Chautauqua Lecture Series theme of “China and the World: Collaboration, Competition, Confrontation?” The author of One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment, her work has appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post. For several years she was a staff reporter for the China bureau for The Wall Street Journal, where she was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting.

‘Too Old’

The one-child policy was created in the 1980s, Fong said, by men who worked in the military. 

“These men were primarily, themselves, scientists who envisioned women as machines,” Fong said. “What these men thought was that, ‘Women’s fertility — that is something you can push out and push in like a switch.’”

These men also thought that when they officially lifted the policy nationwide in 2015, Chinese citizens would rush to have multiple children again. Fong said this isn’t that case.

“This is a leadership that has 30-plus years telling you, relentlessly, one child is best,” Fong said. “If you do not believe the power of messaging changes you, then the billion-dollar advertising industry would not exist.”

Despite the two-child policy being in effect for years, and the recent approval of the three-child policy that was passed on May 31, China still has a very elderly population — 40% of the world’s Parkinson’s patients are Chinese. Fong said the retirees of China would make up the world’s third-most populous country.

People outside of China also believe in the policy. After reporting on it, Fong said, she received notes from people telling her that the whole world should have a one-child policy because of overpopulation.

“The question I ask is: Are you okay with if someone takes away your mother, your sister, your wife for forced abortion or sterilization?” Fong said.

‘Too Few’

No one wants to be “shidu parents.” This is a Chinese phrase for a couple whose child has died. While a child’s death is a tragedy for anyone, no matter the country, under the one-child policy in China, this also means no one will financially provide for the parents when they are no longer able to work. Fong said this is why the phrase shidu parent has extra weight to it. 

In 2008, Fong reported on the massive earthquake in Sichuan, China. She interviewed a man whose daughter was crushed to death. The man was 50 and his wife was 45. 

Neighbors avoided them afterwards, Fong said, because they did not want the financial responsibility of taking care of them. Just weeks after his daughter’s death, the man went to the hospital to reverse his vasectomy in order to try to have another child. 

Having working-age children is integral for families like the one Fong interviewed, but also for the economy. With China’s economy still growing rapidly, the country’s youthful population can’t keep up with job demand. 

Fong said that in the 1990s, right when the Chinese economy first started growing at unprecedented rates, the country had high numbers of young adults and a low number of retirees. This was the perfect equation for the economy at the time. As those workers age, however, the next generation is not large enough to effectively financially support them in the customary way.

The United States also has decreased population growth. Fong said almost every developed, wealthy country has this problem. The United States, in particular, supplements its population with immigration, but China has never done this, and Fong said the Chinese government has no large plans to do so.

Shannon Rozner, the Institution’s senior vice president of community relations and general counsel, started the Q-and-A by asking Fong why people at first saw the one-child policy as positive. 

Fong said that lawmakers in the 1980s felt the one-child policy was necessary in order for China to climb out of poverty — the government decided to limit population so that resources would go farther.

Other countries in Asia have approached the problem of overpopulation far less drastically. In Thailand, she said the government encourages women to go to college, have a career and start families later in life. 

She also said that before implementing the one-child policy, China had a similar movement called the “Later, Longer, Fewer” campaign. The government encouraged its citizens to marry later in life, wait longer before having children and to end up with fewer children. 

“That period was the greatest fertility drop that China experienced,” Fong said. “Average households went from having six children to three children.”

Fong said that some people argue that if China stuck with the “Later, Longer, Fewer” campaign, the country would be seeing fewer negative effects — such as forced abortions, tragedies within the adoption system and burden on a singular male of the family — and still have many positives, such as a decreased population and fewer strains on government resources. 

Rozner then asked if the huge population of unmarried men has opened Chinese culture to nontraditional families, such as LGBTQ+ or single-parent households.

“That has not been the case at all,” Fong said. “By and large, the one-child policy is also very much linked to the issue of control of the kinds of people they want to have.”

With stories from the front lines of climate change, Somini Sengupta covers connected, competing national interests of China and the US in morning lecture

  • New York Times International Climate reporter Somini Sengupta gives a morning lecture on climate change and the role the U.S. and China play globally on Monday June 28, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • New York Times International Climate reporter Somini Sengupta gives a morning lecture on climate change and the role the U.S. and China play globally on Monday June 28, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • Somini Sengupta, international climate change correspondent for The New York Times, delivers her lecture "Can China and the United States Save the Planet?" on Monday June 28, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • New York Times International Climate reporter Somini Sengupta gives a morning lecture on climate change and the role the U.S. and China play globally on Monday June 28, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER


President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping cooperating to combat climate change, Somini Sengupta said, is like a couple in divorce court trying to plan their child’s wedding. 

“In short, this is the biggest diplomatic test, in my view, for both of them — not just for their countries, but also for the rest of humanity,” said Sengupta, the international climate change correspondent for The New York Times.

The two largest economies and militaries in the world have had a complicated relationship, to say the least. Tariffs, trade wars and tensions over Hong Kong are just the tip of this decades-long and trillions-of-dollars-deep iceberg.

Sengupta said the global community, most importantly China and the United States, has to work together to effectively combat climate change. Biden and Xi, the leaders of the two largest carbon emitters, are at the eye of that storm. 

And, Sengupta said, 2021 is the most important year, in the most important decade, in terms of climate change. Many scientists have estimated that the world must take drastic action by 2030 to prevent global temperatures from rising an average of 1.5 degrees Celsius from the industrial revolution, the estimated ceiling that humanity will be able to survive. 

The world is already at 1.1.

As well as being a climate change reporter, Sengupta is the author of The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India’s Young and a former United Nations correspondent at the Times. At 10:30 a.m. on Monday in the Amphitheater, Sengupta opened the 2021 Chautauqua Lecture Series and delivered the first lecture in the Amp with a live audience in almost two years. Her lecture, titled “Can China and the United States Save the Planet?” is part of the Week One theme of “China and The World: Collaboration, Competition, Confrontation?”

“It is really my pleasure and my honor to be seeing your faces, in real life, IRL, and not being reminded to mute and unmute,” Sengupta said.

One of the first topics Sengupta touched on was the inequality around the impacts of climate change. Often, the communities with the lowest carbon footprint feel the greatest impact. She said this could be seen in many Southeast Asian countries, especially in coastal cities. Above her, on the three hanging projector screens, a photo of Manila was shown: the water from the sea ravaged the pictured buildings, an effect of rising sea levels.

“My job is to bear witness to the human experience, particularly the struggles,” Sengupta said, “of those whose stories do not often get told, and need to get told. So, for me personally, it is very important to be there and see and hear and smell.”

One assignment took Sengupta to Kenya, where many farmers’ livelihoods, she said, were no longer possible due to climate change, yet who “had no carbon footprint to speak of.”

She interviewed a man at a food distribution site who was profoundly impacted by climate change. He told her that in his life, one day he might wake up and find five of his cows dead and the next day 10, and then at the end of the year, he might spend money to replace them, only for it to happen again.

Farmers are impacted in the United States, too. Sengupta reported last year during the heatwave and wildfires in California, and focused on farmers, particularly those that pick and pack food. Sengupta interviewed and followed them as they worked in the fields. One young woman, and many others, would pick crops from 4:30 a.m. before the sun had risen, and by 10 a.m. it would be nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and they would have to stop. They were even able to see the wildfire in the distance. 

“I remember the day when I learned about what she was out there harvesting, at such an incredible hazard to her health,” Sengupta said. “She was harvesting dried corn that the rest of us would buy to decorate our Thanksgiving table.”

“As one economist said, ‘We own this problem,’ ” Sengupta said.

While the U.S. has emitted more greenhouse gases cumulatively over the past decades, China emits the most yearly, taking up 28% of global totals. The U.S. has around half of that, as does the European Union. 

Despite other, more vulnerable countries bearing the effects of climate change, she said, the United States holds the most responsibility. The U.S. per capita emissions are the highest.

“Enter these two men,” said Sengupta as a photo of Biden and Xi appeared on the projector. 

Sengupta said Biden is not coming into climate diplomacy with Xi from a position of strength. China dominates production in almost every industry, including sustainable energy. This includes solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles. In another milestone, Shenzhen, China, was the first city to electrify all transportation. 

“In short, this is the biggest diplomatic test, in my view, for both of them — not just for their countries, but also for the rest of humanity.”

– Somini Sengupta
International climate Correspondent, 
The New York Times

The need for climate action also comes at a politically tense time between China and the U.S., with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi saying cooperation depends on how the United States responds to China’s treatment of Hong Kong and Thailand. This minister said that if the U.S. stopped interfering in China’s “internal affairs,” then cooperation would be smoother. Biden’s administration, however, seeks to separate these two issues. 

Sengupta said there were a few tests in the coming months that will be crucial to preventing global temperatures from rising before 2030, including how much the Biden administration can accomplish around climate change within a short time frame.

Biden committed to halving U.S. emissions by 2030, but the current version of the 2021 trillion-dollar infrastructure bill has very little to help achieve that goal.

“That makes this larger budget reconciliation process, in the coming days and weeks, really, really important for climate diplomacy, especially with China,” Sengupta said. “This is something that every major country is watching. What can the U.S. deliver?”

Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, opened the Q-and-A by asking Sengupta what some countries are doing well in terms of combating climate change.

Sengupta said that some countries are experimenting with reducing food waste, like Paris requiring supermarkets to donate food that is about to expire to food banks. Another interesting plan is adding seaweed to cow food. When cows eat grass, Sengupta said, they burp a large amount of methane. When seaweed is a part of their diet, this amount of methane is significantly less.

The closing question was a simple one: What can people do to help?

“Far be from me to tell people what should be done,” Sengupta said. “I am a reporter. I find out stuff and try to explain it in everyday language.”

She did recommend that people pay attention to the 2021 trillion-dollar infrastructure bill and listen to scientists. 

“Listen to the people who are translating what happened,” Sengupta said. “Now.”

Her second suggestion is to talk about it. She said that the majority of Americans support more action on climate change but hesitate to talk about it out of fear of being divisive. It is also important to talk from a person’s own perspective, on topics like water shortages, food production to rising sea levels.

“If it is extreme heat you are concerned about, talk about it. If you are an elderly person in Portland, without air conditioning, in this heat, that is a hazard to your health,” Sengupta said. “So find out how to talk about it from where you are.”

‘Our lives depend on it:’ Former U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power concluded the 2020 Chautauqua Lecture Series with a plan for how America can reach ‘diplomacy at its best’

Power Screenshot

Of every role Samantha Power has served in her lifetime — diplomat, author, journalist, professor and scholar — none has been more meaningful than United States Ambassador to the United Nations. 

During her time as ambassador, from 2013 to 2017, Power helped mobilize 70 countries to take on ISIS, brought into force the Paris Agreement, worked with Civil Society to get prisoners out of jail and supported President Barack Obama as he leveraged contributions to end West Africa’s Ebola outbreak. 

In other words, Power said she has seen the indispensable need for diplomacy and what it can accomplish at its very best.

“The grim facts of the current moment help us appreciate just how important and how necessary diplomacy is,” Power said. 

Power’s lecture, “America’s Role in International Engagement and Leadership,” closed the 2020 Chautauqua Lecture Series and the Week Nine theme in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, “The Future We Want, The World We Need: Collective Action for Tomorrow’s Challenges,” at 10:45 a.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 28, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform

Diplomacy is necessary, first and foremost, to end conflict. More countries are experiencing some form of violent conflict in modern-day than at any other time in the last three decades, Power said. And they aren’t just increasing in numbers — conflicts are also lasting longer. The average humanitarian crisis involving the United Nations lasts more than nine years. 

“That’s almost double the duration of such crises as recently as 2014,” she said.

Conflicts often give rise to massive population movements, which are inherently destabilizing and have led to a rise in “xenophobia and nationalism across the globe,” according to Power. Close to 80 million people have been forcibly displaced across the world, this worst displacement crisis since World War II. 

“Over the last decade, this number has essentially doubled, to the point that 1% of the entire population of the globe has been forced from their homes,” Power said. 

Diplomacy is also needed to negotiate “more ambitious” global commitments to combat climate change. 

“The commitments made under the 2015 (Paris Agreement) was a starting point, not a solution,” Power said. 

Unprecedented drought and climate-induced migration already gave rise to two of the deadliest conflicts of the 21st century: the Darfur genocide and the Syrian Civil War. 

“Even in places where climate change doesn’t cause violence, it is due to cause mass displacement on a scale that is hard to fathom,” she said.

In the face of COVID-19, Power said diplomacy is essential to coordinating global action, as she did with the Ebola outbreak in 2014. Power worked alongside diplomats from 50 nations to support West Africa in ending the outbreak, but since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Power said more than 90 governments have instead restricted exports of personal protective equipment, medicine and medical devices. 

“It’s generating antagonism and a zero-sum mindset among nations to the detriment of individuals in need,” she said. 

Despite the indispensability of using diplomacy, Power said the United States and other democracies have not invested sufficiently in that “lost art.” The Pentagon and armed services have 228,000 American personnel deployed outside of the United States. The U.S. Department of State? Only around 8,000.

“The Pentagon, famously, has only slightly fewer people serving in marching bands than (the state department has) diplomats,” Power said. 

The “undervaluing” is apparent in a lack of proper funding as well, which Power said creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

“The less we engage in diplomacy, the more chaotic the world becomes, and the more chaotic the world becomes, the harder it is to convince people at home and abroad that international engagements are worth pursuing,” Power said. “We have to break out of this cycle.”

China, on the other hand, is making “gigantic investments” in diplomacy. China’s spending on diplomacy has doubled since 2013, at the same time the United States’ budget has stagnated. 

To give a sense of the trajectory, when Power joined the Obama administration in 2009, China was the eighth-largest donor nation, contributing about 3% of the U.N.’s budget. Currently, they have passed Japan as the second-largest donor.

“I believe that building a strategic relationship with China is essential,” Power said. “It’s also going to be immensely challenging.”

China is doing more with its standing than “play defense,” Power said. China is promoting national sovereignty, an interpretation that “endangers the international human rights system.”

“China is spearheading an effort, welcomed by undemocratic nations, to redefine inalienable rights as state-bestowed privileges,” she said. “China is bringing relief to many governments.”

The key question becomes: What can be done? Power offered three ideas, presented with “humility, as the task before us is genuinely daunting.” 

First, Power said America must strengthen the internal workings of its “democracy at home.” 

“No matter how many diplomats we have, our greatest weapon is the model of our democracy at home,” Power said. “Our perceived domestic strength and our perceived domestic competence has huge bearing on the willingness of other nations to follow our lead.”

Strengthening democracy at home begins with building the diplomatic core. Power said the Department of State is in crisis as many senior leaders have left, its mission is uncertain and “morale has hit rock bottom.” 

Three years into the Trump administration, more than one-third of the top positions are vacant or filled by acting officials, such as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, which has not had a Senate-confirmed ambassador since April 2019. 

In filling the vacancies, Power said “we need to make the face of America look like America.” 

“For as long as national security has existed, it has been a field dominated by white men,” Power said.

Since the country’s founding, fewer than 1 in 10 U.S. ambassadors have been women. No American woman has served as ambassador to China, Russia, Israel, Turkey or Afghanistan.

“More often than not, those (female) ambassadors have been posted to countries considered less critical to U.S. national security,” Power said.

Power said the record of “recruiting minorities is even worse.” Only 6% of foreign service officers are African American, a mere 6% Latino. As of this summer, of the 189 U.S. ambassadors posted overseas, only seven are African American or Hispanic.

After the murder of George Floyd, Power said many African-American diplomats began speaking out about the prejudice and discrimination they have faced. As the former U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe Harry Thomas Jr. put it, “You can set up all of the kumbaya panels you want, but until you see people of color being given opportunities, nothing is going to change except Band-Aids on surfaces.”

“The standard half-measures used to address these inequities just won’t do,” Power said. 

Once those positions have been filled, Power said diplomats need to focus on supporting democractic transitions and strengthening alliances among democracies. 

“The economic heft of democracies dwarfs that of even an economically potent China,” Power said. “The ability of China or Russia to silence any one country using its economic leverage is far diminished if we can coordinate our positions and stand up collectively on behalf of one another.”

Lastly, Power said diplomacy needs to take into account one of the most “underestimated forces” in politics and geopolitics: dignity. 

Why did a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire, igniting the Arab Spring? He felt humiliated. It was a matter of dignity. 

Why have many Russians supported Vladamir Putin despite their country’s stagnant economy? Partly because they believe he has restored Russia’s status as a major player on the world stage. It’s a matter of dignity.

There have been more mass, non-violent movements around the world over the past decade than at any time in recorded history. What has been at the core of these protests, the peaceful resistance that helped bring down corrupt governments? Dignity. 

In closing, Power revisited the 2014 Ebola outbreak, a time before the United States and Cuba had reestablished diplomatic ties. Nevertheless, one of the very first countries to heed president Obama’s call for global contributions was Cuba, which sent more than 200 medical professionals to the region. One of the doctors deployed was a 43-year-old Felix Baez Sarria, who was dispatched to an Ebola treatment facility in Sierra Leone. 

Sarria contracted Ebola and was airlifted to Geneva where for two days, he drifted in and out of consciousness. He almost died, but with time, pulled through and ultimately chose to return to Sierra Leone to continue working. 

“He said he needed to, that Ebola was a challenge he wanted to fight to the finish, to make sure it didn’t spread to other countries,” she said. 

Power pointed out that to save his life, multiple nations had to come together. Sarria was initially treated in the clinic where he worked, which was built with the help of the United States. From there, he was transported to a clinic run by doctors from the British Ministry of Defence. Then, Sarria was airlifted to Switzerland aboard a plane operated by an American charter service. Upon arriving, he was treated with a Canadian-developed experimental treatment. 

Every one of the stops on his itinerary was negotiated by people practicing diplomacy. To Power, diplomacy was used to make “(something) hard happen in the interest of a better world” — diplomacy at its best. 

“It will not be enough to back to a point where we proclaim that diplomacy matters, nor even to say why it matters,” Power said. “Instead, we must treat diplomacy as a top line, national and global priority, rooted in a deep-seated, broad-based, whole new appreciation of the fact that our livelihood and our lives depend on it.”

Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of the United Nations Fabrizio Hochschild discusses efforts of UN75 Initiative to learn people’s hopes, fears, priorities for the future

hochschild screenshot


Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of the United Nations Fabrizio Hochschild said the news media has covered in depth the life-threatening, physical effects of COVID-19, but the amount of people whose mental health has been impacted is much larger. 

Mental and emotional vulnerabilities come with being isolated, and many have been forced to stay in abusive households — not to mention the number who have lost their jobs, and the countless people who have needed to change their daily lives.

“Just about everybody has been subjected to the growth of uncertainty and anxiety about the future. All these are massive stresses on mental health that don’t get the attention that they deserve,” Hochschild said. “I’m afraid they will be with many of us long after we’ve discovered a vaccine.”

Hochschild hopes that the pandemic will make society more empathetic and “drop this awful, macho … approach to expressing vulnerability when it comes to mental health.”

“None of us feel inappropriate when it comes to our physical health, none of us have a problem confessing to a stomachache or a backache,” Hochschild said. “Yet, we have this terrible trend not even to acknowledge the worst depression or major anxiety disorder.”

At 10:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2020, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Hochschild gave a presentation titled “UN75 and the Future of International Cooperation,” as part of Week Nine of the Chautauqua Lecture Series themed “The Future We Want, The World We Need: Collective Action for Tomorrow’s Challenges,” in partnership with the U.N. Foundation. Hochschild discussed the UN75 initiative, the common desire for greater international communication and the importance of empathy in the reckoning brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The discussion was led by Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, who asked about Hochschild’s work to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the U.N., and how that anniversary has been framed.

“There’s a sense, even before COVID struck, that we were facing this contradiction between a growing number of challenges that can only be resolved through international cooperation, and the flagging commitment to the mechanisms of international cooperation,” Hochschild said.

In order to reverse this contradiction of the growing global issues and declining interest in cooperation, the U.N. wants to inspire the people it serves, and reinvigorate the international organization.

Ewalt asked him to speak on the current state of global cooperation. One example, Hochschild said, is the U.N. Security Council.

“According to some permanent members sitting on their council, they haven’t seen it as dysfunctional, as unable to reach agreement, at any time since the Cold War,” Hochschild said. “That’s a pretty tough statement.”

The conflict in Syria, which has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions, is “perhaps the most painful and tragic indication” of a lack of global cooperation. Hochschild said that the U.N. Security Council has become more fragmented on these large issues that are more visible to the public, but also on issues that the majority of the council historically agreed on. 

“The last climate summit in Madrid, presided over by my own country, Chile, in the diplomatic words of many U.N. members, was really an abject failure,” Hochschild said.

The COVID-19 pandemic showed more of this lack of coherence, and that creating fractures instead of bridges has very immediate consequences, such as widespread death.

Ewalt asked about UN75, and the initiative’s efforts to learn millions of people’s hopes and fears about the future, and the focus on inviting people to discuss priorities for the future.

Hochschild said the project has focused on reaching young people in as many parts of the world as possible. He said the initiative has partnered with organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America and platforms like Facebook, in order to reach a wider audience, and has currently reached millions across all 193 countries. 

Hochschild said despite growing political divisions, there are common hopes to strengthen global cooperation.

“What is very striking in the results we’ve achieved so far … is that there is a remarkable amount of unity across political divides, across generation groups, across genders and across continents, around what people’s fears and hopes are for the future,” Hochschild said. “Maybe we should tap in more to those and build more on (them).”

Ewalt asked what people should think about in the coming months in terms of prioritizing international cooperation.

Hochschild said the pandemic and growing global dysfunction may bring changes to educational systems. He gave an example of how some educational experts have argued that children should be taught programming instead of literature, but they eventually found that most programming would be done by artificial intelligence in 10 years. 

“There’s a lot of confusion about what this brave new era means for education, but I think (it’s important to be) coping with uncertainty, coping with change and building resilience,” Hochschild said, “not the sort of silly macho resilience that I was taught about, bottling up one’s feelings and always showing a brave face.”

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