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Democracy Café
A Fresh Taste of Philosophy and Politics
Category: Society & Culture
Location: SocratesCafe.com
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I'm the founder of Socrates Cafe -- see SocratesCafe.com -- and a noted author (Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy, The...


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April 19, 2018 11:47 AM PDT

There is simply no one whom I've had the privilege to know who is doing more to bring about democratic revival and renewal than Eric Liu, founder and CEO of Citizen University -- www.CitizenUniversity.us

Citizen University itself is peerless in its modeling and inculcating of the art of powerful citizenship, and continues to expand and evolve its efforts to create replicable civic and citizen engagement initiatives that resonate across the fruited plain at this critical crossroads.

From CitizenFEST, to Civic Saturday, to Citizen University, and more, Eric and his dedicated staff, along with committed people of many ages and walks of life, are rolling up their sleeves day in and day out to make our democracy all it can be.

Eric's newest book, You're More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen's Guide to making Change Happen, is now available in paperback, and is a must-read.

Listen in as Eric, who also directs the Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity Program, shares with unmatched eloquence how power reveals character, and how, when we make a concerted and dedicated effort to convert reflection into action, together we can genuinely make America great.

"If we can get to a point in our lifetimes," Eric asserts, "in a generation or two, where people who are growing up in hard economic circumstances or are part of disfavored minority groups today, whether ethnic or religious or racial, that are on the short end of so many of our rigged games... if they start believing actually that America is America again, that’s when we’ll have made progress, and will be a sign that we’re actually becoming great."

April 16, 2018 11:12 AM PDT

Kat Imhoff hit the ground running when she became President and CEO of The Montpelier Foundation in 2013. Among the first generation of women to oversee all aspects of a national historic site. Kat has spearheaded the extraordinary efforts that have made James Madison's Montpelier (Montpelier.org) a leader in the of slavery in the Early Republic, but also a gathering place to hold vital and timely exchanges on the legacy of slavery today.

Listen in as Kat shares the unique role that James Madison's Montpelier continues to play, more so than ever, in American life and indeed in the worldwide discourse on slavery.

I also urge you to check out Kat's moving and insightful TedTalk in Charlottesville, VA, after the tragic events of August 2017; here's the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4x8gMU2vvg4&feature=youtu.be

And be sure to visit Montpelier, and their groundbreaking slavery exhibition, The Mere Distinction of Colour. As Kat notes in our podcast, "We have a very accurate and emotional and human story about the struggle for freedom -- one that every one of us can have that echo of sentiment and feeling about."

April 13, 2018 11:21 AM PDT

If you look at the Meetup page for this thriving ongoing Socrates Cafe in London, you'll see the "Imagine," photo we've uploaded here for this podcast. Their dedicated organizer, Austin Caffrey, tells me in this thoughtful exchange that Socrates Cafe is one good place to engage in broad and deep and methodical imagining blended with reasoning with one's fellow philosophical inquisitors.

Listen in as Austin thoughtfully relates why he thinks Socrates Cafe, along with some iterations of other kinds of philosophy cafes and political philosophy cafes, are good for society and democracy.

"We have over 30 people [who regularly participate] who can freely discuss their viewpoints and criticize the ideas," Austin tells me. "That to me is an example of the kind of freedom that comes with the kind of democracy that i think is beneficial."

And when I mention to him that Socrates Cafe has also established footholds in societies that are not so open, his eloquent reply is, "I’m not sure you can quell human curiosity and the desire to explore questions that affect them."

I hope one day I can take part in person in their gathering, which is held in London at the Travelling Through Book Shop & Cafe.

April 10, 2018 11:54 AM PDT

A thriving Socrates Cafe in historic Kyoto, Japan? Yes, indeed.

It never occurred to me, when I first started Socrates Cafe in September 1996, that it would touch such a chord across the fruited plain in the U.S. My only aim was to start one ongoing group. But it turns out it resonates the world over, indeed more so than ever.

One thriving group is in Kyoto, Japan, where I once had the pleasure of visiting and engaging in Socratic give-and-takes (experiences I shared in my book Socrates in Love: Philosophy for a Die-Hard Romantic.)

Listen in as regular participant Midori Yao explains why Socrates Cafe is so meaningful to her and her fellow participants.

And a world of thanks to Yoko Nishiyama for being our translator. (We got off to a bit of a rickety start, through every fault of my own, but soon hit a nice stride in this podcast.) [I once met Yoko when doing a Philosophers' Club (often the name of our philosophical inquiry groups for children and youth, as well the title of one of my children's books, which has been translated into Japanese) when I held a gathering for her daughter and fellow classmates.]

If you ever have a chance, be sure to visit the beautiful historic city of Kyoto, and take a meandering stroll on its renowned Philosophers' Path.

March 12, 2018 08:25 AM PDT

Robert G. Hagstrom is my kind of thinker and doer and questioner. He has a peerless and contagious intellectual honesty and integrity and openness, and he draws from and builds on the worldly wisdom of thinkers from across the ages and disciplines -- as you will see for yourself when you listen in to his wealth of insights on investing, living, learning, and the liberal arts.

Senior Portfolio Manager for EquityCompass Strategies, an investment advisory subsidiary of Stifel Financial Corporation, Robert is a celebrated bestselling author of books including the New York Times best-selling 'The Warren Buffett Way' and 'The Warren Buffett Portfolio: Mastering the Power of the Focus Investment Strategy.' (I'm now diving into his 'The NASCAR Way: The Business That Drives the Sport' and 'The Detective and the Investor: Uncovering Investment Techniques from the Legendary Sleuths.'

But the book that inspired me to reach out to him is his 'Investing: The Last Liberal Art.' Robert most graciously accepted my invite, and we had a wonderful give and take. It turns out Robert's oeuvre is also a wonderful guide for living in general.

Listen in.  

March 03, 2018 01:52 PM PST

Why do people love getting together on a particular day at a particular hour to Socratize in Fiji? "To find out what other people are thinking," says one of the Fijian Socrates Cafe participants who participated in this exchange. This is the first time I've held a podcast with more than one person, much less with seven -- including Fijian islanders, as well as transplants from Wales, and even my own Virginia, among others -- and it was a delight (though a few times we had a bit of trouble hearing one another). In these days in which people hide behind social media to 'communicate' (or, much too often, to derail attempts at communication) these thoughtful Socrates Cafe-goers believe it's more vital than ever to meet in person and philosophize face to face.

Listen in.

March 01, 2018 11:29 AM PST

At a time when Poland is at a critical crossroad in its experiment with democracy, our Socrates Cafe and Democracy Cafe initiatives are burgeoning throughout the country -- from Krakow, to Konstancin-Jeziorna, to Poznan to Warsaw to Wracow to Zielona Gora (all the info is at http://socratescafe.pl/ -- and there is a Polish speaking gathering in Berlin as well).

Jakub Kocikowski, organizer of the Democracy Cafe and Socrates Cafe in Krakow, believes that when we have a genuine conversation, "we can find solutions, come up with a consensus agreement" -- and conversely, that when we stop conversing, we all lose out.

Jakub is a big proponent of the culture of conversations, of hearing and considering varying views, including those with which we disagree. Only then can we hope to find common ground, in his estimation.

"Even if we disagree , it is okay," asserts Jakub, 25. "From disagreement we can find something new and come up with new solutions."

Listen in.

February 28, 2018 04:11 PM PST

Only in the last 40 years or so have gun laws and gun rights become viewed as a zero sum relationship, according to Robert Spitzer, noted scholar and author of five acclaimed books on gun policy, including most recently the acclaimed 'Guns across America: Reconciling Gun Rules and Rights,' and Distinguished Service Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at the State University at Cortland.

Indeed, as he puts it, while gun ownership is as old as america, so are gun laws, and for most of our first 300 years, there were thousands of gun laws in every state and colony.

What can we do today to lessen the probability that gun violence, including mass shootings, can occur?

Listen in to Dr. Spitzer's important perspective, and what we the people might do to bring about the enactment of public policy (some of which used to be in place) to help prevent such tragedies in the future.

(Check out this recent essay by Dr. Spitzer in the Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/02/15/laws-we-used-to-have-on-the-books-could-have-prevented-the-florida-school-shooting/?utm_term=.81f49ab8073c

and this Washington Post essay of his from 2012
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths-about-gun-control/2012/12/21/6ffe0ae8-49fd-11e2-820e-17eefac2f939_story.html?utm_term=.0178127055f3

February 26, 2018 09:51 AM PST

Our democracy is experiencing a singular moment, no doubt about it. Chris Gates, for one, our latest Democracy Cafe guest, has faith that we’ll get through this and that just perhaps the outcome of what we're experiencing right now is that we the people will become more attuned, more active, and more informed.

Chris has his ear to the ground and finger on our pulse like few other Americans I have the privilege to know. He's past president of the National Civic League, former Executive Director of Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE), and also was president of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for open and transparent government; Chris is now a consultant for nonprofits such as Kettering Foundation, New America Foundation, and Common Cause, on issues that have to do with democracy, political reform and civic engagement.

As Chris shares with me, he believes that there is potentially a silver lining to what most everybody agrees is a rather rough moment in the history of our country. His high hope is that we can once again become a society in which we give each other the benefit of the doubt, hear each other out, and find common ground.

Listen in.

February 23, 2018 07:57 AM PST

How can we bring together Americans in ways in which they'll feel compelled to explore in meaningful ways our most pressing political issues -- and to consider an array of perspectives and possible solutions?

Enter an amazing project on civic engagement that is unfolding at Florida Gulf Coast University in conjunction with WGCU Public Media, Gulfshore Life Magazine, and FGCU's PAGES program (https://www2.fgcu.edu/pages/).

Yours truly is honored to be part of it.

It all began with an email to me from Jennifer Reed, senior writer for Gulfshore Life magazine. She was "interested in exploring the roots of the growing political division, hostility and communication breakdowns we're witnessing, and then examining how we as a community might bridge those divides." This kicked off the conversation that eventually led to Florida Gulf Coast University's PAGES, philosophy and journalism programs, along with WGCU's Public Media, to provide and sponsor an incredible opportunity for students and the public to delve into the debate. On March 13, we will launching the first of what we hope will be a series of dialogues -- "Civil Discourse in a Polarized Society" -- to generate greater civic engagement.

Here's the link to the event: http://www.wgcu.org/blogs/events/discussion-event-civil-discourse-in-a-polarized-society/

I will be holding further podcasts with other key people involved as this most promising project continues to unfold.

For now, listen in to Jennifer, and how she began a quest that turned a most timely idea into a wonderful happening. As Jennifer put it in an article she wrote for GulfShore LIfe, the ambitious aim is to "probe, in a deeper way, the issues that might be driving us apart—race, religion, the economy, immigration, media, guns, political ideology and the like—and then explore how we might overcome them."

Listen in.

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