Polarization in the 21st Century: YOU’RE WRONG! (and I am right)

The polarization program, as part of SNF’s conference, includes a series of panels, interactive sessions with the audience, artistic performance, presentations and other elements designed not just to inform, but also to engage the audience in thinking about polarization and its consequences.

Social and political polarization is a new (or at least, dramatically intensifying) force that is having a huge impact on political discourse, public policy and electoral outcomes in many democracies  such as in the US, in Europe and in the Americas.  It may be an important compounding factor in the ongoing erosion of the centrist political parties (left and right) that were the anchors in a long period of political stability and economic progress; as the center melts, it becomes harder and harder to sustain either of those.  Indeed, the pollsters would have us believe that significant majorities in too many countries now share a common demand for a “strong man” to solve their problems, since they have lost much of their trust in politicians, parties and even the political system.

This may be somewhat of an extreme formulation.  Nonetheless, it is one reason to delve into the polarization question.  The Tällberg Foundation has been asked by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) to participate in their conference, entitled Creativity, Imagination and the Importance of Reactivating Public and Ethical Spaces in a Highly Polarized Societytaking place in Athens during June 21-23. The Tällberg Foundation will help to devise the program on polarization on June 22.

The polarization program will include a series of panels, interactive sessions with the audience, artistic performance, presentations and other elements designed not just to inform, but also to engage the audience in thinking about polarization and its consequences.  In fact, part of our method will be to use the highly politicized nexus of migration/borders/sovereignty to demonstrate the tendency towards polarization; often, discussion around those issues at local, national and regional levels often degenerate into irresolvable debate rather than agreed policy actions. 

We want to explore why that happens.  Why more today than in the past? Are we hard wired towards that end?  What is the role of modern media?  What happens to democracy as we know it if the polarization tendencies continue?  Who is responsible and what can be done, at the local, national, European and global levels?

These are some of the questions the participants will discussion on June 22.


Program on June 22, 2017
Time: 9.30 EEST – 14.45 EEST

  • Welcome
    Gloria Gilbert Stoga, President, Puppies Behind Bars
  • Antigone in Ferguson Performance: Theater of War
  • Why Antigone Today?
    Bryan Doerries, Artistic Director, Theater of War Productions
  • Point, Counterpoint: immigration, border security, identity and nationalism
    Robin Niblett, Chatham House
    Dr. Kees Rietveld, Adviser on fragile states policy
  • Speak up! Is national identity important? Do you want to be a global citizen? Do you trust politicians? Will the future be better than the present?
  • What can science tell us about political polarization?
    Presentation: Uri Hasson, Department of Psychology and the Neuroscience Institute, Princeton University
  • Why is polarization increasing today?
    Are we somehow hard wired to respond positively to information that is consistent with what we already “know?” As societies have shifted from mostly shared narratives to multiple narratives, do individuals think about and experience politics and public policy differently?  What is the role of the media and of the social media channels through which information (real and fake) flow to voters?  What does trust—or, rather, the widespread collapse of trust in key institutions—have to do with polarization?
    Panel discussion:
    Rachel Brown, Executive Director, Over Zero
    Ron Daniels, President, Johns Hopkins University (moderator)
    Uri Hasson, Professor, Princeton
    Matt Rogerson, Head of Public Policy, Guardian News & Media
  • What is the impact of polarization on our politics and on our democracies?
    Why is political partisanship increasing in many countries in Europe and America? Why do polls show a growing sense of voter disenfranchisement, lack of trust in political leaders and institutions, and a willingness to look for leaders outside the normal ranks of politicians? What needs to change to rebuild trust in the liberal democratic system?
    Panel discussion:
    Fabienne Hara, Professor, Sciences Po
    Scott Miller, President, Core Strategy Group (moderator)
    Hermann Tertsch, Journalist, Spain
    Nikos Xydakis, Greek MP, ex-minister, journalist
  • So what?
    What have we learned from you about polarization? What questions should we be asking now? What are the risks to democracy? Who needs to do what?Alan Stoga, Chairman, Tällberg Foundation
  • What do you think?
    Questions, comments from the audience
  • Chorus from Antigone

Speaker biographies

Thierry Baudet, Dutch politician and Founder, Forum for Democracy, The Netherlands
Thierry Henri Philippe Baudet (born 28 January 1983 in Heemstede) is a right-wing Dutch journalist and publicist. Known for his euroscepticism, Thierry Baudet is one of many outspoken advocates for a return to nation states in the Netherlands; these views were prominently expressed in his book, “The Significance of Borders. Why Representative Government and the Rule of Law require Nation States” (Boston 2012). He is the founder of Forum voor Democratie that was one of the three organisations that set up the Dutch Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement referendum, 2016. Baudet voted no. Baudet maintains that his conservative political convictions have been largely influenced by two events in his first year as an history undergraduate in Amsterdam: the attacks of 9/11 and the assassination of Pim Fortuyn. Baudet features regularly in both print and visual media in Europe. As a journalist he has had a permanent column in NRC Handelsblad, and is published in Le Monde, PressEurope and European Ideas. Recently he has been active as a commentator in Studio PowNed on the Dutch public television. As an academic teacher and researcher Baudet focuses on questions of law, history and political philosophy through a multidisciplinary approach. He calls himself the most important intellectual of his generation in the Netherlands in articles he wrote himself.

Rachel Brown, Executive Director, Over Zero
Rachel Brown is the author of Defusing Hate: A Strategic Communication Guide to Counteract Dangerous Speech, which includes a reference Guide and three workbooks that bring together insights from diverse fields of expertise – from marketing to cognitive neuroscience – to support practitioners seeking to design communications-based interventions for atrocity prevention. She developed the guide through a 2014 Genocide Prevention Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide. Rachel has led trainings and project design workshops on counteracting dangerous speech for a variety of organizations globally and has spoken at international conferences and events. She was a PopTech 2016 speaker and her work on counteracting dangerous speech has been profiled in the Christian Science Monitor. Rachel also founded and is the former CEO of Sisi ni Amani-Kenya (SNA-K), a Kenyan NGO that pioneered new strategies to build local capacity for peacebuilding and civic engagement, most notably through the creation of a text-messaging model and platform to support local community efforts. She was recognized as a 2012 PopTech Social Innovation Fellow for this work, and the organization was profiled in the documentary Peace In Our Pockets. Rachel has consulted for a variety of organizations on project design, including Ushahidi, Internews, and DAI, and she holds a B.A. in International Relations from Tufts University.

Ronald Daniels, President of Johns Hopkins University and Professor, Department of Political Science, USA
Since taking office in 2009, Daniels has focused his leadership on three overarching themes – enhanced interdisciplinary collaboration, individual excellence, and community engagement. These themes are the backbone of the Ten by Twenty, the university’s strategic vision through 2020, and underscore the priorities of Rising to the Challenge, Johns Hopkins’ largest-ever fundraising campaign, a $5 billion effort.

Under Daniels’ leadership, the university has launched a series of transformative, multidisciplinary initiatives that seek to advance the understanding of some of society’s most vexing issues, from realizing the promise of individualized health to addressing the challenges facing urban environments. With the extraordinary support of Johns Hopkins alumnus Michael Bloomberg, the university began recruiting 50 new Bloomberg Distinguished Professors whose appointments in two or more divisions create bridges between diverse departments. Daniels is also championing a universitywide vision for innovation, bolstering the efforts of faculty, staff, and students to translate their discoveries into novel technologies. As chair of the Executive Committee of Johns Hopkins Medicine, Daniels serves as a link between the university and Johns Hopkins Health System.

During his tenure, the university has invested heavily in student access, increasing the undergraduate financial aid budget by roughly 10 percent each year since 2010 and committing millions of dollars to graduate stipend supplements for doctoral candidates in Arts and Sciences. From launching the Gateway Science Initiative, designed to transform the traditional core undergraduate science curriculum, to establishing the first university-wide board to advocate for and support PhD programs, Daniels and his leadership team have worked to strengthen the student experience.
Asserting that Johns Hopkins is “truly and proudly of Baltimore,” Daniels has been personally involved in an ambitious $1.8 billion revitalization plan in East Baltimore. This enterprise includes a pioneering public school called the Henderson-Hopkins School that the Johns Hopkins School of Education began operating in 2011. Under Daniels’ leadership, Johns Hopkins also worked with nearly 200 local stakeholders to launch the Homewood Community Partners Initiative aimed at fostering physical, social and economic well-being in 10 neighborhoods and one commercial district around the Homewood campus.

A law and economics scholar, Daniels’ research focuses on the intersections of law, economics, development, and public policy in areas such as corporate and securities law, social and economic regulation, and the role of law and legal institutions in promoting third-world development. His recent writing has focused on advocating for young investigators in American life-science research and on the role of the research university in promoting community development. He is the author or co-author of seven books and dozens of scholarly articles, as well as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.
Before coming to Johns Hopkins, he was provost and professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania and dean and James M. Tory Professor of Law at the University of Toronto.

Daniels earned an LLM from Yale University in 1988 and a JD in 1986 from the University of Toronto, where he served as co-editor-in-chief of the law review. He received a BA from the University of Toronto in 1982, graduating with high distinction. He has been visiting professor and Coca-Cola World Fellow at Yale Law School and John M. Olin Visiting Fellow at Cornell Law School.

Gloria Gilbert Stoga, President and Founder, Puppies Behind Bars, USA
Gloria Gilbert Stoga founded Puppies Behind Bars in 1997, when she began teaching a group of carefully selected inmates at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, New York’s only maximum-security prison for women, to raise service dogs. She brought the first five puppies into prison on the eve of Thanksgiving to begin their training. Puppies Behind Bars has now raised more than 900 dogs, and works in six prisons in New York and New Jersey.

Mrs. Stoga has extensive experience in the non-profit sector. Prior to starting Puppies Behind Bars, she served as a member of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s Youth Empowerment Commission, whose mission was to secure private-sector summer employment for New York City youth with little means of their own in finding paying summer jobs. At the Commission, Mrs. Stoga was responsible for introducing the corporate community to the initiative and securing their commitments to provide training and jobs for the city’s underprivileged young people.

Prior to joining City Hall, Mrs. Stoga was the executive director of the New York Metropolitan Committee for UNICEF where she oversaw all educational, fundraising, and community outreach initiatives in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. From 1988-1994, she was the founder and director of the Privatization Project at the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs. The Privatization Project analyzed the transference of governmental entities into the hands of the private sector around the world, with a focus on the social as well as economic costs of such transactions.

Mrs. Stoga received her B.S. in education from Virginia Commonwealth University and lives in New York City with her husband and three Labrador retrievers.

Fabienne Hara, Sciences Po &Geneva Centre for Security Policy Executive-in-residence, Geneva Center for Security Policy, Switzerland
Fabienne Hara currently is an Executive in Residence at GCSP and an adjunct professor at the Paris School of International Affairs (Sciences Po) and at the University of Paris I in the eld of con ict management. She is a former Vice-President for Multilateral Affairs and Africa Director of the International Crisis Group. She also recently served as a special adviser to the French government on the Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa.

Uri Hasson, Professor in the Psychology Department and the Neuroscience Institute at Princeton University, USA
Uri Hasson grew up in Jerusalem. As an undergrad he studied philosophy and cognitive sciences at the Hebrew University. He completed his Ph.D. in Neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute in Israel and was a postdoctoral fellow at NYU before moving to Princeton. He is currently a Professor in the Psychology Department and the Neuroscience Institute at Princeton University. His research program aims to understand how the brain processes real-life complex information and interacts with the environment; with a focus on integration of complex information over time and the interaction between two individuals and two brains during natural communication.

Scott Miller, CEO, Core Strategy Group, USA
After graduating from Washington & Lee University, and a five-minute shot at the AFL, Scott Miller worked in advertising as Creative Director of McCann-Erickson, then founded Sawyer/Miller Group with David Sawyer. This strategic consulting group developed communications strategy for many political campaigns, corporations and institutions. Among Sawyer/Miller Group’s clients: Corazon Aquino, Vaclav Havel, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Miller Brewing, Boris Yeltsin, Drexel Burnham Lambert, Kim Dae Jung, Goldman-Sachs, Apple Computer, Virgilio Barco, USA for Africa/Hands Across America, Lech Walesa and The Better World Foundation. Sawyer/Miller also advised over 40 U.S. candidates for Governor or Senator and several Presidential campaigns.

In 2012 Scott founded RealLeader.com with Pat Caddell and Bob Perkins, and in 2013 with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Partnership for a Healthier America” initiative. During the 2014 elections, he founded “WeNeedSmith.com” and “A Promise to America” with Pat Caddell and Bob Perkins. In the 2016 campaign, they provided message strategy support to President Donald Trump.
He wrote Building Brandwidth with Sergio Zyman, The Underdog Advantage with David Morey and One More Customer with Fran Tarkenton. Former Editor of the Times of London James Harding’s book Alpha Dogs is based on Miller’s work in politics. Scott is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the Emory Winship Cancer Institute advisory board.

Robin Niblett, Director, Chatham House, United Kingdom
Before joining Chatham House, between 2001 and 2006, he was the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS).
During his last two years at CSIS, he also served as director of the CSIS Europe Program and its Initiative for a Renewed Transatlantic Partnership.He is a frequent panellist at conferences and events around the world and has testified on a number of occasions to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as US Senate and House of Representatives Committees on European Affairs. He received his BA, MPhil and DPhil from New College, Oxford.

Dr Kees Rietveld, Advisor on Fragile State Policy, Amman and Brussels
Speaking 10 languages including Kurdish, Persian, Dari and Arabic, trained in 4 Eastern and Western classical languages, Dr Kees Rietveld has worked since 1987 in Afghanistan 1987-89, 1995-98, 2002-03, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2010, Iraq 1991, 1993-95, 2003-04, 2005, 2013-14, Syria 2008, Yemen 2011, Jordan 2008, Iran 1990, 1994, 2003, Sudan 2001, 2006, Gaza 2016, Somalia 1991, 2011, East-Timor 2000, Kosovo 1999-2000, Democratic Republic of Congo 2006, 2007, 2017, Madagascar 2009, Kenya 2001, 2006, 2009, Liberia 1990, Uganda 2006, Central African Republic 2010, Burundi 2010, Benin 1992-1993, Albania, Macedonia 2001 and Romania 1989-1990. He has had his domicile in 18 active war zones and personally witnessed 6 coup d’états. Dr Rietveld advises on fragile state policy, and the Arab and Persian-speaking world. He holds degrees in Medicine & International Law, is a classical violinist and master on the classical Persian rebab (sitar).

Matt Rogerson, Head of Public Policy at The Guardian Media Group, United Kingdom
Matt joined Guardian Media Group in September 2013 following 5 years working at Virgin Media. Before a life in public policy, Matt worked in Parliament for a number of MPs. Matt’s work at GMG covers issues including approaches to data privacy, the aftermath of the Snowden revelations, and issues of media plurality.

Alan Stoga, President, Zemi Communications; Senior Adviser, Kissinger Associates; Chairman, Tällberg Foundation, USA
Alan Stoga, Chairman of the Tällberg Foundation, is a strategist and entrepreneur with extensive experience in communications and public relations, corporate consulting, digital media, geopolitics, international economics, banking and government. Currently, he is Senior Adviser at Kissinger Associates, the international consulting rm chaired by Dr. Henry Kissinger, as well as president of Zemi Communications, L.L.C., a New York based rm providing communication counsel to clients based outside the United States. In addition, Mr. Stoga serves as Chairman of the board of the Tinker Foundation, and Vice Chairman of the board of the Americas Society. Mr. Stoga is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and has economics and international relations degrees from Michigan State and Yale University, respectively.

Hermann Tertsch, Journalist at ABC, Spain

Stelios Vasilakis, Director of Programs & Strategic Initiatives, Stavros Niarchos Foundation, USA
Stelios Vasilakis is Director of Programs & Strategic Initiatives at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. He holds a PhD in Classics and Modern Greek Studies from New York University. He has taught various undergraduate and graduate courses in classical literature, Byzantine culture and civilization, Modern Greek literature and Modern Greek language. In 1993, he received an Outstanding Teaching Award for Excellence in Teaching from New York University, College of Arts and Science.

Nikos Xydakis, Member of Greek Parliament, ex Minister of Culture, ex Alternate Foreign Minister, Greece
Born 1958. Journalist,art critic. Head of the culture section and editor in chief in “Kathimerini” daily newspaper (1992-2014). MP candidate for the Coalition of the Left ticket (2000) and MEP candidate for Syriza Party (2014). On 25 January 2015 he was elected MP in the national elections and served in the rst cabinet of Alexis Tsipras as Minister of Culture. On 20 September 2015 he was re-elected MP and served as Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs till November, 5th, 2016


The Stavros Niarchos Foundation

SNF (www.SNF.org) is one of the world’s leading private international philanthropic organizations, making grants in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and sports, and social welfare.

SNF funds organizations and projects that are expected to achieve a broad, lasting and positive impact for society at large, focusing on vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly, and also exhibit strong leadership and sound management. SNF also seeks actively to support projects that facilitate the formation of public-private partnerships as an effective means for serving public welfare.

2016 marked the twentieth year of the SNF’s global philanthropic activity. Since 1996, SNF has made grant commitments of $1.9 billion / €1.6 billion, through 3,646 grants to nonprofit organizations in 111 nations around the world.
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