Big Think Interview with Harrision Ford

Question: How did you become involved with the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation?

Harrison Ford: I became involved with conservation work and thought that Dr. Wilson's Biodiversity Foundation, which I am on the board of because it was clear to me that mankind, human activity, was degrading our Earth's resources at an alarmingly rapid rate and that we were losing species right and left, important species perhaps. In some cases, we knew, and in other cases, we had not yet full knowledge of a species or an organism before it was lost.

It is my understanding that much of our medicine, much of our food stuff that may be required in the future will come from these reserves of biodiversity, which are rapidly disappearing. And unless we have fully protected biosystems, we will lose the potential to learn how nature works in some very specific cases. And that information may be critical in our understanding of how to manipulate what is in our power to manipulate to save biodiversity, save the power of our planet to sustain life.

 

Question: How has E.O. Wilson affected your thinking on conservation?

Harrison Ford: The work itself is, as Dr. Wilson has said, is an educational effort to cause people to understand and to protect these reservoirs of biodiversity. I have not so much changed my mind about how to accomplish these things; it's really the mission of Dr. Wilson's foundation to bring understanding to the broad population and young people who will be making important decisions in the future and to current leaders both in the business community and in government who can make policies which are more beneficial to the preservation of biodiversity. So I cannot say specifically that his way of approaching biodiversity has changed the way I think about it, except to say that Dr. Wilson has a great gift of language and he has made a very powerful argument in favor of living nature. And I find his argument, his persuasive powers, have led me to think about ways of presenting the problem to other people.

 

Question: Can you talk about your work with animal trafficking?

Harrison Ford: I make myself available to do on-camera public service announcements and whatever I can do, and I was approached by the State Department which is responsible for animal trafficking in wild animal parts and wild animals to do a series of PSAs, which I was happy to do. So that is just part of my commitment to the work of conservation.

 

Question: How has your love of nature informed your acting?

Harrison Ford: That is a very difficult question and I do not know that I have an answer for it.

I think the basis of acting is empathy. I have always thought that; knowing how other people feel.

And certainly one of the important judgments you can make about a person is how they fit into their environment, into the world they live in specifically, whether they are a positive force or a negative force.

I have always loved the quiet and the solace of nature; I have been fascinated by the complication of nature, and in a way, I have found that although I was raised without a formal religion, that I have found an ethical reality in nature and the preservation of it, and I think that informs me in every way.

 

Question: Can we live green and also live well?

Harrison Ford: Well, I think the answer is that we cannot live well without living green. We have come to the point where we have stretched our resources to the point of failure; we have not seen it coming with enough time, and so now, it has reached the stage where we are recognizing that we are in a crisis; that the effects of global warming, the effects of the degradation of the sea, the effects on the future for fresh water--all of those are very serious problems which are begging for solution.

If we are not able to commit the resources and the energy and the wisdom, that we do have, to solving these problems, we will likely disappear and the world will be a better place for it. The world will continue without human beings, it is not a problem. But to ensure a future for human beings, we have got to make better use of our resources and manage a more sustainable lifestyle.

 

Question: Is Indiana Jones an environmentalist hero?

Harrison Ford: Indiana Jones is a fictional character. I cannot really think of him as an environmental hero or anything outside of the context of the films in which he lives. I think that is the answer.

 

Question: Is there a role you really want to play?

Harrison Ford: I don't really think about my work in acting as--I do not have an ambition for particular roles. I have an ambition to do good work with good people, tell stories that are compelling and emotional and to engage my own ambitions to do good work. That is my goal for my professional life.

 

Question: What is your advice to young actors?

Harrison Ford: The only advice I have ever offered young actors is to try and figure our how to do it yourself. Never be caught with the idea that you can imitate someone else's success. As much as you might admire what someone else does, do no try to imitate that. Find your own way, find your own voice, find your own feelings, and that will give you a unique opportunity.

 

Question: Who were your mentors?

Harrison Ford: My first mentors were teachers and scoutmasters, and I think it had a lot to do with my sense of the importance of nature; it had a lot to do with my sense of what a true and just and useful man is, and it is pretty fundamental, basic human kindness expressed in a variety of different ways.

And my professional mentors are well known. They are the wonderful directors that I have had the good luck to work with--[Steven] Spielberg and [George] Lucas and Sydney Pollack and Alan Pakula and others who have been very important to my professional life and to my personal life.

 

Recorded on: June 19, 2008

 

The legendary star of "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" gives advice to young actors, talks about his mentors, and his work with the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation.

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.