The Findings of the Empire and Democracy Project

Question: What were the key findings of the Empire and Democracy Project?


Andrew Kuper: What we found was that unilateral attempts to promote democracy and of course retrospectively this is proof true are generally ineffective. That it requires not only multilateral stakeholders at the global level but really a multilevel approach that starts from the grass roots right up to the grass tips. I had written my PhD on democracy, promotion and restructuring democracy globally called, “Democracy Beyond Borders,” eventually and what the fundamental insight there is that globally we need a balance of power so that people check and balance one another, we’re not going to be able to have global elections and the like but as you’ll notice within states, one of the profound mechanisms for maintaining democracy and promoting diversity of voices and accountability is the division of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. And what I had tried to show was that you could have a similar balancing of powers at a global level between nonprofit states, corporations, local communities and so on. And that we needed to think much more in terms of this multilayered approach to governance and multi stakeholder approach to governance.

Now, what the Empire and Democracy Project did was it took it to a new level, we worked with Joseph Stiglitz, Mary Robinson, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Richard Goldstein, Aryeh Neier [IB] in this field talking about their particular areas of expertise and trying to bring those together.

So, Joseph Stiglitz looking at what kind of economic mechanisms within countries would promote democracy and so forth. And we came to a number of interesting conclusions, I would say the most important among them and this is interesting in the year of Obama is that you do have to do it all at once.

You can’t simply say, “Oh, we’ll do it militarily or we’ll do it economically,” and people who are reductionists in that way, I think, has a very implausible view of how you truly build democracy.

I’m South-African and I can tell you from both from just pre the end of apartheid period and the post apartheid period, it’s been absolutely central that there’d be all sorts of development in the media, in government, in the legislative and executive branch in the judiciary across all this different levels.

And that’s part of the success of the new democracy that is South-African, if you look at other successful democracies, that’s also the case. So the major lesson is avoid reductionism, use multiple stakeholders and not just on different levels but of different types that are able to check and balance one another.


Question: Should the U.S. be aggressively promoting democracy?


Andrew Kuper: I think there’s a very big distinction between promoting democracy and imposing democracy. I’m deeply skeptical of Asian autocrats or African or Latin American or for that matter, anywhere else who say, “I know the will of the people,” and when someone tries to encourage woman to have the vote or trust to create a scenario where people can speak out their infringing on our values. I think that’s profoundly implausible because you’re infringing on the autocrat’s values, you don’t even know what the people’s values are at that point.

So to be clear, what I’m suggesting is that we promote democracy.

Promoting democracy involves giving people a voice, it doesn’t involve arriving with your own system and telling them what to vote for, it involves encouraging the creating of systems that allow for people to be heard, to elect their own representatives, and to have those representatives be held accountable for when they fail.

And let me tell you a few reasons why this is so important, never mind if things go fantastically, let’s talk about if things go very badly, what [IB], who was my PhD supervisor, his study show is that there has not been mass famines in democracies, there has been mass famines in autocracies. So while you do have long nourishment and terrible situations in India the reality is since it became a democracy, you have not had a mass famine. In China, you have a series of famines over the years and in several other countries that are autocratic countries, now why is that? Well, it’s quite a simple and intuitively plausible reason, where millions of people are starving, that democratic leaders tend to get voted out, they failed in a profound way and they will be replaced by someone who tries to take action on this desperately or they will be thrown out, that is not the case with an autocrat.

The autocrats, the people starve, it makes them less effective at protesting, they’re hungry often, it makes them less able often to take action, sure it sometimes leads to them to take action but fundamentally the autocrat looks to the military to support them. Now, those are two very different systems so if you want. Democracy doesn’t secure all the best things in the world but what it does help you protect against is the worst and it does give people a voice.


Recorded on: May 1, 2009



The president of LeapFrog Investments talks about the right ways to promote democracy worldwide.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Scientists see 'rarest event ever recorded' in search for dark matter

The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.

Image source: Pixabay
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