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

content.jwplatform.com

If you lost friends in the 2016 election, watch this

Algorithmic catastrophe: How news feeds reprogram your mind and habits

The most powerful editors in the world? Algorithms.

How one black man convinced 200 KKK members to quit the Klan... ...

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  • Ask someone what they think aliens look like and you'll probably get a description heavily informed by films and pop culture. The existence of life beyond our planet has yet to be confirmed, but there are clues as to the biology of extraterrestrials in science.
  • "Don't give them claws," says biologist E.O. Wilson. "Claws are for carnivores and you've got to be an omnivore to be an E.T. There just isn't enough energy available in the next trophic level down to maintain big populations and stable populations that can evolve civilization."
  • In this compilation, Wilson, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, Bill Nye, and evolutionary biologist Jonathan B. Losos explain why aliens don't look like us and why Hollywood depictions are mostly inaccurate.


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    What should you be doing with your money during the coronavirus financial crisis? In this Big Think Live session, Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and co-founder of Ellevest, a financial advisory and investment platform for women, will discuss personal finance and wealth-building career strategies with Bob Kulhan, founder and CEO of Business Improv. What steps can we take to guard ourselves from an uncertain financial future? Find out on Tuesday at 1 pm ET.

    Ask your questions for Sallie Krawcheck during the Q&A!

    Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.


    It was here, on a winter expedition, that scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction, and when it happened.

    Dr Beth Shapiro is a paleo-geneticist, who co-runs the Paleogenomics Lab the University of California, Santa Cruz.

    Using modern genomics techniques, her team looks back at the past to understand how species and populations have evolved through time, based on their DNA. It then applies those lessons to the conservation of endangered species today.

    The genetic material from animals that lived in the northern hemisphere during the Ice Age, including bison, wolves, mammoths and horses, is particularly well preserved.

    Dr Shapiro is able to extract DNA from samples, such as teeth, to see how species differed genetically and learn when populations were growing, when they were shrinking, when individual animals might have been moving long distances – and when they could not.

    "Connectivity is a crucial part of many of these species' extinction stories," says Dr Shapiro.

    And this is true of the fate of St Paul Island's woolly mammoths.

    When did mammoths roam the Earth?

    Mammoths lived on North America's mainland until about 10,000 years ago, but they survived in two places for much longer: St Paul Island and Wrangel Island, in the Russian Arctic, where teeth have been found that are only 4,000 years old.

    St Paul is a volcanic island that until around 9,000 years ago was connected to the mainland by the Bering Land Bridge, which enabled animals to roam freely to and fro.

    But as the climate warmed and sea levels rose, it became isolated – and the mammoths were trapped. They were the only large mammal on the island, with no predators and, speaking at a BetaZone session at Davos, Dr Shapiro said it would have been a "mammoth utopia".

    How did a lake reveal what happened?

    Dr Shapiro explains: "Lakes are brilliant sources of ancient DNA, because they are a sink for genetic material during the summer. Lake Hill is the only source of fresh water on St Paul. So all the animals wander in to drink and the DNA they deposit sinks to the bottom and then freezes.

    "Over time, you get accumulation like a stratigraphy of layer upon layer of everyone that was present on the island from the past to the present day. We knew if we could get a copy of this, we could figure out who was there, when and with whom."

    On their winter expedition to Lake Hill, Dr Shapiro's team drilled down through the ice of the lake to the gravel at the bottom and extracted a core.

    The genetic material, they later learned, dated back to 17,000 years ago.

    "We took tiny little plugs of DNA all the way to the top, to the present day, and looked for mammoth DNA. We also looked at the vegetation and components of the lake itself to see if it was changing over time. Microscopic algae and microscopic animals, for example, can tell us whether the lake was salty or not and how shallow it was."

    Why did the St Paul Island mammoths die?

    All of that data fit together like a jigsaw puzzle to show Dr Shapiro what had happened.

    Mammoth DNA was present all the way from the bottom until around 5,600 years ago. Nothing changed with the vegetation, says Dr Shapiro, so they didn't run out of food.

    "But everything else about the lake changed: the water chemistry changed; the rate of sediment accumulation changed. And that community of microorganisms completely turned from one that thrives in clear, deep fresh water to a community that prefers to live in very shallow, cloudy and slightly salty water."

    All of which meant there had been a severe weather event, a drought, on St Paul Island. The lake started to dry up and the mammoths were left with nothing to drink.

    "Had it happened 13,000 years ago, mammoths would have had another option. They could have wandered onto the mainland and looked for another source of fresh water. But they couldn't because they were on an island completely isolated, cut off from the mainland. Stuck. And so they became extinct."

    How can we protect isolated habitats today?

    Dr Shapiro warns the isolation that killed the mammoths on St Paul is threatening other species and biodiversity today.

    "Islandization takes different forms where the habitats that we've chosen to protect are surrounded not by water, but by other things like farms and agriculture. By roads and highways and freeways. And by cities of all sizes.

    "This places the plants and animals that live in these island habitats in a precarious situation. An extreme weather event or the introduction of a predator or disease can upset the balance of interactions taking place within these habitats, potentially leading to extinction."

    Studies of other ancient animals using the same method, from woolly rhinos to Arctic horses and species of lion, have also shown connectivity is a key factor in extinction.

    "The populations that remained became increasingly isolated from each other, both geographically and genetically, with each of these island populations functioning as their own tiny, isolated thing."

    Any plan to protect and preserve endangered species must also give animals routes of escape to move between habitats or find new ones as the climate warms.

    "This could mean building overpasses where animals can cross highways. We could create greenways, green roofs, city parks, green corridors along rivers and roads, and not just build walls or barriers that further fragment this already fragmented landscape."

    The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative is an example of an organization doing just that – aiming to link Yellowstone National Park in the Western United States with the Yukon in Canada, where Dr Shapiro does most of her work.

    "A sustainable future for biodiversity will require creativity," she says. "But it will also require collaboration."

    Reprinted with permission of the World Economic Forum. Read the original article.

    In 1899, the economist Thorstein Veblen observed that silver spoons and corsets were markers of elite social position.

    In Veblen's now famous treatise The Theory of the Leisure Class, he coined the phrase 'conspicuous consumption' to denote the way that material objects were paraded as indicators of social position and status. More than 100 years later, conspicuous consumption is still part of the contemporary capitalist landscape, and yet today, luxury goods are significantly more accessible than in Veblen's time. This deluge of accessible luxury is a function of the mass-production economy of the 20th century, the outsourcing of production to China, and the cultivation of emerging markets where labour and materials are cheap. At the same time, we've seen the arrival of a middle-class consumer market that demands more material goods at cheaper price points.

    However, the democratisation of consumer goods has made them far less useful as a means of displaying status. In the face of rising social inequality, both the rich and the middle classes own fancy TVs and nice handbags. They both lease SUVs, take airplanes, and go on cruises. On the surface, the ostensible consumer objects favoured by these two groups no longer reside in two completely different universes.

    Given that everyone can now buy designer handbags and new cars, the rich have taken to using much more tacit signifiers of their social position. Yes, oligarchs and the superrich still show off their wealth with yachts and Bentleys and gated mansions. But the dramatic changes in elite spending are driven by a well-to-do, educated elite, or what I call the 'aspirational class'. This new elite cements its status through prizing knowledge and building cultural capital, not to mention the spending habits that go with it – preferring to spend on services, education and human-capital investments over purely material goods. These new status behaviours are what I call 'inconspicuous consumption'. None of the consumer choices that the term covers are inherently obvious or ostensibly material but they are, without question, exclusionary.

    The rise of the aspirational class and its consumer habits is perhaps most salient in the United States. The US Consumer Expenditure Survey data reveals that, since 2007, the country's top 1 per cent (people earning upwards of $300,000 per year) are spending significantly less on material goods, while middle-income groups (earning approximately $70,000 per year) are spending the same, and their trend is upward. Eschewing an overt materialism, the rich are investing significantly more in education, retirement and health – all of which are immaterial, yet cost many times more than any handbag a middle-income consumer might buy. The top 1 per cent now devote the greatest share of their expenditures to inconspicuous consumption, with education forming a significant portion of this spend (accounting for almost 6 per cent of top 1 per cent household expenditures, compared with just over 1 per cent of middle-income spending). In fact, top 1 per cent spending on education has increased 3.5 times since 1996, while middle-income spending on education has remained flat over the same time period.

    The vast chasm between middle-income and top 1 per cent spending on education in the US is particularly concerning because, unlike material goods, education has become more and more expensive in recent decades. Thus, there is a greater need to devote financial resources to education to be able to afford it at all. According to Consumer Expenditure Survey data from 2003-2013, the price of college tuition increased 80 per cent, while the cost of women's apparel increased by just 6 per cent over the same period. Middle-class lack of investment in education doesn't suggest a lack of prioritising as much as it reveals that, for those in the 40th-60th quintiles, education is so cost-prohibitive it's almost not worth trying to save for.

    While much inconspicuous consumption is extremely expensive, it shows itself through less expensive but equally pronounced signalling – from reading The Economist to buying pasture-raised eggs. Inconspicuous consumption in other words, has become a shorthand through which the new elite signal their cultural capital to one another. In lockstep with the invoice for private preschool comes the knowledge that one should pack the lunchbox with quinoa crackers and organic fruit. One might think these culinary practices are a commonplace example of modern-day motherhood, but one only needs to step outside the upper-middle-class bubbles of the coastal cities of the US to observe very different lunch-bag norms, consisting of processed snacks and practically no fruit. Similarly, while time in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City might make one think that every American mother breastfeeds her child for a year, national statistics report that only 27 per cent of mothers fulfil this American Academy of Pediatrics goal (in Alabama, that figure hovers at 11 per cent).

    Knowing these seemingly inexpensive social norms is itself a rite of passage into today's aspirational class. And that rite is far from costless: The Economist subscription might set one back only $100, but the awareness to subscribe and be seen with it tucked in one's bag is likely the iterative result of spending time in elite social milieus and expensive educational institutions that prize this publication and discuss its contents.

    Perhaps most importantly, the new investment in inconspicuous consumption reproduces privilege in a way that previous conspicuous consumption could not. Knowing which New Yorker articles to reference or what small talk to engage in at the local farmers' market enables and displays the acquisition of cultural capital, thereby providing entry into social networks that, in turn, help to pave the way to elite jobs, key social and professional contacts, and private schools. In short, inconspicuous consumption confers social mobility.

    More profoundly, investment in education, healthcare and retirement has a notable impact on consumers' quality of life, and also on the future life chances of the next generation. Today's inconspicuous consumption is a far more pernicious form of status spending than the conspicuous consumption of Veblen's time. Inconspicuous consumption – whether breastfeeding or education – is a means to a better quality of life and improved social mobility for one's own children, whereas conspicuous consumption is merely an end in itself – simply ostentation. For today's aspirational class, inconspicuous consumption choices secure and preserve social status, even if they do not necessarily display it.

    The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett is out now through Princeton University Press.Aeon counter – do not remove

    Elizabeth Currid-Halkett

    This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons. Read the original article.

    • Evolution is something that happens over time, but animals (humans included) are always mutating and adapting.
    • Thanks to human presence and interference, animals are experiencing what has been referred to as "human-guided evolution."
    • More animals are becoming night owls. Pollution determines which moths dominate the tree trunks of the U.K. Are these short-term changes, or is humanity doing lasting damage?

    We often think of evolution as taking place over extended periods of time as mutations prove themselves advantageous, or not. Mutations, though, are not rare things: They happen all the time. Scientists estimate that there were 37 trillion of them in your own body just over the last 24 hours. (It's amazing more things don't go wrong, right?) The characteristics we see in ourselves and other organisms are merely the latest winners in a wild and woolly mutation free-for-all competition, in which nature, or random chance, tries out many wonderful, bizarre, and ridiculous traits as things settle out over the long term.

    Adaptations in response to changing environmental factors occur all the time, too: An attribute that may have been meaningless before may suddenly become very helpful. Here in the Anthropocene, animals are adapting to all sort of habitat changes we've imposed on them. While not yet long-term changes, necessarily, these characteristics suggest we may be having a considerable impact on the ongoing process of evolution in the world's organisms.

    Industrialized moths

    light peppered moth

    Image source: Marek R. Swadzba/Shutterstock

    Before the Industrial Revolution got up and running in the U.K., light-colored peppered moths, Biston betularia morpha typica, were a common sight. However, by about 1864, they'd been essentially replaced by a darker peppered-moth cousin, Biston betularia morpha carbonaria. Why?

    Pollutants — mostly coal soot —covered the British countryside, darkening its trees. Worse, sulfur dioxide emissions wiped out many of the trees' lichen and moss coverings. Against these darkened backdrops, light-colored peppered moths became far too easy to spot by predators. Better suited were the darker peppered moths, which soon came to dominate the habitat — by 1895, some 95 percent of peppered moths spotted were the darker variety.

    Fortunately, the Industrial Revolution days passed, with dirty factories over time being replaced by cleaner alternatives, and today, the light-colored peppered moths are back on top.

    The story is a pretty fast-paced and dramatic example of how extreme our impact can be, and also — and there's a hopeful feeling to this — how short-lived it can be if we fix what we've broken.

    Foxy

    Urban vs. rural red fox skull measurements

    Urban vs. rural red fox skull measurements

    Image source: K.J. Parsons, et al

    Researchers published in June a really interesting study regarding a surprising way in which foxes are adapting to life in human-dominated urban environments.

    An examination of 111 red fox skulls from London, UK, revealed "urban individuals tending to have shorter and wider muzzles relative to rural individuals." Essentially, the more urban a fox's environment is, the shorter its snout was likely to be. The change may be considered an example of Darwin's "domestication syndrome," as Big Think previously reported.

    The study suggests it's all about the biomechanics benefits imparted by such a change:

    "Firstly, a shorter snout, as found in urban foxes, should confer a higher mechanical advantage but with reduced closing speed of the jaw. This may be advantageous in an urban habitat where resources are more likely to be accessed as stationary patches of discarded human foods. Furthermore, in some cases, these foods may require a greater force to access them, explaining the expanded sagittal crest in skulls of urban foxes."

    If these traits make an individual fox better suited to its city life, it's that much more likely to survive and reproduce than a longer-snouted competitor.

    Nighttime on human Earth

    gull standing on urban sidewalk

    Image source: Viktor Grishchenko/Shutterstock

    Habitat loss is the single most destructive thing we're doing to animals. It can lead to utter displacement and death, and it can also change the way animals go about doing the things they need to do to survive.

    In many cases, animals dealing with fresh human encroachment bend before they break, and some are trying to carry on around us, so to speak. A 2018 study in the journal Science finds, for example, that animals are becoming more nocturnal to get out of the bipeds' way.

    The authors of the study analyzed data from 76 other reports to learn how 62 species on six continents were trying to adapt to our intrusive presence. The data was sourced from all sorts of devices such as cameras to GPS trackers, and ran the gamut from 'possums to pachyderms.

    What the researchers found was that animals known to split their activities between day and night were overwhelmingly becoming busier after dark. There was a 68 percent increase in nighttime activity among such animals.

    If this habitat pressure continues, will we start to see individuals with, for example, better night vision, come to dominate as competitors for scarce resources? It'll be interesting to see.

    Evolution

    When people say, "Such and such animal has this trait because it allows them to…" what they're really saying is that "Of all the crazy mutations that nature tried out, individuals with this mutation fared better than others did." Whether it's effective camouflage, the ditching of a trunk, or becoming a night owl — except for owls who already… never mind — temporary adaptations become fixed evolutionary traits when the conditions in which they are beneficial remain in place long enough. In the case of the pressure we're continually imposing on other life forms, it bears saying that only the ones lucky enough to survive humankind's challenging influence in the first place will get that chance to change.