Morning Lecture Recaps

Hudson’s Kenneth Weinstein outlines points of ‘geostrategic competition’

President and CEO of Hudson Institute, Kenneth Weinstein, speaks to the chautauquan congregation on the importance of shifting power balances and defense mechanisms, as well as how to cope with watching the world’s power economics change throughout the years during his morning lecture presentation on Tuesday, Aug 13, 2019 in the Amphitheater. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

In a moment of unprecedented innovation, Kenneth Weinstein believes nations are racing toward the finish line of a geostrategic competition.

For that race, Weinstein has developed eight points necessary to understand the present and future of geopolitics around the world, as well as what it will take for the United States to prevail in the end.

Weinstein, president and CEO of Hudson Institute, a think tank and research center dedicated to nonpartisan analysis of U.S. and international economic, security and political issues, gave his lecture, “National Security and Next Generation Technology” at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Eight, “Shifting Global Power.”

First point: Technology and innovation are critical to geostrategic competition, and people need to think creatively about the challenges they pose.

In his career, Weinstein has been influenced by 20th-century strategist Herman Kahn, an “extraordinary thinker and legendary futurist.”

“(Kahn) had this ability to sense the direction the future was going and the ability to ask very hard questions about the threats the United States face and how we might beat them,” Weinstein said.

Kahn founded Hudson Institute in 1961, the year Weinstein was born. Kahn also served as a model for Dr. Strangelove in the 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove,” but Weinstein would argue the two were nothing alike.

“(Kahn’s) views were that you had to think through the worst possible outcomes to avoid them, you had to figure out how to mitigate them,” he said. “(Kahn) always tried to point the way to a brighter future.”

Kahn, like Weinstein, understood that technology and innovation were key to transforming lives; collectively, they have raised standards of living, provided access to resources and created a sense of leisure previous generations “could have never dreamed possible.”

Technology has also transformed the world of geostrategy and the future of nations, Weinstein said. Kahn, who came of age in the era of nuclear weapons, understood that when technology is in the wrong hands, it is detrimental to humankind.

“In this period, (Kahn) tried to think through the unthinkable, imagine the very worst, prevent things from happening and talk through the public sector of all sorts of scenarios,” Weinstein said.

Second point: Strategy is needed because, unfortunately, all of the world isn’t Chautauqua.

“I think one of the key things strategists tend to make mistakes about is we tend to mirror our image, we tend to assume that other countries and other peoples have the same aims that we do,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein said there are countless examples proving that assumption to be false: When the Soviet Union collapsed, people assumed democracy would “triumph there”; after the Iraq war and Arab Spring, people assumed a secular democracy would arise and take root in the Middle East. Additionally, there was once hope that the whole world would move toward a “market-driven democratic state,” a false hope Weinstein said was fueled by technology.

“We came to believe that as citizens around the world got increasing access to information, that they would be able to stand up against authoritarianism, they would be able to stand up against tyranny, and that the proliferation of information systems in technological breakthroughs would break the authoritarian grip on populations,” Weinstein said.

Autocracies have been successfully overthrown in places like Ukraine, but in other locations, freedom movements, especially those connected to social media, haven’t seen the outcomes they hoped for. For example, in Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime was overthrown in 2011, only to be replaced by subsequent governments that are “arguably less free” than his autocracy.

Third point: Strategists are often wrong; not in identifying phenomena, but in figuring out the critical importance of those phenomena.

“Strategy is a hard line of work to be in at the end of the day; you are asked, in a sense, to predict the future,” Weinstein said. “It’s not a science. History doesn’t work in a straight line, people make mistakes — big mistakes.”

Weinstein said information systems and social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, had the potential to put “pressure on authoritarian regimes from below.” Hope for that potential, according to Weinstein, drove many Americans to believe opening China’s economy to the global economy would increase China’s internal freedoms.

“Opening China to global trade was hoped to lead to liberalization, which would lead to an openness (in) society,” he said. “In particular, if you looked in the lives of the internet, people sat down and said, ‘China absolutely needs the internet to stay competitive in a global economy to learn about what’s going on in the world, and China can either deny its citizens access to the internet, but if it does this, it will be stuck in poverty.’ ”

China’s other choice was to face political pressure and allow full internet access, which is the only way to stay competitive, according to Weinstein. If China wanted to buckle down on internet use, it would have taken hundreds of thousands of specialists to monitor it. Weinstein thought that was impossible to do — until China proved him wrong.

“China decided, as did other authoritarian regimes, like Russia and North Korea, that they couldn’t afford this to remain in power — the Communist Party couldn’t have the internet and keep the party in power,” Weinstein said.

Fourth point: Information is also central in military affairs, and those affairs are “high-tech, data-driven strategy warfare.”

With the introduction of barbed wire and machine guns, warfare evolved after World War I. By World War II, offensive strategy involved mechanized warfare, which included battle tanks and more sophisticated air cover. Turning to the Cold War, nuclear weapons gave defensive strategy the edge.

“In the end, as we look back, neither side wanted to fight a war because we feared what the devastating consequences were,” Weinstein said. “Other developments make fighting below the nuclear threshold less costly, including missile defense, precision weaponry and so forth.”

A key milestone in defense transformation was the 1990-91 Gulf War, “the first war of its kind” — high tech and data-driven.

“It became an audacious laboratory for a new kind of warfare,” Weinstein said. “The U.S. deployed long-range precision strikes, for the first time, a new kind of advanced weaponry that proved to be highly successful.”

Fifth point: Strategic adversaries came to benefit from other technological advances and battlefield transformations.

Just as the Chinese kept a close eye on the internet, the country’s military planners kept a close eye on what the United States was doing in the Persian Gulf War.

“They saw our unprecedented 42-day victory in 1991, and realized a strategic rethink was necessary for the People’s Republic of China to remain a competitive, growing military power,” Weinstein said.

Sixth point: In regards to technological innovation in China, the use of new information systems can impede civil liberties, especially among ethnic minorities.

In 2015, the Chinese government issued a state geostrategy, the Made in China 2025 plan, which is designed to achieve rapid advancement in areas of high technology, including civilian technologies that are critical to domestic security, yet encroach on civilian privacy.

“This pull of government geostrategy seems to control the next generation of technologies — from facial recognition software, to artificial intelligence, robotics, mnemonic sciences, the next generation of mobile 5G systems — and place China geometrically ahead of the competition,” Weinstein said.

Through facial recognition data and cell phone tracking, Weinstein said China has created a “social credit” system that represses individual freedoms.

“In China, it has everything to do with monitoring citizens’ loyalty to the Communist Party,” Weinstein said. “It’s a social credit that goes with them wherever they go; whether they apply to colleges or universities, when they try to buy a railroad ticket, when they try to buy an airplane ticket and when they try to apply for a job.”

According to Weinstein, the key to China’s system is having access to personal data about a variety of individuals.

“Eventually, in a high-tech future, using artificial intelligence technologies and other technologies, this data will be able to be mined for all sorts of purposes,” he said.

Seventh point: The quest for information and information dominance makes the battle over the future of 5G mobile phones critical.

The Chinese government has offered billions in subsidies to Huawei, a Chinese multinational technology company, to become the leader in 5G technology globally.

“Huawei has unprecedented ties to the People’s Liberation Army and Chinese military apparatus,” he said. “On the surface, it looks like a normal company like Samsung or Nokia, but imagine if the Soviet Union had the wherewithal to develop this kind of high tech that stole the most complex technological secrets to produce the most highly powered information and communication system of its time.”

Weinstein said the introduction of 5G technologies proves that the world has entered an “infosphere.”

“(This is a) moment in which China will be able to create a global infosphere: information it has from around the world, a massive data collection system that is going to be ripe for artificial intelligence harvesting for all sorts of strategic and nonstrategic purposes,” he said.

By 2025, Weinstein said three-fourths of the world will be “interacting with 5G capability,” which brought him to his eighth and final point: How can the United States stay ahead?

For that question, Weinstein doesn’t have a happy ending, or even a solid answer.

“It is a tough question,” he said. “You don’t need a complex artificial intelligence system to know I have painted a very gloomy picture strategically.”

Weinstein said he owes the hope he does have to the Trump Administration.

“I give the Trump Administration credit for breaking conventional wisdom over the China threat,” he said. “Over the past 30 years or so, there has been a belief that China’s rise as an economic power would eventually transform China internally. I give the administration credit for empowering the kind of analysts who recognize the China challenge.”

The best news, Weinstein said, is that though the United States has only entered the early stages of the “geostrategic competition,” there is a chance the country may prosper as much as, if not more than, China.

“Our system is much stronger, much freer and much more innovative than the Chinese system,” Weinstein said. “At the end of the day, we in the United States, we in the West and our allies around the world, prove strong enough, creative enough and dedicated enough to meet this challenge and point the way to a brighter future for mankind.”

Robin Wright Expands on Global Power in Age of Perpetual Disruption


No straight line could ever depict history, and through 50 years of twists and turns, Robin Wright has witnessed, firsthand, the creation of a convoluted trajectory.

At the beginning of that line are some “basics” that Wright said need no elaboration: Russia is trying to recoup its losses as a superpower; China is increasingly a major power, a challenge and a rival to the United States and across the globe; power is shifting from West to East.

Beyond the basics, Wright proposed six “big ideas” to define “where we are and where we are going,” a line that, although not straight, may be easier to follow.

Wright, contributing writer at The New Yorker and a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, spoke at 10:45 a.m. Monday in the Amphitheater, opening Week Eight, “Shifting Global Power.”

Wright’s first idea centers on “perpetual disruption,” not to be confused with politics.

“In the past, we’ve had breaks after traumatic events; be it a civil war, the Great Depression, two world wars, the Cold War,” Wright said. “We could step back, we could regroup, we could create new institutions and think about how we could prevent those traumas from happening again.”

After World War II, the United Nations took shape with “creative energy and thoughtful perspective,” becoming the first successful global organization. Then the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was established and paved the way for a number of countries’ independence in the decades that followed. Following that was NATO, a security mechanism, and for “development and prosperity,” the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were created.

“Today, in the 21st century, we don’t have that luxury of time to regroup after traumatic events,” Wright said. “The glut of information too often distracts us and diverts us from thinking big, from addressing those issues.”

The pace of change is perpetual, and according to Wright, it is never going to slow down.

“We are in uncharted territory, in many ways, in adapting to what’s unfolding,” she said. “And in many ways, we don’t yet have the new institutions and the thoughtful leadership giving a lot of thought to these kinds of changes. There is a lot of talk, but not a lot of action on the big principles.”

Wright’s advice? “Strap yourselves in.”

The second big idea is that the world is in the process of reordering, perhaps the most significant shift in the 500 years since city-states evolved into nation-states.

“The world map went through extraordinary change in the 20th century,” Wright said. “It was the age of the end of empires in France, Britain, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Soviet Union — they’re gone.”

In the 20th century, there was a “proliferation of countries.” In 1945, the United Nations was comprised of 51 countries. In 1948, the year Wright was born, there were 57. Currently, there are 193.

“By the end of the 21st, there will probably be more countries in the world,” she said. “The map will change further, and yet the reordering, in some ways, is more interesting in the ways we’re becoming parts of something bigger.”

The concept of “America first” seems individualistic, but Wright said the reality is that the United States is part of more than 70 regional blocs and international partnerships. Some are pivotal, others small, but they affect everything from commerce, to security, to football.

In 1994, the United States embraced the North American Free Trade Agreement, a treaty the current administration opposes. Yet, the same principles are being embraced in the 2018-drafted United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. 

“It is that same idea of being something bigger,” Wright said. “We are better off, we are more efficient and we are more prosperous when we work with a wider array of countries.”

Becoming a part of “something bigger” calls for sacrifices and compromise when it comes to sovereignty, control over the future and, particularly, identity.

“The 21st century will be, as a result of wanting to be part of something bigger, not just about hopefully spreading democracy within countries, but also the principle of establishing democracies among countries,” Wright said. “No country wants to give up having a little bit more than the next guy, to be safer or more prosperous.”

That power struggle means embracing an identity that is bigger than nation-states have been before.

“The transition is going to be messy as we try to figure out: Who are we?” Wright said. “Who decides for us, whether it’s about policy or trade, how we fight wars? Even who the enemy is? It will be a source of incredible turmoil, but it’s one of those big ideas that will define our times.”

The third big idea is that the measures of power are shifting.

“The size of a country’s military, the size of its arsenals, are still important, but other things are increasingly defining, increasingly indicating of power, others’ power and the endurance of power,” she said.

Power will be defined by connectedness, Wright said, which is influenced by three things: access to information, the speed of that access and the security of that access. The access and control of data and information is already a “battlefield,” as seen with Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Power will also be increasingly defined by access to natural resources, specifically water. Currently, 17 nations, representing 40% of the global population, face severe water shortages or distress. By 2030, the number will increase to 45 countries.

“The last time I was in Saudi Arabia, I was struck by a sign on my bathroom mirror that said, ‘Water is more precious than oil,’ ” Wright said.

The definition of power will also rely on a country’s adaptability to change and perpetual disruption. For example, in 2011, a young Tunisian fruit vendor, angry about corruption and bribery demanded by police inspectors, refused to give in to their demands, resulting in the police inspector taking his fruit. The vendor protested, and when he was repeatedly rebuffed, he went out in front of the governor’s mansion, covered himself in paint thinner and lit himself on fire.

The anger over his desperate act ignited the Arab Spring, and Wright said the younger generation’s actions represented one of the “most important turning points in the Middle East.”

As part of the nation’s response to outraged youth, Tunisia invested in education, so much that its budget allocated more for education than every European country except for Denmark and Iceland. By 2011, more than half of the young population received some kind of advanced education. But at the same time, unemployment among those with advanced education was 32%.

“A society had changed and done the important things necessary … had adapted, (but) had not figured out a way to incorporate the very people it was educating,” she said. 

Wright returned to Tunisia in 2012, trying to get a consensus on what had changed since the Arab Spring began.

“The message was the same, in different ways and different words: ‘We have far more freedoms, but far fewer jobs,’ ” she said.

In 2014, Wright returned to Tunisia again, this time as an international monitor for their first democratic presidential election. According to Wright, the country “did it right”; they debated a new constitution in town halls across the country for two years and, among other promises, said the document guaranteed Muslim women more rights than American women. And yet, for that election, the lowest voter turnout was among the younger generation.

“The bottom line is, adapting to change at the pace today, is achingly hard,” Wright said.

The fourth big idea is that the nature of warfare is changing — in terms of the weapons market, as well as who or what is identified as an adversary. In the second half of the 20th century, Wright said the nuclear bomb caused the most fear, where in the first half of the 21st, the suicide bomb commonly generates the most anxiety.

“It’s a reflection, in many ways, of how our adversaries have changed,” she said. “Wars today are less between states, and more often between states and non-state actors: militias, terrorist groups, extremists.”

The United States has only fought one conventional war since the Korean War. In the 21st century, the two biggest U.S. adversaries have been ISIS and the Taliban, both non-state actors.

“These wars are often much harder to fight and the enemy much more difficult to understand,” Wright said.

The fifth big idea centers around “the assumptions of liberal democracy.” Between 1946 and 1999, 64 democracies collapsed because of coups or insurgencies.

“For that first half of my life, the failure of democracy was like a light switch — it went on and then off, and it often was dark in these countries for decades to come,” Wright said.

In the second half of her life, Wright has seen democracies die at the hands of elected leaders, often with the support of the public, congress, parliament and even the courts.

In 1980, Wright was the pool reporter on Pope John Paul II’s plane when he went to the Philippines to tell President Ferdinand Marcos that the “gig was up.” Even though the end of Marcos’ reign was an “amazing transition,” Filipinos elected Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, one of the “most murderous thugs in the world.”

“The death of democracy by election is a recurrent theme these days,” Wright said. “Democracy has been floundered, failed, or the idea of democracy challenged, from Turkey, to Poland, Hungary, Nicaragua, Ukraine, Peru and sweet little Venezuela, the first democracy in Latin America.”

Between 1995 and 2017, the number of French, Germans and Italians who supported a military rule tripled. Between 2000 and 2010, she said, 40% of the world’s democracies failed due to the rise of populism. 

“For the second half of my life, democracy or the challenges to democracy, are like a dimmer — it slowly, slowly goes darker, and no one quite notices until it’s too late,” Wright said.

To avoid noticing that darkness only when “it’s too late,” Wright said, people cannot assume that current ways of life, based on founding democracies, are sustainable without periodic change.

“Democracy, in some ways, is the most fragile form of government; it depends on a sense of goodwill, the embrace of compromise, a spirit of common good among its citizens and the participation of its citizens,” she said. 

Though democracy is based on rights, those rights don’t tell the whole story. Democracy also requires responsibility.

“Everybody wants their rights, but not enough people want the responsibility, the responsibility to ensure not only our rights, but the rights of others — all others,” she said.

The sixth big idea is the good news.

“We have so much to celebrate,” Wright said. “We should not be distracted by the mean-world syndrome, that makes us think, in headlines and on television, that everything is going to hell. It’s a tempting thought, but there is a lot of good news.”

In 1945, there were 12 democracies. Now, there are 99.

“More than half of the world’s population lives in some form of political pluralism — some strong, some weak — where the idea has been embraced and governments have had to accommodate their people,” Wright said.

In warfare, the number of armed conflicts has dropped 40% since the end of the Cold War. Wars now tend to be “low-intensity conflicts” and 90% fewer people are dying in violent struggles than in the 1950s.

As for terrorism, Wright said state-sponorsed international terrorism is a “shadow” of what it was in the ’70s and ’80s. Only 5% of terrorist groups win or achieve their goals, and 18% end up negotiating.

“It’s usually because their goals have to do with a change in the type of government, a demand for rights, demand for recognition of a minority, or in some cases, a majority,” she said.

Life in general is improving, too. On average, child mortality is down, and productivity and life expectancy have all increased globally.

Above all, Wright said the most important thing to remember is that history and change do not exist on a straight line; never have, never will. Regardless, Wright remains an optimist.

“I know we have the intelligence and the tools and the ability to make things better,” Wright said. “The transition is going to be tough everywhere, but the thoughtful discussion, the kind you have at Chautauqua, gets us through these periods and helps create something different and better in the end. Just keep reminding yourself, among all the divisiveness and challenges, that we are all in this together.”

President Michael E. Hill and Krista Tippett Close Week’s Theme with Discussion Reflecting on Grace

From left, Founder and CEO of The On Being Project Krista Tippett talks about what makes a good interview with the 18th President of Chautauqua Institution Michael E. Hill during the final morning lecture of Week Seven Friday Aug. 9, 2019 at the Amp. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Krista Tippett began her week on grace with three elemental questions to pursue: “What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? Who will we be to each other?”

With Tippett ending the week on the other side of the conversation, Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill, had the opportunity to ask a question of his own: “After a week dedicated to grace, do you know any of the answers?”

Hill interviewed Tippett, journalist, author and host of “On Being with Krista Tippett,” at 10:45 a.m. Friday in the Amphitheater, closing Week Seven’s morning lecture series, “Grace: A Celebration of Extraordinary Gifts — A Week in Partnership with Krista Tippett and ‘On Being.’ ”

Tippett is a journalist and a diplomat with a degree in theology. According to her, the subjects of religion and spirituality are not merely subjects, they’re part of the human enterprise.

“It’s a part of life, this religious, spiritual, moral, ethical part of us,” Tippett said. “We didn’t know how to talk about that in journalism, which meant, in large part, we didn’t know how to talk about it in public.”

In post-9/11 America, Tippett saw a need for religious conversation, which is why her public radio show was originally titled “Speaking of Faith.” The evolution to “On Being” reflected the reality that much of the show’s material did not center on conventional understandings of faith, but rather the broader concept of humanity.

“What I started to realize was that what we were following were the animating questions behind this part of life, which have been pursued for thousands of years, most intentionally by our religious traditions,” she said. “These are repositories for sophisticated thinking and questioning in conversation across generations, and they are universal human questions.”

Out of her three elemental questions, Tippett said “Who will we be to each other?” is inextricable from the others.

“Who we will be to each other is really going to determine whether we rise up to the best of our humanity, or fail to do so and get back into survival mode,” she said.

The decision to rise up or revert to a rudimentary approach to life is a “hard call,” Hill said. And according to Tippett, those calls can be influenced by modern-day issues, but even in the absence of politics and social concerns, people are undoubtedly reshaping the world and contributing to seismic shifts in society.

“We are the generation redefining elemental human things like marriage, family and gender,” Tippett said. “Do you know how huge that is?”

At the root of the redefinition are the technologies “unsettling the ground beneath our feet,” the same unsettling many human generations have experienced before. However, Tippett said this generation’s technology is unique in how personal it is to users.

“They, the railroads, fire, electricity; they didn’t do this,” Tippett said. “Our technologies are implicating themselves in the human condition. They are redefining and reworking the way we do things like learning, creating community and falling in love.”

Partly due to technology and partly to the globalization of economies and cultures, Tippett said people are now living in an unprecedented proximity to difference.

“It’s stressful whether you welcome it or resist it,” Tippett said. “Physiologically, in our brains, we are having to rewire ourselves.”

So why is it harder now than ever before to be good to one another? Tippett said it is because humanity is living in a “complicated moment.”

“If we could just get really self-aware about that and get a little bit kinder to ourselves, then I think we would get kinder to others and just let that be true,” she said.

While staring at screens, Tippett said people have lost sight of their intelligence and conscience. At the dawn of the hand-held device age, adults held their devices as “little, baby, tyrant inventions” — people were in control of the technology. But now, Tippett said, people are no longer the adults in the room.

“One of the things we are so fascinated by, and so creative in our fantasies, is about what happens when our technology becomes intelligent and conscious,” she said. “We’re not fascinated enough that we are already intelligent, and we’ve been conscious a long, long time. We have the capacity to become wise, which I think is the capacity we need to grow into, to grow up our technologies.”

Aptly titled, Becoming Wise, Tippett’s 2016 book explores what it means to live. According to her, wisdom is a characteristic separate from knowledge and accomplishment.

“The measure of a wise life is the imprint it makes on the lives around it,” she said.

At the beginning of her radio career, colleagues told Tippett that audiences would not tune in to long-form pieces. Luckily, she knew enough to know they were wrong.

“There was this wisdom by the experts who knew better than I did, they thought that people just don’t have long attention spans anymore,” she said. “They just didn’t believe it; they underestimated us.”

Tippett said the generation of young listeners has grown over time, but her audience has remained intergenerational, which the experts also underestimated. Tippett said there was a “condescending notion” that young people wouldn’t listen to long shows with big words and older guests.

“It’s just not true, and it’s bad for us to act that way,” Tippett said.

Hill said he experiences the same stereotypes about young people at the Institution. People often recommend the lecture platforms become more like TED Talks, to which Hill responds: “Never.”

“It’s not that young people don’t want to deeply engage, it’s that they engage in community differently, and how do we decode that?” Hill said. “I truly believe this deep inquiry is what feeds the soul of the younger generation.”

The younger generation also has an understanding of the deep need for wisdom from their elders, Tippett said.

“They want to be (in their elders’ company), and we owe them that,” she said.

Tippett doesn’t focus on age when she picks her guests. Instead, she searches for wisdom and voices “not shouting to be heard.”

“We really are very intentional about looking just below the radar,” she said. “The easiest thing in the world, and also the way to get a big hit, is to interview celebrities. We all know, in our own lives, that in our communities, in our fields of knowledge and work or passion, there are these heroic figures who form generations; who are rock stars in their world and no one has ever heard of them outside of it.”

To find those stories, Tippett said people need to stop getting distracted by what’s big and loud and value where wisdom, knowledge and a “graceful creation of realities” is occurring.

“We’re very caught up in seeing the challenge defined the way it is defined in media and politics, which is, ‘Here is this extreme,’ and, ‘Here is that extreme,’ and the only way we are going to frame this issue and work around it is to duke it out — it’s not working,” Tippett said. “It’s not how change happens, it’s not how we live our lives.”

People tend to think that if their work can’t convince people to reconsider a certain position, then there is no point in trying — a dangerous idea, according to Tippett.

“We think, in our imaginations, that whatever that worst example of what you think you’re up against, you think that if you don’t have them in a room, or if what you create couldn’t convince them, what’s the point of trying, and that’s a lie,” she said. “We have to start, we get to start, having the conversations we want to be hearing where we live, with people who are touching lives in the places we live in.”

To introduce Tippett’s Civil Conversations Project, Hill read an excerpt from Becoming Wise: “The crack in the middle, where people on both sides absolutely refuse to see the other as evil, this is where I want to live and I want to widen.”

The Civil Conversations Project, as described on Tippett’s website, is an “evolving adventure in audio, events, resources, and initiatives for planting relationship and conversation around the subjects we fight about intensely — and those we’ve barely begun to discuss.” One of the biggest barriers to increased social understanding and progress, Tippett said, is the enduring “American can-do spirit” of wanting immediate results.

“We’re not actually going to have answers that we can all live with, peacefully, for a long time,” she said. “We have to live with the questions until we can live our way to the answers. The point is to create a space of humanization and relationship, so that what is dividing us no longer defines what is possible between us.”

According to Hill, Tippett got him in “deep trouble” his first year as Chautauqua’s president. In preparation for a speech, Hill read Tippett’s Becoming Wise, in which she wrote: “I always rush to add qualifiers when I use the word civility; words like ‘muscular,’ or ‘adventurous,’ because it can otherwise sound too nice, too polite and too tame.”

Hill said he gleefully grabbed the concept of muscular civil dialogue, and got “chased around” all summer because it was “too masculine, too much.”

Tippett said civility has become a controversial word and an obstacle in the way of change, considering “language is really all we have.” According to her, words like justice, peace and kindness have been ruined by too many bumper stickers and Hallmark cards.

“With all of the things we want to talk about that matter, we actually have to constantly be mustering an ecosystem of language and lived behavior to say what we are saying,” she said. “Whatever the connotations are in my mind, I cannot assume that any of those are the connotations in your mind.”

Tolerance has now been claimed as a civic virtue — only a baby step in the right direction, Tippett said.   

“Tolerance is about the limits of thriving in an unfavorable environment,” she said. “Tolerance is separate but equal.” 

American society has encouraged a collective mentality that requires people to check their “identity bags” at the door; so the challenge now is to “live in wholeness.”

“How do we let all of our deep, deep differences in, and craft a shared life?” Tippett said. “What civility is going to mean with that robust question, it’s exciting.”

As the week’s theme explored grace in life, death, love and loss, Tippett said every discussion exceeded her expectations for the week.

“There is some kind of creative synergy that happened between you choosing that topic and us saying ‘yes,’ ” she said. “I think when we got the deep theology, it meant so much more. One outcome of the week, for me, is that the word ‘grace’ has been planted in me and in the project; and when we produce these shows in the months to come, it will be with our audience, which is all over the world.”

Serene Jones & Krista Tippett Explore Grace’s Theological Foundation & Equality’s ‘Misguided Perception’

Theologian Serene Jones in conversation with Krista Tippett, creator of “On Being” and curator of Week Seven, “Grace: A celebration of Extraordinary Gifts” Thursday, August 8, 2019 in the Amphitheater. VISHAKHA GUPTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

She named her daughter Charis, the root of which means grace; her three books center on grace; and her theological journey has considered grace at all stages.

With all of that in mind, Krista Tippett said Serene Jones has “rock-solid grace credentials.”

Tippett, journalist, author and host of “On Being with Krista Tippett,” interviewed Jones, president of the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, the first female president in the seminary’s 180-year history, at 10:45 a.m. Thursday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Seven’s morning lecture series, “Grace: A Celebration of Extraordinary Gifts — A Week in Partnership with Krista Tippett and ‘On Being.’ ”

The aptly named hymn resounds, “I once was lost, but now I’m found,” and from that, Jones found her life transformed.

“I once was a happy, but confused Christian child, and now I am a wiser, still fundamentally happy, but humble Christian leader; humbled by my life, but also by the complexities, horrors and gifts of the Christian faith,” Jones said.

The Christian faith was a fundamental part of Jones’ life. She grew up attending a Disciples of Christ Christian church, where her father was a minister.

“Our church was the center of our life,” Jones said. “I had the wonderful advantage of growing up in a progressive Disciples community, so it was where I learned, from the time I could walk, about social justice, racism and what it meant to be a church.”

In the teachings of her church, Jones learned the meaning of grace and the purpose it serves.

“From the time I heard the word ‘God,’ I thought, ‘God means love and love is universal, and we are all loved,’ ” she said. “That’s grace.”

So where does theology fit in? To Jones, it serves as “a place and a story.”

“Theology is the place and the story you think of when you ask yourself about the meaning of your life, of the world, of the possibility of God,” Jones said.

For Jones, that place sits “windswept, but defiant” on a plain in Oklahoma; specifically, in the middle of a farm in the outskirts of Billings.

“I go there again and again, to this dusty piece of land, to remember what is true and to find God,” Jones said. “I go there to find my story, my theology. I go there to be born again, to be made whole, to unite with what I was, what I am and what I will become.”

The state of Oklahoma, where both Tippett and Jones grew up, has a “complicated moral and ethical thinking in its DNA,” according to Tippett. Jones said the story of her dichotomous family settling in Oklahoma is a microcosm of all the conflicts and contradictions of modern-day America.

The family of Jones’ grandmother arrived in Oklahoma on a wagon train from Pennsylvania; her family was largely a Godly and upstanding one. Jones’ grandfather, who her Pennsylvania-born grandmother would eventually marry, came on a train from Tennessee with his family, running from the law after a family member killed a man and stole a horse.

“It was the meeting of these two different worlds: One, this staunchly, Disciple homesteading couple and one, these renegade outlaws,” she said.

Growing up, Jones spent a lot of time in Okemah, Oklahoma, a city she said embodies the birth of the state and added to the complexity of the 1921 Tulsa race riots; it all comes together in a “troubling story.”

Jones was listening to a lecture at Yale University, and behind the lecturer hung postcards of lynching victims. At one point, a postcard fell. It had a photo of a young woman and her son lynched from a bridge. At the bottom it read, “Laura Nelson, 1911, Okemah, Oklahoma.”

Theologian Serene Jones in conversation with Krista Tippett, creator of “On Being” and curator of Week Seven, “Grace: A celebration of Extraordinary Gifts” Thursday, August 8, 2019 in the Amphitheater. VISHAKHA GUPTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

When Jones saw the location, her world “imploded.” In 1911, the town’s population was around 300, two-thirds of which were her family members.

“There was no way that my family did not know, or most likely participated in (the lynching),” Jones said.

“But it’s not a story that can be passed down,” Tippett said.

“If they had not participated, they would have told the story,” Jones said.

The complicated “story of us,” found in Oklahoma’s history, was also apparent in another part of Jones’ life. Jones attended a Christian summer camp, and as her group sang “This Land is Your Land,” she found out — for the first time — that there were more verses to the song.

“It was like singing a beloved hymn and suddenly discovering that you have only been singing a fraction of the song, and the hard parts were locked off,” she said.

They began singing the standard verse, “This land is your land, this land is my land, from California, to the New York island; from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters, This land was made for you and Me.”

Then came the verse Jones had never heard.

“There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me. The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’ But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing. This land was made for you and me. One bright sunny morning, in the shadow of the steeple, by the relief office, I saw my people. As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering, if God blessed America for me.”

Because the “hard parts were locked off” for her, Jones could not develop a full understanding of the song. Similarly, Jones said, good theology must be “public theology.”

“What is theology if it’s not talking about our collective lives, the meaning and purpose of our lives and how we are supposed to live together and who God is, in ways that are part of our conversation together?” Jones said.

Tippett and Jones were at Yale Divinity School at the same time, but never met. But Tippett remembers walking by one of Jones’ systematic theology lectures, the first time she heard Jones mention the importance of John Calvin in theology.

Jones said people are surprised she “actually likes Calvin,” but he wasn’t always a figure she admired. However, after a year of living in India and the Philippines in the midst of civil war, she saw Calvin in a new light.

“I suddenly found in John Calvin a writer who was trying to engage a community of people who felt sieged and oppressed,” she said. “Quite literally, there was a war taking place against French Protestants; they were fleeing to Geneva, and John Calvin was trying to give them sustenance. He was trying to tell them a story about God that would get them out of bed in the morning, which changed everything about how he sounded to me.”

One of Calvin’s fundamental beliefs was in the sovereignty of God, which means there is nothing humans can do that won’t “unfold before Him.”

“(Calvin believed that) God sees us and loves us, and that’s why we’re here,” Jones said. “The complicated character of human life is that, on one hand, God creates us to be glorious; he gives us powers of intellect and love and connection and art, and we are capable of amazing, extraordinary accomplishments. Yet, right next to this glorious side, is this weird propensity that human beings have — to choose what is not good for them, to choose evil, to sin.” 

Jones said Calvin won’t let go of the “broken part of who we are,” and according to her, no one should forget those broken parts — especially moments of trauma.

“One of the things I have learned is that not just individuals, but whole communities undergo trauma,” Jones said. “One of the characteristics of trauma is the deep human desire to repress it and to not deal with the harms that have happened.”

But the truth in both individual and collective trauma, is that the horror haunts people until they face the truth of what happened, Jones said.

“I think what is happening in our nation today is that all of the horrors of the past have come up to claim us — all of us — and they’re not going to let us go until we take the stride of reckoning with them,” she said. “But we’re terrified of doing that.”

Her perceptions of collective trauma have led her on a journey of understanding the construction of whiteness in America. Jones’ great-grandmother was Cherokee, and when Jim Crow laws were implemented in Oklahoma, her great-grandmother declared herself as “pure white.”

“In stories of white supremacy, liberal white people today want to put that in the past and not reckon with how close it is to who we are now,” Jones said. “For me, I wasn’t allowed that dangerous innocence once I saw it so close to home.”

At the heart of the nation’s turmoil, Jones said, is a misguided perception of equality.

“People, honestly, do not believe that we are all equal and loved equally and equally valued,” she said. “That crosses the aisle and it’s a theological issue.”

In both trauma and grief, Tippett said the concept of resolution is not theological because it’s not “reality based.” According to Jones, a more important moment than resolution happens when “grief becomes mourning.”

“To move from grief to mourning is to move from a place of sheer loss to a place of acknowledging the loss and mourning the permanence of the loss,” Jones said. “It can’t be fixed, but also, it creates a space in mourning for you to make sacred the pain, so the rest of your life is transformed by it. It allows the possibility of a future.”

Another theological notion of grace is repentance, a very “active and visual” concept.

“Repentance is a powerful word, and it means to walk in a different direction; it means to do it differently,” Jones said. “It’s much more than ‘I’m sorry.’ It’s saying, ‘That is horrible and this is the path we are going to walk on together to fix it’ — not fix it in the sense of cover up the past, but fix it so that the horrors that hold us don’t keep happening.”

Grace is more original than sin, Jones said, because “grace wins.”

“Our sinfulness is not who we are, and that means that in this theology, which is suffused to Christianity, is that the love of God, the love of the universe, is stronger and more powerful and persistent, larger, greater, more eternal than anything,” she said. “That’s grace, and that’s the grace that changes how we experience everything.”

One of Christianity’s greatest sins is that it refuses to engage other religions seriously — and with grace. According to Jones, all voices have to be included to get out of the “period of reformation” the world is in now.

“For me, I just turned 60 two weeks ago, and I realize it’s my work to do, but I’m not going to be here to see what comes,” Jones said. “That’s OK, but we have a lot of work to do in these next years of all of us together, even if we don’t know where we’re going.”

Imani Perry and Krista Tippett Examine Grace Through Racial Disparity and Finite Life

From left, award-winning author Imani Perry, and Krista Tippett speak on Week Six’s theme Grace, during the morning lecture on Tuesday, August 6, 2019 in the Amphitheater. Perry is a scholar of cultural studies, legal history and African American studies.

The first time Krista Tippett interviewed Imani Perry at Chautauqua Institution in 2014, their discussion was interrupted by a torrential downpour three times. Promptly after promising that wouldn’t happen again, a fire alarm did the trick, stopping Tippett mid-question four times.

But louder than the alarms was Perry’s call for grace in modern-day America, the force she said allowed her ancestors to hold on — making it possible for her, her sons and the country to “become.”

Tippett, journalist, author and host of “On Being with Krista Tippett,” interviewed Perry, award-winning author and Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Seven’s morning lecture series, “Grace: A Celebration of Extraordinary Gifts — A Week in Partnership with Krista Tippett and ‘On Being.’ ”

Perry is a “cradle Catholic” from Alabama, who describes herself as “a child of the fragments of Christianity.”

“In my life, there is a dance between the traditional black, southern, coming of age, as my foundation,” Perry said. “On the other hand, my family is Catholic, which is rather unusual for that part of the world.”

Although Perry grew up in Massachusetts, she spent her summers alternating between Alabama and Chicago. Living in various places, she had encounters with a variety of people and spiritual traditions.

“I think of myself as a seeker, and I respond to that which resonates within, so my spiritual life is as promiscuous as my intellectual interests,” Perry said.

“Let’s say interdisciplinary,” Tippett said.

Perry was raised among divides — her mother and grandmother are Catholic, her great-grandmother was Baptist, her birth father was Lutheran, and the father who raised her was Jewish.

“The transition, personally, from sort of feeling like I’m this strange person entering all of these worlds, to actually thinking about it as a source of insight, offered me the capacity to connect with a variety of people, and that’s the process of maturing,” Perry said.

Perry recalled memories from her summers in Chicago, where she had undocumented friends who introduced her to an America she had never known. Her friends, only 10 and 11 years old at the time, did not answer their doors, out of fear that the knocking could be an immigration officer. When visiting, Perry would enter through a basement door to avoid causing unnecessary attention. Those friends were also navigating finances and work negotiations for their parents.

“Now, in this moment in history, we are repeating some of the worst parts of our history,” Perry said. “You see children being ripped from their parents in a way that is reminiscent of slavery, and that really is the repetition of the worst parts of our history. For me, it’s also a recollection of those intimate relationships with children who have the burdens of adulthood on their shoulders.”

When present-day becomes history, there will be an “us” to look back on, Tippett said. Perry said for her book, Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation, one of the reviewers questioned her use of “we,” which she said shifts whom it includes.

For example, Perry said a “collective we” might involve the “Earth screaming.” At just 5 years old, Perry remembers people thinking the concept of human suffering resulting from environmental issues as weird, but now, there is scientific evidence the two — human suffering and environmental issues — are related.

To exemplify a more isolated “we,” Tippett referenced Perry’s 2016 “The Year of the Black Memoir,” an essay she wrote for Public Books. In the piece, Perry talked about Kenneth Warren, professor of English at the University of Chicago, who in 2011 declared there was no longer any such thing as African American literature because a black president was in the White House.

“One thing to ask is, ‘What is the investment in declaring an end?’ ” Perry said. “I do think part of the investment comes from the desire for the new, and so while it’s often a mischaracterization to say this is the end of history, the desire for the new is something that is meaningful.”

While efforts to recharacterize or reclaim history — particularly the lost and misrepresented history of African Americans — are necessary, Perry said people need to learn to “live in the remains.”

“You try to revitalize our commitments, but you can’t wipe away history in the midst of it,” she said. “It’s not just because there is the risk of repeating it, but because it lives inside us. All of the ugliness dwells inside us, but we still try to do things that are meaningful and live meaningful lives.”

For Tippett, having an African American president was an “extraordinary accomplishment,” but she said it also surfaced “all of the unfinished reckoning.”

“That’s not what everyone expected, and that was heartbreaking for me,” Tippett said.

Tippett read from an article Perry wrote for The Progressive in February 2019.

“Once upon a time, in 2008, we were all wistful that our grandmother didn’t live to see a black man become President,” Tippett read. “I mean ‘our grandmother’ in the collective sense. All of our departed really.”

In contrast, Perry said she was grateful her grandmother wasn’t alive for Donald Trump’s presidency.

“It was a feeling of ‘What will it take?’ ” Perry said. “What will it take for the nation, ‘us’ collectively, to take seriously our creed as foundation, not something that you can move in and out of based on anxieties and fears and resentments, but actually as a core value? That’s terrifying, after all of these generations of struggle and resistance, to not know what we do now.”

To work through those unanswered questions, Perry wrote her forthcoming book, Breathe: A Letter to my Sons. The book starts with a quote attributed to “everybody and their mother”: “It must be terrifying to raise a black boy in America.” That quote is an echo of words from W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk: “How does it feel to be a problem? To which, I seldom answer a word.”

Perry, who addressed this topic in relation to her two sons with Tippett in 2014, said she is “tired of that question.”

“There is an effect to the fact that 100-plus years later, the same question remains,” Perry said. “Part of what I’m trying to work through is yes, there is terror, but there is also incredible beauty. There is a way in which the repetition of the narrative of the terror almost evacuates the full humanity of their lives.”

Welcoming redirection, Tippett referenced a question in Perry’s book that is also directed toward her sons: “How do you ‘become’ in a world bent on you not being and not becoming?”

Tippett said it was interesting Perry still lives with that question, given her sons have access to more resources than most African American children in the United States.

“It was very important for me to acknowledge the class position of my sons and the way it geared their experiences, not just for black children, but for other children in the United States,” Perry said. “I think it is important to acknowledge that, because I don’t want to participate in fiction.”

Perry said she arms her sons with skills, intellectual tools, ethics, values and a way to make sense of the hostility from people whose responsibility is to treat them like members of the community.

“That’s the world they occupy,” she said. “It’s a complicated task and I mention it, in part, because I do want it to trigger, for readers, an ethical reflection on their part.”

Whether in her own life or the lives of her sons, Perry is struck by people who consider racial inequity to be “natural.” Perry said she has come to see whiteness as a “potent form of binding.”

“I think that it is a constriction; it cuts off the blood supply, it disciplines or threatens to discipline white people out of deep identification with other human beings, which I think is the natural state of things,” she said.

The concept of “whiteness” is derived from mythologies and acts of imagination, according to Perry.

“We can imagine differently,” Perry said. 

When videos of the murders of unarmed black people increasingly surfaced online, Perry said it was motivated by the misguided belief that something would change if people saw the realities of racism for themselves.

“I was skeptical of it then, I am very sure now, that the repetition of seeing a particular group of people suffering may have the capacity to make one identify with their suffering, but it also may deepen stigma,” she said.

But the issue, Perry said, is not that the visuals are insufficient, it’s the overall disbelief in the extent of racial inequality.

“That disbelief is actually at the cornerstone of the structure of racialization,” she said. “It’s not whether there is a visual recognition of it, it’s the ideological commitment that’s at the cornerstone of American history, and that has to be broken down. Videos, as tragic as they are, are not going to do that.”

Perry does not have a solid answer for what it will take to break down that cornerstone, but said the process will leave scars.

“I think we would do an ethical wrong if we didn’t acknowledge that there will be enormous growing pains,” she said. “Change is hard, deliberate or not.”

To bring the conversation back to grace, Tippett read an excerpt from Perry’s Breathe:

“This life we have is grace. In the Catholic tradition, there is a form of grace — that is the stuff of your soul,” Tippett read. “It is not defined by moments of mercy or opportunity, it is not good things happening to you; rather it is the good thing that is in you, regardless of what happens. You carry this down through generations, saying that endemic trauma of violent slave masters’ society, that the grace is the bigger part. It is what made the ancestors hold on so that we could become.”

Throughout Perry’s life, she has seen the repetition of mothers whose sons have been taken away, and is aware that she could live that reality. But resilience is present in those tragedies and the people who live on despite them, so the question becomes: “What does that tell us about how to be human?”

Perry searches for this answer in the midst of novelist Toni Morrison’s passing, which was revealed only hours before the Tuesday lecture.

“What her work has done for me and for many others, is to have us sit in the ordinariness of tragedy, with historical awareness,” she said. “There are specific forms of tragedy that we have a responsibility to respond to, to act, but there is also something universal.”

According to Perry, Americans are constantly in pursuit of life where tragedy doesn’t occur, avoiding conversations about death and other finite elements of life.

“We are all going to be there,” Perry said. “God willing, every meaningful relationship we have in our lives will end, and I say God willing because that means we have loved and lost, we have lived long enough to love and lose.”

The capacity of human beings to connect with one another, while they still can, is what Perry thinks people need to focus on, and according to Tippett, that starts from within.

“That is, for each and every one of us, interior work — as much as it is work we do in conversation,” Tippett said.

For her own interior work, Perry said she turns to reading; for when one reads, they “enter a whole world of other human beings.”

“There is something very intimate about it,” Perry said. “So that’s why I’m a writer, because there is a possibility to get to that.”

Maria Bamford and Ophira Eisenberg Emphasize Importance of Humor in Vulnerability

Comedian and actress, Maria Bamford, left, talks about her life journey in an interview with Ophira Eisenberg, host of NPR’s ‘Ask Me Another’ during the morning lecture Friday, August 2, 2019 in the Amphitheater. VISHAKHA GUPTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

It takes courage to proclaim one’s innermost anxieties to complete strangers, but turning mental illness and existential despair into comically cathartic performances? That takes a lot more than courage; it requires evocative writing, eccentric characters and an abundance of voices. Maria Bamford has, reluctantly, mastered them all.

Bamford, stand-up comedian and actress, spoke at 10:45 a.m. Friday, August 2 in the Amphitheater, closing Week Six, “What’s Funny? In Partnership with the National Comedy Center.” She was interviewed by Ophira Eisenberg, comedian and host of NPR’s and WNYC’s weekly radio game show, “Ask Me Another.”

The first time Bamford hit the stage as a stand-up comedian, she had a violin and a shaved head. Her parents “forced” her to start playing the violin at just 3 years old and said she couldn’t quit until she turned 16.

“Oh boy, I could not wait to get that cock-block out of the way,” Bamford said. “I used it in my act when I started because it helped distract from the fact that people didn’t like my material.”

When she moved to Los Angeles, she was relieved to find two other female comedians who played the violin while performing stand-up, giving her an excuse to finally ditch the act and try something else.

However, the shaved head was there to stay. Bamford said she was bald for ease and because it helped her “blend in with the men.”

“Comedy, at that time, was mostly men,” she said. “When you shave your head, no one is interested in talking to you after your set to tell you what they find funny; they think you’re ill, or perhaps, very angry — both of which are true.”

In the early stages of her career, comedian Frank Conniff suggested Bamford read The Artist’s Way, a book she said taught her to own her craft.

“It very much helped me define what I wanted to do and to start saying ‘I am a comedian,’ ” she said. “I think that half the trick of doing anything is to say that you’re doing it.”

Throughout her career, Bamford’s characters have been inspired by her family. Her mother does it to herself, according to Bamford, as a transcription of her day-to-day comments alone could serve as stand-up material.

“She said to me, ‘Honey, when you don’t wear make-up you look mentally ill,’ ” she said. “That’s just tight, succinct.”

Instead of comedy clubs, Bamford initially preferred performing in arts venues and empty coffee shops.

“If you’re going to do it, go where the love is,” she said. “If you like to fight against the tide, if you like a strip club at 2 a.m. where everyone is angry that you’re there and the nude lady has stopped dancing, then go for it, I tell you, go for it.”

Even now, Bamford is willing to do a show at any time, anywhere.

“I love low expectations,” she said. “But just like any job, you get into it for a specific reason, and I love attention. I love to be amplified and lit.”

Bamford will occasionally tweet her location and offer to perform for anyone who wants to show up. She most recently did that when she was invited to Harvard University to be inducted into The Harvard Lampoon, an undergraduate humor publication and organization founded in 1876.

When she arrived at Harvard, she found out it was more of a party, occupied by young people with red cups and kegs who said “adorable things.”

“(They told me) ‘I just don’t know what I’m going to do after college,’ ” she said. “Do you know where you’re at? You’re at fucking Harvard. Yeah, you’re going to be fine.”

Bamford said Lampoon staff “hazed her” as part of her induction, demanding she tell them what the Lampoon is. Each time they asked, Bamford responded, “I don’t know,” until they eventually told her it was “nothing,” and gave her a medallion. She really just wanted a T-shirt.

“I’m sure someone who is more pleasant as a person would have enjoyed it,” she said. “I am irritable on the whole.”

Her induction was a great accomplishment, but her growth didn’t come without struggle, as Bamford said she has never had a solid mentor. Even Bamford’s parents were typically hands-off with respect to her comedic development — they just wanted her to be healthy.

“I was one of those kids who had mental health problems; I went in and out of the hospital for a little while, so they were just glad that I had a job,” she said.

Bamford has been open about her bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder for years. Her Netflix show, “Lady Dynamite,” is based on her time in a psychiatric hospital, and she was awarded the 2014 Illumination Award by the International OCD Foundation for her work spreading awareness about living with mental illness.

She started incorporating mental health into her stand-up after a “breakdown, bipolar episode” in 2011. Bamford said when she was released from treatment, it was “all she could talk about.”

“You have to fill the hour, the time,” she said. “Do everything you can with what you have.”

Bamford said she was never worried about including the personal material because she no longer cared what other people thought of her.

“I was so lonely in that experience that I thought, ‘At least if I tell someone about my own experience, maybe someone else wouldn’t feel as lonely,’ ” she said. “That’s something I love about the comedy community, it’s very generous and it’s a place where you can talk about anything.”

The more she joked about it, the more it became her “schtick.” Fans started bringing prescription bottles for her to sign, which was fitting for Bamford, who said medication changed her life. Currently, she’s on 750 mg of Depakote, an anticonvulsant; 50 mg of Seroquel, an antipsychotic; and 40 mg of Prozac a day.

“It is life-changing,” Bamford said. “Some people aren’t into this; some people are more into, I don’t know, positive thinking, iowaska, I’m not sure. I do have to say, laughter is not the best medicine — medicine is, in fact, the best medicine.”

When Bamford was in a psychiatric ward, one of the therapists recognized her, but said she would never tell anyone that Bamford was in treatment.

“I’m in a county-stamped gown, in a pair of electric green gripper socks that are not my own —  you tell whoever the fuck you want, because all is lost,” she said.

Happiness, on the other hand, doesn’t have enough “zing” to be funny. Bamford noted that there are not as many comedy clubs in tropical locations as there are in New York City because there’s “no need.”

As Bamford continued to open up in her career, criticism toward her stand-up became more personal. Bamford said she enjoys making the most of the “heckling” during her shows.

“To heckle passively is to be alive,” she said. “My response to that sometimes is, ‘I know it seems like this isn’t a show to you and it’s not, it’s actually not a comedy show, it’s an intervention — myself and members of the community have all come together to confront you about how you’re a real jackass.’ ”

Bamford said one of her greatest failures starting out was a performance at Tempe Improv in Arizona. At the time, she didn’t have the requested 45 minutes of material, but said yes anyways, because “that’s on them.”

Bamford performed to a silent crowd. Afterward, no one talked to her and she was so embarrassed, she walked along the freeway, violin in hand, to go back to her hotel room and buy a ticket home for that night.

Eisenberg had a similar experience when she went to perform at a college in Erie, Pennsylvania. A Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game was on, and right before the third period, they turned the game off to introduce her. The audience booed and everyone, but one person, left.

“But the check cleared,” Eisenberg said.

To the “irritation of her manager,” Bamford has always been transparent about her contracts and income.

According to her, the payments for opening acts has not increased since she started working. She is currently working on a special where she is earning $275,000. Her opener? $150. Bamford is going to pay her $2,500 for her five-minute set.

Bamford and her husband have $2.2 million in assets, and she makes roughly $250,000 a year.

“It’s kind of awful and I’m not sure how to fight it,” she joked. “My husband and I, we’re atheists, but we are ethically competitive. We heard in most religions, you’re supposed to give 10% of your income away; we’re giving 11%. We don’t even fucking believe in heaven, but we’re going.”

Her alma mater, the University of Minnesota, asked Bamford to deliver a commencement speech, and when she asked them how much she would make, they told her “nothing,” it was an “honor” just to be invited. Bamford countered that with a request for $20,000. Bamford didn’t feel bad — she knew the university had a recent, and very successful, fundraiser where they received $900 million for their new athletic facility, “presumably for the poets.”

“The University of Minnesota was trying to suggest that I could not get paid for the one thing I paid them to teach me how to get paid to do,” she said.

The university followed up with an offer of $10,000, even though she claimed she would’ve done it for $600. Bamford said she felt so guilty, she gave the money away to help some of the students pay off their loans.

“It sounds like a nice thing to do, but that’s the only way I am able to do kind things: if it is in public and it is grandiose,” she said.

Bamford’s candid style has inspired thousands to try stand-up for themselves, including “Sally Love.” Sally, 75, started her stand-up career in January. Bamford asked her to come on stage and perform her bit, which Sally did without hesitation.

In her set, Sally talked about the challenges of online dating, saying men at any age are all the same; they still lie about their age, send unwanted photos and have “chinks in the armor.”

“What we want to see are pictures of their garages, their closets and we want thread count — we really want thread count,” Sally said.

Sally said she wants to create a new dating app that is “a mix of Match and Yelp.”

“We need user reviews,” she said. “If I had known that Stan had 10 guns and watches Fox News on TV all day, I could have saved myself a lot of time.”

Sally did find her knight in shining — but still chinked — armor: Mike, who was in the audience, cheering her on the whole way through.

Bamford and Eisenberg then wrapped up their conversation, providing light commentary on Sally’s performance.

“Wow, I think I might have to tighten up my jokes,” Bamford said.

Editor’s note: Due to time constraints, the lecture did not feature a Q-and-A to close out the morning; not that anything was left unsaid, anyway.

Managing Genius: Lewis Black and David Steinberg Reflect on Life and Legacy of Robin Williams


He was the Marx Brothers, but in one person — a naughty little boy, a genius, a nut, manic, utter magic — these were all words used by David Steinberg and Lewis Black to describe Robin Williams, stand-up comedian, Academy Award-winning actor and “life junkie.”

For “Managing Genius: 43 years with Robin Williams,” Steinberg, Williams’ manager of 43 years, and Black, Williams’ close friend, joined radio personality and comedian Ron Bennington in conversation at 10:45 a.m. Thursday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Six, “What’s Funny? In Partnership with the National Comedy Center.”

“I have really, truly been blessed to wake up every day, and know I was going to talk to Robin and be involved in what people really felt was the greatest comedy legend — he would actually ask me questions that pertained to what he was going to do,” Steinberg said.

Williams grew up a “very lonely child,” according to Steinberg. Williams’ father was a senior executive at Ford Motor Company and his mother joined him for a majority of his work trips, leaving Williams alone to occupy himself with his imagination.

“This overactive imagination started as a child because he had to be his own playmate,” Steinberg said. “He played in his head and he created his environment out of loneliness, and he continued that on.”

Steinberg said Williams also spent a lot of time playing “lonely sports,” first running cross country and then biking up to 40 miles a day.

“That’s where he used to decide who he was or what he was going to do and evolve some of his material stuff,” Steinberg said. “He was never afraid to try it out.”

Williams’ career began with stand-up comedy shows in the 1970s. In his shows, Williams never knew what subject he was going to touch on, let alone any of the specifics. Still, he was known for doing “really long shows,” and it got to the point where Steinberg would have to remind him that the audience members had lives and families to return to.

“Robin was just a life junkie. When he was on stage, he was just going to have the best time,” Steinberg said. “He was having fun, but there was a desperation; he had to end up with a big laugh. It was a lot like sex, he needed a big finish.”

Steinberg said Williams could get away with anything when he performed.

“He could say things in a room full of priests that would get someone’s mouth washed out, and he would get high-fives,” Steinberg said. “He had these gorgeous blue eyes and he was really just a naughty little boy who said ‘fuck it’ and got away with it.”

Williams couldn’t get enough of an audience’s attention — he wanted to “give everything and have everything.” Steinberg said he was so “nuts” at the beginning of his career that Steinberg had to hire someone to secretly follow him around.

“It was just so he didn’t hurt himself,” Steinberg said. “He was a young kid, a 22-year-old who was a giant superstar in every area and had, really, all the money in the world; but he never cared about money, he gave it away. That was never what motivated him — but enjoyment, he was an enjoyment pig.”

When Williams couldn’t fill his voids with enjoyment anymore, he turned to drugs and alcohol. In the late ’70s, Williams was addicted to cocaine and alcohol until the drug-induced death of a dear friend, and the birth of his son, convinced him to change. However, in 2003, he started drinking again.

Black saw Williams’ alcoholism up close when the two worked together on the 2006 movie, “Man of The Year.” The two would begin their day filming scenes, but even when they were done, Williams kept going. He would spend the rest of the afternoon smoking out back with the other actors, watching their scenes and giving advice when needed, and then he would venture to clubs, using open mic nights to continue practicing some of his scenes.

“It demands a level of commitment from the performer that is unheard of,” Black said. “What he had was a commitment on a level of, ‘I am going to do something that one would say is close to magic.’ It really was true magic.”

Black said Williams always woke up the next morning with an abundance of energy, ready to do it all again. One night, Black saw firsthand how he did it: Williams came down to a bar at midnight to have a shot of tequila and a shot of espresso.

“Williams turned to me and said, ‘I think I have a problem,’ ” Black said. “I said to him, ‘If you have a problem, I think I have to go to rehab today.’ ” 

After they filmed “Man of the Year,” Williams checked himself into a substance-abuse rehabilitation center in Newberg, Oregon.

When he left the rehabilitation center, he immediately moved to New York City, to work on a Broadway show. Luckily, there were multiple Alcoholics Anonymous meeting locations in the area.

“There is nothing like a New York City 12-step meeting,” Bennington said. “It’s the most entertaining place you will ever go, but he would be so funny and sweet about the darkest things in the world.”

In his own life and the lives of people he met, Williams believed that humor could heal. Steinberg said he would visit hospitals and travel overseas on USO tours, spending hours with people to hear their stories and spark some laughs.

“He had the ability to withstand that emotionally,” Steinberg said. “There was no place he was unwilling to try to get to. He over-laughed, he over-cried, but it was all real. It’s how he felt. He didn’t try to mask his feelings to the public. He was who he was, and he was the most giving person.”

In September 2010, Steinberg and Williams went to New Zealand for a show after the country suffered a 7.1-magnitude earthquake. The day of the show, Williams spontaneously decided he wanted to donate 100% of the money back to the people affected.

“That was the first thing that came to Robin’s mind: The people need the show,” Steinberg said. “He wasn’t worried, as a lot of performers would be, with ‘Are the people going to be able to laugh?’ Robin said they needed a laugh, that he didn’t need the money and they did, and it was a perfect marriage of circumstances.”

Williams also visited victims of abuse and invited Make-A-Wish children to come on set with him, always making sure no press was around to see him do it.

“He had this horrible fear of people thinking he was trying to capitalize on something,” Steinberg said.

Williams had the same fears on his USO tours, Steinberg said.

“He didn’t want to appear as the Bob Hope for the Middle East wars,” he said.

When Black went to Iraq with Williams for their first USO tour, Williams read an entire book about the history of Iraq to prepare. Williams spent part of the trip giving people history lessons, quoting direct facts and lines from the book.

In that moment, Black realized Williams had a photographic memory, a fact he uses to debunk myths that Williams stole stand-up material throughout his career.

“He was so fast that he couldn’t have thought about it,” Black said. “I think people have wrongly accused him of that and at least in my time with him, I don’t think that was even close to being the case.”

Bennington said it was important to note that Williams was against war, but still chose to support the soldiers unconditionally.

“You cannot be against the troops, and be against the war,” Bennington said.

On the tours, Williams wouldn’t go to sleep until he shook the hand of every soldier on the base.

“It’s the level of commitment that these soldiers have, that’s the loneliest job there is,” Steinberg said. “It’s a horrible moment when you are pulling out of these bases and you’re leaving and they’re waving goodbye, and you know they’re staying. Those were the toughest moments for me.”

Black said it was the commitment of the soldiers to one another that struck him the most.

“If the American people had 3% of the commitment to each other that the troops have to each other on a daily basis, we would have no problems whatsoever,” Black said.

As the panel reflected on the laughs and life of Williams, who died by suicide in his California home on Aug. 11, 2014, Bennington noted the discussion also served as a reflection of Steinberg’s work.

“Good management is a nice thing to have, genius is a better thing to have,” Steinberg said. “The place where most guys, who do what I do, make that mistake is they forget which one is the genius.”

Williams was “utter magic,” portraying a genie, a scientist, a nanny, a teacher, among other iconic characters — a repertoire he developed, Steinberg said, because he was “fearless.”

“Robin spent his entire personal life and public life on a tightrope; he loved pushing the envelope,” Steinberg said. “Nothing in the world scared him. If he was asked to do something as an actor, he would always ask to do more. The thought of failure intrigued him and he was always fighting against that.”

Frank Oz Expands on Comedy Career as Puppeteer, Director and Actor

From left, Executive Producer and Showrunner of the CNN documentary series “The History of Comedy” Stephen J. Morrison interviews director, producer and performer Frank Oz about his comedic career Tuesday July 30, 2019 at the Amp. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Laughs are not given, they’re earned. But Frank Oz, a man who has received more laughs than he could count, couldn’t tell anyone how to earn them; he doesn’t know a thing about comedy, and honestly, he doesn’t want to.

Oz, a director, producer, writer, actor and Muppet performer, gave his lecture, “I Don’t Know Anything About Comedy,” at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Six, “What’s Funny? In Partnership with the National Comedy Center.” A majority of Oz’s lecture was moderated by Stephen J. Morrison, Emmy-nominated executive producer and showrunner of the CNN documentary series “The History of Comedy.”

“If one knows, one cannot discover,” Oz said. “Knowing could mean uninspired, so on purpose, I approach things not knowing.”

As someone who doesn’t know anything about comedy, to be comedic, Oz said he had to acquire a “toolbox.”

“Your craft in that toolbox is years of trying things and failing, trying and being embarrassed and humiliated; trying, trying, trying,” he said. “The larger that toolbox is, the more able you are to stand on the cliff of the abyss and just trust that you don’t know. That’s where the good stuff comes from.”

Oz has performed with or directed stars such as Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Morrie Schwartz, Julie Hagerty, Joan Cusack, the Smothers Brothers, Whoopi Goldberg, Joan Rivers and Carol Burnett — and the list goes on, and on and on.

“Why did I tell you that?” Oz said. “It’s because I realized that all of these people that I’ve worked with take their comedy very seriously. The other reason is, I was trying like hell to impress you.”

Oz believes in the “seriousness of the preparation” of comedy. According to him, the underlying intent is always to get a laugh, and rigor is needed before that laugh is earned.

“If one knows, one does not go the distance, one stays safe,” he said. “I always say to my actors, ‘If you don’t make a fool of yourself, you’ll make a fool of yourself.’ I also say, ‘The safest thing is to be risky, the riskiest thing is to be safe.’ ”

Morrison started the discussion with the week’s theme, asking Oz, “What’s funny?”

“If I could tell you, that means I would know, and by knowing, it would not be as funny,” Oz said.

“Got it,” Morrison said.

The two could agree on one thing: Comedy is subjective. But Oz needed to make a clarification — comedy is not just “one thing.”

“It always bothers me, especially selling comedy, when people think comedy is one thing,” he said. “Comedy is from high wit to low buffoonery, and everything in between. It’s odd to me when someone says ‘comedy’ as if it’s a car — there are a lot of cars.”

Oz started in comedy at 10 years old, using puppets as armor from judgment.

“I was a kid with very low self-esteem. I didn’t think much of myself at all, and puppets allowed me to take a chance, a risk, and not feel rejected,” Oz said. “The puppet would be rejected; I would not be rejected. I didn’t have the courage to be rejected.”

Oz performed with puppets until he was 18, and stopped to focus on becoming a journalist. However, six months into journalism school, he was approached by Jim Henson, who saw Oz perform years prior. Henson needed a fourth person for his Muppet group and thought Oz would be a perfect fit.

“Somehow, whatever chemistry that was between Jim and I, Jim somehow brought out the comedy in me, and that was the beginning of how I got into comedy,” he said.

For the first four years of working with Henson, Oz was too scared to perform in different voices. Eventually, Henson forced him to try it out.

“In the dressing room I was so frightened that I looked in the mirror and told myself an old anecdote in show business, ‘If you can’t be funny, be loud,’ ” he said.

Oz went on to voice characters such as Miss Piggy, Cookie Monster, Grover, Bert, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Sam the Eagle and Yoda, all unique in their sound and backgrounds.

Working on shows like “Sesame Street” gave Oz an opportunity to try things over and over until he got them right. But with the trial came error, and Oz said he has a collection of “dead Muppets,” or characters that didn’t work.

With Bert, Oz said it took him over a year to think of a storyline because the character was so “boring.” Eventually, Oz decided to run with what made him boring: Bert’s favorite color is gray, he loves collecting bottle caps and all he wants in life is to be left alone.

With every character Oz creates, he said it’s important for them to have a “want” like Bert’s. For example, Cookie Monster was originally called “Monster,” until a segment aired where he won a quiz show, and when presented with the choice of $10,000, a new car, a Hawaiian vacation or a cookie, he chose the cookie.

“It’s not intellectual, it’s in (your heart),” Oz said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be happy with just one thing?”

In terms of creating the characters’ voices, Oz said there’s no code to crack — the voices come on their own.

“I’m a peasant, like everybody here. We all have our basic, universal feelings,” he said. “You don’t go for a voice, you get the character right and the voice comes — period.”

Out of the many mistakes he has made throughout the years, Oz said he has learned the worst thing a comedian can do is write out their material.

“What I used to do with characters is totally ad-lib,” he said. “I would have no lines whatsoever, but I would start with a strong attitude, and from that attitude we could riff. It’s a different kind of rigor — it’s a rigor of prepping yourself with something so you can feed off of it.”

As Oz got older, he realized he no longer needed the puppets that used to protect him, and so he tried his hand at a lifelong dream: directing. Morrison played a clip from “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” a film Oz directed in 1984.

In comedy, Oz said reactions are more important than actions. In “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” Oz was trying to get Joan Rivers to laugh at his character, Miss Piggy. When Rivers couldn’t produce the guffaw Oz wanted, he bought four gin and tonics — two for Rivers and two for himself — and said the rest of the scene came “naturally.”

“Necessity is the mother of all invention, right?” Morrison said.

According to Morrison, directors are many things — they are storytellers, problem solvers, producers and therapists. More than any of that, Oz said directors are “hopers.”

“You have all of these casts you put together, you have all the crew you put together, you have decisions as a director, you have decisions in wardrobe, you have decisions every single day,” Oz said. “At the end of the day, you don’t know if it’s going to work, so when it says, ‘Directed by Frank Oz,’ it should say, ‘Hoped by Frank Oz.’ ”

In addition to directing, Oz has acted in many films. Oz said he takes roles to become a better director.

“The reason I do those roles is not for acting; the reason I do those roles is to remind myself how frightening it is for an actor to be on camera,” he said. “I realized how naked one feels and how frightened one feels as an actor.”

Morrison played a scene from Oz’s 1988 “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” The scene involved three characters: Freddy, played by Steve Martin, Lawrence, played by Michael Caine, and Inspector Andre, played by Anton Rodgers. In the scene, Freddy is in jail and trying to recall Lawrence’s name for Inspector Andre. The entire scene was improvised by Martin as Oz was crouched out of camera range. When Oz felt that Martin had gone as far as he could with the improv, he tapped Rodgers on the foot to signal him to interrupt.

“A very high-tech and scientific solution,” Morrison said.

“What it says about the process of comedy is that it’s so much by feel,” Oz said. “It is so much from inside, so that’s why I don’t work intellectually.”

Morrison played a clip from “Bowfinger,” a film Oz directed in 1999, that taught him about the importance of rhythm in comedy. Oz said he made the mistake of interrupting his actors too many times.

“My biggest tool as a director is rhythm and to not think,” he said.

Morrison said he couldn’t imagine trying to direct Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro and Edward Norton in one film.

To that, Oz said: “Next.”

As Oz reflected on his extensive comedy career, he said there are still things he wants to accomplish. But there are no specifics; as long as it’s “good work,” he’s in.

“Number one, whatever I do is honest,” Oz said. “I like being a bit rebellious, to go underground and be a bit dark at times.”

Morrison closed by saying that some refer to comedy as “tragedy plus time.”

“I never understood what that meant,” Oz said.

“No, the tragedy is that we are out of time,” Morrison said.

J. Ekela Kaniaupio-Crozier Shares Transformation and Legacy of Hawaiian Language

J. Ekela Kaniaupio-Crozier talks about the importance of Hawaiian language and how she and many others have been working towards making it normal again for the language to be spoken in Hawaii, during the morning lecture Thursday, July 25, 2019 in the Amphitheater. VISHAKHA GUPTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Out of 45 grandchildren, J. Ekela Kaniaupio-Crozier was her grandmother’s “golden child.”

For years, Kaniaupio-Crozier’s grandmother held onto what was left of the then-forbidden Hawaiian language. But when Kaniaupio-Crozier was born, her grandmother chose her to carry, or perhaps redefine, the legacy of her native language.

Now, after a lifetime of teaching, Kaniaupio-Crozier has learned what her grandmother always hoped she would: Aloha, more than anything else, means love.

Kaniaupio-Crozier, the E Ola! learning designer and facilitator at Kamehameha Schools Maui, and contributing member of the Hawai‘i Development team for the Duolingo language-learning app, gave her lecture “Renormalizing the Hawaiian Language” at 10:45 a.m. Thursday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Five, “The Life of the Spoken Word.”

“From the rising of the sun, high above Haleakalā, unto its setting on the sands of the bays of the high chief Pi‘ilani; from one level to another level; from the verdance of the deep forest to the glistening ocean; from my homeland, to here in Chautauqua — here I am,” Kaniaupio-Crozier said.

Kaniaupio-Crozier is the daughter of Antonia and Kuanoni Kaniaupio, the grandchild of Kauhiwaiokamakalepo and the great-great grandchild of Lakana, a descendent of Keaunui, high chief of the Ewa plains. Those ancestors, along with many more, are who allow her to share the love of Ōlelo Hawai‘i, the Hawaiian language.

“It’s not the things that I’ve done that define me and my identity, it’s the people I’m connected to,” Kaniaupio-Crozier said. “I recognize my ancestors and my children — for the work I have done and continue to do is not just for me or for the moment or to put some nice cash in my pocket — I do it because I know I have a responsibility to those who stand beside me in this good work and a responsibility to those who will come after me and continue to do the good work of sharing the spoken word.”

From the day Kaniaupio-Crozier was born, Kauhiwaiokamakalepo spoke to her in Hawaiian.

“She chose me, for whatever reason, to be the one that would carry on this language,” she said. “She was the first Hawaiian activist I ever met, but I didn’t know it. She held on to this language until I came into her life.”

Speaking Hawaiian was rare while Kaniaupio-Crozier was growing up, and when she realized she didn’t hear it anywhere other than her home, she “rebelled.”

“I thought, ‘Why are you speaking this language when the only people who speak it look like you?’ ” she said. “They were all kupuna, our elders. I didn’t see any future in this language living or surviving, so for (my grandmother) to speak to me in this language, it just didn’t make sense.”

When Kaniaupio-Crozier was 9 years old, her grandmother brought her to Hawaiian language classes at their local church, where the two were joined by her mother, father and grandfather every week. Considering her family already knew Hawaiian, Kaniaupio-Crozier was confused as to why they came to class with her — until now.

“I know now that they were there for me,” she said. “They were there to show me aloha, to support me in all my frustrations.”

Kaniaupio-Crozier attended Hawaiian language classes until she graduated high school. Excited by the chance to pave her own path in college, she decided to take Spanish for her language credit.

Her Spanish professor, Marjorie Woodrum, was a charismatic woman who demanded attention the minute she walked in a room — the kind of person Kaniaupio-Crozier realized she wanted to become. However, by the time Kaniaupio-Crozier entered her sophomore year, her school had implemented a Hawaiian language course and per her grandmother’s wishes, she took both Spanish and Hawaiian. When Kaniaupio-Crozier found out Woodrum was also teaching Hawaiian, the woman she once idolized suddenly lost her charisma.

“I was mad,” she said. “I was like ‘You don’t know anything about Hawaii, you’re not even Hawaiian. You are a white lady from far away who teaches Spanish, and that’s cool, but you’re going to teach me Hawaiian? No.’ ”

Kaniaupio-Crozier maintained a good attitude in her first-period Spanish class, but as soon as her second-period Hawaiian class rolled around, Kaniaupio-Crozier made sure Woodrum felt her disdain.

In response, Woodrum told Kaniaupio-Crozier that she understood her frustrations. Woodrum then pulled out a globe and asked her if she knew where Czechoslovakia is. Kaniaupio-Crozier did not, and that was the point.

On the other hand, Woodrum knew everything about Czechoslovakia. She knew its culture, its customs, traditions, how people dress, how they think, what they eat and what they value — all things she learned by speaking the language.

“(Woodrum) said, ‘You speak your language, you know who your people are, you know everything about them, but there are Hawaiian children in this school who know nothing about who they are because they don’t know their language — they haven’t heard it,’ ” she said.

Woodrum told Kaniaupio-Crozier she should be the one teaching the school’s Hawaiian class and in that moment, the entire direction of Kaniaupio-Crozier’s life changed.

“I understood what she was saying,” Kaniaupio-Crozier said. “Our language is our identity. Our language answers so many questions about who we are and why we believe what we do and why we think the way we do.”

Kaniaupio-Crozier went home and told Kauhiwaiokamakalepo she had decided to become a Hawaiian language teacher. The only way her grandmother knew how to respond was by telling her story.

Growing up, Kauhiwaiokamakalepo was beaten for speaking Hawaiian. On her first day of school, at 5 years old, her teacher covered her mouth with tape, telling her she couldn’t speak in class until she learned English.

“(My grandmother) said to me, ‘Do you know how hurtful that is?’ ” Kaniaupio-Crozier said.  “ ‘Do you know how painful it is to not be able to express your deepest emotions? At 5 years old, you’re told everything that you know is wrong, and you’ll be told that for the rest of your life. You can’t understand, not just the physical pain of being beaten with a frying pan for speaking your language —  but the emotional pain, the physiological pain. All of that kind of pain? You will never understand because that’s why I have given you this gift.’ ”

After hearing her story, Kaniaupio-Crozier said she felt a responsibility to her grandmother, and to every Hawaiian, to ensure no one else would have to endure that pain.

“It was wrong, and it should never happen again,” she said. “I was going to make sure that it wasn’t going to happen again.”

Kaniaupio-Crozier was unable to switch her major because her school did not offer a degree in Hawaiian language, but she forged ahead, believing that with her grandmother by her side, she could become a teacher anyways. However, five months later, Kauhiwaiokamakalepo passed away.

“I was mad,” Kaniaupio-Crozier said. “We were supposed to do this together, but then she left me.”

It didn’t take long for Kaniaupio-Crozier to realize her grandmother was still with her, just in a different way.

“She showed up, every day, with me,” she said. “She was always there.”

In Kauhiwaiokamakalepo’s passing, Kaniaupio-Crozier felt the presence of an unanswered question: Who would want to take her Hawaiian language classes? Her grandmother always said people would line up to take Kaniaupio-Crozier’s classes, a compliment she didn’t believe until her school approved a Hawaiian degree program and she became the first to graduate with a bachelor’s in Hawaiian language.

“That’s no coincidence,” Kaniaupio-Crozier said. “I don’t live my life by coincidence. I know that every step has been determined by my God, that every step he has already set up for me, and (my grandmother) was my prophet. I call her my prophet and my Hawaiian activist because she knew all of these things and she fought for it.”

Upon graduation, Kaniaupio-Crozier received multiple job offers. She went from teaching preschoolers, to university students and everyone in between — never interviewing for a single position. Even with Kaniaupio-Crozier’s success, her community still questioned why she pursued her career. According to Kaniaupio-Crozier, it’s because the language “touches so many hearts.”

“When you share it wide, people feel it,” she said. “They feel it in their guts and they feel it deep inside because everybody in the world has aloha in their hearts. At the core of every single one of us, is love, love that we want to share.”

In 1978, Hawaiian became Hawaii’s official language, along with English. Though that status is an accomplishment, Kaniaupio-Crozier said the state has a long way to go in terms of respect for the islands and their people.

“It’s become the token. It’s like, ‘Here Hawaiians, you have the official language of the state,’ but when we say we need more money to educate our children in their language, we don’t get it,” Kaniaupio-Crozier said. “When we want to protect our lands and protect our people, it’s not honored. It sounds really good to say that we have the official language, but the reality is it’s not official.”

Regardless, Kaniaupio-Crozier said over time, Hawaiians have become more and more interested in learning more about their culture — and the language especially. As a result, schools —  from preschools to universities —   have implemented Hawaiian language classes.

“Now we have hundreds of graduates and thousands of students who are not just learning Hawaiian, but are learning in Hawaiian,” she said.

Things got even better when Duolingo, a language-learning website and app, was launched in 2011. Now, more than 500,000 people across the globe are learning Hawaiian online. According Kaniaupio-Crozier, that kind of access is crucial for a language to survive.

“The more people that have access to our language, or languages in general, the more it brings us together,” she said. “It helps us to stand up for each other, it helps us to believe that the things that each group needs and wants for their people are good things. Language is the key; it’s the key for us to be able to unlock doors to know about people, to understand their culture and their identity.”

Kaniaupio-Crozier wonders what her grandmother would think if she saw the way Hawaiian language has transformed under her watch. Although she can’t know for sure, Kaniaupio-Crozier has a pretty good guess: “Ua ha‘i aku wau iā‘oe pēlā.”

“I told you so.”

Julie Washington Calls for Prioritization of Reading and Linguistics in Schools

Professor and chair of the Department of Communications Sciences and Disorders at Georgia State University, Julie Washington, speaks during her lecture “The Power of Spoken Word,” about the effect of different dialects within the english language, on Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in the Amphitheater. MHARI SHAW/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

According to Julie Washington, the only thing more powerful than language is access to language itself. 

Washington, professor and chair of the Department of Communications Sciences and Disorders at Georgia State University, gave her lecture “The Power of the Spoken Word” at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, July 24 in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Five, “The Life of the Spoken Word.”

Language is a “rule-governed and symbol system,” where words are put together to make meaning and represent actions, objects and ideas. It’s also an innate, human skill.

“Language is learned in speech communities the way we use it, but we come into the world wired to use language,” said Washington, who specializes in understanding cultural dialect use in young African American children, with an emphasis on language assessment, literacy attainment and academic performance. “Unlike reading, which is a learned skill and something that is imposed on the brain, most children come into the world wired to use language.”

Every language has dialects, or subsystems of a particular language. For example, American English has dialects such as Appalachian English, Southern English and Midwestern English.

More than anything, language is power.

“When you have the ability to communicate and use language well, it helps you to propel yourself forward — in your career, in your life, in education,” Washington said. “The ability to communicate to others in a way that many people can understand is powerful.”

Language is powerful, but only with access. In the case of children growing up in poverty, Washington said access is their main limitation.

“It’s not about just not having any language at all, but having a language system that allows you to have access to education, to have access to jobs, to have access to a larger, more prosperous society,” she said.

But what happens when the language of one’s community impedes their access? Washington said this question characterizes the way language affects literacy, particularly with African American children who grow up in poverty. Washington was introduced to the concept as a faculty member at the University of Michigan, when she was asked to go into the local school district and discuss ways to close the achievement gap between minorities and their white and Asian counterparts. There she saw the overrepresentation of African Americans in special education programs.

“Many of those kids were qualified as speech and language impaired, so I knew whatever was going on, we were contributing to the problem,” she said.

Washington said the biggest problem facing those “speech and language impaired” students was that their schools were failing to teach the fundamentals of reading by the time they reached third grade.

“That’s how I got interested in reading and the relationship between reading and language, how language propels reading, how important reading is for language and how important language is for reading,” she said.

The majority of African American fourth graders — 80% — read at a basic level or below. Only 18% are considered proficient readers, but proficient only means they can read at grade-level. Those statistics are now being considered a “high impact public health concern.”

“In almost everything that you do, it requires you to be able to read and write,” Washington said. “The inability to do so really hampers individuals and puts a ceiling on the success that they can have. At this point, the failure with children is less about skills and abilities or achievement, and more about access.”

As a result of limited access, the problem is also being referred to as a “health disparity,” “preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations.” Washington said the most important word in that definition is “preventable.”

“There are some things that are malleable and preventable that we can do something about, and then there are things that we can’t — this is not one of those things that we can’t do something about,” Washington said.

In one of the poorest communities in Atlanta, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons, was built in 2018. As a way to provide employment opportunities in the area, the stadium’s development team decided to hire construction workers directly from the community. One of the hiring requirements was reading at a third-grade level. What percentage of applicants were able to read at that level? Zero.

“When you think about the reading problems in this country, many of us who are well-educated are reading at high levels, but we’re in a rarefied group in the United States,” she said.

In Washington’s research, she found that a lot of students’ literacy progress halted between second and third grade, the years where students are supposed to learn to switch from learning to read, to reading to learn.

“So many students, even if they have mastered the basic, foundational components of reading, are not able to put those things together to create meaning,” she said. “Unless you can extract meaning from what you read, you are not a reader.”

To understand the role of language in health disparities, Washington studied African American English. In the past, the dialect was referred to as black English, Nonstandard Negro English and Ebonics. Washington mentioned the controversial “Ebonics” term to acknowledge that she is talking about the same system, just not in the same way.

“I’m not talking about all of the political and social baggage that is attached to this system,” she said. “That has consequences for kids. It has real consequences.”

Dialects are divided by low prestige — dialects with a negative connotation — and high prestige — dialects with a positive connotation. According to Washington, British English is the highest prestige dialect.

“When you hear somebody with a British accent, who is using British English, you think they’re high class, they’re related to the Queen and they’re educated and smart,” she said.

In the United States, Bostonian English is considered high prestige and Southern English is considered low prestige.

“Speaking a low-prestige variety has consequences,” she said. “It has consequences for you in your life because you’re always trying to prove yourself, or because people automatically think these negative things about you and you may not be able to prove yourself.”

To avoid the negative effects of speaking low-prestige dialects, people learn to code-switch. Washington was introduced to code-switching while working on a literacy project where students had to retell stories after hearing it read aloud. Washington read Are you My Mother? — a children’s book where a baby bird goes on a journey trying to find his mother. Many times throughout the book, the bird asks “Are you my mother?” and characters reply “I am not your mother.” When the little girl retold the story, she said “Is you my mama?” and “I ain’t none a yo’ mama.” In witnessing her code-switch, Washington had an epiphany.

“I thought about how much work she had to do in order to retell that story,” Washington said. “She had to listen to it in a language system that wasn’t being used in her home, recode it, hang on to the sequence and the vocabulary and tell me the story again.”

The ability to code-switch based on the environment one is in is a powerful skill, but unfortunately, only two-thirds of children who need to learn the skill will acquire it in school. In Washington’s research, she found that if students don’t learn how to code-switch by third grade, they never will.

“The ability to code-switch is actually critical, but these high-dialect users are the kids we are focused on now,” she said. “This is not just that if you speak dialect, you will not be able to read; what we have learned is if you speak a lot of dialect, you’re going to struggle to read because you have so much work to do to get to the Are you my Mother? text.”

But if it has been proven that code-switching is critical for learning, why isn’t it taught in schools? Washington said that doesn’t work because teachers use contrasting oral and written languages to teach code-switching, and by the time a student is old enough to write, they are most likely “already failing at reading.”

A more concrete solution is to prioritize reading in schools — if one can read, they have access to text, which facilitates code-switching.

While teaching code-switching and reading are both important, Washington thinks too much emphasis is placed on changing the children, instead of the models they learn from.

“Our failure to teach them to read has contributed to the failure to learn to code-switch,” she said. “We have to be able to do both. One way to do that is to teach code-switching, the other way is to make sure teachers are actually using the language of the classroom.”

Washington said people also need to start respecting students’ home languages.

“The same is true for the school language; if we want kids to learn it, we have to recognize that valuing and respecting it impacts the way it is taught,” she said. “What we are trying to do with (home language) is eradicate it — stop that. If we were allowing it to be something else, then we might be able to bridge what kids currently know with what we want them to know.”

As she talks to more people about the problems facing low-income students, Washington said she has become increasingly frustrated with the narrow path ahead. Thus, she concluded her lecture with a call to action, hoping increased awareness will lead to a more hopeful future — a future with answers.

“We need some solutions to this; it’s a long-standing issue,” Washington said. “These kids have been having trouble with reading for as long as we have been measuring it. We are losing generations and generations of kids who aren’t learning to read and, therefore, don’t have access or a way to get out of the cycle that they’re in and aspire to something higher than that.”

Larry Arnn Emphasizes the Importance of Free Speech on College Campuses

Larry Arnn

Larry Arnn said college campuses in September and October are as “happy as Disneyland,” but by late March and April, they’re “madder than Hell.” Given those seasonal extremes, Arnn said there is no better time than summer to discuss the purpose of free speech, and the threat it’s under, both on and off college campuses.

Arnn, the 12th president of Hillsdale College and professor of politics and history, spoke at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Five, “The Life of the Spoken Word.”

“If you were to ask a college president what they think of freedom of speech on, let’s say, April 10, the answer is ‘tell them to shut up,’ ” he said. “Now, the nearest thing to quiet at a college comes in the month of July, so I feel better about it all right now.”

Speech, derived from the Greek word logos, is a fundamental word, as Arnn explained by paraphrasing Aristotle’s Politics.

“Speech, logos, served to reveal the advantageous and the harmful, and hints also at the just and the unjust,” he said. “For it is peculiar to man, compared to other animals, that he alone has a perception of good and bad, of just and unjust and the other things of this sort. Community in these things is what makes a household and a city.”

Aristotle’s claim is that human beings are defined by their ability to talk. Arnn cited an example from his own family, where they have raised children and boxer dogs. For the first two years of the children and the dogs’ lives, Arnn said the two are very alike.

“They don’t know much, they live on the floor, they eat each others’ food and, interestingly enough, they hear all the same things,” he said.

At about age 2, the children start talking, but the dogs never do. After about six months of talking, Arnn said children seem to “know everything.”

“How did they learn those things?” he said. “It’s a kind of magic that happens in the soul. No dog has ever started talking and no child has ever been taught to talk because there isn’t anywhere to start. They have to understand something just to get started.”

How do humans learn speech all on their own? Aristotle said that it’s an ability to use a certain kind of word that only humans can. Arnn used two examples: a tissue box and a “speaker box” — the dais he was standing on. Children are not able to use a reference, like a vocabulary card, to learn “box” because the two boxes look very different.

“We use common nouns, and all speech is made possible by that,” Arnn said.

If Arnn were to rip the tissue box to pieces, he said the box would “lose its goodness.”

“Aristotle says at the same time and in the same motion, it loses the being of the box,” he said. “That means that our understanding of ‘kinds of things’ is written in this perception of the essence, or good, or being of each thing before us, and that’s how we think of things being just or unjust because each individual is different.”

Once one understands there is a unique meaning and being to things such as man and dog, that lays the groundwork for knowing no two things can be treated the same. Arnn said Thomas Jefferson proposed this concept in the Declaration of Independence, when he wrote, “The mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.”

The same point has been made at various times in history. In a Lincoln-Douglas debate, Stephen Douglas asked why the federal government did not protect his slave the way it protects the rest of his property, to which Abraham Lincoln replied that Douglas did in fact know the difference between a human being and inanimate objects.

“If you read a lot of Aristotle, it will teach you to think like that, because he claims that the good is undeniable, even if it is ignored or willfully denied,” Arnn said.

Ultimately, Arnn said humans are identified by their ability to speak, thus restricting that ability would be the same as telling “dolphins they can’t swim.”

College is derived from the Latin word collegium, meaning partnership.

“It means it’s something to do together and remember, the ground has been laid for us to do things together most radically in speech because what speech means is whatever we can think, we can say,” Arnn said. “When we are talking, we are just thinking out loud, and when we are thinking, we are just talking to ourselves.”

In the minds of classic thinkers, Arnn said the political community is the highest and closest form of community — except for the community of friendship, which is formed around “the contemplation of the ultimate things.”

According to Arnn, that is what a majority of colleges in America were founded on, as seen in the mission statements of schools like Hillsdale.

“(At Hillsdale) we love freedom, we love independence, we love equality and we love learning,” he said. “A community of learning needs to be close.”

Because of the commitment to partnership in learning, Arnn said there are rules in place at  Hillsdale to uphold those standards.

For example, discussions at Hillsdale require continuity. When professors ask students what a certain thing is, they are not allowed to answer with phrases like “To me it means …”

“If you try to set up, what does it actually mean, what does it in fact mean, it’s harder now,” Arnn said. “One of Socrates’ favorite questions is, ‘What is it for a thing to be good?,’ and that’s not simple, it’s just sublime. To seek it, there is no higher activity, no more joyous activity and it’s to be done together.’ ”

Aristotle has a list of intellectual virtues, and the highest virtue of knowledge is contemplation, the immediate beholding of “ultimate beautiful things.” According to Arnn, that is what a college curriculum is all about.

“Aristotle said some kinds of things are good for their own sake, and then there are some that produce a product,” he said.

Arnn ran through a list of things: bottle-making, bottle, drinking, health.

“When you get to health, you get to something everybody needs and then if you put victory, health, and intelligence and sufficient together in a list, then you realize that you can have all of those things, that they are good for their own sake and that means that they stand at a higher dignity than the lower things that produce them,” he said.

On the other hand, one could have all of those things and still be “miserable.”

“The point is, what would you add to those things that would make you completely what you are, and therefore possible to be happy?” Arnn said. “That’s the subject of Aristotle’s ethics, and that’s also the subject of college — it’s to find out the things that are beautiful to know for their own sake.”

Once people behold “high and beautiful things,” they are able to draw conclusions about those things, what Aristotle considers wisdom.

“Wisdom takes time, which means when you’re young it’s hard to be wise,” Arnn said.

But in college, freshmen are thrown into a population of professors and students wiser than they are. Arnn personally interviews every professor before they get hired at Hillsdale and said they are all used to being the smartest person they know, so Arnn said they are making a “crazy choice.”

“They are going into a line of work where they’ll never get rich and they’ve got a mountain to climb,” he said. “It will take them their whole lives and they won’t get to the top, and they want that.”

Professors lead the academic community with knowledge, experience and ability that students are unable to possess that early in their lives, the main reason “colleges need to go on for a long time.”

College also produces a pathway to God. Aristotle described the idea of God as a perfect being that can “see everything at once.” Moving from one thing to the next would imply imperfection. Thinking about one thing and then another would imply dissent. Therefore, the only thing God really thinks about is himself.

Arnn said that concept applies to everyday life in the way people deal with trials in their personal lives. For example, Arnn said by spending time at Chautauqua Institution, people are putting their focus on themselves, giving them an opportunity to work through their struggles.

“That is longing for God,” he said. “College is reaching God as he can be known, both in reason and in faith.”

College also produces friendship, what Arnn considers “utility, pleasure and the contemplation of the highest things together.” The only speech rule at Hillsdale is one can say anything they want to if they can say it in a “civil and academic manner.”

“(That rule is) because we are here to be friends and to figure things out together,” he said.

Arnn said what he sees on college campuses now is a “staggering and dangerous thing,” far from the original intentions of speech and college.

Speech can be lethal, even if no harm is intended, and even if someone outside of one’s community cannot perceive the harm in it. According to the current claim at Williams College in Massachusetts, one can be “ignorant of harm if they’re guilty of whiteness,” Arnn said.

“They have repudiated everything that has gone on, but the students claiming these things can’t possibly know much about that because it takes a while to learn,” he said.

Arnn said this ignorance is apparent even at Hillsdale, where even though students believe being conservative means they’ll be accepted into the school, they are always unable to tell Arnn what it means to really be a conservative. To those students, Arnn said, “cut it out.”

“You’re supposed to get an education now,” he said. “You’re going to read these books, you’re going to listen, you’re going to formulate your own arguments, you’re going to try to argue and you’re going to step right outside these opinions that you have because philosophy, according to the classics, is the refining of opinion into truth. That’s the work of a college.”

Arnn finished with a quote from Darel Paul, professor of political science at Williams College. The quote is from Paul’s essay in Areo Magazine, “Listening to the Great Awokening.” 

“In ages past, administrators and academics believed the mission of higher education to be the pursuit of knowledge (University of Chicago: ‘Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched’; University of Cambridge: ‘Hinc lucem et pocula sacra’) or even truth (Harvard University: ‘Veritas’; Yale University: ‘Lux et Veritas’),” Paul wrote. “Today, they pursue Social Justice. Under that banner, anti-racist activists hope to do to higher education what Soviet communism did to fine art, literature and music.”

Paul went on to discuss Trofim Lysenko, a Russian critic of genetics and science-based agriculture. Lysenko tested two generations of crops around his theories and both failed, but at the time, criticizing him was illegal and led to the death penalty. As a result of his agricultural failures and the state’s death penalty, Arnn said around 20 million people died.

“Without a comparison of views around people willing and able, two qualifications to do any difficult thing, willing and able, and without that friendship, the crops are going to fail and no one is going to know what’s good,” Arnn said.

Arnn bets Paul is a “modern academic liberal.” Although Arnn said that is a much better thing to be than someone like Lysenko, he still disagrees with a vast majority of Paul’s claims.

“If you read through that article, you can see there is a rejection of human reason in these claims that are being shouted on college campuses today,” Arnn said. “If you think about it for a minute, that is utter and complete foolishness. If you say reasoning matters not at all, that is a rational assertion — reason being all we’ve got. Somehow, they’ve done something worse than lose their mission, they have moved in final opposition to that mission and that’s why I think civilization is at stake.”

As for what to do going forward, Arnn said the solution is simple.

“You should learn to talk in an academic and civil way with others, whatever they think,” he said.

Trevor Cox Explores Science and Overall Evolution of Sound and Human Voice


Inventions like sound recording and the synthesized voice have changed human communication forever, and while advances in artificial intelligence are hinting toward an even greater transformation, Trevor Cox can’t help but notice the consequences of hearing more, amplified.   

Cox, author and professor of acoustic engineering at Salford University, gave his lecture, “Now You’re Talking,” at 10:45 a.m. Monday, July 22 in the Amphitheater, opening Week Five, “The Life of the Spoken Word.”

Cox started with a demonstration of how the human voice works. To begin, he had the audience put their hands on their throats and make two sounds: an “E” and an “S” sound. The “E” caused vibration, where the “S” did not. This is because with vowels, sound elongates in the larynx with one’s vocal folds.

“When you make the ‘E’ sound, you push air out of your lungs, and then you break that air up with the movement of the vocal folds,” Cox said. “That gives you variation and little pulses of pressure, and that’s what a sound wave is.”

Vocal folds can open and close up to 100 times a second.

“One of the remarkable things about the human voice is how robust it is,” he said. “Because we really hammer it, (the folds) have to be moving fast all the time.”

Vocal folds also determine pitch — the longer they are, the higher the pitch of sound. Lighter sounds have higher frequencies, so when a sound changes the length of the vocal folds, it is actually changing how much mass is moving.

However, on their own, the only sound vocal folds make is an incoherent, buzzing noise. Cox showed a video of the throat of an opera singer, observed with an MRI scanner, to stress the importance of other throat and mouth muscles, like the tongue, in making sound and forming diction.

“If I was to show you an MRI scan of you talking, you would look really similar,” he said. “You have the same amazing flexibility in your system.”

But when did humans evolve to have the ability to speak? Cox believes it began with Neanderthals, though it’s an assumption that is impossible to prove. Archaeology, which heavily relies on fossils, is not a resource for his research because the soft tissue in vocal anatomy doesn’t fossilize.

In an attempt to narrow down when speech began, Cox compared a chimpanzee, an animal that can’t speak, to humans — animals that can. In recent years, people have tried to teach chimpanzees to speak, but in the end, found that chimps could only use gestures to communicate.

What is stopping them? Cox said it is the anatomy of the larynx. In humans, the larynx sits lower than it does in chimpanzees.

“There is a lot of discussion around why it’s lower, but speaking fluidly is one reason why,” Cox said. “You saw that flexibility of the tongue. By moving the larynx out of the way, the tongue has a much greater ability to change the shape of the throat and the mouth and to speak more rapidly.”

William Fitch, an evolutionary biologist and cognitive scientist at the University of Vienna, studied chimpanzees and determined that the animals actually could speak if their brains could control their vocal anatomy.

“The conclusion of this paper is that probably, chimpanzees could speak; the vocal anatomy is not what’s limiting, it’s the brain that’s limiting,” Cox said.

Unfortunately, the brain doesn’t fossilize either, so Fitch’s findings don’t transfer to Neanderthals. Cox said the only other resource is symbolic thought. For Neanderthals, symbolic thought was displayed through cave paintings.

“It seems that Neanderthals were making art, which means they were doing things beyond just surviving, which means they were thinking beyond just surviving, and that makes it more likely that Neanderthals talked,” he said.

Ancient acoustics were prevalent in monuments as well, such as Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England.

“If you think of any human ceremony you’ve been involved with, it involves singing, talking, music — it involves sound,” Cox said. “Therefore, the acoustics of old spaces would have been important to how they were used.”

Studying sound in Stonehenge was difficult because so many of the original stones are missing. To replicate how it used to sound, Cox created a computer model and a scale model of its earliest design. The scale model was tested two weeks ago, and Cox played two videos to show the difference in sound quality. The first video was an orchestral piece without any stones and the second was the same piece, with the stones. When the stones were added, the sound became “deeper and richer.”

Throughout history, Cox said the greatest developments in voice have coincided with developments in technology.

“Inventions like the phonograph, the microphone and the telephone changed our relationship to the voice and changed the human voice,” he said.

To convey the importance of the microphone, Cox played an example of Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé singing “Barcelona.” Caballé was a professional opera singer trained to amplify her own sound with vocal techniques, where Mercury had always performed with the help of a microphone, making him far easier to be heard in larger venues.

“The reason we have such diverse, modern singing styles is because to sing to a large arena now, all you need to do is sing into a microphone (close) to your mouth, and the sounds can be amplified,” Cox said. “This means that Freddie Mercury can whisper, he can shout, or even talk-sing and all of that works. You can’t do that as an opera singer.”

Voices primarily change with age. Cox played an example of Queen Elizabeth II, comparing her first Christmas message in 1957 to her Christmas message in 2017. The recordings proved that her voice is now noticeably lower.

“That’s a natural aging process,” he said. “As females get older, their voices tend to slowly go down in pitch.”

Cox said deeper tones in females can also be due to cultural changes. In a study comparing the voices of women in the 1940s to women’s voices now, researchers concluded that women’s voices are deeper than they were before. Cox said this is because more women are in their “rightful leadership roles.”

“As they assume more leadership roles, their pitch is lowered and this is the sad thing: They have lowered their pitch to sound more like a man,” he said. “It’s sad because it’s basically based off the fact that your brain makes suggestions about who is likely to be a leader, and because we still have a bad gender imbalance, your brain guesses a man is more likely to be a leader.”

Cox used an example of Kim Kardashian, who speaks with vocal fry, the lowest register of one’s voice. Cox said Kardashian’s vocal fry annoys listeners, where the vocal fry of actor Vin Diesel does not.

“It’s an interesting and sexist way we respond to voices,” he said.

Although the voice is flexible and constantly changing, accents have remained the same through generations. Cox recalled a study in England which proved there is a north-south divide in the way people pronounce certain words. In the south, bath is pronounced “bah-th,” where in the north, it is pronounced “bath.” Cox said accents haven’t changed because they are “a part of identity.”

Cox concluded his lecture with a story of a woman named Eugenia whose husband passed away in a car accident. Eugenia uploaded their text messages into an artificial intelligence engine and made a “chat bot” so she could talk to him again. Cox finds this concept fascinating and a little “creepy,” but said it leads into his next point: Voice identity is under threat. Current artificial intelligence technology can use speech synthesis systems to mimic individual voices. According to Cox, this will be used to both “comic and ill effect.”

“We’ve all had emails pretending to be from a loved one who is lost and needs money transferred to a bank account and all that; we are going to start getting voice messages doing exactly the same,” he said. “Unfortunately, with all of these technologies, they get used for ill.”

But there is an advantage to the developing technology. For people who want to speak in their natural voice, but can’t due to medical reasons, speech synthesis provides sufficient personalization of artificial language.

“I can’t imagine anything more important than being able to say to your wife, your husband or your children that you love them, in your own voice,” Cox said.

Astronaut Scott Kelly Discusses Lessons Learned in Year-Long Space Mission



Over time, Scott Kelly has become “smarter and more handsome” than his identical twin brother, Mark. What’s his secret? A year in space.

With one brother on Earth and the other 254 miles above it, researchers had the unprecedented opportunity to monitor the effects of space on the human body. Now, those results are being used to determine what boundaries exist in the future of human-space exploration — because if the sky is no longer the limit, what is?

Kelly, an engineer, retired astronaut and U.S. Navy Captain, addressed that question at the 10:45 a.m. morning lecture Friday in the Amphitheater, closing Week Four, “The New Map of Life: How Longer Lives are Changing the World — In Collaboration with the Stanford Center on Longevity.” Kelly spent the second half of his lecture in conversation with Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education.

Kelly grew up in New Jersey, where his mother, a former secretary and waitress, became their town’s first female police officer. In her determination, Kelly saw what it took to achieve any dream.

“This was the first time in my life that I saw the power of having this goal you think you can’t achieve, a plan to get there and working really, really hard at something,” Kelly said.

The problem was, he didn’t have any specific dreams in mind. However, after reading Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, a story documenting the first Project Mercury astronauts selected for the NASA space program, Kelly realized he had some out-of-orbit aspirations to consider.

“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “I had to take a bad student and turn myself into a good student, but, eventually, I found my way and I got commissioned into the United States Navy, became a fighter pilot, a test pilot and later, a NASA astronaut.”

Almost 18 years, to the day, after reading The Right Stuff for the first time, Kelly took his first trip into space, a trip to repair NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 1999. On his second mission, he crossed the threshold of the International Space Station for the first time as commander of space shuttle Endeavour. He returned to the station for a six-month stay in 2010, commanding Expedition 26.

When he returned home from his third trip safely, NASA proposed sending two astronauts for an entire year.

“Somehow they came up with me, this kid from New Jersey who couldn’t do his homework, and a guy I now refer to as my Russian brother from another mother, Mikhail Kornienko,” Kelly said.

To some, a year might seem extreme, but Kelly said the intensity of the experiment was for the sake of the future. If people should venture to Mars, a planet on the other side of the sun, the trip will take more than three years to complete.

“Going to Mars is going to be hard; it’s not going to be an easy thing to do,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of risk for the crew members, it’s going to take risk of the program and risk in investment, but this is something I am convinced we absolutely have to do if we are going to continue as a species.”

In March 2015, Kelly launched into space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, at 17,500 mph, never once looking out the window.

“It was only because I was focusing on the things I could control — the procedures, the systems, my job — and ignoring everything I couldn’t,” he said.

After six hours, he docked at the International Space Station, a solar-powered station in Earth’s low orbit. According to Kelly, life on the station is challenging, but during the year it served as his home, he found ways to improve his surroundings.

“You always have to question, ‘Why are we doing this thing this way?’ ” he said. “Why can’t we just make this system, this procedure, this operation, just a little bit better? In my experience, spending all this time in space, if we’re not always trying to make things at least just a little bit better, questioning and testing the status quo, things are absolutely going to get worse.”

The space station was Kelly’s office, too. There he conducted research utilizing a combination of biology, chemistry and physics.

“(We are) studying these things that happen to us in space that are very similar to what happens to us as we age,” he said.

In addition to using the sciences to study space, Kelly also collected data about his health to compare it to Mark Kelly’s on Earth. Ten science teams in NASA’s Twin Study examined the brothers’ bodily functions, both physically and cognitively.

“It was a genetic study about understanding our physiology and how this environment affects us at a genetic level,” he said.

Regardless of where the trip leads, any time in space damages the human body.

“It’s almost like we are aging at a very, very accelerated rate,” Kelly said.

In space, humans lose 1% of bone and muscle mass a month.

“If you didn’t do anything to prevent that, after 100 months, you would have no skeleton left,” he said. “(That has) effects on our immune system, our vision and our physiology.”

With that in mind, Kelly said the results of the Twin Study were unexpected. In terms of telomeres, the ends of chromosomes that shorten and fray with age, Kelly’s hypothesis was that his would get shorter. As it turns out, his telomeres grew. In addition to his telomeres, scientists found that 7% of his gene expression changed over the course of his mission.

Cognitively, Kelly improved while being tested in space. However, after returning home, he was slower and less accurate on short-term memory and logic tests.

Along with being a scientist and a commander, Kelly wore many helmets in space. As the station’s only residents, Kelly’s team had to take care of general maintenance for the station, the shuttle and each other.

“You’re not only the scientist and the engineer and maybe the commander of the mission, you’re the electrician, the IT person, the plumber, the doctor and the dentist,” he said.

Because “all good things must come to an end,” Kelly returned to Earth on March 2, 2016. When he returned to his home in Houston, Kelly jumped in his swimming pool, had a beer and a piece of apple pie sent from the White House, and took his first shower in a year.

“All of those things were great, but the best part about coming home after being in space for a year was that I knew I had just done one of the hardest things I will ever have to do in my entire life,” he said.

Although he felt accomplished mentally, Kelly wasn’t doing well physically; he had trouble standing up, he was stiff, sore, nauseous and dizzy, and developed rashes and hives when his skin touched any surface.

All of those ailments went away with time, but what he learned in space has always stayed with him.

First, Kelly learned the value of teamwork.

“When we’re trying to do anything that’s challenging or difficult, you’ve got to do it as part of a team,” Kelly said. “I say space flight is the biggest team sport there is.”

Second, he learned about the importance of diversity in those team activities.

“It wasn’t until I got to NASA that I saw the power of having a group of people working together that come from different places, different experiences, different cultures and different ways of looking at things,” he said. “When you have people who look at things differently, they have different solutions to problems, and that’s what our job is, to solve problems.”

Third, he gained a new perspective on Earth’s environmental issues. From space, Kelly can see that certain areas in Asia and Central America are covered by air pollution. Between his space missions in 1999 and 2016, he also noticed a vast difference in the size of rainforests around the globe.

Kelly said there is a misconception that moving to another planet is a solution to Earth’s problems.

“We are not all going to Mars, I hate to tell you,” he said. “It will always be easier to live here, no matter how bad we destroy this planet, than it will be turning Mars into another Earth.” 

The space station, where Kelly has spent over 500 days of his life, is a 1 million-pound, football field-sized structure that was created by people all over the world. By its very existence, Kelly learned that anything is possible.

“After spending a year in space, I was absolutely inspired that if we can dream it, we can do it,” Kelly said. “(We can do it) if we focus on the things we can control and ignore the things we can’t, if we test the status quo, and of course, if we work together as a team. Teamwork makes the dream work. We can choose to do the hard things and if we do that, the sky is definitely not the limit.”

Panelists Kate de Medeiros and Ron Cole-Turner Explore Culture’s Influence on Age Perception

From left, Professor of Theology and Ethics, Ron Cole-Turner, and O’Toole Family Professor at Miami University of Ohio’s Department of Sociology and Gerontology, Kate de Medeiros, speak on the negative connotations that surround the ideas of aging in society, during the 10:45 a.m. Morning Lecture on Thursday, July 18, 2019 in the Amphitheater.

Science has provided strong insights into the aging process, but Kate de Medeiros and Ron Cole-Turner are challenging the data, using culture to make the statistics less about numbers and more about the people they represent.

De Medeiros, the O’Toole Family Professor in Miami University of Ohio’s Department of Sociology and Gerontology, and Cole-Turner, the H. Parker Sharp Professor of Theology and Ethics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, joined Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt in conversation at 10:45 a.m. Thursday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Four, “The New Map of Life: How Longer Lives are Changing the World — In Collaboration with the Stanford Center on Longevity.” The two served as replacements for Joseph F. Coughlin, director of MIT’s AgeLab, who canceled due to health reasons.

We can certainly look to literature, to mythology and to other things to give us clues into areas that science is now kind of taking up again,” de Medeiros said. “It’s exciting to be able to have data to pair with a lot of these ideas, but we inherit a very rich cultural history that helps us shed light into this meaning of growing older.”

With backgrounds in sociology and theology, respectively, de Medeiros and Cole-Turner provided insight into “The New Map of Life” by discussing longevity with respect to expectations of aging, age-shaming and wisdom.

Two central metaphors, “old age as childlike” and “pushing one’s limits,” can lead to misleading portrayals of older generations.

“That leads to things like elderspeak or treating older persons in an infantile way, or somehow devaluing the contributions an older person makes,” de Medeiros said. “We need to challenge some of the ways that aging is portrayed and the way that, because of that, it shapes our own experiences of growing older and our expectations.”

Those expectations, along with other aging misconceptions, drive people’s fears of getting older.

Cole-Turner and de Medeiros agreed that older generations are often mischaracterized as dependent. To Cole-Turner, people — no matter the age — are not independent to begin with.

“Recognizing that we are all, always, dependent upon the natural world, upon the human community, upon the work of others, upon commerce,” he said. “We are all always mutually interdependent and to let go of control, let go of the illusion that I am independent, that I not only did it my way, I went right to the very end doing it my way — let go of that.”

This idea of dependency in old age is particularly relevant to the idea of “age-shaming,” which de Medeiros said is so embedded in American culture that people engage in it without even realizing — in fact, most people do it to themselves.

We might say, ‘Pardon me, I’m just old,’ or ‘I’m having a senior moment’ or, ‘What do you expect from an older person like me?’ ” she said. “I hear this a lot from other professors on campus, and what that does is reinforce that aging is bad.”

De Medeiros said older generations are not the only people engaging with age-shaming narratives. Children have also been exposed to age-shaming culturally — particularly through literature, film and television.

“If you look at children’s books, if older characters are present, they are either inconsequential or portrayed as incompetent,” she said. “If you look at Disney and you look at older characters, with some exceptions, older women are often these terrible witches that are trying to steal the youth to stay young.”

De Medeiros recently saw “Today Show” hosts use the new FaceApp to age their faces, something she struggles to find humorous.

“The app could also change your gender, but they would not dare do that because that would be offensive,” she said. “It begs the question, ‘Why is that funny?’ And why do we not do something about that?”

Technology presents a variety of problems and opportunities in aging. In regards to transhumanism, Cole-Turner said human beings should be able to use technology and resources that push them “beyond human limits,” such as using artificial intelligence to make up for the cognitive limits humans develop in old age.

However, in some cases, Cole-Turner said technology is damaging to the aging process, as people are driven to live longer in hopes that more inventions will continue to pile on extra years.

It’s almost like I want to last long enough to benefit from the future goodies that technology offers,” Cole-Turner said. “If there ever is a pill to make us smarter, some sort of brain interface or some sort of cognitive enhancement that we can take successfully, I want to be around when it’s available. It’s almost a fear of missing out on the technological future that drives some of them.”

Cole-Turner said the problem of technology was most recently apparent in “Snapchat dysmorphia,” a phenomenon where plastic surgeons experienced a rise in patients wanting to look like their edited selfies.

“How do we make sense of that?” Cole-Turner said. “How do we make sense of this waiting period, waiting for that? How does that create a dysmorphia in our life map, not just in our understanding of our face, but in our life map? (We are) waiting for technology to become our savior, our deliverer from that fear, which are these images of aging that are not always too flattering.”

While the age-shaming narratives are wholly negative, “wisdom” has traditionally been a largely positive characteristic of older generations. But Cole-Turner said the concept of wisdom is not always fully understood, as wisdom must come from experiences — even those that are different from your own.

“I am wondering if we are missing wisdom because we are looking in only perhaps one place,” he said. “There is a wisdom that comes from experience that may be different from our own: Experiences of suffering, experiences of surviving in a racist culture, experiences of being marginalized and pushed to the side.”

Cole-Turner said a fuller wisdom requires transcending the mind, stretching the limits of empathy, unity and connectedness.

That, to me, is the wisdom that pays these social benefits in terms of being slower to provoke, slower to react, slower to think badly of other people, more willing to say ‘I don’t agree with that, but that comes from a different perspective and I want to understand,’ ” Cole-Turner said.

De Medeiros said there are two sides to the coin of wisdom, as some people argue that wisdom warrants the dismissal of other people’s feelings.

“Some people argue that wisdom actually robs people of the power of being angry, because to be wise you are contemplative, you’ve come to terms with things, you’re not angry and you’re not demanding,” she said.

Going forward, de Medeiros said there are opportunities for society to change the conversation about aging. It starts with one word: inclusion.

“We see very few examples of older people being represented in positive ways and certainly even when so, it is such a small percentage of things,” she said. “We see older characters in movies, in television shows as being silly. We don’t have that kind of inclusion.”

In order for that inclusion to drive a more positive narrative, de Medeiros said people need to take the word “elderly” out of their vernacular.

“The term ‘elderly’ is a term that we don’t use in gerontology because it stereotypes a group of people based on age in generally negative ways,” she said. “It’s never used as a word of empowerment, it is always used to victimize, to draw pity or to draw ire.”

For Cole-Turner, changing the way the world views aging starts by claiming the course of one’s own life.

However old or young you are, narrate your own life and recognize that whatever exactly is going on demographically, whatever exactly is going on technologically, it presents unique challenges,” Cole-Turner said. “But it presents unique opportunities for you to live into that uncharted future, in which you will only at the end discover who you are really meant to be.

Linda P. Fried Proposes ‘Grand Act of Imagination’ to Design Better Future

Geriatrician and epidemiologist, Linda P. Fried, dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health speaks about the challenges of increased life spans Wednesday, July 17, 2019 in the Amphitheater. VISHAKHA GUPTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER


Though life span increases bring improved medical care and advanced social systems, gaps and disparities still plague the human population. By looking at the history and science of longevity, Linda P. Fried dispelled several old-age myths that hold society back from tackling some of the world’s most pressing issues — including health care inequalities and climate change.

Fried, dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, spoke at the 10:45 a.m. morning lecture Wednesday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Four, “The New Map of Life: How Longer Lives are Changing the World — In Collaboration with the Stanford Center on Longevity.”

Fried began thinking about longevity in 1986. She was working as a physician intern at The John Hopkins Hospital when the new chief of geriatric medicine asked if she would join his department. That night, Fried started looking at the data backing geriatric advancements and said what she found “blew her away.”

The data showed an increase in life expectancy over time. In the beginning of human existence, life expectancy ranged from 18 to 25 years. By 1900, it had increased to 47 years. By 1960, it was 70. Now, it is 79. Throughout all of those increases, African Americans had shorter life expectancies than any other group.

There has been a huge improvement, but huge gaps still, in race differences, in opportunities for longer lives,” Fried said.

Now, there are more people over the age of 65 in the world than there have been at any point in  human history, combined.

“This year we are at a crossing point, both in the U.S. and in the world, that we are about to have as many older adults in our country as we have children,” she said. “What a shift — we have never seen this before.”

The day after reviewing the data, Fried committed to becoming a geriatrician. Throughout her career, she has come to understand that life expectancy did not increase by chance.

“It wasn’t by chance, it was intentional,” she said. “(It was through) society-scaled investments in the things that create opportunity, ideally for everybody, that raise both the floor and the ceiling of health, access to education, access to opportunity, and have extended our lives.”

As a result of those investments, Fried said society is seeing a “dramatic transformation.”

In 1900, only 4% of the U.S. population was over the age of 65. Now, 17% is over 65 and by 2050, that age group is projected to make up 25% of the population.

The age structure transformation matters, but Fried said the progressions it took to get there are more important.

The progression was the first demographic dividend, which is what happens when countries shift from having high mortality rates to low mortality rates.

As children began to survive their entire childhoods, every country experienced a second demographic dividend, which is when the labor supply of young, capable people became the economic powerhouse for a whole society.

Countries flourish as they have more workers than dependents,” Fried said. “Even the size of the number of children in the population relative to the number of people working is lower. As this age structure changes, as young people move into adulthood and succeed, countries are really fueled economically and have an opportunity to flourish.”

But older people play an economic role in society as well. Societies where people live longer are wealthier societies.

As societies continued to improve, Fried said the news coverage stopped lining up.

“If you look at the headlines in the papers, the dominant picture is that population aging is a big, big problem,” she said. “We seem to be anticipating that this immense, unprecedented success is a big disaster.”

Fried said the common perception is that older people have too many needs and are not contributing enough to society. That perception is reflected at a policy level with the “old-age dependency ratio” — the number of people in the United States who are 65 years or older, over the number of productive, working-age people, mainly 18 to 64 years old.

“How we can afford more older people, or not, is being boiled into an old-age dependency ratio with the implication that every person 65 or older has deep personal care needs, none of them work for pay, none of them contribute anything to society, their families, their grandchildren or the betterment of their communities,” Fried said. “There are a lot of questions there.”

As society is structured now, Fried said older adults contribute a “huge amount.”

“If you add up what we know how to count, which is the hours of volunteering by older people and informal caregiving for loved ones, it adds up to $160 billion a year in contributions in the United States by older people, which is the dollar equivalent of what the U.S. spends on long term care,” she said.

On a personal level, there are a lot of fears about aging. People assume they won’t have enough money when they grow old, that they will lose their role in society or that they will be ill and without the care they need.

There are also a lot of myths, such as the misconception that older people are financially dependent.

The data shows that financial transfers go more from old to young than young to old,” Fried said. “Big time.”

Another myth is that jobs for old people take jobs away from young people.

“That’s called the ‘lump of labor fallacy,’ and it is not true,” she said. “Older people who are economically productive create jobs for younger people.”

When Fried was training to become a geriatrician, she said the “question of the time” was whether certain diseases and disabilities could be prevented in older people. Would doctors even prescribe what is needed for prevention if they could?

“Fast forward 25 years, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’ on all counts,” Fried said. “We know now that half  of all chronic diseases are preventable, such as heart disease, stroke and cancers. We don’t do it, but we know it.”

Fried said it is also apparent that healthy environments matter as people get older. The fourth leading cause of death is air pollution, a problem the United States has just started to control.

“Many of the cities where your kids couldn’t go out and play in the morning because it was too polluted are no longer like that,” she said. “These things matter in terms of whether we age healthy.”

What the U.S. has yet to solve are the racial disparities in life expectancy.

Too many people, who are not receiving the benefit of this kind of prevention, are arriving at old age sick, if they’re lucky, and are tracked to get sicker,” she said.

Fried recalled a study that showed that older black people in the City of St. Louis, who were not beneficiaries of prevention assets, developed multiple diseases and became disabled at least 10 years earlier than white people and black people in St. Louis suburbs.

“We have not solved the inequality issue, but if we do, we will have the opportunity to get everybody to arrive at old age healthy and be tracked to stay healthy,” she said. “That will be a game changer for our country if we think about the opportunities it helps unlock. It will be a game changer for all of us if we think about the health care costs that could be lowered as a result.”

Where does all of this leave society? Fried isn’t sure yet. Is the future going to be a disaster? Could it be great? How does a society plan for children who will live to be 120?

“If this is about people we love, if this is about a future we care about, let’s think about what’s possible,” she said. “We have created a new stage of life — we added 30 years — but what do we do with it? Are there any opportunities here?”

Young people are already living with the expectation of a longer life, but Fried said society has not adapted to their expectations because people get hung up on the challenge of an “either-or mentality.”

There are so many needs in the world,” she said. “Oh my god, how could we deal with them? If we think about inequities, if we think about job loss, if we think about urbanization and globalization, if we think about climate change, if we think about people in poverty and poor education, how do we factor old people into that?”

The answer to that question is the “design opportunity of the 21st century.”

To consider what that design might look like, Fried asked the audience to consider Nelson Mandela’s work in The Elders, an international, non-governmental organization for esteemed elders working together for peace and human rights.

“The Elders see it as their mission to work every single day of their lives, together, to tackle the issues that threaten our future and lay the groundwork using what they know, their skills, their connections, their network and their presence on the global stage to craft a better future,” Fried said.

Fried said this organization sets the stage to commit a “grand act of imagination” that will build a better society.

To begin, Fried said the design needs the basics: Social protections and health programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, which act as models for the future.

“(The models) offer what we’ve learned, which is if we design the institutions and systems of our world for the length of life we now have, they turn out to be better for everybody else,” she said. “It’s true for how we design age-friendly cities, it’s true for how we design age-friendly health systems and it’s true even for whether we make stop lights last long enough to get across the street for everyone.”

As people age, Fried said they gain wisdom and unique knowledge, but are not using it to leave the world “better than they found it.”

It is really important to successful aging to know that your time on this Earth matters — the things we do will endure beyond us,” Fried said.

One of the issues older people need to act on is climate change, she said. 

“The Elders said there is no question that the existential crisis of our future is climate change,” Fried said. “They said a global solution to the climate crisis requires the direct participation of the people who are most affected by it. Older people are most affected and young people are the ones most likely to die from massive heat waves, hurricanes and flooding.”

Fried proposed that Chautauqua become a model for how older adults can become the “pay it forward” generation on climate change and other pressing issues of the future.

Every 20-year-old here will be 60 when we have solved these problems, when we have built a society for the opportunities of longer lives, when every age group benefits,” Fried said. “It’s going to require our collective grand act of imagination for an uncrafted future that is possible.”

Amani Allen Outlines How Racism and Stressors Promote Early Aging Among Minorities

University of California Berkely Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Community Health Sciences Amani Allen talks about the effects of socioeconomics and race on health quality of life and life expectency, and what people can do to change the narrative during her lecture titled, “Why Some Groups Live Sicker and Die Sooner than Others,” on July 16, 2019. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

There are a number of stressors that impact people on an everyday basis, but according to Amani Allen, none of them compare to the racially-fueled stressors minorities face — which, quite literally, get under one’s skin.

Allen, a social epidemiologist and professor of community health sciences and epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, spoke at the 10:45 a.m. morning lecture Tuesday, July 16 in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Four, “The New Map of Life: How Longer Lives are Changing the World — In Collaboration with Stanford Center on Longevity.”

As a social epidemiologist, Allen studies the social determinants of health.

“By that I am referring to the conditions in which we are all born, in which we all grow, in which we all live, work and play and in which we age,” Allen said.

That definition also includes the broad social systems that determine the day-to-day conditions of one’s life, as well as their life chances and opportunities.

“There are social norms and institutional policies and practices that confer advantages to some and disadvantages to others,” she said.

Allen examines how those life opportunities and chances vary for different groups of people and how, in turn, those differences affect mental and physical health and overall longevity. Specifically, her work focuses on one question: Why do some groups live sicker and die sooner than others?

For example, research has shown that lower socioeconomic groups do “live sicker and die sooner.”

It’s not just that those at the bottom of the socioeconomic gradient do worse than those at the top, but those almost at the top do worse than those at the very top,” she said.

In epidemiologist Michael Marmot’s Whitehall Study, he put forth a social gradient measuring mortality rates. The study showed that those in the lowest occupational grade have the highest mortality rates and that those in the highest occupational grade have the lowest mortality rates.

Allen said this pattern, a “global phenomenon,” is seen in terms of income, education, occupation and wealth.

“This gradient tells us that health and longevity is about more than having just enough subsistence to take care of our basic needs,” Allen said. “Otherwise, we would only expect to see higher mortality rates in only the lowest socioeconomic category, but that’s not what we see.”

Allen said some argue that the social gradient is “psychosocial in nature,” meaning it is related to one’s subjective experience of their social status.

“In other words, there is something about our social position relative to others that matters for health, or that causes us psychosocial stress,” she said.

Others argue that social position not only determines whether one has access to health resources such as housing, food and access to quality health care, but also determines their level of access to those resources, which then determines their ability to avoid health risks and maximize well-being.

In terms of race, Allen said there is substantial evidence to prove that African Americans live sicker and die sooner than any other demographic. That pattern is seen among a majority of the leading causes of death: cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and various cancers. But the pattern is not just apparent at the end of life —  it is also seen in early life with premature birth and low birth weight, which sets the stage for health problems over a life span.

When explaining these persistent racial disparities, Allen turns to the “usual suspects.” At the top of that list is socioeconomic status.

Given the socioeconomic differences between black people and white people, many scientists have examined whether racial health disparities are really a question of socioeconomic differences between groups.

However, despite the very powerful and persistent role of socioeconomic status in predicting health, as we just saw with the social gradient, it falls far short in explaining racial disparities in health,” Allen said. “Racial disparities exist despite socioeconomic status.”

Allen said there is something unique about the “experience of race” in the United States that impacts health. Although socioeconomic status, genes, access to health care and behavior matter in improving health, they don’t adequately explain health disparities.

But it doesn’t end with race, either. Allen can predict a person’s life expectancy using their zip code. Allen was born and raised in Washington D.C., where there is an eight-year difference in life expectancy depending on where in the city someone lives. Those disparities extend globally, as well. For example, black men in Harlem have a shorter life expectancy than black men in Bangladesh.

“A startling statistic, but a true one,” she said. “The United States is the richest of all industrialized nations and spends the most per capita on health care globally. So why are there places in the United States, such as some of our southeastern states, where maternal death rates exceed those of sub-Saharan Africa? We should not see such dire health outcomes in the wealthiest nation in the world, not for any group.”

When considering the differences between white people and black people, there is also a long-standing disparity in infant mortality. Allen said some would argue it is due to socioeconomic status, but college-educated black women have higher rates of infant mortality than white high school dropouts.

“For a long time, the focus on race, socioeconomic and gender differences in health focused on documenting differences in life expectancy or mortality rates, which somewhat prove the very sensitive and powerful predictors of population health,” she said.

The majority of this research Allen is referring to focused on binary disparities: men versus women or black people versus white people. One common observation was what scholars call “the gender and health paradox.”

That (paradox) is that women live longer than men, and they have a longer life expectancy and lower mortality rates,” she said. “However, they also lived sicker lives. So when life expectancy was the primary indicator used to assess population health, the narrative was that women are doing better than men, that we don’t have to worry about women.”

That assessment was called into question when scientists started to look at measures of morbidity such as quality of life, functional limitations, disabilities and chronic diseases. Another common observation was that across almost all indicators of health, black people fared worse than white people. These findings portray what scholars call “weathering,” or the “premature aging and earlier health decline experienced among blacks.”

Allen showed a graph supporting her claim that the decline in health accumulates over the entire life span as a consequence of “persistent psychosocial and environmental stress associated with a marginalized social status in society.”

“This concept of weathering is really about how these conditions determine life chances and opportunities and structures differently for different groups, and how those differences become embodied, how they get under our skin to impact differences in health and longevity,” she said.

When thinking about the totality of one’s life experiences, Allen said it becomes clear that a person is more than just their race, gender or socioeconomic status.

“We are each our race and our gender and our socioeconomic position and our age and so on,” she said.

Allen, for example, is an African American woman with a high level of education, who lives in a racially integrated, middle-class neighborhood and works in a primarily white, male-dominated environment — all factors that impact her day-to-day experiences.

In some spaces, like work, Allen’s race, profession, education and gender are visible. But in her community, only her race and gender are visible. 

That matters in terms of how I am viewed in society, and how I am viewed determines my day-to-day social experiences,” Allen said. “It determines how I am perceived by others and importantly, how I am treated by others by society, by institutions, etc., which all have an impact on my mental and physical health. It does for all of us, whether we realize it or not.”

Scholars and scientists started to use “an intersectional lens” to examine health disparities. So instead of examining one aspect of social identity, they examined how multiple aspects impact socialization and health.

Because humans are social creatures, Allen said binary comparisons can mask the true nature of social disparities. Allen recalled an example of mortality rates declining among black people in recent years. But what researchers didn’t see was that mortality rates were increasing for white women at the same time.

Many scholars are now examining the “biology of disadvantage,” or how aging disparities are attributed to persistent psychosocial and environmental stress. The stress associated with disadvantaged social status has the ability to disrupt physiological systems in ways that damage health over time.

“Numerous studies, including my own, have shown a relationship between social stress and dysregulation of biological systems responsible for maintaining optimal physical functioning, such as our cardiovascular system, our metabolic system and our immune system,” she said.

Allen’s research specifically focuses on how the stress from racism plays a role in weathering among African American women. In a survey, Allen found that African American women report racial discrimination as a “particularly salient form of stress.” They also described racism as a persistent stressor, with many of their first encounters with racism taking place in early childhood.

Allen recalled her first encounter with racial discrimination. In kindergarten, she was approached by a white girl who tried to rub the “dirt” off her skin. Although Allen realized the girl did not intend to hurt her, she doesn’t want people to dismiss the girl’s ignorance.

Let’s not make a mistake that ignorance about the impact … excuses the impact that it has on people,” she said.

In response, Allen’s mother enrolled her and her sister into an African charter school in D.C. where she developed a sense of pride in herself and in her African American heritage.

“Despite that, throughout my life, the sense of pride that I had about who I am and where I come from has always existed alongside, or perhaps under, a mantle of marginalized status in society, in classrooms, in colleges, at work, in restaurants, in shopping malls and even when trying to hail a cab,” Allen said.

Allen has heard similar stories from women all over the world. Women tend to report more psychological stress due to racial discrimination based on their own experiences and the experiences of those around them.

Although it is certain that African American women are experiencing premature aging, it has not yet been proved that racial discrimination is the key factor. That’s where Allen’s work comes in. Allen runs the Health Effects Associated with Racism Threats research group at the University of California, Berkeley. HEARTS investigates racism as a social threat and how that threat affects the body.

In addition, Allen and her students have been studying the effects of weathering in two ways. 

First, Allen’s team studied allostatic load, the measure of cumulative biological dysregulation as a result of chronic stress.

We are talking about the dysregulation across multiple systems of the body that leaves us more at risk for a variety of health outcomes regardless of whether it’s heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer. Allostatic load has been linked to all of it,” she said.

Regardless of gender, black people have a higher percentage of allostatic load than white people. Regardless of race, women also have a higher percentage of allostatic load, but there is a greater disparity among black people than white people than there is between men and women.

Second, Allen’s team studied telomeres, protein complexes that prevent the instability and degradation of cells. Generally, the longer the telomere, the healthier a person is.

“There is research showing that African American women experience an accelerated rate of decline or shortening of their telomeres over their life span,” she said.

Through a partnership with the HER Lab in San Francisco, Allen’s research group found that racial discrimination was associated with allostatic load, telomere length and hypertension among African American women. They also discovered that racial discrimination in adolescence may be more impactful than experiences later in life.

Although Allen recognizes there is much more research to be conducted, she said there is more than enough to know that when it comes to health and longevity, vast disparities exist between social groups.

Ultimately, Allen said the public health industry has put too much emphasis on fixing people.

“That’s what we like to do in public health, we like to tell people how to eat better, how to exercise; we like to tell them what to do as if they don’t already know,” she said. “But when we think about our neighborhoods, our work environments, etc., it is important to think about how the environment in which we live, work and play, constrains our opportunity to engage in healthy behavior.”

As public health focuses on fixing people, Allen believes officials need to remember that for every person they fix, there is a new person entering the population, which is why there is an unchanged rate of disease.

It is only going to be by addressing groups or fundamental causes of health, which are not people, but the structures in which people live, work and play, that we will be able to identify the most promising strategies for addressing health equity,” Allen said.
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