Aspen Ideas 2012: Revolution and Introspection

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Chrystia Freeland, the sassy smart, globe-trotting provocateur and editor of ThomsonReuters Digital, helped open the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival yesterday evening by pushing back against Walter Isaacson's characterization of the American idea. 

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Isaacson spoke of America being a hotbed of ideas and values that rub and push against each other, ultimately producing a balance and harmony among divergent interests.  Freeland pushed back, saying "that's Canada -- not America."

"America," Freeland argued, "is the place of revolutions."  

Freeland expanded on this theme in the two minutes that she was allowed to speak at the Aspen Ideas opener to offer her "big idea" that we are now in the era of "leaderless revolutions." 

chrystia.jpegShe said that in the past, those who rose up against tyranny had to place bets on who and how many might protest and go to the streets.  She said, "if a hundred people went out, they ended up in prison.  If a million show up, the leader goes to jail."  Today, she said, technology allows protestors and organizers of revolutions to scale up and communicate across networks of networks. Leaders per se aren't needed in this densely communications enmeshed world, but there will be many revolutions as individuals garner power from those who have tried to corner and monopolize power.

Freeland and fourteen others offered two minute snippets of ideas, provocations, and just simple assertions before two thousand festival goers who will spend the next week at an annual cornucopia of seminars co-organized by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic

Justin_Smith__Jeffrey_Goldberg.jpgAtlantic national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg, who often writes about dark stuff like the ticking clock of an Israeli strike against Iran, said that there is too much self-seriousness in our policy discussions and proceeded to bust the room into laughter with a stream of hilarious vignettes and commentary.  Because of the buzz everywhere about The Atlantic's cover story, "Why Women Still Can't Have it All," Goldberg introduced himself as Anne-Marie Slaughter.  He then introduced himself as the Festival's director Kitty Boone, and then seemed apologetic for revealing that he was only Jeffrey Goldberg.  He said "the joke" is under appreciated and needs revival.  Those who know him should ask about the "CIA-trained speaking beagle".

Back to the serious side, Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal argued that America had forgotten that it was a place forged by risk-taking and change and that it needed to rediscover and deploy that heritage of growth through instability.  Atlantic national correspondent James Fallows argued that if US Senators wanted to continue undermining progress and legislative activity through the filibuster, then there should be 41 bodies on the floor of the Senate the entire time of the filibuster.  In other words, if Senators felt strongly about stopping legislative machinery, then they needed to put their back and time into it.  Fallows calls it the "41 Body Rule".

Dele_Olojede_1__0.jpgAtlantic tech guru Alexis Madrigal offered the provocative view that humans would soon be able to program themselves -- their choices about diet, fun, information, tasks -- with technologies and sensors embedded in everything they do.  Filmmaker Louie Psihoyos said that the world is approaching a massive ecological tipping point disaster, stating that plankton are disappearing at a rate of 1% a year -- and when the plankton are gone, we are dead, along with a lot of other life on the planet.  Nigerian Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dele Olojede decided to challenge political correctness about universal suffrage in developing countries -- arguing along Hamiltonian lines that uninformed political decisions and votes are dangerous and a threat to genuine democracy.  He fears mob rule in Africa that is held in place by voters who know nothing and whose stakes in healthy civil society are weak.

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Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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