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An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part Two)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 17.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Thirteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: July 15, 2018

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 4,788

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Cory Doctorow is an Activist, Blogger, Journalist, and Science Fiction Writer. He discusses: philosophies appealing to him; a good grasp of the near future or lack thereof; Participatory Culture Foundation; the Clarion Foundation; the Metabrainz Foundation; The Glenn Gould Foundation; Alice Taylor and their love story; marriage and its change for personal perspective; Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow; three biggest changes in the next 50 years; timeline for the modification of more than half the human population; and the potential for the levelling off the accelerating technological changes.

Keywords: activist, Cory Efram Doctorow, journalist, science fiction, writer.

Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow: Blogger, Journalist, and Science Fiction Writer (Part Two)[1],[2],[3]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview. *

*This interview was conducted in two parts with the first on April 12, 2016 and the second on July 1, 2016. *

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What philosophies appeal the most to you – general, political, social, economic, aesthetic?

[Laughing] Gosh. You mean like logical positivism or utilitarianism, or whatever? I do not know. I do not know that I have a main, core general philosophy that I think is best., politically, I favor evidence-based policy, but you still have to ask yourself evidence in support of what. Is it utilitarianism? I do not know. I do not know that I have a name for it. There are elements of anarcho-syndicalism and Marxism that I find compelling.

A book that had a huge impression on me this year was a book called Austerity ecology, and the collapse-porn addicts. It was a Marxist critique of the Green Left, which squared a lot of circles for me because I am a believer in material culture, and an enjoyer of material culture. I think physical things are cool, and I like them, and they bring me pleasure, and beautiful things bring me pleasure. The Green Left has conflated anti-consumerism with anti-materialism.

Leigh Philipps’ idea is that I do not need to step back from material abundance into a material austerity in order to save the planet, who’s name I am blanking on. He talks about how high technology and its material abundance are the only way we can imagine both accommodating the human population as it is and what is will become, and the Earth. That organic farming is code for let’s kill 3 billion people, and still not have enough food for everybody. It is only through GMO and nuclear power, and the Left has historically been the movement for material abundance for all.

The Left’s critique of the wealth of the rich was not that the rich had too much, but rather everyone else had too little. The Marxist left, viewed the capitalist system for improving material efficiency in material production so that the material abundance could be realized for all. And he makes many great little easily conveyable points like: “Capitalism and markets — because they favor firms that have lower costs — have radically reduced the material and energy-inputs into our physical goods, and continue to do so with virtually no end in sight.”

The downside of something like Uber or self-driving cars in a market economy is that all of the dividends of increased productivity and automation accrue to the forces of capital, but that’s an economic phenomenon and not a technological one. The upside is that we are getting more people to more places and more comfort with less environmental consequences, and that if we can solve the labor side what you end up with is an enormous benefit to everybody. And solving the labour side is an economic question that relies or presumes that the technological side is allowed to go on. He also notes that Walmart and Amazon of how non-market forces can be used to allocate resources extremely efficiently. These are not internal market places. They are command and control market places.

That nevertheless manage to move material products from one place to another very, efficiently, and so I guess I am a post-Green leftist. And I guess my view is that technology humanity’s servant and not its master but that it takes a political world for that to be the case. I do not know if that makes sense. It is the intersection of all of these other things. I think the two-dimensional left-right diagram or chart, graph, is insufficient. I think you need a right-left, centralist-decentralist, technology-anti-technology, material-spiritual, multidimensional shape to plot political ideology or life ideology correctly.

I am a believer in self-determination, but I am also a believer in collective work and collectivism, and particularly in the same way that being gifted privileges a certain cognitive style or certain intellect without regard to any objective criteria for what is the best intellect. I think that the idea of meritocracy is a self-serving, self-delusion. That meritocracy starts from the presumption that you can get rid of all the people whose skills are possessed by lots of people and take the people whose skills are more rarely distributed in the general population and that those people can have a perfectly good life,

The reality is that it does not matter how excellent you are at being a nuclear physicist or a brain surgeon,

If you are someone cleaning the toilets, you are going to die of cholera. I am skeptical of the meritocratic story, and, again, I do not know exactly what you would call that political philosophy. Egalitarianism? Not because I think we are all different. I do not know. Humanism? I am an atheist and a materialist. I am a believer in Enlightenment methodologies. I am a believer in the scientific method. And the idea that our own cognitive processes are subject to delusion and self-delusion. That self-delusion is particularly pernicious problem for our cognitive apparatus and only by subjecting ourselves to adversarial peer review can we figure out what is true or not or whether we are kidding ourselves. I do not know what you call that philosophy.

2. Who besides you might have the best grasp of the near future?

I do not think I have any real grasp of the near future. I think science fiction writers are Texan marksman. We fire a shot out there and then draw a target around the place where the pellets hit. Science fiction makes a lot of predictions, and if none of them came true that would be remarkable, but that does not mean we are any better than a random number generator. I think that the near future – the way to find out about the present anyways, which is the moving wave front in which the past becomes the near future – is to look at all of those futuristic stories that we are telling that represents the futures that may be, and find the ones that are resonating in the popular imaginations, and that tells you about the subconscious fears and aspirations lurking in the public.

I think that the reason that Millennials who were literally not born when Terminator and The Matrix came out are still talking about the Red Pill and Skynet because the idea of transhuman, immortal life forms that treat us as inconvenient gut flora is fantastically resonant in an era when the limited liability corporation has become the dominant structure for guiding our society. In the same way that Frankenstein had its popularity in England tells you an awful lot about the aspirations and fears of technology becoming our master instead of our servitor of the people that read it and watched it on the stage at that time. I do not think anyone is good at the near future, but I think the keen observer is the one who acknowledges that and instead of predictions tends to observations about what’s popular.

3. You serve on the boards of the Participatory Culture Foundation, the Clarion Foundation, the Metabrainz Foundation, and The Glenn Gould Foundation. Let’s run the foundations in order: why the Participatory Culture Foundation? What does it do?

Participatory Culture Foundation is an umbrella under which a group of now not-so-young, but then young, activists that I, liked and continue to like and admire were doing a bunch of projects. They started off as an activists group called downhill battle. It was founded by the music industry’s attempts to regulate the internet and have gone on a wide variety of projects. And they created 501(c)3 in order to have an umbrella to do fundraising through, and to organize their projects, and asked the people who have advised them over the years to join the 501(c)3 board as a brain trust, which I was happy to do.

4. Why the Clarion Foundation? What does it do?

The Clarion Foundation overseas the Clarion writing workshop, which is the workshop I went to when I went to Michigan State. It was formative in my own writing career, and I teach it every couple of years. When the Michigan system was defunded by their state level government and Clarion lost its home at MSU, and started seeking new accommodation, it restructured as a 501(c)3 and asked me if I would join the board. I joined to be their technological know-how person. Arts organizations are a little short on technological prowess. Since then, I have filled that role and done some fundraising for them. I do teach at Clarion every couple of years. I am working out the logistics for teaching in summer 2017 with my family now.

5. Why the Metabrainz Foundation? What does it do?

Metabrainz Foundation overseas something called Metabrainz, which is a metadata system for music that’s open. It was founded in the wake of a now-forgotten scandal. There was something called CDDB or CD Database. The way that it works is that every time you stuck a CD in your computer. You would be prompted to key in the track listing for it. That would go into CDDB, which was organized as an informal project. And then a company called GraceNote took the project over, and made that database proprietary for access to it and freezing out new media players, and you may have noticed that the market for media players has all but vanished in the wake of that – in part because of other phenomena to do with lock-in and platform strategies.

But also, in part, because that metadata resource that made music sortable and playable was cut off. That the commons had been enclosed, and Metabrainz is formed to create an open repository of metadata that was user generated and crowdsourced, and to lock that open in the bylaws of the (c)3 so that it could never be enclosed, so that people would have the ability and the confidence to contribute to the project knowing that it would never be enclosed. It has been successful since and has built a database whose metadata is reliable in ways that GraceNote and other databases have never been, and can be accessed with audio fingerprinting algorithms to automatically generate trackless things and other information.

It is a good example of information politics. How political structures, and how economic structures, and how data handling practices can lock services open and make sure that you can have new entrants and new competitors as opposed to locking them closed and pulling up the ladder behind someone who was scrappy a couple years ago and has now developed as a player.

6. Why The Glenn Gould Foundation? What does it do?

That’s one of the ones that lies largely dormant. Gould died without any heirs. Glenn Gould was obviously this famous pianist, and they started an arts foundation and put on a conference that attracted some great talent, but, unfortunately, no audience. There were 80 performers and maybe 60 tickets sold. And they asked me if I would join the board, and I did. Then, they said, “If we have any secure events, we will contact you as a support member.” As far as I know, they haven’t done that.

7. You married Alice Taylor. How did this love story begin and develop into the present?

We met when I was working for Electronic Frontier Fund (EFF). I attended a meeting in Finland that was organized by Tim O’Reilly and Joe Eigo and Marko Ahtisaari (son of the former Prime Minister in Finland). It was called the Social Software Summit. I was at the time a smoker, as was Alice. I came in from San Francisco and had a carton of duty-free cigarettes with me, which we proceeded to smoke together over the course of the conference. It was mid-Summer and the Sun never set. We sat on the roof of the hotel bar. This 12-story hotel in the middle of Helsinki. It is the tallest building in Helsinki. It was KGB headquarters during the occupation.

We stayed up all night. It was romantic, and it kindled a long-distance love affair, which was less doomed than other long-distance love affairs might have been because I was already planning to take this job as European Director at the EFF, which would have me relocating to London. And about six months later, I moved to London and we took up the relationship in person and moved in together about a year later, and had a baby together in 2008, and got married later that year, and are still together to this day.

8. How does marriage change personal perspective on life and its progression?

Well, I guess it forces you to, especially coupled with parenthood, take account of the priorities of other people. When you decide that you’re going to set aside your own pleasure activity or downtime for personal development time to achieve professional goal, suddenly, that decision gets a lot harder. You have to take account of other people’s priorities. I think it makes you more empathic and better at taking other people’s point of view. I think it is required that you be more empathic about other people’s complaints about you. Of course, you have a best friend and sounding board from someone who keeps you intellectually honest who is always there, and I think that makes you more rigorous and smarter, too.

9. On February 3, 2008, Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow came into the world with Alice Taylor and Cory Doctorow as her new parents. How does parenting change personal perspective?

I think it makes you have more of a stake in the future. I certainly have always thought that it will be terrible for people who come after me if our worst mistakes go on unchecked, but now there is a much more personal and emotional element to it. It also makes you, I think, a lot more cognizant of the suits and nuts of cognitive development. Having lived through your own cognitive development gives you a certain amount of perspective on how people think and how other people think, and how you often thought, and how you changed, but parenthood makes you confront it on a daily basis as an actual project with consequences.

You need to figure out how to get another human being who lacks your experience, but isn’t dumb by any means to agree to do the things that are the right things to do including acquiring knowledge and experience and context and the ability to put it all together. That is a humbling thing, and that is a continuous challenge, but it is also exciting and rewarding. I also think, at least for me, it eliminated my ability to be objective or to emotionally distance myself from the peril or consequences of children who suffer. And so that is in movies and books, where I find it intolerable now, when children are used as plot devices. Not intolerable intellectually, but emotionally, and having strong emotional reaction to the plight of children who are badly off.

The refugees today. I have always worried about the refugee issues, but there is new dimension when you think of a parent in that situation at least for me. That I was not or never had before I was a parent. I am only 8 years in. There is only more to come. I am sure.

10. What seem like the three biggest changes in the next 50 years without appropriate international preparation?

With that caveat that science fiction writers suck at predicting the future, I think that climate change is on its way, and we have already released so much carbon into the atmosphere that there will be catastrophic effects felt as a result – regardless of what we do. And so our arguments now or challenge now is to see the cataclysmic consequences of that early carbon release and take motivation from it to do something about it before subsequent carbon releases some along that do even worse damage to the planet and to us, and to the living things that we care about.

I think that there is a similar thing happening in our information ecology. That we’ve had 25 or 30 years of surveillance capitalism and mass data gathering on us, and I think the leaking of all that data is more or less a foregone conclusion. Anything that you collect is likely to leak, and I think that given that breaches are cumulative in their harm. That having a little bit of information of you leaked is bad, but it can be pieced together with the next little bit of information so that it can be significantly worse, and so on and so on.

So what we are not arguing about is not whether or not all of that data is going to leak and we are all going to feel the consequences of it, but if we are going to learn from it early enough to not collect too much more information in much more detail from many more sources as computers disappear into our skin and as we put our bodies into computers more often, as our houses we live in and our hospitals have computers that we put people into and so on. So, I think both of these are related issues as they deal with long-term consequences and immediate short-term benefits.

And problems with markets and marketability of things that have long-term consequences and the force to internalize the consequences of their actions. They both have to do with regulatory barrier, and they both are related to mass wealth inequality. One of the things that has driven wealth inequality is corruption, and the ability of the elites to fend off fakes and attempts to make them internalize the costs of their bad decisions, and that corruption is also driven by mass surveillance and mass surveillance allows corrupt states to perpetuate themselves longer because surveillance can be used to find the people that are most likely to make changes to status quo and neutralize them by telling the cops who to take out or by allowing for the disruption of their organizing or activism. And so, I think those two issues are related, and I am interested in how do we decarbonize surveillance capitalism as much as the question of how we decarbonize industrial capitalism as well.

I guess the third is the line between surveillance capitalism and political surveillance. They are intimately related. On the one hand, because of the otherwise destabilizing impact of mass wealth disparity can be countered through surveillance and also because surveillance is much cheaper and easier to attain because markets have offloaded the costs of surveillance from the state to the individuals who are under surveillance. You buy the phone and pay for the subscription that gathers the data about you, and so the state does not have to bear that cost. During the Cold War, the Stasi had one snitch for every 60 people. Now, the NSA manages the to survey the whole planet at the rate of about 1 spy to about every 10,000 people.

11. How long until more than half of the human population is significantly modified, genetically, with augmented thought processing, with continuous blood monitoring and drug administration or the like?

Gosh, I have no idea. I think that my generation assuming that industrial and technological civilization does not collapse. All of my generation will have some medical implant if we live long enough. We are logging enough ear-punishing hours that we’ll all have hearing aids. The numbers on what percentage of people are legally blind by the time they die is a crazy number. It is like 89% or something. The life limit that will use some prosthesis, heads up display, or goggles as we become legally blind is high. It depends on what you count such as wheelchairs and so on. We are already cyborgs to some extent, but in terms of direct germ plasm modification. I have no idea.

That seems to me like a real wild card. Bruce Sterling has made a compelling case is an incredibly dumb idea because the chances are that we’ll come up with better germ plasm modification and you’ll be forever stuck with this year’s mod. Given how much of our metabolic and maybe even our cognitive function is regulated not by our own cells, but by our microbial nations and given how much easier it is to manipulate of a single celled organism. Maybe, what we’ll we do is manipulate our microbes rather than our germ plasms.

12. Will accelerating technological change ever level off?

I honestly have no idea. I think that things like Moore’s Law tend to be taken as laws of physics rather than observations about industrial activity. Moore’s Law is more of an observation than a prediction, and I do not know that we understand entirely what underpins it. I also think that when we look at something like Moore’s Law. We say the power of computation is doubling every couple of years or 18 months. What we mean is not only are we getting better at making faster computers, but we are also choosing the kinds of problems that computers that we know how to make faster are good at, and so it may be that as computing power becomes cheaper or cooler.

Then we can add more cores rather than faster cores, that we decide that we solve the problems that can be solved in parallel rather than serial is problem that we think of as an important one without ever consciously deciding it. That’s where all of the research is because that’s where all of the productivity gains are. We never even notice that we are not getting much better at solving problems in serial because we end up figuring how to solve problems that matter to us in parallel and pretending we do not see the problems that aren’t practical in parallel.

Bibliography

  1. Doctorow, C. (2016). Crap Hound. Retrieved from craphound.com.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Activist; Blogger; Journalist; Science Fiction Author.

[2] Individual Publication Date: July 15, 2018: www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-two; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

[3] Photograph courtesy of Cory Efram Doctorow and Jonathan Worth Creative Commons Attribution 3.0.

[4] About Cory Doctorow (2015) states:

                Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger — the co-editor of Boing Boing (boingboing.net) and the author of many books, most recently IN REAL LIFE, a graphic novel; INFORMATION DOES NOT WANT TO BE FREE, a book about earning a living in the Internet age, and HOMELAND, the award-winning, best-selling sequel to the 2008 YA novel LITTLE BROTHER.

            One paragraph:

                Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger — the co-editor of Boing Boing (boingboing.net) and the author of the YA graphic novel IN REAL LIFE, the nonfiction business book INFORMATION DOES NOT WANT TO BE FREE< and young adult novels like HOMELAND, PIRATE CINEMA and LITTLE BROTHER and novels for adults like RAPTURE OF THE NERDS and MAKERS. He works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group. Born in Toronto, Canada, he now lives in Los Angeles.

            Full length:

                Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is a science fiction novelist, blogger and technology activist. He is the co-editor of the popular weblog Boing Boing (boingboing.net), and a contributor to The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, Wired, and many other newspapers, magazines and websites. He is a special consultant to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org), a non-profit civil liberties group that defends freedom in technology law, policy, standards and treaties. He holds an honorary doctorate in computer science from the Open University (UK), where he is a Visiting Professor; in 2007, he served as the Fulbright Chair at the Annenberg Center for Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California.

                His novels have been translated into dozens of languages and are published by Tor Books, Titan Books (UK) and HarperCollins (UK) and simultaneously released on the Internet under Creative Commons licenses that encourage their re-use and sharing, a move that increases his sales by enlisting his readers to help promote his work. He has won the Locus and Sunburst Awards, and been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and British Science Fiction Awards.

                His two latest books are IN REAL LIFE, a young adult graphic novel created with Jen Wang (2014); and INFORMATION DOES NOT WANT TO BE FREE, a business book about creativity in the Internet age (2014).

                His latest young adult novel is HOMELAND, the bestselling sequel to 2008’s LITTLE BROTHER. His latest novel for adults is RAPTURE OF THE NERDS, written with Charles Stross and published in 2012. His New York Times Bestseller LITTLE BROTHER was published in 2008. His latest short story collection is WITH A LITTLE HELP, available in paperback, ebook, audiobook and limited edition hardcover. In 2011, Tachyon Books published a collection of his essays, called CONTEXT: FURTHER SELECTED ESSAYS ON PRODUCTIVITY, CREATIVITY, PARENTING, AND POLITICS IN THE 21ST CENTURY (with an introduction by Tim O’Reilly) and IDW published a collection of comic books inspired by his short fiction called CORY DOCTOROW’S FUTURISTIC TALES OF THE HERE AND NOW. THE GREAT BIG BEAUTIFUL TOMORROW, a PM Press Outspoken Authors chapbook, was also published in 2011.

                LITTLE BROTHER was nominated for the 2008 Hugo, Nebula, Sunburst and Locus Awards. It won the Ontario Library White Pine Award, the Prometheus Award as well as the Indienet Award for bestselling young adult novel in America’s top 1000 independent bookstores in 2008; it was the San Francisco Public Library’s One City/One Book choice for 2013. It has also been adapted for stage by Josh Costello.

                He co-founded the open source peer-to-peer software company OpenCola, and serves on the boards and advisory boards of the Participatory Culture Foundation, the Clarion Foundation, the Metabrainz Foundation and The Glenn Gould Foundation.

                On February 3, 2008, he became a father. The little girl is called Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow, and is a marvel that puts all the works of technology and artifice to shame.

Doctorow, C. (2015, July 30). About Cory Doctorow. Retrieved from http://craphound.com/bio/.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part Two) [Online].July 2018; 17(A). Available from: www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-two.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, July 15). An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part Two)Retrieved from www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-two.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part Two). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A, July. 2018. <www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-two>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2018. “An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A. www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-two.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A (July 2018). www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-two.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part Two)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A. Available from: <www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-two>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part Two)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A., www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-two.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 17.A (2018):July. 2018. Web. <www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-two>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part Two) [Internet]. (2018, July; 17(A). Available from: www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-two.

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Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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Three Administrations of Humanist Student Leaders Dialogue About Humanism: Hari Parekh, Hannah Lucy Timson, and Angelos Sofocleous

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 17.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Thirteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: July 15, 2018

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 6,674

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Hari Parekh, Hannah Lucy Timson, and Angelos Sofocleous are the President Emeritus, President, and President-Elect of Humanist Students, respectively. They discuss: becoming involved with Humanist Students; getting the word out about what Humanist Students does; the work by Sofocelous in secularism and humanism; the movement of humanism; professional accomplishments; similar faiths of the Parekh, Timson, and Sofocleous; and concluding feelings or thoughts.

Keywords:  Angelos Sofocleous, Hannah Lucy Timson, Hari Parekh, Humanist Students, President, President-Elect, and President Emeritus.

Three Administrations of Humanist Student Leaders Dialogue About Humanism: Hari Parekh, Hannah Lucy Timson, and Angelos Sofocleous[1],[2],[3]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let us start with Hari, how did you become involved in Humanist Students, in brief?

Hari Parekh: In brief [Laughing], before Humanist Students was an entity, it used to be known as Atheist, Humanist, and Secular Students (AHS). That entity was the student sector for the British Humanist Association (BHA).

I originally started my own Atheist, Humanistic and Secular (AHS) society at the University of Northampton. It became the first society within the student sector to receive an award from its own Students Union for being the best society of the year, and for myself being the best president. During my second year at university, I was the East Midlands Regional Officer for the AHS – in which I supported the development of the society at the University of Leicester. During my final year at university, I was the New Societies Officer where I helped to start fifteen societies across the UK and Republic of Ireland, and the following year I was elected as President of the AHS during my MSc at the University of Nottingham. Thereafter, I was involved in the successful transition (with the support from the members) from the AHS to Humanist Students as it is now known, and am now President Emeritus of Humanist Students.

The AHS was taken under the wing by the BHA to support students at universities. The problem was, the way it was ran; all of it was organized and actualized by students. So, students were the cohort of the president, the treasurer, the secretary, and, as a result, with students being students having to manage an organization at the same time as managing their academic careers and everything else that they have to do, whether jobs or whatever else.

It meant the framework of the AHS at the time ran, ran pretty much on loose ends, when people had time to do it. As a result, it fractured the way students were supported. It fractured the way students were able to get involved with the student organization.

In actuality, it affected the progression. If you were a student at the time, it was less likely that you would be carrying on within the arena of humanism. It was unlikely that you would be in the arena of being an activist or being interested in what was occurring outside of the student sector.

The other thing is, it managed to last 10 years, but for those 10 years it had a steady decline. It is difficult to see those spaces form. It is difficult to see the gaps and see it sliding down. When others and myself, when I was president at the time, it was kind of about that time that the gaps were shown.

We thought that there needed to be a difference in how this was ran. We needed support from the BHA or more support for the administration and everything else. After the AGM last year in March, an independent review needed to see what the issues and qualms were.

In July, we had an AGM. The caucus passed the amendments to the organization. The changes occurred to the organization. It became Humanists Students, and was allowed to be a part of Humanists UK. Humanists UK supported Humanist Students in changing the way it operated.

It allowed for the new world of the student and youth coordinator in the office of Humanists UK to relinquish all of the advocacy that [Laughing] others and myself have to do. It balanced the load that others and I did, and Hannah and others will do in the future!

As a result, we are able to do the roles we were elected to do rather than the roles plus everything else. We had a good opportunity to re-energize the people interested in it. Those people that are not can observe from the sidelines and hopefully become a part of it later.

As president emeritus, to come back to your point, it has been to see it from a distance, to be there to support Hannah when she needed it and to play that role as an advisor.

Hannah Timson: Yes, so, from my perspective, it has been a bit more of a thing about a welcoming community. When I came to university, I didn’t really know what I believed. I called myself agnostic for a little while, but then I went with my friend, Sammy who is a physicist, to a meeting, It was an AHS meeting, where I met all of the people that I know now. I realized, “Wow, these people are speaking my language” [Laughing], but also that there was a community network that I may have missed not being part of a church group. A lot of people go to a community church group at university because they are looking for a welcoming community, there is nothing wrong with that. However, the fact that there was an alternative to that, where I could say, “It is okay that I don’t believe in this stuff.” That was what led me to the AHS. I hadn’t been that involved in the National organisation until I decided to last year and stood for president.

I think I stood because I realized the value of a community and political organization such as Humanists UK. By political, I do not mean sitting on one side or the other, but an organisation that actively pushes for changes for, in my opinion, a more liberal and better society. I realized the need for an organization that was accepting of everyone from all walks of life – regardless if they were religious or not, I think that is what led me to stand. I had a chat with Hari. I hadn’t met him, actually, at the time. We chatted [Laughing], and I thought he seemed cool and seem to think the same things as I do.

Parekh: Do you remember that chat?

Timson: I do, and it worked out! What I realized was with the role, it wasn’t about – I hate the term president to be honest, because the term “president” sounds so grand and, actually the job itself is putting yourself at the level of your fellow students and saying, “How can we work together?” – its about facilitating dialogue and bringing people together.

It is about building community with other people who may have similar values to our own, but also with the others who frankly don’t, it is highly important that we do that. This was a platform to do that sort of work, not only local but also national level. That is how I ended up where I am.

I am studying Theology and Religion, so this has always been a massive interest to me. Actually, one piece of highly untapped research that I have encountered in Religious Studies is a growing need to understand The non-religious. Even if we act in similar ways to the religious and have similar needs – whatever words you might use to describe those – there is something missing from the academic conversation.

“Who are those people in our society who are now the majority in Britain at least? Who are they? How do they act? How do they interact with other people who are religious?” That has always been a massive interest to me academically.

It has been nice to be involved in an organization that has been working to actively answer that question. Being non-religious doesn’t mean we can’t have community and can’t build important and interesting structures, even though the questions might be fluid. In some ways Humanity needs those structures in order to identify itself, develop and be progressive.

It has been really nice to be a part of an organization like that, its is nice from both the practical and academic sides.

Jacobsen: How about yourself Angelos?

Angelos Sofocleous: Firstly, a few things about myself, religious background, and how I got involved in humanism, in general. I grew up in an Orthodox Christian family and society, was a devout Christian myself, and followed religious practices. Apart from that, I also was what would someone describe an ultra right-wing nationalist, I believed in conspiracy theories, and also followed pseudoscience. At the age of 16-17, a few years before I went to university, I started a process of questioning the whole set of my beliefs, a process which lasted 1-2 years. I ended up on the opposite side of the spectrum on each of my beliefs, managing a full 180o turn. At the age of 21, when I went to university, I defined myself as an agnostic atheist. I was looking for a group to get involved in to meet people with whom we shared a similar worldview, and a place where I could develop and express myself. I found this in the AHS.

Now, on how I got involved with Humanist Students. At Durham University, I joined Durham Atheist, Secularist, and Humanist society (DASH). Mostly, the BHA supported us at the time, which is now Humanists UK. I first became an officer for DASH. The year after, I became president and became even more involved with the AHS and Humanists UK.

Through those organizations, I met many likeminded people, which, at the time, provided me a community feeling but, more importantly functioned as a think tank where ideas were exchanged and shared. I was also very glad to find out that there were other people like me, who started off as religious and then started to question their beliefs and became atheists.

In June 2017, the structure of the AHS changed and became Humanist Students. Later in the year, elections were held and I was elected by Humanist Students members as president-elect. It is not only a leadership role, I would agree with Hannah, but a community director role rather than just being a top figure in the organization.

It is about supporting all those who do not believe or who start to question things as we did at some point in our lives or still do. It is really important for non-religious people, or people who are skeptical about their religion (people who constitute the majority of the student body at UK universities) at all universities to feel that they have a community to which they belong; to feel that they have likeminded people in their universities.

Also, it really is not only about religion. We want people to start to think about freedom of speech in universities, blasphemy laws, and other things which are not directly related to religion. We want to develop a more freethinking mindset.

2. Jacobsen: If you look at the demographics of universities and university-colleges with the United Kingdom, there about 130 as of August 2017. I want to ask a question first to Hannah about the ways in which we find best to reach out to universities and the university-colleges in terms of getting the message out about humanism as well as the work that Humanist Students does.

Timson: At this stage, having changed the way that we work, we are now in about 119. We have about 800 students signed up to us, which is pretty good having only opened September time.

That is continuing to grow, we beat the target for this year [Laughing]. It is trial and error because we, obviously, do not know everything. Sean, who is the Student and Youth coordinator for Humanist Students, may know more because he knows more about how the Students Unions work.

It will be trial and error: What do people like? What is it people are interested in? How do you identify yourself? What is it that makes you want to be involved? A lot of outreach is via social media, and communication with student unions and saying, “Hey, we exist,” [Laughing], “Would you be interested in doing stuff with us? We’ll go to university Freshers weeks and run stalls etc., if there isn’t a current society and have been attending things like the National Union of Student’s Annual Conference and holding Fringe events.

We are not focusing on societies as the main affiliations of students. We are, as we say, placing the onus on the individual. We want them to feel like they are part of a bigger organization, but as individuals their opinion and the way that they want to do humanism and want to achieve and what they want to achieve is an individual process.

We have reached out, “So, we will open to all universities, whether they have a society or not. You can be a member of Humanist Students as well and get free access to Humanist UK material.” We are in about 119 universities and we have at least one student who identifies as a Humanist Student on those campuses. The question is now, how active are those students? That’s a question we are beginning to be able to understand. Then how we reach out to those members, is really just trial and error. We have our national conference coming in a month’s time. I do not know how many people we will get. I do not know if it will be a struggle. We have always struggled to kind of attract people.

This year, the focus is going to be on “Who are we? What do we want to achieve?” Whether we have 20 or more people, we can ask them because those are the people who have purported to support humanism in the UK. If we get 100 people, it means we have more voices and more independent addition to that conversation. However, obviously, the more people are involved and the more democratic you can become, so we are opening forums and looking to have ambassadors where there isn’t a society and asking, “There are 4 or 5 of you there. Would you be interested in starting a society?”

If there isn’t anybody or only a student, the idea is to say, “Okay well, would you be interested in being a representative when we have our society in Birmingham in being the ambassador for the Birmingham area?” We would give information to them in that area and then give them the contact and get them in contact with local groups and attempt to arrange local events with our help.

It would be to get the word out about humanism. We will have that set up when we have our conference set up in about three weeks time. It is a difficult one. But there are things that do work. We are setting up the foundation now. We are trying and seeing how far it can go.

We are and will continue to grow, I believe. 70%, based on the Vatican report, of young people in the UK, 116 to 29 years old, are non-religious. That’s a huge percentage, not all will be Humanists, but a large percentage will be. It is about reaching out and saying, “Hey, don’t be apathetic, let’s build community, let’s tackle this loneliness issue in young people, let’s tackle mental health by building communities that are safe and welcoming and open. Let’s look to the future and be positive and optimistic,” which is what I think humanism offers.

It is a starting place, but I think we will get there: trial and error [Laughing].

3. Jacobsen: Also, Angelos, you have a lot of editing and writing experience in the promotion of atheism, humanism, and secularism. How can other humanist university students develop those skills in order to articulate the humanist message on campus?

Angelos: One of the things that I included in my manifesto when I ran as a candidate for the election as the president-elect was to develop a magazine or blog or more generally a platform for humanist students to be able to express themselves.

We have, at the moment, over 700 members all across UK who, however, do not have a voice to express themselves through Humanist Students. We want to give them the opportunity to raise awareness about what is happening at their universities on issues relating to freedom of speech, human rights, treatment of religious societies.

We really want these issues to come out for people to know about them. Of course, in order to do this, it would be a good idea to have workshops at some of the next conferences.

But from there, it seems that students are, of course, able to express themselves. I am looking forward to giving students a platform to show what is going on at their universities.

Jacobsen: Hari, your own research at the graduate level was on the treatment of those who leave religion. In your time as the president-elect and president, and now as president emeritus, did you come across stories of individuals who had become apostates but then were living at home as students and were mistreated while in a religious home even though they themselves have renounced their religion?

Hari: I started the society back at the University of Northampton, where there was no society at the time for non-religious people. It was unheard of at the university or in the student population [Laughing].

When you get up and start a non-religious society in the campus, you turn some heads [Laughing]. You have people saying, “What are you doing? You are going against your skin color and who you are!.” Etc. I sense from that. The statement is made from within whatever household is whatever way you want to put it.

There is always going to be some sort of back question about what that person is doing and why they are doing it. When I started the society, there was a young lady had just renounced that she is not part of Islam anymore.

She said, “I told my parents at the time. You know what, they literally abandoned me and told me to leave. They told me to get out of the house and do not look back because she was not welcome anymore.” As a result of that, it let me know what else is going on and thinking, “Where else is this going?”

That is ridiculous. Evolutionarily, you have children, or as a social psychology argument, it makes no sense for going against them – they’re your children. This is where the emotionality of apostasy comes from, because it triggers a nerve with people that listen to the countless stories; working with Aliyah Saleem and Imtiaz Shams in Faith to Faithless for example, of people not being able to simply be open to the thought that their child/children could potentially think differently from yourselves – and as a result, they may not agree with you on things that you deeply care about. That should not stop you as a parent from loving, caring and looking after them. By abandoning or shunning your own child, all you are doing is facilitating the notion that the religious/cultural/traditional niche you identify as remains stringent, cold and isolative to those that think and feel differently.

As a result, the organizations highlight the emotionality and the problems that happen with it. The research shows this as well. It shows that this has not been tapped into much. It is something the academic community still struggles to identify as an issue. The reason for that is because, obviously, getting to people who have left their religious faith, that have been abused within their household, and actually getting to that community remains quite difficult.

It means that they have to be hidden. If it is not hidden, you end up losing everything that you lived for. There was a guy in Aston, in Birmingham, who said a few months ago, “I do not believe in any of the religious faith at the moment. I am a refugee. You know what, what am I left with if I renounce my religion? I am on the street and then homeless – because my family cannot process the idea or very thought of this being true. There is no reason for me to do this. There is no quality of life for me if I leave. What else can I do?”

It is for that reason to do the research, to highlight that population of people. It exists, most definitely.

4. Jacobsen: So, Angelos, when it comes to some of the movement of humanism, not only in university but outside of it, I ask because the students themselves with 2-4 years depending on the degree program the are a part of will become part of the general public.

So if that is the case, and it is, what are some healthy ways of transitioning that students could bear in mind when they are working not only within an academic environment – which is a closed environment for the most part – and learning about and developing a humanist life for the most part and also when they leave the university living that outside as well as they can?

Sofocleous: To be honest with you, most humanist groups functioning outside of university have this problem. There are not a lot of young people within those organizations. It is people in their 60s and 70s. These people are doing an amazing job, no doubt. They are educated, smart, intelligent, active. But, at the same time, we cannot continue to ignore the problem of sustainability these societies face. Younger generations need to take over.

As Humanist Students, we mostly address issues that affect young people. We realize, however, the problem that exists in the sustainability of humanist societies which function outside universities, and we try to take steps, within the broader framework of Humanists UK, to address this issue. We have, for example, the Young Humanists branch of Humanists UK, which accommodates for people aged 18 to 35. It is vital that we keep people within humanism when they are in that age group as it is during that period that people enter and leave university, get a job, and start raising a family. Thus, other priorities may act as a barrier, but there is always something that we can do.

It is important for them to receive help from us. Lots of young people are not involved in humanist groups in universities, but there is the potential for those people to get involved in humanism as, as surveys have shown, most are non-religious.

It is important to reach out and have those people who are not religious to know about us. There are people who are humanists for years and do not know about humanism as an ideology or a way of life. So, they do not publicly identify as humanists.

Jacobsen: Hari, you are farther along in your academic a career and academic completions than the three of us.

Parekh: [Laughing].

5. Jacobsen: When I reflect on some of the academic and professional accomplishments that you have, what are some issues that you might notice for those humanist youth that are further along in their studies or professional career in terms of still remaining active to some of the concerns noted by Angelos?

Parekh: [Laughing] It makes me feel a bit old. Longevity remains an issue, whether it is a student group, local group, or national. Longevity ensures that people remain encapsulated to the issues that once touched a nerve. But, as Angelos said previously, local groups have an attendance that are predominantly elderly. As a result, how can this be true with an increasing population of people identifying as non-religious?

I guess it remains important to highlight what Humanism actually is to a wider audience. The moment someone has a conversation about the actuality of humanism, the usual reply is, well that makes sense. As a result, it remains more important to engage in discourse, to make people aware of this ideological stance and to allow people to be able to ask questions without threat.

The other issue that remains is time. Working professionals, or people progressing within their studies are busy! It can be really draining to be at work throughout the day, to come home afterwards. To be fair, the best thing is rubbish television and an early night. So how does one occupy their spare time with activism or humanism when they have other priorities? The good part is that there is a good sense of transition from Humanist Students to Young Humanists for young people wanting to be involved. As a result, social media remains a great function to reach members from far afield.

It can be a long road before someone actually comes to the decision that they could be part of humanism. There remains no reason for the non-religious to attempt at converting people to being non-religious. It would be absurd. As a result, it is a decision that someone comes to on their own trail of thought. We are reliant on an individual’s ability to think differently to what they may have been brought up thinking, and this is why longevity is a factor – it is a difficult decision to come to, and as a result, we need to be more prepared to ensure that we can support people when they come to such a junction. We need to work to find ways in which young professionals and young adults can be more involved, where they can find their sense of purpose.

6. Jacobsen: Hannah, you had a background not only with the Amish, but also with the Evangelical Baptists or Evangelical Baptist communities and then transitioned into the humanist community. Same with Hari, being an apostate. Same with Angelos being a former Christian.

These are three common experiences. Two from similar faiths. One from another Abrahamic faith. These are narratives of transitioning from a religious faith, out of it, and into not only rejecting the faith in atheism but also affirming a humanist life.

What have been some similar experiences that you have noted from others as well as insight that you can bring to those who have not had religion discussed in the household and who grew up agnostics, atheists, and so on?

Timson: That is quite an interesting question. You do come across a lot of people – and this more and more the case – who simply never talked about religion. It has never been on their radar. I do not know. It is very interesting. I tend to find, and this will sound really cruel, that the people who come from religious backgrounds, who have transitioned from being religious to then being a Humanist, tend to have a hell of a lot more – this will sound really mean – empathy with people who are religious.

I think it takes time to get there because, I think, a lot of people when they first leave religion…

Parekh: [Laughing].

Timson: …are kind of mad. They are like, “Man, you have lied to me for all of this time,” [Laughing], “Like wow.” But then you realize, a lot of people did it out of love because they truly, truly believe in this religious tradition.

You can kind of empathize because you were in that position, because you did believe all of that stuff. A hell of a lot more than people perhaps who never talked about religion. It flummoxes me. I cannot empathize with people who don’t ask these questions, to be honest. My house is literally like a theology seminary. It is just non-stop conversation about the meaning of the universe and stuff. I sometimes I wish I could talk abut Jeremy Kyle.

That is the biggest difference that I have noticed. It is that there is a lot less empathy and understanding. But not everybody, obviously, this is a generalization from people who perhaps come from a less religious background. I also think there is an interesting conversation and something I am thinking about while I write my dissertation about non-religious people and how they interact with the religious people.

There seems to be a difference in language. This might have something to do with the empathy thing. Not necessarily the words that we use, but the way that we use them. I haven’t read enough studies on this, but it is quite interesting.

I will be on a panel with people who have never been religious, ever, and, obviously myself who was hugely religious – an Evangelical, proselytizing Christian [Laughing] – and I’ll be sitting beside people who think, “Wow, what idiots,” [Laughing], not everybody, but I tend to find there is more dismissiveness from people who have never been religious.

You are on this panel with somebody else who has never been religious. Perhaps, you are against the Evangelical Christian Union or whatever. There was this one time when, for example, we were discussing relatively interesting but, in my opinion, pointless questions of theological questions with some people from Oxford.

The answers from my friends, who have always been relatively non-religious; as logical and sensible as they were there was a kind of a lack of empathy, we didn’t speak the same language. When I spoke, people said, “Wow, you have got a heart. God is working in you.”

I was like, “That was not God.”

Parekh: [Laughing]…

Timson: “I am just a really soppy human being,” you know? I use very romantic language and always have. I do not know. This is not a scientific study. I have been to other debates with scientists. You have Christian scientists – not the Christian scientists who go looking for the Ark, but scientists who are Christians – and non-religious scientists.

You do see a marked difference in the way you use language in the conversations that you have. For me, actually, it has been a real – going to use the word – “blessing” [Laughing] or a real benefit to be able to use the language and understand what people say.

You can’t always, but generally to understand what people mean when they use certain words or say certain things, “God is in the space. Can you feel the Holy Spirit?” From my experiences,I can empathize, I do not say, as many do, “That is non-sense, what are they talking about?”

I think, “At this moment in time, they are expressing a feeling.” That ability to, in some ways, be bilingual is interesting. I was talking to Quakers, who tend to have a lot of non-theist Quakers – so are a mixture atheist and theist Quakers. Some will say, “This religious language is not useful in everyday life.  We do not use it in that way. We use it express ourselves, to express something that we can’t quite get out in secular terms.” That has been an interesting field of study for me because I couldn’t quite understand what people weren’t quite getting.

It was really frustrating when having conversations with other atheists. Having to say, “don’t you understand that these people aren’t stupid, that actually they are expressing their emotions and feelings in a way that perhaps people who have never been religious, there’s a dimension there that they have never ventured in to?” So therefore, there’s a whole realm of language that was never used. Maybe, you do not need to use it. But it is an interesting distinction.

Jacobsen: Any concluding statements or feelings? We are out of time.

Timson: I just think that it is very, very important to remember that humanism is an alternative. It is a community. It is growing, however, slowly it might feel. Sometimes, things take a little while to catch on, particularly among young people.

Young people are feeling disenfranchised from labels: Church of England, and this and that. People feel, I think, worried about this word “humanist.” We have a conversation about whether we call ourselves “Humanist Students” or the “AHS.”

Parekh: [Laughing]

Timson: The semantics of it all got a bit too much, but I think at the end of the day, we are trying to build a non-religious alternative and say, “You know what? You can think for yourself. You can do things for yourself, but sometimes you need some help.”

We are here to provide a community that says, “I will respect your actions. I will respect that things that you do, but I am here to catch you when you fall.” I think that is something that religion sometimes does, not always, but they have those structures in place. We need those in some ways. [Laughing] Maybe, people will probably not like to say that we can learn from religious organizations, but I think sometimes its unnecessary to reinvent the wheel [Laughing]. It is necessary as social creatures to have a support unit to catch you as you fall: no man is an island.

Quite a lot of the time, non-religious people either don’t think about it or they do think about it and are so mad about the whole organized religion thing that they reject all forms of structure and community and say, “I am better off on my own, don’t touch me.”

At the end of the day, you end up with communities that are quite lonely. Humanism is the answer to that. That’s my ending statement [Laughing].

Parekh: I think young people that are trying to understand religion better, trying to rationalize religion, trying to move away from religion – anyone of these situations is going to be difficult. There is always going to be the feeling of, if I leave my religious faith, what will make me feel secure. Religion has the ability to make people feel soothed and secure, and as a result, leaving their religious faith can be a really difficult decision for them to make.

This is the thing about religion. Religion does not happen in its own entirety. It happens in support of community, tradition, and culture. As a result, when people lose a religious faith or someone decides it is not for me and does not work, they are losing not just their religious faith, but also moving away in the eyes of others, from their culture and tradition and the system they know. By doing so, this creates the opportunity for that person to be shunned and abandoned by the people they love.

When they are at university and are isolated, and are alone, and like, “I am trying to find my feet again,” they may feel isolated and lonely. The issue: who is there to catch you before you fall? That is important. Having Humanist Student Societies on campus can help to support that person, to be their community.

This community should not be the isolated either, by supporting such students. It requires chaplaincy services at university, mental health services at university, further work from student unions to understand that there are people going through such niche transitions that need support.

There remains a need and a purpose to help students who are going through a transition of being non-religious whilst at the university. It is not the role of the non-religious society to convert them to a life of non-religion/ humanism, and it is definitely not the role of the chaplaincy service to convert them back to religion. It remains the individual’s sole decision, whether they decide to make the decision for themselves of whether they are religious or not. If you are just atheistic, that is fine. But there is a need and a purpose to have mechanisms that can support students in such a way.

Sofocleous: As a final point, I’d like to say that humanists are not obsessed with religion. Humanism is much bigger than that – it is not only for non-religious people. It is also for people who are skeptics and like to question things, question pseudoscience, people who fight for freedom of speech and human rights.

As humanists, we base our approach to issues that concern humanity and human societies on reason and rational thinking, which for most of us is a way away from religion and towards science and rationalistic ways of thinking. That is really a characteristic of humanists.

It is also the case that most of us are ex-religious – I don’t know if I would prefer to grow up as an atheist – probably I would. But, as a non-religious person, I can now see the ‘positive’ side of me growing up in a religious environment. Like most other humanists I’ve met, we are able to understand the spread of fear, irrational thinking, and discrimination, among others, that takes place in religious communities. We are able to know how religious people think, and that’s because we were, at some point in our lives, one of them.

This is not to say that we should build barriers between religious and non-religious people. Not at all. It really helps to bring both non-religious and religious people together in the way that we can communicate with them because it really is important that we speak the same language when we communicate.

7. Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, everyone.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] President Emeritus (Hari Parekh); President (Hannah Lucy Timson); President-Elect (Angelos Sofocleous).

[2] Individual Publication Date: July 15, 2018: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parekh-timson-sofocleous; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. Three Administrations of Humanist Student Leaders Dialogue About Humanism: Hari Parekh, Hannah Lucy Timson, and Angelos Sofocleous [Online].July 2018; 17(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parekh-timson-sofocleous.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, July 15). Three Administrations of Humanist Student Leaders Dialogue About Humanism: Hari Parekh, Hannah Lucy Timson, and Angelos SofocleousRetrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parekh-timson-sofocleous.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. Three Administrations of Humanist Student Leaders Dialogue About Humanism: Hari Parekh, Hannah Lucy Timson, and Angelos Sofocleous. In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A, July. 2018. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parekh-timson-sofocleous>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2018. “Three Administrations of Humanist Student Leaders Dialogue About Humanism: Hari Parekh, Hannah Lucy Timson, and Angelos Sofocleous.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parekh-timson-sofocleous.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “Three Administrations of Humanist Student Leaders Dialogue About Humanism: Hari Parekh, Hannah Lucy Timson, and Angelos Sofocleous.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A (July 2018). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parekh-timson-sofocleous.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘Three Administrations of Humanist Student Leaders Dialogue About Humanism: Hari Parekh, Hannah Lucy Timson, and Angelos SofocleousIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parekh-timson-sofocleous>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘Three Administrations of Humanist Student Leaders Dialogue About Humanism: Hari Parekh, Hannah Lucy Timson, and Angelos SofocleousIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parekh-timson-sofocleous.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “Three Administrations of Humanist Student Leaders Dialogue About Humanism: Hari Parekh, Hannah Lucy Timson, and Angelos Sofocleous.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 17.A (2018):July. 2018. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parekh-timson-sofocleous>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. Three Administrations of Humanist Student Leaders Dialogue About Humanism: Hari Parekh, Hannah Lucy Timson, and Angelos Sofocleous [Internet]. (2018, July; 17(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parekh-timson-sofocleous.

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In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part One)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 17.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Thirteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: July 8, 2018

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 3,748

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Cory Doctorow is an Activist, Blogger, Journalist, and Science Fiction Writer. He discusses: geographic, cultural, and linguistic background; the influence on personal development of the background; pivotal moments in life; the ability to travel by bus and intellectual development; advice for gifted and talented youths; and an honorary doctorate from Open University.

Keywords: activist, Cory Efram Doctorow, journalist, science fiction, writer.

Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow: Blogger, Journalist, and Science Fiction Writer (Part One)[1],[2],[3]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview. *

*This interview was conducted in two parts with the first on April 12, 2016 and the second on July 1, 2016. *

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Duly noted, the biographical information on the website remain out of date because the information appears update on July 30, 2015 – about an eternity ago.[4] With this in mind, and before the in-depth aspects of the interview, let’s cover some of the background. Those with an interest in more detailed information can review the footnotes and references provided throughout and at the end of the interview. In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your personal and familial background reside?

Cory Doctorow: Geography, culture, and language, well, my father’s parents are from Eastern Europe. My grandmother was born in Leningrad. My grandfather was born in a country that is now Poland, but was then Belarus, a territory rather, that is now Polish but was then Belarusian. My father was born while his parents were in a displaced persons camp in Azerbaijan and his first language was Yiddish. My mother’s family are first and second generation Ukrainian-Russian Romanians. Her first language was English, but her mother’s first language was French and was raised in Quebec. I was born in Canada. My first language is English. And I attended Yiddish school at a radical socialist Yiddish program run by the Workman’s Circle until I was 13.

I was raised in Canada. I moved to Central America – the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border – when I was in my early 20s and from there to California, and I ping-ponged back-and-forth between Northern California and Canada for some years, and then I re-settled in Northern California, and then in the United Kingdom, and then in Los Angeles, and then back in the United Kingdom, and then back in Los Angeles, and then back in the United Kingdom, and I am currently residing outside of Los Angeles in Burbank, and seeking permanent residence in of the United States.

2. Jacobsen: In terms of the influence on development, what was it with this background?

Doctorow: I guess there is some influence. It is hard to qualify or quantify. I have written fiction about some of my family’s experiences. My grandmother was a child soldier in the siege of Leningrad. It was something that I did not know much about until I visited Saint Petersburg with her in the mid-2000s and she started to open up. I wrote a novella called After the Siege that’s built on that. I guess I have always had a sense that rhetoric about illegal immigrants or migration more generally was about my family.

All of the things that people say illegal immigrants must and mustn’t do were about the circumstances of my grandparents’ migration. My grandfather and grandmother were Red Army deserters, and they destroyed their papers after leaving Azerbaijan in order to qualify as displaced people and not be ingested back into the Soviet population. Maintaining that ruse, they were able to board a DP boat from Hamburg to Halifax, and that was how they migrated to Canada. If they had been truthful in their immigration process, they would have almost certainly ended up in the former Soviet Union and likely faced reprisals for deserting from the army as well.

3. Jacobsen: What about influences and pivotal moments in major cross-sections of early life including kindergarten, elementary school, junior high school, high school, and undergraduate studies (college/university)?

Doctorow: I went to fairly straightforward public schools. My mother is an early childhood education specialist, and she taught in my elementary school. When I was 9, we moved to a different neighbourhood, not far away, but far enough away that I could not walk to that old school anymore. At that point, I enrolled in a publicly funded alternative school called the ALP, the Alternative Learning Program. It was also too far away to walk. So, I started taking the bus on my own, which was significant in terms of my intellectual development later in life, and my ability to figure out the transit route, and jump on the bus, and go wherever it was that I wanted to go. It turned out to be extremely significant in my intellectual development. The alternative learning school, learning program rather, grouped kindergarten through grade 8 in one or two classes.

Older students were expected to teach the younger students. There was a lot of latitude to pursue the curriculum at our own pace. That was also significant in terms of my approach to learning. The school itself, when I was in grade 6, I think, or 7, and was re-homed in a much larger middle school that was much more conservative. A number of students there were military cadets. I had been active as an anti-war activist and an anti-nuclear proliferation activist that put me in conflict with the administration. I was beaten up and bullied by the students at the larger school. I was also penalized by the administration for my political beliefs. They basically did everything they could to interfere with our political organizing. We ran an activist group out of the school, and attempted protests and so on.

They would confiscate our materials, and they would allow, tacitly, those kids who were violent against us to get away with it. When I graduated from that program, my parents were keen on my attending a gifted school for grade 9. I found it terrible, focused on testing and rigid. much the opposite of the program that I had gone into and thrived in. So, after a couple months of that, I simply stopped going. Grade 9, I started taking the subway downtown and hanging out at the Metro reference library in Toronto, which is a giant reference library. At the time, they had a well-stocked microfiche and microfilm section with an archive going back to the 18th century, and I basically spent two or three weeks browsing through the paper archives, going through the subject index and then finding things that were interesting, and then reading random chapters out of books that were interesting and so on, until my parent figured out I was not going to school anymore. We had a knockdown, drag out fight. That culminated with my switching to a publicly funded alternative secondary school called AISP, Alternative Independent Study Program.

I went there for two years, and then enrolled in a school downtown called SEED school. SEED school was a much more radical, open, and alternative school, where attendance was not mandatory, courses weren’t mandatory. I took most of the school year off to organize opposition to the first Gulf war. I took most of another year off to move to Baja California, Mexico with a word processor and write. I took about 7 years altogether to graduate with a 4-year diploma, and then I went through 4 undergraduate university programs. None of which I stayed in for more than a semester.

The first was York University Interdisciplinary studies program. The second was University of Toronto’s Artificial Intelligence Program. The third was Michigan State University’s graduate writing program, which I was given early admission to, and then the fourth one was University of Waterloos independent studies program. After a semester or so at each of them, I concluded they were a bit rigid and not to my liking, and after the fourth one, after Waterloo, I figured I was not cut out for undergraduate education. The tipping point was that the undergraduate program with a thesis year. It is a year-long independent project. I proposed a multimedia hyper-textual project delivered on CD-ROM that would talk about social deviance and the internet, and while they thought the subject was interesting, they were a little dubious about it. But they were four square that anything that I did would have to show up on 8.5×11, 20-pound bond and ALA style book. And I got a job offer to program CD-ROMs from a contractor that worked with Voyager, which was one of the largest and the best multimedia publishers in the world.

I thought, “I can stay here and not do hypertext and pay you guys a lot of money, or I can take this job that pays more than I have ever mad e in my life and do exactly the work that you’re not going to let me do here.” When I thought about it in those terms, it was an easy decision to drop out and I never looked back.

4. Jacobsen: At the outset, you did mention that the ability to travel by bus was an important moment for you in terms of your intellectual development. Can you please expand on that?

Doctorow: Sure, as I went through these alternative schools, I had a large degree of freedom in terms of my time, and how I structured my work, and so, for example when I was 9 or 10, we did a school field trip to a library that was then called the Spaced Out Library, a science fiction reference collection, and now called the Merril Collection. It was founded by the writer and critic Judith Merril. She left the United States after the Chicago 1968 police riots, and moved to Canada in protest. She brought her personal library with her, which she donated to the Toronto library system, where she was the writer-in-residence. After going there once, and finding this heaven of books and reference material, and lots of other things, I started jumping on the subway whenever I had a spare moment and going down there. Merril herself, being the writer-in-residence, would meet with writers like me and critique our work. And from them, I discovered the science fiction book store, which I later went on to work at.

I would add that to my daily or weekly rounds, and go and raid their news book section, and their 25 cent rack, and began reading my way through the field. At the same time, my political activism and work in anti-nuclear proliferation movement, and the reproductive freedom movement, working as an escort at the Toronto abortion clinics to escort women through the lines of protestors. As I became more and more knowledgeable about the city, and all of its ways of getting around, I also found myself engaged with all of these different communities.

5. One of things that seems like a trend to me, and you can correct me if I am wrong, please. In the sense that, you have the rigid part of the educational system that you did go through. So, for instance, the earlier gifted program that you disliked, but when you had more freedom you did not note any general dislike of that, and, in fact, your general trajectory seems to indicate a trend towards more open-source information and in terms of educational style, too. That seems to be your preference, and that does seem to reflect a lot of gifted and talented students’ experiences in the traditional educational system. Any advice for gifted and talented youths that might read this interview in terms of what educational resources that they can get too?

Phew. I do not know., one of the things that going through the gifted and talented program, which was called gifted back then, taught me is that gifted is like this incredibly – it is a – problematic label. It privileges a certain learning style. I mean I did not thrive in a gifted program. I did terribly in a gifted program because the gifted program seems largely about structure, and same with the undergraduate programs, imposing structure on the grounds that if kids were left to their own devices, they would goof off. For me, although, I did my share of goofing off. If I was left sufficiently bored, and if I were given enough hints about where I would find exciting things that would help me leave that boredom, I was perfectly capable of taking control of my own educational experience, and because it was self-directed it was much more meaningful and stuck much more deeply than anything that would have been imposed on me.

It is like intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. The things that I came to because I found them fascinating or compelling. I ended up doing in much more depth, and ended up staying with me much longer, than the things that I was made to do, and the things that the grownups and educators did for me was laid out the buffet, but not tell me what I had to pick off of it and in what order, and that was super beneficial to me. I think that when we say gifted and talented we often mean pliable or bit-able, as opposed to intellectually curious or ferocious. Although, I think we have elements of all of those in us. The selling of a gifted and talented program often comes at the expense of being independent and intrinsically motivated in your learning style.

6. You earned an honorary doctorate in computer science from the Open University (UK). What does this mean to you?

It meant rather a lot. More than I even thought it would. My parents were upset at my decision to drop out of undergraduate programs and not finish them. A decade after I dropped out of Waterloo, after I had multiple New York Times bestsellers under my belt, they were still like, “Have you thought about going back and finishing that undergraduate degree? For me, I think that undergraduate degree signified an escape and also was of becoming who they were. My grandparents were not well-educated. My grandfather was functionally illiterate in five different languages. [Laughter]. My grandmother too. My parents were arguably the first people in their family to be literate. Being the eldest of their cohort, respectively, they were the first people to become literate, not the last by any stretch, but finished a doctorate in education. For them, formal structured credentializing education was a pathway to an intellectual freedom. For me, it was the opposite, and yet it was clear that my parents – no matter what I did – were less than delighted with my progress. There would always be something missing in my progress for so long as I did not have a formal academic credential. So, they were awfully excited when I got the degree. I had some vicarious excitement. Plus, I thoroughly enjoyed to riff them on why they did it the hard way and spent all that time and money on their degree, when all you needed to do was hang around until the someone gave you one. Of course, I have more respect for the Academy that that. [Laughing]

[Laughing]

But it also meant that instrumentally gave me a lot of advantages. I have been a migrant on many occasions into many countries and have suffered from the lack of formal academic credentials. Immigration systems of most countries rely on credentialing as a heuristic of who is the person they want to resettle in their territories, and the lack of an academic credential meant that, for example, to get my 01 visa in the United States is an alien of extraordinary ability visa, which is typically only available to people with doctorate or post-doctorate credential. I needed to file paperwork that demonstrated the equivalent. My initial visa application was 600, and 900 pages in my second renewal and 1,200 pages in my recent one.

They were that long in order to convince the US immigration authorities that what I have done amounts to a graduate degree, so, that instrumental piece of it was nice, but then, finally, it was a connection to the Open University, which is an institution that I think very, highly of. Their commitment to a distance education, individualized curriculum for lifelong learning matches with my own learning style, and the way I think about pedagogy more generally. I was honored to gain this long-term affiliation with the university with what amounts to a lifelong affiliation with the university. It was exciting.

Bibliography

  1. Doctorow, C. (2016). Crap Hound. Retrieved from craphound.com.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Activist; Blogger; Journalist; Science Fiction Author.

[2] Individual Publication Date: July 8, 2018: www.in-sightjournal.com; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

[3] Photograph courtesy of Cory Efram Doctorow and Jonathan Worth Creative Commons Attribution 3.0.

[4] About Cory Doctorow (2015) states:

                Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger — the co-editor of Boing Boing (boingboing.net) and the author of many books, most recently IN REAL LIFE, a graphic novel; INFORMATION DOES NOT WANT TO BE FREE, a book about earning a living in the Internet age, and HOMELAND, the award-winning, best-selling sequel to the 2008 YA novel LITTLE BROTHER.

            One paragraph:

                Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger — the co-editor of Boing Boing (boingboing.net) and the author of the YA graphic novel IN REAL LIFE, the nonfiction business book INFORMATION DOES NOT WANT TO BE FREE< and young adult novels like HOMELAND, PIRATE CINEMA and LITTLE BROTHER and novels for adults like RAPTURE OF THE NERDS and MAKERS. He works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group. Born in Toronto, Canada, he now lives in Los Angeles.

            Full length:

                Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is a science fiction novelist, blogger and technology activist. He is the co-editor of the popular weblog Boing Boing (boingboing.net), and a contributor to The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, Wired, and many other newspapers, magazines and websites. He is a special consultant to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org), a non-profit civil liberties group that defends freedom in technology law, policy, standards and treaties. He holds an honorary doctorate in computer science from the Open University (UK), where he is a Visiting Professor; in 2007, he served as the Fulbright Chair at the Annenberg Center for Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California.

                His novels have been translated into dozens of languages and are published by Tor Books, Titan Books (UK) and HarperCollins (UK) and simultaneously released on the Internet under Creative Commons licenses that encourage their re-use and sharing, a move that increases his sales by enlisting his readers to help promote his work. He has won the Locus and Sunburst Awards, and been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and British Science Fiction Awards.

                His two latest books are IN REAL LIFE, a young adult graphic novel created with Jen Wang (2014); and INFORMATION DOES NOT WANT TO BE FREE, a business book about creativity in the Internet age (2014).

                His latest young adult novel is HOMELAND, the bestselling sequel to 2008’s LITTLE BROTHER. His latest novel for adults is RAPTURE OF THE NERDS, written with Charles Stross and published in 2012. His New York Times Bestseller LITTLE BROTHER was published in 2008. His latest short story collection is WITH A LITTLE HELP, available in paperback, ebook, audiobook and limited edition hardcover. In 2011, Tachyon Books published a collection of his essays, called CONTEXT: FURTHER SELECTED ESSAYS ON PRODUCTIVITY, CREATIVITY, PARENTING, AND POLITICS IN THE 21ST CENTURY (with an introduction by Tim O’Reilly) and IDW published a collection of comic books inspired by his short fiction called CORY DOCTOROW’S FUTURISTIC TALES OF THE HERE AND NOW. THE GREAT BIG BEAUTIFUL TOMORROW, a PM Press Outspoken Authors chapbook, was also published in 2011.

                LITTLE BROTHER was nominated for the 2008 Hugo, Nebula, Sunburst and Locus Awards. It won the Ontario Library White Pine Award, the Prometheus Award as well as the Indienet Award for bestselling young adult novel in America’s top 1000 independent bookstores in 2008; it was the San Francisco Public Library’s One City/One Book choice for 2013. It has also been adapted for stage by Josh Costello.

                He co-founded the open source peer-to-peer software company OpenCola, and serves on the boards and advisory boards of the Participatory Culture Foundation, the Clarion Foundation, the Metabrainz Foundation and The Glenn Gould Foundation.

                On February 3, 2008, he became a father. The little girl is called Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow, and is a marvel that puts all the works of technology and artifice to shame.

Doctorow, C. (2015, July 30). About Cory Doctorow. Retrieved from http://craphound.com/bio/.

 

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part One) [Online].July 2018; 17(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-one.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, July 8). An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part One)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-one.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part One). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A, July. 2018. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-one>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2018. “An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-one.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A (July 2018). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-one.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-one>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-one.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 17.A (2018):July. 2018. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-one>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part One) [Internet]. (2018, July; 17(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/doctorow-one.

License and Copyright

License

In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Three)

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 17.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Thirteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: July 8, 2018

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 4,071

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Bob Kuhn, J.D. is the President of Trinity Western University (TWU). He discusses: the legislation of behaviour; the Canadian community; the question of how much Canadians are willing to sacrifice; interaction with prior TWU presidents; diet cokes and tuna sandwiches; limited edition Bob Kuhn’s coons; precision in language; and the summary of the New Testament Gospel.

Keywords: Bob Kuhn, CEO, Christian, president, religion, Trinity Western University.

Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D.: President, Trinity Western University (Part Three)[1],[2],[3]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: I thought about the legislation of behaviour. Even – pardon the phrases – murderers, rapists, and child molesters in prison, their behaviour is highly controlled, but we can probably agree.

The ones guilty and in prison rather than wrongful convictions pretty much have bad hearts, but their behaviour is very tightly “legislated.”

Bob Kuhn: Our recidivism rate is through the roof. The US ability to incarcerate new people is questionable.

Jacobsen: [Laughing] if they put a big wall around the entire country…

Kuhn: [Laughing] Yes, yes, a big wall to trap all the people inside.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Kuhn: It defies a characterization. Christianity defies a characterization. That the heart is something at issue here. One’s heart is in need of repair. So, the way we go about living out those values that have the reparative effect. How do we go out loving people we have strong disagreements with? That is, ultimately, the success of a community, I think.

It can be a pretty wonderful thing.

2. Jacobsen: What is our largest community? It is the Canadian community.

Kuhn: Right.

Jacobsen: If we dismiss that entirely or in its entirety, it could lead to problems for sub-communities within the country as well – as a general point.

If you infringe on the individual rights of a person based on the group they are identified with on some standardized definition of the group – because there are concerns about the community and the individual, it is very hard to disentangle sometimes, and, of course, you would know better than I would in legal contexts; if someone’s right is infringed based on group identity, then both the individual and the group are infringed upon.

So, you take one of the most dramatic examples in the early to middle 20th century. Some were accepted by the government definition of being Jewish descent or heritage. So, say, you are born of a Jewish mother, but do not practice the Jewish religion.

You are ethnically Jewish by descent by the mother, but you are not by religion. So – I do not know if this is the case, you are sent to the work camps or incineration. The group is hugely violated, massively violated, at the same time the individual is violated.

The conversations we have been having in and out today, around the individual and the community. There are some threads that tie the two together.

Kuhn: Yes, for sure. The metaphor used in the New Testament is the “body,” the Body of Christ. So, if one part of the body hurts, then the whole body carries the pain. It is not as if you isolate that.

Individual rights do not get isolated. It does not have an affect. AIDs, for instance, there is a whole community of people. As far as I understand, the Aboriginal and Indigenous communities are suffering the consequences of AIDs.

I supposed there are reasons for that. We can talk about the reasons of that. But the whole community hurts. We can say, “We can fix that by legislating that.” You are not going to fix it that way. Trying to legislate people’s hearts, when you can only legislate their behaviour.

There will always be ways in which people go back to legislating behaviour. This is where I go back to ED (Equality, Diversity, and Inclusivity) – trying to legislate that. We are going to get it wrong, more wrong than right.

I think what we have done is a reasonably good job at educating people at why this is important to consider and why we have gender inequity in the workforce. That is more compelling when we are educating and legislating.

I probably did not follow your script very well.

Jacobsen: One point about EDI, as a standardized policy. Even if there is sufficient consultation of things, I hesitate. I say this as a young person. I hesitate at too rapid of a reform in a country that ranks very high on education – elementary, middle, high, and post-secondary (undergraduate and graduate) – as well as the quality of life metrics.

This is by international organizations. That might be organs publishing studies through the United Nations. These rankings are an indication of overall success in providing for the needs of the people of the country.

So, rapid change amounts to saying, “We have a much better solution to all your ills. So, let us jump on that train.” Yet, we rank so high. Who else do we have to compare to? Some of the Scandinavian countries, Iceland, Finland, and so on.

These countries only do marginally better. It is the Jerry Seinfeld joke. The person in first place on the sprint about 1/100th of a second ahead. One guy 1/1,000th second behind. Never heard of him.

It is in that sense. We are doing so well on education, so well on quality of life metrics, which is a general term for health and wellbeing and all the other things. That to say that it has to be done rapidly and that these are obviously the right solutions.

It raises questions for me as a Canadian citizen, not necessarily the efficacy of it, but the rapid implementation of it. That raises question marks to me.

Kuhn: That is a good point: the means by which and the speed by which changes are advocated and are legislated means we are not carefully considering the consequences. One of things is that the inequity in the media.

The attention in North American media to things that are totally meaningless. Yet, we don’t talk about that being inequitable. We do not talk about people starving in other countries are suffering injustices.

If that was equivalent to WWII, we would not say, “That is a mess over there. We can only focus over here.” In a sense, it expands on the community discussion. That we have not taken responsibility internationally.

That we have put out our – as you put it – potential to be slightly elevated beyond where we are now, to the top of the heap. We would put that above the people suffering problems that we could solve in a weekend if we just put out minds to it

3. Jacobsen: Let me take an example of Marielle Franco, she was 38. She was an up-and-coming career politician. A lot of people in that community in Brazil loved her. She was found with four bullets in her head.

That is a different sort of problem. In America, there were at least seven political assassinations: Kennedy, X, King, another Kennedy [Laughing]. These people were being assassinated based on political differences.

So, just on levels of rapid change, of removal through death, of political leaders, we do not have that. They might have a health problem. With on mayor, allegations that turned out to be true with drug use.

People would say, “The crackhead mayor of Toronto.” People make fun of those. It is not catastrophically bad. It is bad. It is bad by some historical Canadian standards, but it is not the end of the world by any comparison.

I agree with you. In the sense, we should be focusing on others who are in less fortunate circumstances. Based on the metrics, this is one of the best systems around. I agree with another point.

“Yes, but…” our focus internally is only based on how far we can extend our influence or reach. We are only a country of 36 million. California state has more people than we do as a country maybe 1.5 million or 2 million people.

As well, the kinds of foci that people might have; those are only going to be local. They are going to be within their community. They are going to be based on the community or municipality with some more reach, or the province or territory if some more reach.

Even federally, we are seen by the World Economic Forum, I believe, as having the most positive influence on the world out of any other country. At the same time, what does that mean in practical terms?

We are a tiny country. We are pulling our weight. We are not pulling Singapore weight per capita, but we are pulling a good weight for a positive image. At the same time, at what point is it reasonable to expect we are influencing other countries?

Kuhn: I question how much Canadians are willing to sacrifice for the benefit of the population of the globe. I think self-interest ranks pretty high in our list of priorities in our country. That is true of probably all countries, to a greater or lesser extent.

Unless, you have been to those other places and let them touch you heart, “How do you feel going to a full grocery store and jobs?” There is a lot to be said for transporting people away from their comfort zone.

I am intrigued by some of the good stories of people who come here from Syria and other areas. I am thinking of one of our bookkeepers who came from Syria. He was telling a story, a remarkable story. His whole attitude was one of humility and thankfulness.

He was appreciative of everything this country had given him. But yet, that story really does not filter down very far. We tend to gravitate towards the harsh things. I often think one of the benefits of being in a university like this is that there is a high value given to many of the students to service and sacrifice to a certain extent, and caring about those around you. I forgot the stats exactly, but a huge percentage are involved in doing something to better the community, whether it is prison work with inmates or Downtown Eastside.

I wonder, “What is it?” Maybe, that is the best approach with one person at a time, by changing their hearts with care and concern for people. I do think that we are overfed.

Jacobsen: Also, over-sassy.

Kuhn: Yes, fat and sassy, it is an interesting time. It is a very interesting time to be alive.

4. Jacobsen: As the fourth president of Trinity Western University, and you have been working here for several years, and with the work in Parkinson’s activism, what is potential advice prior presidents of Trinity Western gave to you upon earning the position, as well as others you may have met in other leadership arenas, e.g. the work in Parkinson’s?

Some of them may have read the blog Positively Parkinson’s and were influential in that world. They say, “Not only are you going to make a great president, but you should talk to Bob or Jimmy over here,” then they give you some advice.

Kuhn: I, unfortunately, didn’t have the opportunity to gather much advice from my predecessors. I would probably go back to the first president who was the president when I was a student here in the 70s

He had some interesting things. He used them quite often. I often reflect on that. If Christ is Lord, then nothing is secular.

Jacobsen: I remember hearing that from some of your work. Can you elaborate on that?

Kuhn: I think, as Christians who follow Christ, there is no aspect of living that is not touched by that commitment or that relationship – or “worldview” I will call it from an intellectual perspective. It touches everything.

It is one of the things that makes sense to me. No matter what we do or how we do it, it sounds trite. Yet, I find myself repeating it more times than I can remember. It is to remember to do the right thing, in the right way, with the right attitude.

Of course, the “right” implies some “moral” or “better than.” It is probably not a helpful terminology. The right thing, we usually know what is the right thing to do. We do not know if it is the right way to do it.

Even more, we do not know if we are doing it with the right attitude. But as I try to measure, “Is this the right thing to do? Is this the right way to do it? Is this the right attitude?” if I do not have all those three, then they are probably wrong in some sense.

If I have all those three, then I think I can stand and say, “I approached this. If I am wrong, forgive me.” But that sort of dovetails with what Calvin B. Hanson used to say. I think that is an all-pervasive summary.

From the Parkinson’s community, I think, there is a ton. I have learned a ton from being someone who has the constant companion of Parkinson’s. It is a very, sometimes, demanding but very good teacher.

It teaches not just a form of humility. Because do you want to be humiliated or humble?

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Kuhn: If you aren’t humble, it will make you so in a big hurry. It teaches you compassion because you learn there are a lot of people hurting in a lot of ways. You have something that they do not understand and maybe can’t understand, but they try to understand.

That goes a long way, if they try to hear what your heart is saying in coping with a disease that is incurable so far, and will only get worse. The Parkinson’s community has taught me to not be afraid to talk about physical disabilities

That, in itself, creates harm, because we feel uncomfortable. Nobody feels particularly comfortable talking to somebody in a wheelchair, but if you get down to where they are looking rather than having them look up at you.

It is quite a magical thing. It makes them human. Parkinson’s did that more for me than I thought. I would not have guessed that. I thought I was reasonably compassionate before. But I was processing compassion in the head.

People don’t want pity. Sometimes, they do.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Kuhn: People definitely want to be understood. The effort you make to try to understand. It shows the value of listening and silence.

5. Jacobsen: Why do you have tuna sandwiches and diet cokes every lunch?

Kuhn: Oh my gosh. I used to. But these days, I have been changing things up. Sometimes, it is easier to not have to make decisions.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Kuhn: I make a lot of decisions every day. Just not having to choose what to eat for lunch, it is probably good for me, except the diet coke.  I have made some change to a roast beef sandwich. Parkinson’s has dulled my sense of smell. It dulls things.

My olfactory glands not producing necessary receptors to translate smell. Taste is somewhat diminished because of the smell. That is one of those sneak-up-on-you parts of Parkinson’s. When Alexa and Shawn, two interns who I had and you met, that was the tuna sandwich and diet coke phase. I don’t know why.

Now, I go to the cafeteria.

6. Jacobsen: Why were Bob Kuhn’s coons or Kuhn’s Coons limited edition? What charity did you sell them or auction them off to?

Kuhn: I originally thought of the idea leading up to the Montreal 2013 World Parkinson’s Congress. I was an ambassador for that. In 2012, I did a world round-trip. Part of my goal in this, my friend and I took two-and-a-half months and travelled to 17 countries.

As somebody related to the Parkinson’s community, I thought, “It would be cool, like a Flat Stanley.” Flat Stanley is this contrived character that is flat. It is a cut out. It is taken and put in pictures from all around the world.

“This is us and Flat Stanley in Peru. This is us and Flat Stanley in Paris.” The creation of a flat character that I could take pictures with around the world for people. That was the idea. It grew into not having a mascot for World Parkinson’s. What about a raccoon?

It has some attributes similar to people with Parkinson’s. I won’t bore you with that. I said, “I will buy 1,000 raccoons.” I had them made. I had someone develop the design. I bought a thousand raccoon plush toys. You can have one if you want.

Jacobsen: Sure [Ed. I was given one later].

Kuhn: It was a hit! It didn’t sell a 1,000. That was an optimistic goal. I wanted to beef it up. I bought the rest back. I used them as opportunities to talk to children about Parkinson’s disease. I call them Parkie.

Whenever someone brings their kids, I love kids. I love babies. I get a lot of people coming by. I give them a Parkie and explain a little bit about Parkie. Their parents are then given an introduction into why Bob sometimes has the shakes.

I have a nine-year-old grandson. It is sort of fashioned to be a conversation-starter with respect to Parkinson’s. It caught on. Then they had a big mascot. In Portland in 2016, the World Parkinson’s Congress happens every 3 years.

So, they had a big, huge mascot. A big huge cut out for pictures to be taken. I understand the next one is going to be in Japan. It has been a great, fun story to tell. When I was growing up, my nickname was “Coonskin.”

I identified with the raccoon for some reason.

6. Jacobsen: As a lawyer, you have a precision with language. When someone asks, “How are you?” they reply, “I am good.” Why does that not sit well with you?

Kuhn: It has been a pet peeve for a while. I was probably corrected at one point in time. That, to say that, is inaccurate. Typically, you are not more good than anyone else. That you are “well.” I say that is the proper English.

English has been expanded to include colloquialisms like “I am good.” But still, when you think about it, are you good? I sometimes might be good. Mother Teresa is someone who is good. I do not dwell on that.

It is more of a grammatical issue. I want especially young people to use the language with some abandon, using the word “like” four times in a sentence.

Jacobsen: Or using “really” or “you know.”

Kuhn: Using “uhm” as a start to a sentence or a filler between two sentences, I, especially the president’s interns, tell them I am going to rough on them about speaking and convince them that you can hear yourself as you speak and can correct your language.

That the more you hear yourself speak, then the less you will use filler words and words that are else appropriate. With some people, that sticks. I hope to improve language skills. It is partially a vocabulary skill as well.

I think learning to look up words that you don’t know expands your horizons and increases your ability to communicate. That increases your ability to have relationships that are perhaps more full, more significant. Maybe that is all wishful thinking.

7. Jacobsen: Developing in the German-Stoic family background, in the Baptist tradition, and transitioning into the more formal Evangelical tradition seen at Trinity Western University, what best summarizes the New Testament Gospel to you?

Kuhn: I think the quintessential nature of the New Testament Gospel was John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

That is the King James because [Laughing] that is what we grew up with. Except, that was memorized when I was too young to know any versions at all. I probably wouldn’t use that version today. Certainly, my upbringing would be consistent with the Evangelical perspective.

So, for me, there is no inconsistency for the historical roots of my faith. I think that belief in a God that cares, that loves, that is interested in every detail of your life, and allows us to make choices on our own at the same time as being involved and interested in our lives.

That paradox of a God of the universe and a God who cares is, to me, essential. The Gospel message of responding to our, whether we admit or not, depraved state is necessary. When we talk about hope, for me, that is the hope.

There is a Bible reference. I have forgotten what the actual address of that reference. But I think it is out of Paul’s letters. It said, “Be always ready to give the reason for the hope that lies within.” For me, I cannot imagine living life without the hope that lies within.

That is a daily response. That is the Parkinson’s that taps me on the shoulder 24/7. It is as meaningful as anything that I can imagine. Without that hope, I think that I would be relegated to the heaps of optimists with cynical attitudes.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Kuhn: I understand that at some level, but I find no matter what question I have been able to come up with that seems important to me. I find the answer in a Christian approach, a Christian faith.

It fits me very well. It fits, I think, many others well. It answers the deepest questions. At the same time, it doesn’t provide glib responses to those questions. At least, it doesn’t in my opinion. I am sure others would differ.

I find it – what would be the word – satisfying at a heart deep, soul deep level. It removes the anxiety that otherwise plagues my life or would without it. I am not what you call, probably, a “Bible Thumper.” I do not wear my faith on my sleeve like some people do.

I am conscious of my propensity for hypocrisy. That is a start.

8. Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mr. Kuhn.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1President, Trinity Western University.

[2] Individual Publication Date: July 8, 2018 at http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-three; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018 at https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

[3] J.D. (1979), University of British Columbia (J.D. 1979); B.A. (1976), University of British Columbia; A.A. (1972), Trinity Western College.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Three) [Online].July 2018; 17(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-three.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, July 8). Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Three)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-three.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Three). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A, July. 2018. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-three>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2018. “Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Three).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-three.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Three).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A (July 2018). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-three.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Three)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-three>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Three)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-three.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Three).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 17.A (2018):July. 2018. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-three>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Three) [Internet]. (2018, July; 17(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-three.

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Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Two)

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 17.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Thirteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: July 1, 2018

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 4,181

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Bob Kuhn, J.D. is the President of Trinity Western University (TWU). He discusses: leading a nation; justice versus mercy; former prime minister interviews; hope and optimism; increased depression and hopelessness in youth; joke about phones and other devices; and bullying, FIRE, Greg Lukianoff, Sally Satel, universities, crime rates, and being socially blind.

Keywords: Bob Kuhn, CEO, Christian, president, religion, Trinity Western University.

Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D.: President, Trinity Western University (Part Two)[1],[2],[3]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: It takes a special person to look at the position of prime minister of Canada or the president of the United States, or leaders of other advanced industrial economies – most often in East Asia, Western Europe, and North America – and think, “I can do that.”

It was something noted in the earlier part of the interview. It seems the disposition is a certain sense of grandiosity.

Not necessarily in an unhealthy way in every case, there is a certain self-confidence of some leaders, which is appealing and can do positive things in international relation and in doing diplomatic work.

At the same time, it can be unhealthy.

Bob Kuhn: Disastrous. I think the issue is if a leader can be confident without being arrogant. What is the place of humility? Clearly, we don’t want any false humility. In my experience, what is typically missing in most leaders is this true sense of humility.

That they themselves should see themselves as privileged to have the opportunity from where they are. It comes from a deep sense of gratitude. That deep sense of “You do not deserve this. Nobody deserves what they got. If people got what they deserved, we would be in a lot worse shape than we are.”

We would be born in some disadvantaged area of the globe in some potentially war-torn, starvation ravaged area. The self-focus, it is one of the reasons that I like Patrick Lencioni, he emphasises the need for humility in leadership.

He characterized it as an essential quality. That is where I think a lot of our leaders lack humility, a true sense of humility. Without it, that, to me, translates into they’re relying on their own devices, their own wits, their own political power, or whatever, and not recognizing that they have a tremendous need to be thankful for all that they have and to be there as a service.

I see leadership as a service to others. It is a sacrifice. If it is not a sacrifice, then current-day leaders should not sacrifice at a certain level. But if it is not sacrifice in service of others, then you got the wrong leader.

Sacrifice is one of those terms people do not use very often anymore. “I have to give something up?”

Jacobsen: [Laughing] Same with virtue.

Kuhn: Right, in today’s parlance, is there a place for virtue? That gets translated into many other things that might be considered moralistic or religious in some cases or views. I think a lot of that comes through the fact that we have become so individual rights oriented.

I have practiced law for a long time now. I always hated the case where I had to represent Goliath. I would rather be on the side of David. Because the court would be all on my side. We, as a society, have come to expect that.

It helps compensate for some of the imbalance of power. However, it defies an objective sense of justice. Clients used to say, “I want justice.” I would say, “Well, we have a legal system, not a justice system. There is a world of difference. In the legal system, we play by rules and try to advocate for our position, but we can’t necessarily dispense justice. We try. Some people try harder than others.”

If you expect justice from the legal system, then you will be disappointed many times.

2. Jacobsen: At the end of the day, most Canadians most of the time probably when they think about it do not want justice. They want mercy [Laughing].

Kuhn: That is a great line. They don’t want justice. If we want justice, we probably are misguided to think that we are entitled to that.

Jacobsen: Besides, our stature now in terms of quality of life came from love and self-sacrifice of – virtues in my opinion – prior generations to get us where we are. Lifespan 250 years ago or less was half, less than half, of what it is now, even for men.

Kuhn: I had a discussion yesterday. We were talking about WWII. If WWII were called today, would we have anybody to go?

Jacobsen: Primary question: would anyone qualify for the physical standards?

Kuhn: [Laughing] Yes, that is true.

Jacobsen: Second question: then would anyone have the moral gumption and courage to sacrifice their lives?

Kuhn: I think the answer is unequivocally, “No.”

3. Jacobsen: I did two interviews with the only two former prime minister who I emailed so far. There is probably a half-dozen left alive. I had trouble finding Jean Chretien, Stephen Harper, and so on. Their emails.

When I did interviews with Paul Martin and the other with Kim Campbell, both took on specific tasks of self-sacrifice from what mattered to them. Apart from disagreements some may have with what they work for, they had that value of sacrificing “my own later life for a position and finances and the stability of infrastructure of particular movements.”

Paul Martin with the Martin Family Initiative (MFI). He focuses on Indigenous youth throughout the young lifecycle on health, wellbeing, and educational outcomes. With Kim Campbell, she focuses on women’s rights and things associated with that.

Those are moderately general domains of focus relevant to things that concern them, but both are unified by that sense of sacrificing their later lives. They could be in Cancun. They do not do it.

Kuhn: One of my favourite quotes is Helen Keller, “Life is an adventure or it is nothing at all.” I use that in some of my speaking because of Parkinson’s Disease. I feel it is part of the adventure. No, I probably wouldn’t prefer to have this. But it is part of life.

You approach it with an attitude similar – I hope it is similar – to the prisoner of war. The Jewish psychologist, he lived through the concentration camps. Viktor Frankl said, “The one thing you can‘t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to meThe last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

The attitude that you have in adversity is the key to what you need to survive.

Jacobsen: It makes sense, to me. It makes sense to have that sense of purpose. I believe Rick Warren has an extraordinarily popular book.

Kuhn: The Purpose Driven Life.

Jacobsen: I believe Dan Barker wrote a book called Life Driven Purpose.

Kuhn: You are right. It makes sense. If there is no purpose, I think there is no hope. Without hope, people perish. I was thinking about that earlier today, talking about hope. Hope is this ephemeral thing. You have it or you don’t.

If you do lose hope, that is where depression can happen. People who have hope tend to not have depression. It is relative of course. You wonder “Where does hope come from? Is it genetic? Is it experiential? Is it some sort of worldview?”

We don’t spend enough time thinking about where hope comes from for different people. I supposed for different religions and different traditions. Without it, we are self-doomed.

4. Jacobsen: Noam Chomsky has a quote about hope or optimism. If you do not hope or have an optimism to work against something that is opposed to what is important to you, you give up. Then you guarantee the worst will happen.

If you try at least, which requires that basis of hope or optimism, then you can guarantee at least an amelioration of the types of problems that might arise. That is already pretty good because it is already moving away from the worst possible scenario.

Kuhn: I often think hope is required in daily doses. If you are not getting your daily doses of hope, whatever generates that, you end up with a sense of hopelessness because hope is deferred, deflected

I usually use that line in the context of Parkinson’s, so many people have this hope of a cure. Michael J. Fox and others, hope that someone will turn over a rock and will find a cure. That doesn’t feed you everyday. That leaves you depressed because it is still a long ways-away.

I talk about adventure. Life is an adventure. We grab hold before it spins away. We fear losing hold. We hesitate out of fear. We fail to grasp the adventure that it is all a part of life and meaning in a way.

5. Jacobsen: Whether innate or environment as the positive correlation, the sense of hopelessness leading to a real or a perceived self-generated depression. You mentioned – midway through the conversation – depression or apparent depression in students in the Millennial, plus or minus a couple years on the generational range, undergraduate and graduate students.

Do you think that lack of hope amounts to at least one factor to play into that increased depression and hopelessness among youth? If so, why?

Kuhn: Yes. I am not sure I can answer this at all. It comes back to talking a bit about what we were talking about before. The “fat and sassy” nature of our society.

Jacobsen: [Laughing] I love that phrase.

Kuhn: When Millennials see, “That is not the way the future is going to be. I cannot aspire to it.” I had mediocre grades. I had to work really hard for my marks. These days, you can work hard for your marks and still not move ahead in the lineup.

You might still end up a barista at Starbucks. “What hope is there for people who are normal like me?” They are left with fewer choices, a world more threatening in some ways. What do kids – I’ll call them, young people – have hope in? Their world is more compromised in many respects.

The opportunities are reduced. I think these things are like hope draining machines.

[Points to phone]

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Kuhn: They isolate us. The degree to which they isolate us. It is a metaphor in a sense. Parkinson’s, one of its rarely understood aspects is that it is a self-isolating disease. People who have Parkinson’s usually have  A-type personalities for an unknown reason.

They fade to black. They disappear. I am not sure as to all of the reasons. One is a lack of confidence, hope, and reason to live. All of those dark thoughts. It is a little bit like a machine. That we carry around with all of us.

We choose to self-isolate. The stats on these things are that people in the Millennial generation would rather text than have face-to-face interactions. That is astonishing to me. That the live interaction in person is down below emails.

That is really quite indicative. Why are people attracted to that?

6. Jacobsen: Jerry Seinfeld had a joke about people with iPhones or Androids. People look down slowly, chin on their chest. The question they’re asking, “Let me see, what has more buttons? My phone or your face?” [Laughing]

Kuhn: It is a remarkable commentary. Isn’t it?

Jacobsen: It is.

Kuhn: That we can’t leave it alone. We are constantly making value judgments. When people are sitting in a meeting, they are saying, “It is more important that I look at this phone than that I pay attention to my co-worker, colleague.”

Jacobsen: Who may be wincing because I said something rude.

Kuhn: Yes, it is another form of incivility in a sense. It is another form of devaluing the person. I think it generates out of this individualism that we have adopted with such vigour. Community is atomized. I forget who used that term.

Someone said that recently. Community is atomized. We are feeding that atomization by not creating some means of interacting. I frankly think that is one of the aspirations, not always achieved, of Trinity Western. It is the best thing about Trinity Western.

It is its community. We do not always succeed. But I think if you spend some time listening, being eyes and ears. You would find this to be a far different place than you would find in a secular or public university.

It is hard to explain what that is, but lots of people who have no affinity for an Evangelical Christian perspective have told me. That there is something going on, something special at this university. It is hard to define, but is positive and different.

We have people with depression. Same as any place else. The difference is people really care about each other. Professors care about students in class. Yesterday, I went down for lunch at the cafeteria.

Usually, I choose to sit with a group of students who I have never met before, to sit down and say, “Can I eat here?” Of course, they wince a little bit sometimes. I sit next to a young woman – first year. I ask, “How has it been? Has it lived up to its billing – life at Trinity?”

She said, “Yea…” Just enough pause to know this wasn’t a ringing endorsement. Then we had a half-hour discussion about depression. I can share some of the things that I go through. She began to smile because she was relating to someone who knew what depression was about.

That was an interaction in community. The opportunity to go face to face. I do not think that would happen, where the president of the university would sit down and have a conversation about her depression and how she is trying to go through that.

I think more of those interactions are needed to bring back hope. My hope is that she would get some sense of hope or encouragement out of that time. We need more of that. That would, maybe, be something that would generate civility and open honesty and inquiry rather than the forced political correctness, where we can’t wander outside for fear of offending someone.

I am probably as sensitive as the next person, but I think we have done that one a bit.

7. Jacobsen: Down that rabbit hole, the issue is not hurt feelings necessarily. It is a concern. Few people want to deliberately hurt another person’s feelings, whether faith, non-faith, ethnic background, political background, and so on.

The issue is, someone says an opinion, whether backed by fact or not, and people may disagree with that personally to the point that it feels like an affront, a personal offense.

Kuhn: Yes.

Jacobsen: They react in such a way that they condone silencing that person, threatening with physical violence on social media and other places. There is a task force on cyberbullying. I write for it.

The problems come from the reactions, not necessarily from the opinions. The opinions may be abhorrent; or they may be of the highest good.

Kuhn: Yes.

Jacobsen: However, the issues come from an individual’s sense of entitlement to silence another person that they disagree with or feel that they hurt their feelings simply by assuming the intention of the other person.

Kuhn: Yes.

Jacobsen: “I feel bad. Therefore, you intended to make me feel bad.”

Kuhn: Imputed motive.

Jacobsen: Imputed motive. Without the proper conduct in a civil society, discourse, especially in an academic environment where you would expect better behaviour from students or at least have the values conveyed to students that “this is the way it is done,” you ask the person, “Is this what you meant? What do you mean by that?”

Then you have a conversation. At that point, the civility opens up. That seems less and less the standard. I see some making larger claims about the campus around this. If you look at an organization like Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which is an organization by Greg Lukianoff, Sally Satel from the American Enterprise Institute recommended it to me.

I looked at the statistics for disinvitation from 2000-2014. In 2014, there were something like 40 disinvitations in 2014 out of all the speeches in the United States or North America out of the 2,600-2,700 universities.

Based on the statistics, not thorough enough but preliminary if independently, it seems minor but growing. The fact that it is growing can influence other aspects of academic life. It may be indicative of what is happening on the periphery of those statistics.

It is a concern to me, but more of a minor one than a major one. It makes the news sometimes, but it is an individual story. It is like saying, “The crime capital of Canada.” Proper response or retort, “Yes, in Canada.”

We maybe have 500-700 murders per year in all ways. California has as many murders as Canada in all ways in just stabbings. It is a difference in the way we relate to each other. I think it is an relevant issue on campus because it tends to be a moderately growing phenomena of concern of how people are relating to one another.

Maybe, it is because people aren’t relating each other enough. They are getting the isolation with their iPhones, Androids, and computers. It may be leading to a preference for no face-to-face interaction – texting, email, Skype, and so on, where these kinds of interactions lead to less social skills, less preference for people up front.

It leaves people blind, socially blind, to how a person winces, smiles, gives a certain inflection. If they are saying something polite, but if their body is saying, “I am going to hurt you. You smile and then go away.

It is skills like those that decline. It may, in part, explain some of the issues on campus around civility, around respect for another person’s right to say what they want whether it is true or not. Also, your right, as per the George Carlin sketch about the preacher John Wildman, to turn the dial to another station or turn the radio off.

You can not attend that lecture. You can walk away rather than threatening public violence, or disinviting, or coming on campus with banners and screaming them down – as happened to some public intellectuals on Canadian campuses, more prominently in the United States.

It is one of those things that concern me to a minor to an increasingly moderate degree, which I think relate to many of the things that you have been saying. With that as a theme, a thematic element, what are some of your hopes for Trinity Western for 2020?

Kuhn: Perhaps, an overarching hope would be that society generally would be able to accommodate a somewhat disparate now, historically not so, worldview. That is being given fairly short shrift on a number of fronts.

I hope that at some point the pendulum will quit swinging or swing back to some place of balance to the place of a Christian organization, such as this, in a pluralistic society. That pluralism becomes more of a real principle rather than – I will call it – peculiar pluralism.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Kuhn: That suggests some things are okay in pluralism and some things are not, which becomes hegemony. Anyway, I really hope for that. I think the lack of civility in some quarters in relation to that topic, whether talking about the proposed law school and the litigation, or other areas.

That would really be, maybe, a fond and somewhat faint hope. For Trinity, it would be that it would gain a greater comfort in its own skin perhaps. I think we are in a transitional era. We might have been one time accused of being a green house.

It is not possible, partly because of these machines (iPhones etc.), but it is not possible to make a bubble for Trinity even if you wanted to – which I do not think they want to. We do not need to embrace those things because we would question them.

We do not need to question. We need to engage. The uniqueness of the community here would be understood, perhaps.

Also, for the students themselves, that there would be a renewed understanding of sacrifice, for commitment in relationships. The need for community to have a place that means you may need to forego your individual rights. That is the nature of community.

We all forego something to be a part of a community. If we do not, then we lose that sense of community. However, we could then become pretty isolated and create a dreaded-dour community.

Those would be some of my hopes. It is hard work being unique in a sense. We could say, “We are unique as a manifestation of that,” but there are tremendous pressures to dissolve into the pressure that is society and wants conformity and homogeneity.

Even though they talk about it as diversity. It is this tremendously ironic characterization of Christianity in the context of equality, diversity, and inclusiveness. The message of Christ is for an equality that is far above and beyond.

An equality based on being equal. There is no such thing as equality at a human level. You and I are different. You have greater intellectual power and possession than I do. I may have something that you do not. Does that make us equal?

We are unique. For that purpose, equality is something far above than that diversity. Because we are different. How do we manifest diversity? Do we legislate diversity? Do we legislate inclusivity?

I believe that by going at it in some of the ways that we are going,  we will do more harm than good. That we will actually place burdens on people that we try to legislate the heart, which is, again, coming to community.

You cannot legislate the heart. So, we legislate behaviour and create the potential that people revert to violent means. All kinds of things, which are unsavoury for consideration at a societal level.

It leads me to a place of hope because I think there is still a hunger and a desire to have those relationships. I tell people that 40/45 years ago, I went here. Some of my good friends from then – many of my good friends – are still my friends today.

How many people can say that? That their first couple years of college. They maintained their relationship. That would be another hope, I guess. That those relationships people have engaged in and experienced here will be true and born out as having value over the long haul.

We are not very good anymore at delaying gratification. We want immediate results for everything.

Jacobsen: We suck at the Marshmallow Test.

Kuhn: [Laughing] Yes, yes.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1President, Trinity Western University.

[2] Individual Publication Date: July 1, 2018 at http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-two; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018 at https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

[3] J.D. (1979), University of British Columbia (J.D. 1979); B.A. (1976), University of British Columbia; A.A. (1972), Trinity Western College.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Two) [Online].July 2018; 17(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-two.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, July 1). Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Two)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-two.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Two). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A, July. 2018. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-two>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2018. “Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-two.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A (July 2018). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-two.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Two)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-two>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Two)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-two.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 17.A (2018):July. 2018. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-two>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Two) [Internet]. (2018, July; 17(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/bob-kuhn-two.

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In Conversation with Professor Scott O. Lilienfeld

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 17.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Thirteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: July 1, 2018

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 6,328

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Professor Scott O. Lilienfeld is a Professor of Psychology at the Emory University. He discusses: family background; pivotal or influential moments of personal background; common misconceptions about memory; Sir Karl Popper and Freud; tasks and responsibilities as a professor at Emory University; tips for the conveyance of a clear message in the communication of science; pseudoscience and core science with students; impediments to understanding and ignorance; early teaching of logic, critical thinking, and science; privileges of religions in society and the Baloney Detection Kit; Carl Sagan and good science communication; psychology as a science; simulation and prediction; and recommended resources or books on skepticism, critical thinking, and psychological science.

Keywords: clinical psychology, Emory University, psychology, Scott O. Lilienfeld.

In Conversation with Professor Scott O. Lilienfeld: Professor, Psychology, Emory University[1],[2],[3],[4]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Where does your family background reside in terms of geography, culture, and language to lay the groundwork?

Scott Lilienfeld: I was born and raised in New York City, born in Manhattan. I grew up in Queens and actually worked for many years a couple of blocks away from a man you may have heard of, he’s been in the news a bit lately. His name is Donald J. Trump.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Scott Lilienfeld: I was born and raised in New York City, born in Manhattan. I grew up in Queens and actually worked for many years a couple of blocks away from a man you may have heard of, he’s been in the news a bit lately. His name is Donald J. Trump.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Lilienfeld: In Jamaican Estates, I grew up there. I spent pretty much my whole childhood in New York City, especially Queens. My parents were second generation so my father’s family was from Austria-Hungary near Germany. My mother’s family was from all over the place, more from Poland, Russia, and those kinds of areas.

And language, I grew up to speak English, that’s about it. I was not raised in a particularly religious home though both my parents were Jewish. I’m not a particularly religious person at all right now although my parents did send me to Sunday school and although I would not say I had a religious upbringing, I valued religious culture and they brought me up culturally Jewish.

So that’s sort of my background. I first ventured out of New York City in college. I want to college in upstate New York in Cornell University. I was in New York pretty much my whole life until I was 21 and then I moved to Minneapolis for graduate school at the University of Minnesota.

For some reason, I’ve always been drawn to cold weather. It’s nice being down here in Atlanta where it’s a little bit warmer. A high of 79 today, so I’m not complaining.

2. Jacobsen: I want to take one step back to the middle of your personal narrative in terms of childhood and adolescence because you skipped to college and graduate school. What are some pivotal moments or influential moments that you can recall from those times that impacted you in terms of your life trajectory?

Lilienfeld: I don’t think I had any pivotal moments. Or if I did, I don’t frame them as pivotal moments. I think for me a lot of the things that really shaped my interests were more or less happenstance and experiences. What seemed to help was my father facilitating my passions rather than anything particular happening to me.

I was a tremendous science lover, science nerd growing up and my parents really allowed that to bloom. My father took me many times to the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. I think that really shaped my love of science as it did many other people including one of my intellectual heroes Carl Sagan also fell in love with science there.

So, that really was quite formative and I think they allowed me to do a lot of reading. They bought me science books. They allowed me to go to a science camp when I was growing up. So, those things I think really shaped my passion.

And when I was about 13 or 14, I came upon a book at a fair and it was an old time life book called The Mind. I didn’t know anything about psychology until I opened that book and then I was hooked. I read that book and just was utterly fascinated by what I later came to realize was the field of psychology.

The more I read, the more fascinated I became. That book, although in retrospect was not as scientific as it could have been, it really opened up a whole window to me in terms of science and dreams and the science of memory and the science of mental illness and those things that I’m still fascinated by today.

3. Jacobsen: Were there any common misconceptions that you held yourself at the time that that text or others obliterated or over time whittled down?

Lilienfeld: That’s a good question. Yes, I probably had a lot of misconceptions back then. I was very drawn to psychology and that book probably fuelled it. That book was probably a product of the times. I was very drawn to Freudian thinking initially, psychoanalytic thinking.

I suspect the book in some ways perpetuated some serious misunderstandings. I recall, hopefully this isn’t a false memory on my part, but I recall that book being very naive on the nature of the unconscious. Very naive about hypnosis for example.

Implying that people who are hypnotized can be made to do things against their will or that hypnosis is like a trance state and so on. I think the book also perpetuated a lot of other ideas of the time. The idea that we can somehow retrieve or recover long lost memories of the past which we have not been able to access for a long time.

Those are misconceptions that I’ve held for quite some time I think. I also believed, because I also got very much in Freudian thinking in my high school years, I believed that early childhood experiences have an enormous impact on later adult development, so much so that they are often irreversible. I think it’s also a very misguided idea that has gotten us into trouble as a field but it’s also one that I held for quite some time.

4. Jacobsen: Sir Carl Popper made the criterion of falsifiability explicit in science. Freud has been criticized for not meeting that criteria. Does that criteria seem valid to you?

Lilienfeld: It’s partly valid. Adolf Grünbaum of the University of Pittsburgh wrote a very good book about that. There are aspects of Freudian theory that are indeed very difficult to falsify. They are often so vague they are metaphysical. I think Freud’s idea of the mind consisting of 3 psychic prophecies, ID, ego and superegos is more of a metaphor than anything else.

It’s probably not wrong but it’s probably so vague that it can’t be tested or falsified. There’s some Freudian claims like that that are probably almost unfalsifiable because they are more metaphorical. There are however other Freudian claims that in principle could be falsified. I’m not sure they’re easy to falsify.

There are other parts of Freudian theory that are falsifiable on principle. The claim for example that a lot of neurosis stems from early childhood sexual abuse, which is a view that Freud initially held, is in principle falsifiable.

Grünbaum makes the point astutely that Freud, in fact, changed his mind on that issue. In part because of evidence. It’s not very compelling evidence by today’s standards but he began to realize that the rates of abuse that would needed to induce neuroses seemed implausibly high and a lot of the parents who seemed to be accused of that did not seem like the kinds of people who would have done this.

So his views did in fact change. The claim that early experiences like early toilet training practices can lead to differences in later personalities is also a falsifiable claim in principle. I think Popper had it partly correct but not entirely.

5. Jacobsen: I want to move back to the narrative portion of the interview. So post-graduate school, you are now the Samuel Candler Dobbs professor at the department of psychology at Emery University. So what tasks and responsibilities come with this station?

Lilienfeld: So, a lot. One thing I love about academic life is it’s amazingly diverse. Sometimes that means I don’t get enough sleep but that’s okay. I can live with that. I do lots of things. I teach both undergraduate and graduate courses.

I teach a graduate course in psychological assessment along with a seminar in psychiatric diagnostic interviewing. At the undergraduate level I teach introductory psychology. I’m fortunate enough to sometimes teach a seminar called science and pseudoscience in psychology where I get to talk about controversial claims.

That’s kind of fun. I do a lot of teaching and I do a great deal of research. So most of our research focuses on personality disorders, particularly psychopathic and to some extent narcissistic personality disorders. So we do work into what the potential causes of those conditions are and how to better detect them.

Or what the interpersonal manifestations are. I run a lab. I have 3 terrific grad students along with a bunch of a number of undergraduates at our lab who help us with those things. Then I do a lot of editorial work. That’s an increasing part of my life. That’s probably 30% of my life.

I edit a journal. I’m editor in chief of a journal called Clinical Psychological Science. I’ve been editor-in-chief since July 1st of 2016. It’s a major journal that focuses on how basic science can inform our understanding of mental illness. So, I do that. It’s a lot of work but it’s also very intellectually challenging and fulfilling.

I’m also on a number of editorial boards and those kinds of things. I do that. Then I do a lot of service. I’m the outgoing president of a group called Society the Science of Clinical Psychology, I’m on the board of that group.

It’s a group that tries to better incorporate evidence-based practice, science-based practice into mental health treatment. And that is our big mission to try to make our field more scientific because we don’t think it’s as scientific as it could be. We don’t think people with mental illness are getting the help they need and deserve.

So I do a lot of that as well. I also do the typical things that faculty members do. I do services for the university. I sit on various committees and committees in my department and that kind of thing. And I often do some writing for the general public and public outreach which I really enjoy.

I’m also a textbook author and co-author of an introductory psychology textbook. I do writing for popular magazines sometimes and occasionally give talks for the general public and talk to the media and things like that. I’m often overwhelmed and often rarely bored.

Jacobsen: And under slept.

Lilienfeld: Yes, exactly.

6. Jacobsen: You teach undergraduate psychology, you teach science and pseudoscience, you write an introductory psychology textbook. In addition, you communicate to the public in various ways including writing articles.

With respect to the communication of science and in particular psychological science, what are some tips for those that want to convey clear messages about the relatively complex subject matter in psychological science to the public or to their students?

Lilienfeld: That’s a great question. I wish I had better answers to them. I think I’m still learning and getting better all the time. I wish I had some great tips, I don’t. Other than to say that you really have to put yourself in the minds of a smart person who does not know psychology.

Teaching introductory psychology has helped me a lot in that regard because we have a lot of bright students but they come in not knowing much psychology so in some ways it’s in some ways a theory of mind task. You have to put yourself in the mind of another person. For me, the key thing is a matter of attitude.

Your goal should not be to impress anyone. Your goal should not be to seem smart or learned. Your goal should be to reach people. And to do that, you have to avoid lingo. Sometimes you have to introduce some technical terms but you want to keep those to a minimum. You have to somehow, and this is the part that I find the hardest, to simply without oversimplifying.

That’s the hardest part because we often do deal with complicated issues. What I try to do is if I’m simplifying things, I will simply say, “I am simplifying something here. There is some more complexity but I’m going to leave it at that.” But I do feel compelled to let people know that I am simplifying things.

Because I don’t want to imply that what I’m saying is necessarily the full picture. I think sometimes in academia we’re used to talking a lot and making lots of points with lots of nuance and a lot of people are busy and have a limited attention span.

Often you have to make 2 or 3 points at most and get out. If you try to make too many points, people’s eyes will glaze over. So that’s another thing I’ve learned. You need to really think about what are the key bottom line messages to bring home here? I have 15 seconds, 30 seconds, what is the elevator pitch here? So those are some of the basic things I’ve learned over the years.

7. Jacobsen: In the core science and pseudoscience, you deal with students at Emery University who are more intelligent than average but do not know the psychological science in detail or might have common misconceptions or rare misconceptions about psychological science.

Lilienfeld: I think they’re both what I would call “meta conceptions and misconceptions.” By meta misconceptions I mean misconceptions about how psychological science works to begin with. There’s a lot of those and there’s a range. I think a lot of them differ depending on the student’s background.

So, for example, students coming from the so-called hard sciences like chemistry often come in thinking, “Oh psychology isn’t scientific, it can’t be a science,” because it’s dealing with these fuzzy, murky topics. I see that as a colossal misconception because psychology, although it is fuzzy and doesn’t allow the same degree of precision in terms of predictions, relies on scientific methodology in much the same way physics and chemistry does.

It uses tools to reduce confirmation bias and other kinds of errors in thinking. So that’s a common misconception you get from students in the hard sciences. You also get it from students in engineering and mathematics and so on. I see that in my undergraduate teachings.

Sometimes you have the opposite problem. Students who are in psychology often make the mistake of taking psychological findings as gospel and I think we’ve learned in the last 5 years or so that not all of our findings are replicating and holding up in the way we like.

I think another common misconception is that one can take one isolated finding from a study and then draw very strong conclusions from it and that’s another misconception that is perpetuated by the media. The media loves to get a sexy, hot psychological finding that is surprising and they promote it so people start thinking it’s a true finding.

I think we have learned, myself included, that we have to be more humble and modest about our claims. Those are some common misconceptions I’ve seen about psychological science in general among students. And then students hold lots of specific misconception about specific topics that of course focuses a lot on that.

A lot of students think we use only 10% of our brains. Or that full moons are related to behaviors or that vaccines cause autism, although that’s getting less common I think. Or that the most important determinate of our happiness is what happens to us rather than the way we think about what happens to us. There are a lot of specific misconceptions about specific topics that are also important to address.

8. Jacobsen: What is the greater impediment to a proper understanding of science: the ignorance of a particular fundamental theory, evolutionary theory, continental drift, plate tectonics and so on? Or a wrong but firmly held theory about the universe? For instance, creationism instead of being ignorant about evolution.

Lilienfeld: I would say probably more the latter. But to me the biggest impediment is the belief, the deeply held belief, that common sense is the best way of understanding the world. That’s the biggest impediment. We have a president-elect who frequently uses the term common sense.

Common sense can be a good thing and I’m not opposed to common sense but the problem is that one person’s common sense is another person’s uncommon sense. What may seem commonsensical to me may not seem commonsensical to you.

It seems commonsensical to most people that the Earth is standing still and that the Sun is moving around the Earth when in fact the opposite is true. Of course we’re all moving through space at break-neck speed. But that doesn’t seem like a common sense belief. It seems common sense the earth is flat but we know that the ancients didn’t believe that or some did.

Of course, we know some people still believe that. It seems commonsensical to many people that memory works like a video camera or tape recorder even though it doesn’t. It seems that way. To me, that’s the biggest impediment. The belief that we can rely solely on our intuitions and common sense perceptions to understand the world.

I think for me many of the more specific misconceptions that you mentioned, take creationism, stem from that. It seems wildly un-commonsensical when we look around the natural world. We look at beautiful wild life and trees and so on that these things could have been the product of random mutation and selection of certain mutations. To me, that seems unnatural and not commonsensical. l.

Part of the reason why natural selection has been difficult for people to accept, some of the opposition is religious in nature but some of it also does seem counter-intuitive. I think one thing I worry about is we seem to live in a culture in America in which we increasingly value intuitive thinking above and beyond scientific thinking.

I think we live in a culture where our level impressions are often valued as a way of understanding the world. Again, level impression can be helpful for in some cases. They can be helpful for engaging with people and whether people are good or bad people. Although even there it’s hardly perfect.

But when it comes to understanding nature, I think that level of impression is often quite fallible, sometimes wildly wrong. To me, that’s the greatest obstacle.

9. Jacobsen: Some remedies exist such as teaching logic, critical thinking, scientific methodology and the fundamental theories that come along with it. How early can we teach those effectively?

Lilienfeld: That’s a great question. I don’t know. That’s my answer, I just don’t know. I don’t think we have any data on this but I wrote a piece on this recently for Skeptical Inquirer that is very scandalous and we just don’t know how early you can start. We don’t know.

I think some people would say, following Piaget’s work, that you might have to wait until people are what Piaget calls, “formal operational thinking.” Formal operational thinking typically beginning at age 7 for most kids where you’re capable of abstract thinking. That’s possible but I don’t know.

I think we have to push it. We have to see how early we can start. I think kids are part natural scientists. Kids really want to understand the world, they’re naturally curious. They are intellectually curious. They have a sense of wonder. I think kids are good at some of it but not others.

I think kids are really good at seeing patterns, detecting patterns in the world. I think sometimes they’re better at that than we adults are. I think the problems come in that they’re not as good which patterns are genuine and which ones are not and that’s a lot of what science is about. Trying to sort through and see what relationships are genuine and which ones are not.

10. Jacobsen: You mentioned Trump earlier, president-elect Trump. He also has a vice president-elect, Mike Pence. I did watch the YouTube video of him making a speech. I guess this was in Congress?

Lilienfeld: I think I saw that before too, yes.

Jacobsen: It was an articulate speech but it was ill-informed.

Lilienfeld: Correct. I think he’s really intelligent, I have no doubt he’s an intelligent man, Pence, I don’t doubt that.

Jacobsen: So in a way, his example seems to me to represent some privileges of religion in societies, in all of them which I can tell although that’s a grand claim. For instance, I believe this is not an original point to me, I believe it’s a point Richard Dawkins made some time ago where if you have a child that is labeled a Muslim, Christian or Jewish child, it is labeled as such because the parents have that belief.

Lilienfeld: Yes, I think Dawkins made that point yes.

Jacobsen: Rather than the statement that it’s a child of Christian, Jewish or Muslim parents, which is a more accurate statement.

Lilienfeld: I don’t disagree with him on that point.

Jacobsen: In a way, the privileges of religion in society seem to come out of that. Where they have more time to instantiate their beliefs in children’s minds than formal scientific, logical, statistical education does.

You know this better than me, of course being an educator, you’re dealing with a highly intelligent population coming into Emery University that come into the classroom with preconceptions that generally tend to be supernaturalistic. I think this is well supported by survey data in the United States.

Michael Shermer has documented some of this. As well he has reiterated a proposition from Doctor Carl Sagan, your hero, about the Baloney Detection kit I think it I was, I believe it was a euphemism.

Lilienfeld: Yes, a different word beginning with B that some people might use (laughter).

Jacobsen: That’s right. That seems to me a longer-term impediment and a more systemic one just based in historic inertia.

Lilienfeld: Yes, I think you raise a good point, I think that’s right. I think people are immersed in this way of thinking for in some cases quite early on, from their childhood. And depending on the way they were raised, they may be inculcated from this view by their parents, by their teachers, by their priests and so on.

People, they find that very difficult to break because they have problems. This is what I’ve been hearing for 17, 18 years of my life and, of course, it’s true. I think that’s right. That plays into it as well. I think that the other point to make about someone like Mike Pence is that there is a big difference between intelligence and scientific thinking.

I think one can be a very intelligent person but not know how to think scientifically. I don’t think I knew how to think scientifically when I was a teenager. I think if anything in terms of raw intelligence, I’m probably dumber than I was when I was as a teenager. I think I was able to pick up stuff faster.

My working memory is probably slower than it was back then. But I like to think I’m a little wiser than I was back then because I have scientific thinking skills and I think one can be a very smart person but fall prey to a lot of serious errors in thinking. Evolution and creationism pose particular challenges.

The religious stuff, that’s layered on top of it there. I think there are understandably people who feel threatened by natural selection because they feel. rightly or wrongly, that it threatens some of their cherished religious beliefs.

I think that’s something that those of us who are skeptics communicating with a public, I think we have to be very sensitive to that and realize that we are potentially threatening people’s worldviews. That’s one area that I don’t want to get off topic too much but one area I have disagreements with Dawkins is because I think there is increasing evidence from psychology for what is sometimes called a “worldview backfire effect.”

If you threaten people’s worldviews too strongly, it might not be effective but it might inadvertently produce a boomerang effect where you actually strengthen people’s beliefs inadvertently.

11. Jacobsen: What made Carl Sagan a good science communicator?

Lilienfeld: So many things. I got to meet him a couple of years before he died. One of the thrills of my life was getting to meet him. I got to spend an hour with him with a couple of people. What made him such an effective communicator was a couple things.

First was his remarkable childlike passion for science. I think he just loves science and it oozed out of every pore of his body. It was his childlike enthusiasm. It was utterly contagious. He had such a sense of awe that he was able to communicate more effectively than anyone I have ever seen.

I also think that he was effective because he respected people and he communicated respect. Even when he was disagreeing with people, he always did it, or I think there were a couple exceptions in his career he may have regretted, but as he got older he got better and better at communicating science in a very respectful way even to people who had very different points of view.

I think he understood you have to meet people at their level. And not make people feel stupid. And I think he never had the sense, at least I did and I followed him quite a bit, I saw him speak a number of times in person and on Youtube, and I never had the sense that he was trying to impress you or make himself look smart.

He just wanted to inculcate in you a love of science and a love of nature. And of course, he is also just a damn good speaker and writer. He had a way of putting things poetically so beautiful. I think he also was really good at changing people’s perspectives. I think a great science educator can do that.

Something I try to do as a science educator, I don’t think I’m nearly as successful as Sagan is but maybe I’ll get better at it one day, is someone who can just shift your worldview in a way and make you think about something in a very different way.

So yes I have a little poster on my wall of us being a little pale blue dot and it’s something very simple but just looking at this little dot in space that was taken from millions of miles away and seeing the Earth there, it just puts things at a particular perspective and makes you realize just how fragile, how delicate we are.

And how tiny we really are in the grand scheme of things. Which in some ways some people might find depressing but I actually I find it uplifting? It makes me feel part of the bigger picture, even though I’m not a religious person, it does give me a spiritual feeling in some ways because it makes me feel part of, it makes me understand that we’re all just one tiny little speck in a gigantic cosmos. And also makes me realize we can’t take ourselves for granted which I think we do too often.

12. Jacobsen: What makes psychology science?

Lilienfeld: It’s not all science. It can be a science. I think it depends on how you approach it. I think that’s probably true for anything. I think you can approach biology unscientifically. There are some biologists who are creationists, right.

I think it can be scientific and I think it often is because for me what makes something science is approached. So for me, science is a systematic set of tools that we have developed to minimize confirmation bias and other kinds of biases.

Psychologists, arguably more than some in the hard sciences, understand that point although I think we’re also understanding it better than we used to. So we use research designs, randomized control trials for example in my own field of clinical psychology we used blinding, we use sophisticated data analytical methods.

All of these are partial although admittedly imperfect tools to control for human error and bias and hopefully get us a bit closer to the truth. And the proof is in the pudding I would say. There are some people who will say well nothing in psychology is dependable and replicable and that is of course not true.

Lots of psychological findings can be replicated just fine. Variable ratio schedule like those you see in Las Vegas casinos or Atlantic City casinos. We know those schedules tend to produce the highest rate of responding and findings can be replicable anywhere from humans all the way down to rodents and probably broader than that, pigeons.

There are hundreds of psychological findings that are quite replicable. There are others that once you start getting to things that involve interactions among people, that’s where things get more complicated because you’re dealing with, in physics, they have enough of a problem with the 2 body problem.

In psychology, it’s much more complicated than that. You have people interacting with other people who in turn have lots of different expectations, who in turn influence each other on a moment by moment basis. Of course, human behavior gets much less predictable once you’re dealing with multiple bodies.

Who in turn think about what other bodies are thinking about them who in turn think about what they’re thinking about and so on. So sometimes it amazes me that we can predict anything given how remarkably complex the call systems we work with are.

13. Jacobsen: One question I haven’t thought of before but I think it’s a good one. I mentioned Sir Carl Popper and falsifiability before you mentioned the text as well.

With increasing sophistication in the scanning of the brain and understanding of the central nervous system, is it possible that we can in the future add an additional criterion for psychological science with simulated ability? Where the ability to simulate parts of the brain or aspects of the brain as a whole in the future with (inaudible) power, we could form predictive models and then test those models based on the simulations?

Lilienfeld: Yes I think we will. I think that’s right. I’m not a neuroscientist but I think that’s a great question. I would be very surprised if we could not get close to that. How far we can get, I don’t know but I think that’s right.

Part of the scientific criteria for it to be considered scientific is your ability to get control over a phenomenon. To understand it well enough that you can reproduce it. Simulated ability is probably one way of thinking about that.

If we truly understand the way the mind works, we should be able to come up with the model system that shows some of the same behaviors. How far we can get in that regard, I don’t know. I’m more optimistic than some but I don’t know. We have a long way to go in that regard so we’re going to have to be very patient.

It’s completely safe but the brain is far away the most complex organ in the universe. One thing that impresses me is even with, and again I’m not an expert in artificial intelligence but I read people who are experts, and one thing that really amazes me about the human brain is how that even though they aren’t typically able to play chess as well as the best computers, and they can’t do calculations nearly as well but other remarkably simple things that we take for granted that no computers come close to.

Our ability to infer meaning from sentences is my understanding is that something that computers are quite bad at. You could free them up to look for certain words or things like that but they’re some very simple sentences that a 6 or 7-year-old could understand that even the most advanced computer doesn’t get.

So yes, I think that’s a great question. I wish I had a better answer to it but my answer is I think yes. That’s probably the best I can say.

I think Popper, by the way, his criterion of falsifiability has more or less been falsified. I think it’s a useful criterion in part for distinguishing science from pseudoscience, but I don’t think there’s any single criterion that distinguishes science from pseudoscience.

Jacobsen: A set of principles that form a scaffold for modern science.

Lilienfeld: Yes, I figure it as a family resemblance concept. I don’t think there’s a simple dividing line. Many of the claims of astrology are falsifiable but I wouldn’t call astrology, scientific because it’s falsifiable. Phrenology is falsifiable.

You can falsify it. But I would not call it a science just because you could falsify the claims of phrenology. I think Popper had it partly right. What I do like about Popper, even though I don’t accept his claims that falsifiability is a demarcation criterion, but what I do like is prescriptive implications.

The idea that we should be trying as hard as we can to prove our theories wrong. It’s a good heuristic for scientists to follow in everyday life. I try to follow it but don’t always succeed. It’s a reminder that we should always be working hard to disprove our theories.

That’s probably the best ways of thinking about science. In Richard Feynman’s terms, trying to bend over backward to prove ourselves wrong. There I have a lot of affinity for Popper’s views.

14. Jacobsen: Do you have any recommended resources or books for those with an interest in skepticism, critical thinking, and psychological science?

Lilienfeld: Yes, lots. I don’t know where to start, there are so many good ones. I think you mentioned a lot of the great names. I think Sagan is terrific, Demon-Haunted World is a great book. Michael Shermer, many of his books are excellent. I’m a big fan of Keith Stanovich in Toronto. I think his writings are great.

Tom Gilovich wrote a wonderful book, How I know It Isn’t So, it’s old now, 1991, but it’s still worth reading. And I think even just digging up a lot of copy of Skeptical Inquirer, Skeptic Magazine in almost any issue you can find good ways to think scientifically from any of those.

I think a lot of those would excellent sources. It has really improved a lot. I remember when I first got into the field, there was only a handful of these books and now there’s almost too many of them. It’s a good problem to have.

There’s a lot of wonderful books out there. I thought when I first started maybe I’ll write a book like this but now I don’t need too because I’m not sure I could do any better than any of the books that are out there now.

15. Jacobsen: Thank you very much for your time.

Lilienfeld: I really enjoyed it. We’ll be in touch. Thanks again. Great questions and I really appreciate you taking the time.

Jacobsen: I appreciate your time as well.

Lilienfeld: Thanks again, I really enjoyed it.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1Professor, Psychology, Emory University.

[2] Individual Publication Date: June 22, 2018 at http://www.in-sightjournal.com/scott-lilienfeld; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018 at https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

[3] B.A. (1982), Psychology, Cornell University; Ph.D. (1990), Clinical Psychology, University of Minnesota; Clinical Internship (1986-1987), Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. In Conversation with Professor Scott O. Lilienfeld [Online].July 2018; 17(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/scott-lilienfeld.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, July 1). In Conversation with Professor Scott O. LilienfeldRetrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/scott-lilienfeld.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. In Conversation with Professor Scott O. Lilienfeld. In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A, July. 2018. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/scott-lilienfeld>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2018. “In Conversation with Professor Scott O. Lilienfeld.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/scott-lilienfeld.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “In Conversation with Professor Scott O. Lilienfeld.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A (July 2018). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/scott-lilienfeld.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘In Conversation with Professor Scott O. LilienfeldIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/scott-lilienfeld>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘In Conversation with Professor Scott O. LilienfeldIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/scott-lilienfeld.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “In Conversation with Professor Scott O. Lilienfeld.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 17.A (2018):July. 2018. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/scott-lilienfeld>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. In Conversation with Professor Scott O. Lilienfeld [Internet]. (2018, July; 17(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/scott-lilienfeld.

License and Copyright

License

In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Interview with Jon O’Brien

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 17.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Thirteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: July 1, 2018

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,278

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Jon O’Brien is the President, Catholics for Choice. He discusses: Roman Catholic Church faith community issues regarding pro-choice and pro-life; and the contrast between the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and the lay public with consideration of Aquinas as well as Augustine where conscience is the final arbiter.

Keywords: Catholics for Choice, conscience, Jon O’Brien, pro-choice, pro-life, Roman Catholic Church.

Interview with Jon O’Brien: President, Catholics for Choice[1],[2],[3]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, we have talked about the Catholic faith and reproductive health as well as the situation in America regarding both of those. I wanted to touch base again talking about some of the more up to date issues around prochoice as well as around the discussion within the faith because you would know the situation better than I would.

So, what are some of the more pressing issues within the faith community – within the Roman Catholic Church now regarding prochoice and prolife?

Jon O’Brien: One of the biggest problems is the disconnect between the Catholic hierarchy and the Catholic people on issues of contraception and abortion. For example, in the failing days of the Pinochet regime of Chile, the Catholic hierarchy there pressured General Pinochet to introduce a restrictive anti-abortion law. In 2017, Chile, a country that is still predominantly Catholic, changed this Pinochet-era law on abortion. We see that sort of law all over the world, especially in Latin America.

We also see that as people have a deeper understanding of human rights, civil rights, women’s rights and the idea of conscience and autonomy, there is a change in the way Catholics can be stereotypically viewed as “Oh, he’s Catholic. he must be anti-abortion.”

The reality is that whether it is Poland, Portugal, the Philippines, Peru or Pittsburgh in the United States, what we find most is Catholics living according to values that contradict in some areas what the hierarchy has been teaching.

So, in Chile, the prime minister Michelle Bachelet introduced a law that would reform the total ban on abortion. The country now allows abortions in limited cases: for pregnancies resulting from violence against women as with the case of rape, for fetal abnormalities and to save the health of the woman.

And what is significant is we’re seeing Catholic voters and Catholic politicians no longer feeling intimidated by the institutional Church and standing up and saying as Catholics, “We don’t see a contradiction between allowing people to follow their conscience,” which is a Catholic thing.

Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine taught us that conscience is the final arbitrator in moral decision making. So, you’re seeing this teaching asserted by Catholics regarding personal freedom. You’re also seeing it around LGBT issues as well.

Here in the United States, Catholics supported gay marriage. Sometimes at a higher level than others. Although the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic hierarchy ran really highly funded campaigns against the idea of marriage equality, they lost.

In the Republic of Ireland, the country of my birth, we’ve seen a referendum on the same subject. In other words, the people themselves voted in favor of marriage equality, despite the views of the Catholic hierarchy.

I don’t think this change means that Catholics today are less Catholic. It means the Catholic people are standing up and living social justice as they see it. The difficulty for those of a more conservative view is that they don’t see the Church authority as vested in the hierarchy being obeyed.

Catholics are making decisions for themselves. They say, “Your baptism makes you Catholic.” Being Catholic is not a litmus test as to whether you adhere to the letter of law in every teaching. Nor does it mean you get up in the morning and do whatever you want to do. It means you properly form a conscience and follow it. You must examine your conscience and that is a serious process of looking at what the church leaders have said, looking at what the Church has written and looking at your impact on others.

Being careful and present with what you’re doing is the reason 99 percent of Catholic women who are sexually active in the United States use a method of birth control that bishops don’t like.

You find that the world over. You go to a clinic in Kenya or you go to a clinic in Uganda, and you will find Catholic women doing the same thing that they would do in Canada or the United States. They are doing the best for themselves and for their families and for their communities.

2. Jacobsen: When it comes to the hierarchy of the Catholic church, in contrast to much of the lay public and as you noted with Aquinas as well as Augustine, as far as conscience being the final arbiter, do you feel the Catholic laity are living closer to the fundamental values of the Catholic faith?

O’Brien: It sounds unbelievable, but we are the true traditionalists. I have seen many good things within traditional Catholicism. I appreciate those who are singing nuns or whatever, but I do value the traditional aspects of Catholicism.

However, when it comes to stuff like this, “Are you a cafeteria Catholic?” they say as an insult. Choose responsibly to use birth control, use a condom to prevent HIV; or if a marriage breaks down and you find yourself in a divorced situation, the reality is that Catholics who live in the real world are applying a lot of social justice principles around the decision making they have.

It’s traditional to understand, believe and follow that conscience is the final arbiter in moral decision making.

So, when Catholics make decisions, even if it goes against what a bishop says, they’re doing the right thing. Doing the wrong thing would be doing what the bishop says even though it is wrong. Catholicism has this huge internal logic that we see Catholics followings these days.

You must understand that. I’m sure there are many in the Catholic hierarchy that believe that following a teaching that is fundamentally flawed, such as that on contraception, is the right thing to do. Many of them in good faith do believe this church teaching: that each time you have sex you must remain open to the transmission of life.

What I fear is that it’s a much more political rather than pastoral decision. The birth control commission was set up by Pope John XXIII during the early 1960s. The contraceptive pill had been invented by Doctor John Rock, an Irish Catholic physician in Boston.

Contraception in the form of the pill meant that there was the possibility that women worldwide and Catholic women worldwide would be able to access a method of birth control that could improve the lives and freedoms of women and for people to have sexual relations without having children that they could not afford and could not look after.

This was a revolutionary moment in the early 60s. John XXIII was a modernizing pope. He was the guy that set up the process for Vatican II that took the nuns out of their convents and out in the community to the front lines in places like El Salvador and Nicaragua.

And it was John XXIII who believed in aggiornamento, the Italian phrase used to mean bringing the church up to date. He said to the guys at the Vatican, “Do you think we should put this in Vatican II?” They were more of the conservative bent.

They were concerned that Vatican II would get out of their control, which it did. They said to him, “No, with this birth control thing, why don’t we set up a birth control commission?” So, they got together with a bunch of priests, bishops and cardinals, and the birth control commission started meeting in the early 60s. Sadly, John XXIII passed away; Pope Paul VI took over in 1965.

Pope Paul VI looked at the commission and he had a rather strange notion. He thought maybe the birth control commission, cardinals, bishops and priests would benefit from having some people who had sex advising them. They went around the world and they found some faithful, married Catholic couples and brought them along to talk to the birth control commission.

The stories they told so moved the people of the commission. What they were talking about was married life and how, especially when it’s hard to put bread on the table and hard to get your kids educated, many couples struggle. Could you imagine if you had a couple of kids and you were fearful that every time you wanted to be intimate with your husband it could result in another pregnancy, another mouth to feed? They spoke about that.

The medical phrase grand multipara, it was invented in, believe it or not, the Republic of Ireland in Dublin. It was people in the maternity hospital noticing women who gave birth after birth after birth until they died and were so worn out and sick.

There was a consciousness around that situation when the lay people, lay married people, spoke to the bishops about married life when you don’t have the ability to control your own fertility. And this is why I believe in miracles, because in the hearts and minds of those bishops, those cardinals changed. The majority report that came out in the late 60s from the birth control commission, which said there was no impediment, nothing to stop the Church changing its teaching on contraception.

Imagine what that would mean for the Catholic Church, having waged a war against the use of condoms. It has charities around the world that control people’s access to what healthcare they get.

Imagine what it would mean for women in developing countries who still today will die because they can’t control the number or spacing of their children. Would it not have been a revolutionary moment when this birth control commission of faithful cardinals and bishops listening to the lay people came forward and said, “Yes, you can change this ban on contraception; each time you have sex, it doesn’t have to be open to the transmission of life.”?

The Pulitzer Prize winner Gary Will wrote a good book called Papal Sin, and I highly recommend it to people because Gary talked to a lot of people involved in the birth control commission. He looks at why it was that Pope John Paul VI rejected the majority finding of the commission: ultimately, because he didn’t have enough faith in Catholics. Instead, he listened to the ultraconservative voices that were surrounding him. They told him that if he admitted that the birth control commission was right, if he reversed the ban on contraception, then the whole Church would fall apart. Next thing, they would want changes on this, that and the other.

It’s quite possible we would want a lot more change. However, the cynicism of deciding that they’re going to reject the majority support is astounding. I’m sure the Holy Spirit was guiding that majority report and accepting a minority report was wrong. It was wrong to continue the ban on contraception, and to this day that minority report is the reason why in the United States we have bishops lobbying the Trump administration to take no cost contraception out of the Affordable Care Act.

This is the legacy of that minority report. Today we still have bishops lobbying here in the United States, lobbying as the Holy See in the United Nations and lobbying around the world to stop people from being able to exercise their free conscience when it comes to contraception, reproductive health care or abortion.

3. Jacobsen: Thank you much for your time again, Jon.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1President, Catholics for Choice.

[2] Individual Publication Date: July 1, 2018 at http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jon-obrien; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018 at https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. Interview with Jon O’Brien [Online].July 2018; 17(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jon-obrien.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, July 1). Interview with Jon O’BrienRetrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jon-obrien.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. Interview with Jon O’Brien. In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A, July. 2018. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jon-obrien>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2018. “Interview with Jon O’Brien.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jon-obrien.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “Interview with Jon O’Brien.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A (July 2018). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jon-obrien.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘Interview with Jon O’BrienIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jon-obrien>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘Interview with Jon O’BrienIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jon-obrien.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “Interview with Jon O’Brien.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 17.A (2018):July. 2018. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jon-obrien>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. Interview with Jon O’Brien [Internet]. (2018, July; 17(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jon-obrien.

License and Copyright

License

In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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