Reimagining the world together: new signature course

New Signature Course: Reimagining Life After Coronavirus

Serious collaborations are a very personal experience. I have to like the person I am working with. Otherwise collaboration is a commercial exchange: I give you this, you give me that. But real collaborations are interpersonal, between people who like each other. And who like making each other think. You have to have the character for collaboration. It is a skill. I happen to be good at it. The twelve or thirteen years of my collaboration with Amos Tversky were interpersonal and intellectual bliss. Everything was interesting, almost everything was funny, and there was the recurrent joy of seeing an idea take shape. The experience was magical. If you have not had that experience, you don’t know how marvelous collaboration can be.
—Daniel Kahneman, 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences

Before COVID-19, the future was uncertain: climate change, political polarization, a global refugee crisis, the rise of authoritarianism, and inequities in health and wealth were putting the future in question. Nonetheless, we had the benefit of facing these challenges from a relatively stable present. We went to school and to work; some of us played sports, all of us were fans; we shook hands with strangers, hugged friends and family; we boarded airplanes worried only whether our carry-on would fit. These things were routine. Now they aren’t. Meanwhile, the previous challenges remain and, in many cases, have been put in stark relief as the pandemic threatens to fracture an already divided political landscape and has exposed weaknesses in almost all of our systems, not least, higher education. When the present itself is unstable and uncertain, how do we plan for the future? How do we get there from here? Reimagining the World Together: Why Friendship Matters for Our Future is a course that seeks to answer that question through a series of moderated conversations between pairs of friends who will talk about their friendship and their work and bring their imaginations to bear on the future.

There is widespread agreement that the current pandemic will bring about lasting changes in the world. Given that the world was facing unprecedented stresses before the current crisis, that could be a good thing, but only if we grasp the present as an opportunity to imagine a different world—the one we would like to build after the pandemic. By engaging notable friends in conversation about the world as it is and the world as it might be, this series will display ways in which friendships are key to the public trust and to the creativity and innovation that will be essential to our future. Given the role of friends in social media, recourse to friendship might not be an obvious frame for conversations about the challenges of a pandemic. The average Facebook user has 155 friends, and Instagram added a “Close Friends” feature so that users could distinguish friends from followers. Social media has weakened our understanding of friendship. Nonetheless, Facebook users say that, of those 155 friends, they would trust only four in a crisis, so some deeper conception of friendship remains even in the frenzied world of “likes” and “swipes.” With life in and after the pandemic as context, this series of keynote conversations will explore a deeper sense of friendship and why it matters, not simply as a place of private refuge in a crisis but as a relationship of trust that facilitates collaboration and insight and that has public purchase.

The series will run every other Thursday evening during fall semester. Students: register for ETHICS 387.