Around the Institute

Big Ideas in Aspen

June 28, 2012

Playing preview to the week ahead, fifteen speakers took to the stage at the opening of the Institute’s 2012 Ideas Festival to share their big ideas on everything from developing moral imaginations to rewarding political risk. 

Democracy at home and abroad was a major theme, with Pulitzer Prize-winning Nigerian newspaper editor Dele Olejede questioning universal suffrage because “hard experience shows that if you have a large number of citizens who do not yet fully grasp even the concept of the state, who are largely very poor and uneducated, who struggle daily to survive, and susceptible to a five dollar bribe, democracy sometimes seems like a sham.” (Olejede won the 2011 McNulty Prize)

For those parts of the world on the path towards democracy, Reuter’s Global Editor-at-Large Chrystia Freeland said, “we are living in a revolutionary age, but leaderless revolutions, and the reason is technology, which is empowering both.” And for the United States, several big ideas targeted partisanship— one of democracy’s perils—with Atlantic correspondent James Fallows suggesting the Senate’s rules be changed “to make filibusters safe, legal, and rare,” and Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal reminding the audience “what political risk in a democracy means—calculated action for the common good without regard for personal gain.”

How we interpret the world as it changes was also highlighted, with CNN International correspondent Hala Gorani suggesting “a mandatory Journalism 101 course for all high school seniors” to teach them how to consume the news; and Grace Cathedral Reverend Jane Shaw extolling the moral benefits of art and “entering another’s story, not simply to feel sympathy, but to foster a sense of community that prompts turns of heart, enabling us to see from another’s perspective.” 

A fitting precursor to the sprawling scope of ideas in the week to come, the big ideas also served as shared affirmative answer to Institute President Walter Isaacson’s question of “whether we as a nation and world can remain types of societies who look for balance rather than those who seek to win arguments.”