Courageous Collaborations: Difficult dialogue moves us forward

Sponsored by the Charles Koch Foundation.


Are you courageous enough to collaborate with your enemies? 

  • Bishop Omar Jahwar has worked beside all kinds of unlikely allies, from Aryan Brotherhood gang leaders to former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
  • What is an enemy? A true enemy is rare, says Bishop Omar. "Enemies come when there is true violation, not true rhetoric... sometimes you have to go beyond the rhetoric so you can see the real."
  • You cannot solve deep problems from the comfort of an echo chamber—it takes courage. The key to courageous collaborations is meeting your so-called enemy to ask: "What do we fiercely agree upon? And let's work like hell to make it happen."

The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations. The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.

Why free speech is sacred—even when it's dangerous

  • Suppression of free speech dooms democracy, says law professor Nadine Strossen. We should all be open to hearing dangerous and odious ideas rather than drive them underground.
  • "[P]eople will often say to me, as somebody who is Jewish and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who barely survived the Buchenwald Concentration Camp: How can I of all people defend the Nazis?" says Strossen. She also says, "And mark my words I would be equally distraught at having voices on the right silenced for a whole lot of reasons, one of which is the indivisibility of all rights."

The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations. The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.

Ideology drives us apart. Neuroscience can bring us back together. 

  • How can we reach out to people on the other side of the divide? Get to know the other person as a human being before you get to know them as a set of tribal political beliefs, says Sarah Ruger. Don't launch straight into the difficult topics—connect on a more basic level first.
  • To bond, use icebreakers backed by neuroscience and psychology: Share a meal, watch some comedy, see awe-inspiring art, go on a tough hike together—sharing tribulation helps break down some of the mental barriers we have between us. Then, get down to talking, putting your humanity before your ideology.

The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations

I worked in the prison system for 5 years. Here's what it does to a person.

  • Most people who go to prison are not incorrigible criminals - just normal people who made mistakes.
  • The prison system can become breeding ground for antisocial behaviors.
  • Bishop Jahwar worked with prisoners to help them retain the core of who they were and "take masks off".

The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations. The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.

How the marketplace of ideas went rogue

  • The marketplace of ideas is a better metaphor than it's intended to be, notes Eli Pariser. As any good economist will tell you, the best product doesn't always rise to the top.
  • The institutional gatekeepers and experts who once kept checks and balances on the marketplace of ideas have been replaced by social media algorithms that reward emotion and outrage over expertise and truth.
  • How can media institutions like Facebook make this right? By reevaluating the business model that serves advertisers instead of readers, and by clearly stating their values—even if that means losing some of those 2 billion users.

The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations. The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.

Why you should tolerate intolerable ideas

How free speech deepens the quality of good ideas.

Why the U.S. is an anomaly among democracies

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  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.

As Malcolm Gladwell – author of numerous New York Times bestselling books – points out, mastery and popularity are sometimes linked, but often they are not. If your goal is to become masterful at what you do, the formula is really quite simple: Stay focused and do your time. This is the theory behind the '10,000 hours' rule that Gladwell made famous. Worrying about whether you're being recognized for your efforts, i.e. popularity, is a product of the ego, not to mention a distraction... so get over yourself and get to work!

Subscribe to Big Think Edge to learn first-hand from Malcolm Gladwell about the two types of failure and why it is so valuable to be able to tell them apart.

Check your inner critic, Malcolm Gladwell style

Failure is a spectrum. At one end is "the kind of failure that afflicts people who are good at what they do and the other is the kind of failure that afflicts people who are inexperienced, who are not good at what they do," says Gladwell.

Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge. This valuable lesson is one everyone should hear: It will help diagnose your feelings about failure as well as the root cause, either freeing you up to move forward productively, or putting you on a course to avoid failure a second time.

Subscribe to Big Think Edge to learn high-value skills from experts like Malcolm Gladwell, John Cleese, Bryan Cranston, Liv Boeree, Sallie Krawcheck, Nick Offerman + more.

Do it before we launch on March 30, and you'll get 20% off monthly and annual subscriptions

  • Universal basic income is a band-aid solution that will not solve wealth inequality, says Rushkoff.
  • Funneling money to the 99% perpetuates their roles as consumers, pumping money straight back up to the 1% at the top of the pyramid.
  • Rushkoff suggests universal basic assets instead, so that the people at the bottom of the pyramid can own some means of production and participate in the profits of mega-rich companies.

  • At a glance, this map shows both the size and distribution of world religions.
  • See how religions mix at both national and regional level.
  • There's one country in the Americas without a Christian majority – which?

China and India are huge religious outliers

Credit: Carrie Osgood

A picture says more than a thousand words, and that goes for this world map as well. This map conveys not just the size but also the distribution of world religions, at both a global and national level.

Strictly speaking it's an infographic rather than a map, but you get the idea. The circles represent countries, their varying sizes reflect population sizes, and the slices in each circle indicate religious affiliation.

The result is both panoramic and detailed. In other words, this is the best, simplest map of world religions ever. Some quick takeaways:

  • Christianity (blue) dominates in the Americas, Europe and the southern half of Africa.
  • Islam (green) is the top religion in a string of countries from northern Africa through the Middle East to Indonesia.
  • India stands out as a huge Hindu bloc (dark orange).
  • Buddhism (light orange) is the majority religion in South East Asia and Japan
  • China is the country with the world's largest 'atheist/agnostic' population (grey) as well as worshippers of 'other' religions (yellow).

The Americas are (mostly) solidly Christian

Credit: Carrie Osgood

Which is the least Christian country in the Americas? The answer may surprise you.

But the map – based on figures from the World Religion Database (behind a paywall) – also allows for some more detailed observations.

  • Yes, the United States is majority Christian, but the atheist/agnostic share of its population alone is bigger than the total population of most other countries, in the Americas and elsewhere. Uruguay has the highest share of atheists/agnostics in the Americas. Other countries with a lot of 'grey' in their pies include Canada, Cuba, Argentina and Chile.
  • All belief systems represented on the scale below are present in the US and Canada. Most other countries in the Americas are more mono-religiously Christian, with 'other' (often syncretic folk religions such as Candomblé in Brazil or Santería in Cuba) the only main alternative.
  • Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago are the only American nations with significant shares of Hindus, as well as the largest share of Muslim populations – and consequently have the lowest share of Christians in the Americas (just under half in the case of Suriname).

Lots of grey area in Europe

Credit: Carrie Osgood

The second-biggest religious affiliation in Europe isn't Islam, but 'none'.

  • Christianity is still the biggest belief system in most European countries, but the atheist/agnostic share is strong in many places, mainly in Western Europe, but especially in the Czech Republic, where it is close to half the total.
  • Islam represents a significant slice (and a large absolute number) in France, Germany and the UK, and is stronger in the Balkans: The majority in Albania, almost half in Bosnia and around a quarter in Serbia (although that probably indicates the de facto independent province of Kosovo).

Islam in the north, Christianity in the south

Credit: Carrie Osgood

The map of Africa and is dominated by the world's two largest religions

  • Israel is the world's only majority-Jewish state (75%, with 18% Muslim). The West Bank, shown separate, also has a significant Jewish presence (20%, with 80% Muslim). Counted as one country, the Jewish majority would drop to around 55%.
  • Strictly Islamic Saudi Arabia, but also some of its neighbors in the Gulf, have significant non-Muslim populations – virtually all guest workers and ex-pats.
  • Nigeria, due to its large population and even split between Islam and Christianity, has more Muslims and more Christians than most other African nations.

Different majorities across Asia

Credit: Carrie Osgood

Close neighbors India, Bangladesh and Myanmar each have a different majority religion.

  • Because countries are sized for population rather than area, some are much bigger or smaller than you'd expect – with some interesting results: There are more Christians in Muslim-majority Indonesia than there are in mainly Christian Australia, for example.
  • Hindus are a minority everywhere outside India, except in Nepal.
  • North Korea is shown as three-quarters atheist/agnostic, but this is debatable, on two counts. In what is often referred to as the last Stalinist state on Earth, religious adherence is probably underreported. And the state-sponsored ideology of 'Juche', although in essence based on materialism, makes some supernatural claims. For instance: despite having died in 1994, Kim Il-sung was declared 'president for eternity' in 1998.
Of course, clarity comes at the cost of detail. The map bands together various Christian and Islamic schools of thought that don't necessarily accept each other as 'true believers'. It includes Judaism (only 15 million adherents, but the older sibling of the two largest religious groups) yet groups Sikhism (27 million) and various other more numerous faiths in with 'others'. And it doesn't make the distinction between atheism ("There is no god") with agnosticism ("There may or may not be a god, we just don't know").

And then there's the whole minefield of nuance between those who practice a religion (but may do so out of social coercion rather than personally held belief), and those who believe in something (but don't participate in the rituals of any particular faith). To be fair, that requires more nuance than even a great map like this can probably provide.


This map found here at map infographic designer Carrie Osgood's page. Information based on 2010 figures for religious affiliation.

Strange Maps #967

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

  • Though we know today that his policies eventually ended the Great Depression, FDR's election was seen as disastrous by some.
  • A group of wealthy bankers decided to take things into their own hands; they plotted a coup against FDR, hoping to install a fascist dictator in its stead.
  • Ultimately, the coup was brought to light by General Smedley Butler and squashed before it could get off the ground.

When we look back at history, we have the benefit of knowing how things turned out — not true for those who were living through history's tensest moments. At key inflection points in history and in response to crises, most of the actors had no idea what would happen or what the right thing to do was. Sometimes, this uncertainty can drive people to bold and ill-advised actions.

Take the Great Depression. Something had to be done, but nobody knew what for certain. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected on a campaign that promised to abandon the gold standard and provide government jobs for the unemployed, many in the grips of the crisis thought that this was certainly the wrong way to go.

"This is despotism, this is tyranny, this is the annihilation of liberty," wrote Republican Senator Henry D. Hatfield of West Virginia to a colleague. "The ordinary American is thus reduced to the status of a robot. The president has not merely signed the death warrant of democracy but has ordained the mutilation of the Constitution, unless the friends of liberty, regardless of party, band themselves together to regain their lost freedom."

Again, it was clear during the time that something drastic had to be done. However, it was not clear, for many, that FDR's plan of action was the right kind of drastic.

The allure of fascism

Fascism had reared its head in Europe, and the world had yet to make up its mind what it thought about it — that would come later, in World War II. Many thought that the best way to pull America out of the Great Depression was to install a dictator — even the New York Herald-Tribune ran a headline called "For Dictatorship If Necessary." Although the newspaper's article was in support of FDR, a group of wealthy financiers believed that America should indeed have a dictator, just not in the form of FDR, who was suspected of being a communist. So, they began to plot a coup d'état that would later come to be known as the Business Plot, or the Wall Street Putsch.

The conspirators included Gerald MacGuire, a bond salesman; Bill Doyle, commander of the Massachusetts American Legion; investment banker Prescott Bush, the father of George H. W. Bush and grandfather of George W. Bush; and others.

The Business Plot nearly involved another individual as well: Retired Major General Smedley Butler, who was at that time the most decorated soldier in U.S. history. After his military career, however, Butler became a vociferous critic of war and its place in American capitalism. Later, he would write the famous War is a Racket and an article in the socialist magazine Common Sense stating, "I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism."

Butler was also an influential figure in the so-called Bonus Army, a group of 43,000 marchers — among them many World War I veterans — who were camped at Washington to demand the early payment of the veteran's bonus promised to them for their service. Although his politics leaned more to the left than the Business Plot conspirators would like, Butler was extremely well-respected among veterans and the military, who, like everybody else, was fed up. What's more, MacGuire believed that Butler could be more easily manipulated than other generals. And the conspirators needed a general.

The members of the Business Plot set up several meetings with Butler where they not-so-gradually informed him of their plan. The conspirators would provide the financial backing and recruit an army of 500,000 soldiers, which Butler was to lead. The pretext for the coup would be that FDR's health was failing. FDR would remain in a ceremonial position, in which, as MacGuire allegedly described, "The President will go around and christen babies and dedicate bridges and kiss children." The real power of the government would be held in the hands of a Secretary of General Affairs, who would be in effect a dictator: "somebody to take over the details of the office — take them off the President's shoulders. […] A sort of a super secretary."

General Smedley Butler. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Quashing the Business Plot

However, Butler was not so willing a compatriot as they had originally suspected. After meeting with the men several times and learning of the extent of their plan, Butler went to Congress to expose them as traitors. When news broke, nobody really believed that such a coup attempt could even be considered, let alone planned or put into action. In fact, the Times's initial reporting on the subject was full of quotes like "Perfect moonshine!", "A fantasy!", and "It's a joke — a publicity stunt." A second article from the Times's on the topic was sarcastically titled "Credulity Unlimited."

Initially, Congress's reaction was similar, but with Butler's testimony; the testimony of reporter Paul French, who was present at one of Butler's meetings with MacGuire; and MacGuire's own unconvincing testimony, they began to take it more seriously and investigated the subject.

Ultimately, the Congressional investigation found that Butler was telling the truth: the seeds of a coup had indeed been planted. But Congress's perspective was that the plot had little chance of getting off the ground at all — rather, it had been, in the words of Mayor La Guardia of New York, "a cocktail putsch."

Nobody was prosecuted in the plot. In fact, some later went on to serve in office, such as Prescott Bush. Would the coup have been carried out had Butler merely turned down MacGuire's offer, rather than report them to Congress? It's impossible to say. But the Wall Street Putsch does show that dire times can drive people to make otherwise inconceivable — "moonshine" — plans.
  • A Chinese foreign minister refuted U.S. claims that China and Russia are developing space weaponry.
  • China and Russia have recently ramped up cooperation on space programs.
  • Meanwhile, the U.S. has been skeptical of both nations, arguing that they're likely developing an array of space weapons.

Amid ongoing disarmament talks in Geneva, a Chinese foreign minister on Wednesday refuted U.S. accusations that China and Russia are advancing a space arms race by developing anti-satellite weapons and laser weapons.

"The Chinese side did not, and will not take part in an arms race in outer space of any form. Our stance remains unchanged," Chinese Foreign Minister Spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters.

"Here I want to remind all of you of a fact that the U.S. publicly defines outer space as a new battlefield. It has built an Outer Space Command and is building an outer space troop, and it plans to deploy laser weapons in outer space. Who is worsening the threat of weaponization and turning it into a battlefield? Who is threatening the security of outer space? I believe the answers are self-evident."

Geng said the U.S. has "publicly positioned outer space as a new battlefield," noting that the Trump administration plans to build a space force, and claiming that the American military seeks to place "laser weapons in outer space."

The remarks came in response to criticism from Assistant State Secretary of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Yleem Poblete, who on Tuesday asked how the U.S. could "trust Russian arms control efforts and their seriousness about preventing an arms race in outer space when they have touted the development and completion of a broad array of counter-space capabilities."

She also voiced skepticism about the trustworthiness of the two world powers:

"Similar to Russia, it is difficult to determine the truthfulness of China's concern about the prevention of an arms race in space and their support for space arms control when China:
  • continues to pursue military capabilities such as jammers and directed energy weapons;
  • when it openly emphasizes the need for offensive cyberspace capabilities;
  • when it demonstrates sophisticated on-orbit capabilities with the potential for dual-uses; and
  • when China has deployed an operational ground-based anti-satellite missile intended to target low-Earth-orbit satellites, with likely research on anti-satellite capabilities designed to threaten all orbits."

Geng denied these claims.

"The U.S. accusations against China are totally groundless. China will not accept them. If the U.S. side truly cares about the security of outer space, it should work with China and Russia and actively participate in the arms control process of outer space instead of doing the opposite."

U.S. concern over Russian and Chinese space weapons

In June 2018, China and Russia agreed to start cooperating on lunar and deep space exploration. That same month, the Trump administration announced its intent to create a space force. It's not hard to see how China and Russia are likely threatened by U.S. space capabilities. After all, America has more operating satellites than any other nation, has a sprawling global military presence that includes space ground stations, and has been rather outspoken about space being the battlefield of the future.

Likewise, U.S. military officials have been skeptical of Russia's and China's intentions in space. In February, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency made public a report that said both nations are likely developing an array of space weapons and anti-satellite weapons, including "jamming and cyberspace capabilities, directed energy weapons, on-orbit capabilities, and ground-based antisatellite missiles that can achieve a range of reversible to nonreversible effects."

​Peaceful cooperation in space

In recent decades, China has evolved into a leading international space power. As Frank A. Rose, a senior fellow for the Atlantic Council's Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, recently laid out in his testimony before the House Committee on Science, China aims to:

  • assemble a lunar research station beginning in 2025,
  • perform a crewed Moon landing mission in 2036
  • establish and establish a Lunar Research and Development Base around 2050
  • send a mission to Jupiter around 2029.

Rose notes that these projects "present multiple opportunities for international collaboration and partnership."

"However, as this committee knows well, one of the key challenges to actively engaging China in more robust civil space cooperation is the fact that the Chinese civil space program is controlled by the Chinese military," Rose said. "Therefore, there is a real possibility that any bilateral cooperation could contribute to China's military space programs. In addition to its anti-satellite programs, China is also improving its space-based military reconnaissance, remote sensing capabilities, and communications capabilities."

But that's not to say there's no way the U.S. and China could find a way to peacefully collaborate in space. There's historical precedent for such cooperation, too, as Rose points out: The U.S. and the Soviet Union agreed to an Apollo-Soyuz docking mission amid the Cold War in 1975.

"Some feared that this mission would compromise the U.S. space program while providing further rewards to the Soviet program," Michael Krepon of the Stimson Center wrote. "These anxieties proved to be overdrawn…The Apollo-Soyuz mission established practices of cooperation in space between Washington and Moscow that continue to this day on the international space station."