ASPEN IDEAS FESTIVAL 2009
     
Sculpture on the campus: Intuition consists of three interlocking triangles
5th Aspen Ideas Festival (AIF)

(Highlights from the 2009 Aspen Ideas Festival)

From July 2 till 6 engaging in a dynamic adventure: How deep you dive or how far afield you roam is up to you. You can stay on safe and familiar terrain if you'd like, or follow the counsel, based on five years' experience, and take some risks, go to new places. A week of heady discussion amoung global leaders, policy makers, big thinkers and artists. Asking important questions, inviting thoughtful people, respecting diverse viewpoints, listening carefully and engaging generously is what worked. Opened to recapturing the excitement, even the occasional epiphany, one could feel as a student to ideas brilliantly presented. Try the course outside the major; hearing the person with whom there is disagreement. Cranking up the courage to see the teacher after the lecture about work for extra credit.

No bash. Opinions and passions were shared. Politics, public policy, history, science, art and philosophy, policy debates on education reform, timeless questions of justice or aesthetics, or what it means to be human.

Ideas that work

It is in our nature to think creatively. What is really important now - in a time when so much needs to be thought through, re-thought, resolved or addressed - is whether some of the great ideas we come up with can really come to life. Will they work? How fast? Why? Why not? What do we need to fuel them?

This year the global economy was explored for serious problems and real solutions. Issues of justce were examined. How to manage best the natural environment to accomodate competing needs for scarce resources, how to get news and how to sustain democracy was discussed. Also questioned was if evolutionary science will give us greater understanding of the world we live in, what is working in education, where the digital frontier weill take us and can there be peace in the Middle East?

Besides plenty of plenary sessions, concurrent tutorials, casual conversations, action-oriented discussions, evening exchanges and daily events there were also following themes during the second program:

  • World Affairs and Global Economy

  • Arts and Culture

  • Life in America
    What does it mean to be an American today? With an eye toward the new leadership and its multifaceted mandate for change, fresh thinking and vibrant dialogue on issues that define and challenge was enlisted. It can dictate how future generations live, from politics, race and ethnicity to work, immigration, religion and more.

  • Managing Planet Earth

  • The Science of Being Human
    Consciousness, intelligence, emotion, psychology, neuroscience, genomics, antropology, creativity, morality - what cab science tell us about ou human-ness? Experts told with remarkable insights about the brain, the body, our environmentr, our psyche and how they all fit together to make "humans" what we are.

  • Innovations in Education

  • Living Digitally

  • The Middle East

An Afternoon of Conversation

Heavy hitters came out talking about big issues around the world and how the United States fits in. For more than four hours a lineup including former Secretaries of State Madeline Albright and James Baker, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, economist Hernando de Soto, biologist Eric Lander, Israeli ambassador Michael Oren ('we'd like the leader of Syria to follow in the footsteps of Mr. Sadat and get on an airplane and land on our airport in Tel Aviv and talk with our Knesset. That's what we want to see') and deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg discussed myriad issues.

On the topic of America and the world, the three secretaries said they think President Obama has handled the crisis in Iran correctly. They also agree that the US must continue to try talk to the Iranian government to persuade them from backing off on its nuclear program. "You don't lose anything by talking to somebody", Baker said. "You talk to your enemies, not your friends". Steinberg said talking to the enemy doesn't mean the US condones its behavior. If the Iranian government doesn't back off on its nuclear plans, the international community will be forced to take action, he added. "They can isolate themselves if they want."

Madeleine Albright James B. Steinberg, Madeleine Albright, James Baker

Options could be levying financial sanctions on Iran or something more aggressive like re-aiming US nuclear missiles at that nation. Even though Iran's leadership might be mentally unstable,' they don't want to be blown off the face of the Earth'. The US must intervene in Iran's nuclear plans but also deal with the human rights issues that have come to the light in that country. The biggest threat, however, is the nuclear power plants Iran is pursuing. It could lead to neighboring nations having to protect themselves with nuclear power and Iran may use it to harbor terrorists. It could become very unstable.

On Iran, Americans have turned their attention away from that country when they shouldn't be - and rebuilding the nation is crucial.

There was a similar concensus on America's ongoing role in
Afghanistan. The US must help citizens of that endeavor. When asked about Pakistan it was said: 'It has everything that can give you an international migraine". The Taliban and al-Qaeda are scattering in that country and the international community has to start paying better attention to what's happening in Pakistan.
The US has a real opportunity to rebuild its relationship with
Russia and with President Obama's upcoming trip there, the secretaries are confident that it can happen."It's an opportunity to start a dialogue, an honest dialogue and not to be afraid to disagree. Polling indicates that the youngers generation of Russians are anti-American.

On the topic of
where Europe stands in the world, it was said that they are spending "too much time examening themselves". They need to be more active in the international community. "They are not as much a part of the story as we would like them to be".

World Affairs and the Global Economy: Europe, America and Our Transatlantic Alliance
Syrian Ambassador to the US had some thoughts to share about democracy. 'Democracy is an ideal state that is never attainable. The US is more democratic today than it was before the Civil War. It is a process. It is an evoluation. But don't try to impose.'
Walter Isaacson and Alan Greenspan in conversation on Life in America America and the World: Ichiro Fujisaki, Aziz Mekouar, Imad Moustapha
29

World Affairs & Global Economy

With economies around the world in turmoil, global relationships and interdependencies have never been more important to people everywhere. The sessions investigated the interplay amoung economics, global politics, stability and development. Probing topics from international finance to counterinsurgency to China to the power of female entrepeneurs in the developing world.

The economic precipice and abyss. It cannot be overstate how bad the fourth quarter of '08 and the first quarter of this year were - epically bad, before expanding on whether the country was once close to another Great Depression. It was a very serious financial crisis, plus serious recession, plus a series of policy mistakes that led the country to fall apart. And basically a deep recession doesn't cure itself - you don't get out of it.
And we were really on the precipice of being in that same situation. That we avoided that is a pretty serious achievement
.

Living Digitally

It is no news that the 'digital age' has arrived. The question now is: Where is it taking us? The trends, people and ideas that are shaping this digital world were viewed and the impact that digital media, digital technology, social networks and games are having on our society were discussed. A "must" not only for those of us who are already living digitally, but for anyone who wants to understand the nature of our digital present - and future.

On the online stage a panel discussed during the session 'Surviving Online' the nature of online comments. One of the problems with the medium is the viciousness online and the lack of empathy. It is not always positive and that cases it actually becomes more a vehicle.

Online advertising is cheesy. Under the heading of 'The Media Crack up', which discussed the future of print journalism versus online journalism, some declared the day of print newspapers and magazines was over. Others argued there was still plenty left in the print business model. And while people are increasingly going to the Web to read newspapers, advertising revenue is not following.
There are challenges with online advertising. Internet advertising sucks. The problem of clicking on an Internet ad is that the experience is terrible. The creative behind the advertising is bad. The spatial relationship to the story is poor. It just looks cheesy.

Managing planet Earth

As peoples across the globe seek to improve the well-being of society - politically, socially and economically - we find ourselves increasingly challenged to evaluate and mitigate the consequent impacts on the Earth's environment. The pressure is real: Competition by growing populations and developing economies for land, water, energy, food, natural resources and clean air intensifies more we succeed in improving the lot of human kind. It was explored some of the immediate issues facing planet Earth. What can we do, individually and collectively to mitigate our impacts and get to sustainability?

Channeling China: climate change and the Chinese was lectured. The country's energy policy has changed. The Chinese leaders have drastically changed their position in the last two or three years. Two or three years ago they were saying, 'Look, climate change, if it is a problem, is one that the industrialized countries mainly caused, and the industrialized countries are going to have to fix it, and our participation will depend on how much you will pay us to do it.'
The new position is that, climate change is a problem that the industrialized countries caused, up until now, but we the Chinese, they say, are now the biggest emitters in the world. We understand it can't be solved without us, and we also understand that it is already harming us. We therefore have an incentive to participate in the solution. We still expect you to lead because you were big emitters first and your per capita emissions are much bigger than ours, but when you lead, we will follow.
That is the new Chinese rhetoric and it is to believe they are going to follow it.

What can you do?

Seven speakers gave practical tips on how the attendees could go out and save the world. Most, however, related how they were inspired by the week of discussion and ideas exchange and encouraged those listening to take what they learned too and use it - somehow.

The closest offering was a pragmatic approach to the world's ills. Outlined were two ideas that urge a responsibiliy to act:
think in terms of metaphysical guilt. It means 'the guilt' we should all feel when people's rights have been violated. Also the concept of ubuntu was mentioned, a term originating from the Bantu tribes of South Africa that Nelson MAndela, amoung other leaders, embraced.
Ubuntu refers to the interconnectedness of each human being with others, the relationships people have with each other whether or not they're related or even part of the same society.
It focuses responsebility on individuals and moves them to act. The spirit of ubuntu is broken when communal bonds are broken.
We would change because we would see that we would do great harm. And in the aftermath of violence or crisis, repairing the strands of a broken social web is as important as rebuilding roads and schools.

We can all learn from humanity's struggles to create solutions. What can you do with your electricity? Study the nature of creativity and rearrange how you think of it. Give other the opportunity to learn the things we've learned and provide opportunities for people.

Let art make a part of education.

It is about knowing and taking that knowledge to act in a positive way.

Put yourself in someone else's shoes to relate. The secular cause of evil in this world is not doing so. Exercise moral imagination and don't let it atrophy.

It is about the brilliance and creativity of the human mind.