Sunday, April 08, 2012

TEDxSwarthmore - What Makes a Good Society?

The topic of TEDxSwarthmore was the making of a good society. There were a lot of cool talks, of which I have selected the ones I found most interesting, including one by psychologist Barry Schwartz, whose work explores the social and psychological effects of free-market economic institutions on moral, social, and civic concerns. You can see all of the talks by clicking the link in the first sentence.

TEDxSwarthmore - What makes a good society?
TEDxSwarthmore hopes to challenge and inspire our audience to think big and become leaders of social change in their communities. Our theme "What makes a good society?" is a question that many in the Swarthmore community frequently tackle.

We hope that you will attend TEDxSwarthmore and mark March 31, 2012 on your calendars.

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Amy Cheng Vollmer - The Role of Science and Science Literacy
A "good society" benefits from having specialists. Among those specialists who lend their creative skills to society are scientists. Others are often surprised to hear that the scientific enterprise is a creative one; this is partly due to lack of clear and compassionate communication between scientists and nonscientists. While people do not deny that their lives benefit from many aspects of technology, few understand or appreciate that the foundation for the technology is scientific discovery. I will share ideas about building a scientifically literate society in which there is open communication based on mutual respect and trust.

Professor of Biology Amy Cheng Vollmer, an authority on microbiology and biotechnology, focuses her research on bacterial stress response, particularly in prokaryotes such as E. coli. She also is the president of the Waksman Foundation for Microbiology.

Mary Jean Chan - A Tapestry of Narratives: Conversations through Poetry
Watching the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie's TED talk, "The Danger of a Single Story," was a powerful reminder for Chan that ideas about what constitutes a "good" society can only emerge from the tapestry of narratives that we weave every day of our lives. Chan loves poet Adrienne Rich's quote "If from time to time ... / I long ... / for return to the concrete and everlasting world / what in fact I keep choosing / are these words, these whispers, conversations / from which time after time the truth breaks moist and green." Genuine discourse and dialogue may seem like very simple things, albeit often yielding more questions than answers, but Chan believes them to be crucial pieces in furthering our daily attempt at building a better society.

A political science honors major and English literature minor from Hong Kong, Mary Jean Chan ('12) is passionate about heterodox economics, the intersection between politics and poetry, and other forms of literary expression. She was selected through the TEDxSwarthmore Student Challenge to join the speaker lineup as a student representative of Swarthmore College.

Barry Schwartz - Why Justice Isn't Enough
Whatever else a good society should be, it should be a just society. But what does it mean to say that a society is just? For most people, a just society is one in which people deserve what they get and people get what they deserve. Whereas it may be possible to achieve the first of these goals, it is not possible to achieve the second. This is true when it comes to admission to selective colleges, and it is true when it comes to any form of material success. Lots of people do not get what they deserve. Aside from merit, success depends on luck. If we appreciate the importance of luck in our own lives, we may be more favorably disposed to helping people who deserve success just as much as we do but haven't been as lucky.

Frequent TED and TEDx speaker Barry Schwartz is Dorwin P. Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action. His work explores the social and psychological effects of free-market economic institutions on moral, social, and civic concerns. In the book Practical Wisdom (2011), which Schwartz co-wrote with Kenneth Sharpe, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Political Science, the authors argue that without such wisdom, neither detailed rules nor clever incentives will be enough to solve the problems we face.

Corinna Lathan - Innovation, Empathy, and the Future of Human-Machine Interaction
The interaction between humans and technology has changed drastically in the last 20 years. This relationship shapes our society in positive and negative ways, and the next 20 years promises to bring about even more profound changes.

Perhaps you remember the "Borg Collective" from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Borg used neural interfaces to connect every member of their society to each other and their leader. What if instead of a dictatorial society, the Borg had used their neural interconnections to create an advanced egalitarian society?

They didn't. But maybe we can.

As founder and CEO of AnthroTronix Inc., Corinna Lathan's ('88) work with children with disabilities has been featured in Forbes, Time, and The New Yorker and has led to her being named one of MIT Technology Review's "Top 100 World Innovators" and Fast Company's "Most Creative People in Business." Lathan also is the founder of Keys to Empowering Youth, an engineering mentoring program for young girls.

Donna Jo Napoli - What Children (and Everyone Else) Need to Read
Children's books often are banned because people feel that the vulnerability of childhood gives them the right and responsibility to protect children. They see books that touch on certain topics as dangerous. Although the motivations of these adults are understandable, Napoli argues that the top 12 reasons why books are banned are actually reasons why books should be read. She will discuss the unprotected child and the protected child and what these books do for each.

Professor of Linguistics Donna Jo Napoli's teaching areas include syntax, morphology, and the structure of American Sign Language. She also is a prolific and award-winning author of books for children and young adults, including Mama Miti (2010) and A Treasury of Greek Mythology (2011).

Mark Kuperberg -The Case for Big Government: The Case Americans Don't Want to Hear
Although America was founded on the principle of limited government, it was established when all existing governments were tyrannical to a large degree. It is time for us to rise above the circumstances of our birth. Today, our society faces many problems, including:

1) Rising economic inequality
2) Increased competition from large emerging economies in a globalized trading system
3) Pollution and climate change. All will require bigger government for their solutions.

Professor of Economics Mark Kuperberg, who joined Swarthmore's faculty in 1977, teaches popular courses on macroeconomics. His main areas of interest also include public finance and law and economics.

Rebecca Chopp - Moral Imagination, Liberal Arts, and the Good Society
Moral imagination is the ability to renew the world, to create new horizons, to set aright wrongs, and to imagine new possibilities. But in our increasingly consumer-driven culture, moral imagination is not a consumer good. Nor is it something you can master through rote learning. Rather, knowledge, virtue, art, and science combine to create the moral imagination of a community. Where do you find these ingredients in one place? In our liberal arts colleges and universities—the boldest incubators of moral imagination in the United States.

Since joining Swarthmore's community as president in 2009, Rebecca Chopp has focused her work on the College's role in cultivating a global intellectual community that will nurture innovative and ethical leaders in a variety of fields and endeavors.

Paul Starr - The American Struggle over Health Care Reform
Starr explores how the United States became so stubbornly different in health care and why we've been fighting over it for a century.

Paul Starr (P, '13) is a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University and co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect. He received the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction and the Bancroft Prize in American History for The Social Transformation of American Medicine (1982). His most recent book is Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle over Health Care Reform (2011). He is the father of Abigail Starr '13.

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