From Research to Rock and Roll

Pardis Sabeti: So I never really played music growing up very much so-- I played a little short stint of piano as a child so I had some basic sort of notes and chords and things like that, some basic information, but it was very short. It was between moves in my family and so I didn’t play for very long but I had some basic information and I always just really liked music a lot so all growing up I just listened to music all the time and I started with probably-- I started with Michael Jackson and all that kind of stuff that you would listen to growing up in the ‘80s but then I remember I think I picked up New Order in 1997 or it was Substance and that changed my world. I was just listening to it in a car somewhere and I ran out and bought it and then got really in to sort of alternative music from an early age and began listening to that.

So I’ve always been very music obsessed and for most of the periods in my life if I’m working really hard at work I have an album that’s very connected to it so finishing my PhD it was Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine. There was always just an album that was playing that was centered around- my life centered around work.

Soul Coughing. What was their-- Well, so there was-- Actually, I’m going to forget the names of the Soul Coughing albums but there was a lot of Soul Coughing that happened through a lot of my tests in college and there was Bush, the one with Glycerine and all that, 16 Stone that I think was during another period of hard work. There was-- Yeah. It was-- So there’s music always. There’s Radiohead and all those kinds of different bands and a lot of real lesser known Indie rock bands like now probably Jealous Sound and Frightened Rabbit, which will probably be very well known soon, that are-, rock my world and help me through a grant application. So I think it’s-- Each grant application I could kind of go through it and make a little journal that it’s each kind of major application or test, a fisher schooner for my boards- medical school boards so-- Yeah. So a lot of albums and I just- but I always listen to music and-- I don’t know. That was my obsession and so that’s a long tangent on my obsession with music but-- So I always liked music but I never really- I’ve just considered it something that I spectate.

I did sports. I did school activities like leadership activities and I did school and that’s what you do and then I just listened to music, and it wasn’t until graduate school where I had two friends, Taylor Antrum[ph?] and Bruce Hickey,[ph?] who were also Americans studying at Oxford and they would always talk about they both liked guitar. They both loved-- We loved the same music. We listened to the same music, Modest Mouse, and we’d always be talking about these different bands we loved, and I’d always- and they always talked about starting a band, a kind of fantasy band, all the time and I was “Stop fantasy banding. Just start a band. Now is as good a time as any.”

And they said, “Well, we at least need a rhythm section,” and I didn’t really know what that meant. At that point I was “Well, what is that?” I knew drums I guess and they were “Well, we at least need a bassist,” and so that next day Bruce and I went out and bought a bass guitar and we started a band and we just started writing right away. We never did any covers because I think we would have made the cover sound so bad that we just did only original stuff but we- in this very short period we just gigged out all the time around Oxford and stuff and went crazy with it.

 

Question: Do you still play today?

 

Pardis Sabeti: Yeah, I’m still playing. I’ve been-- So I’ve been playing ever since so that would have been 1997 so I’ve been playing for a decade probably on and off but I started- I joined a band in medical school that I’ve been with ever since. Yeah.

 

Question: Does your scientific work influence your music?

 

Pardis Sabeti: It’s probably a release. I can’t really say it’s integrated. I think it’d be-- I don’t really want it to be integrated. I think it would be bad if it was sort of-- I don’t know. I think it’s a different thing. It comes together. I definitely get a sense that when I’m most creative scientifically is when I start-- I told one of my graduate students recently--‘cause I was thinking about all these projects and developing projects and reading a lot scientifically and trying to explore new areas--and I told her that I had realized that I was actually in a good place when three songs just spit out out of nowhere, and I- my-- I can tell my brain is one of those active creative places when random-like melodies pop out so—

 

Recorded on: June 29, 2008

 

Pardis Sabeti is not only a Rhodes scholar, PHD and an MD, she is also lead singer of "Thousand Days", a critically acclaimed alternative rock band.

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.

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