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Podcast: The Public Discourse

Episode 1: Rethinking and Rebuilding

We talk with Dr. Shahrzad Sabet and Akaash Maharaj about how principles and concepts - like oneness, love, justice, and equality - can help to guide our thinking about how to rebuild after COVID-19. Dr. Sabet is a Research Fellow at New York University, and Maharaj is the CEO of the Mosaic Institute.
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This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity

GEOFF CAMERON (Director, Office of Public Affairs): Well I'm delighted to be joined on The Public Discourse by Akaash Maharaj and Shahrzad Sabet. This is the first episode of our new series on rebuilding together, where we begin to look to the future beyond COVID-19. We've been joined before by Akaash, and this is our first time with Shahrzad on the podcast.

So I wonder if you could each briefly introduce yourselves. Maybe Shahrzad first?

SHAHRZAD SABET (Research Fellow, Institute for Public Knowledge, New York University): Sure. My name is Shahrzad Sabet. I'm a political scientist. I'm at New York University in New York City. My current research focuses primarily on the conceptual and philosophical tensions around social identity, as well as on the intersections of these more conceptual tensions with empirical research in social psychology.

I'm also a new mom. I have a now eight month old baby girl. So, that also is keeping me pretty busy and also pretty entertained these days.

GEOFF: I'm so glad you could join us Shahrzad. Thank you. And you're joining us from Vancouver, is that right?

SHAHRZAD: I am, yes. I've been back in British Columbia for a few months now because of the pandemic. I came here with my baby and husband and it's actually where I was born and grew up. So it's nice to be home.

GEOFF: Wonderful. And Akaash for our faithful listeners you will need no introduction, but perhaps you could introduce yourself for everyone else.

AKAASH MAHARAJ (CEO, Mosaic Institute): For your faithless listeners [laughter]. Thank you for inviting me Geoff. I'm delighted to be back. I'm Akaash Maharaj. I'm the chief executive officer of the Mosaic Institute. Mosaic is a Toronto-based not-for-profit organization that works on peace building and international conflict resolution. It operates primarily through “Track Two” diplomacy, which means bringing together ordinary people; in particular, members of diaspora communities drawn from opposite sides of international conflict, promoting dialogue between them, and through that dialogue trying to build this sense of mutual understanding, as well as strategies for peaceful coexistence. Our work is based on the very Canadian idea of this sense that we are all better off together, and sometimes we just need a bit of help discovering that truth.

GEOFF: Well, thank you again for joining us. Akaash, I think I'll start with you. When we talked last time we were focused on questions of leadership and public policy, and towards the end we began to discuss how we should be rethinking and rebuilding after this crisis. As I mentioned earlier this new series of The Public Discourse is focused more directly on these questions. You know, a crisis like the one we're experiencing can have the effect of helping us to clarify our shared values, it can reveal the ways in which our actions - both individually and collectively - fall short of those values.

So I wanted to ask you, as we emerge from the immediate lock down and begin to contemplate what is next for our society, what are the core principles you think need to be guiding our thinking?

AKAASH: I think that's a very good, and very deep question. Because although the pandemic has caused virtually everyone to pause and take stock of the questions, such as, what do we do next? What does the new normal look like? How have our institutions served us or failed us? I think that as a society, as well as individuals, we have not taken enough time to take yet another step back and think about what are the core underlying values and principles that should be guiding us through this really uncharted territory.

There are a few that strike me. One is a bit of a cliché, but I hope that we move beyond the cliché, and that is that the pandemic has revealed to us the fact that our interests as individuals are utterly entwined with the well-being of every other member of society.

The second is that I think we have to do a better job of cultivating Canadian society in particular - and all societies in the world - as genuine meritocracies. We hear the term meritocracy thrown around a lot, and it's often used by people who want to say, "I have earned what I have, and therefore I should get to keep what I have." I think that is looking at meritocracy from the wrong end. A meritocracy should be one in which everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. But it also has to be one in which those who benefit most from meritocracy, they bear proportionately the greatest responsibility for supporting that meritocracy.

The third I think is - if not a uniquely Canadian principle, I think a characteristically Canadian principle - and that is that we need to find the courage to see ourselves as we are, rather than as we might imagine ourselves to be. We have become, over the course of my lifetime, a significantly more unequal society, and that risks becoming structure. There's no way to address those problems unless we recognize there's a problem.

I would say that the fourth is one that runs against our character as Canadians, and that is that we need to summon the courage to be willing to embrace revolutionary change, and not evolutionary change. We are an evolutionary society. We have had rebellions, but we've never had revolutions. And Canadians are inherently conservative; by that I don't mean right-wing, I mean cautious. We are suspicious of dramatic change, we are aware of the cost and the risks, but I think that we have arrived at a moment in history where our institutions, especially during this time of trial, have demonstrated that they are not well suited to take us through crises. And this is not the last crisis we will face. If we are to be prepared for the next crisis, we have to be prepared to run the risk of fundamentally re-making our institutions, or we will face the certainty of being saddled with institutions that are fundamentally ill-suited to leading a pluralisticsociety in the twenty-first century.

And I suppose the last thing I would say is that we need to fight the impulse to govern ourselves and to make our decisions based on what has happened in the last 24-hour news cycle. The problems that now beset us, are questions that will be judged by history, and not by the nightly news and certainly not by “tweets”. And part of that attitude of looking to judgement of history, needs a willingness to sacrifice in our own lifetimes.

GEOFF: Well that's a great way to start us off. Thank you Akaash. I want to pick up on a few of the themes you mentioned around interdependence and equity; to ask Shahrzad a question along those lines. You know, in the past several months, we've experienced this paradoxical situation where we have been confronted with our essential oneness as a human family, as well as by the deep divisions that continue to exist in our society. The pandemic is itself a kind of metaphor for our interdependence, and yet its effects - as you mentioned Akaash - have not been felt evenly. Canada has not systematically collected race based data, but anecdotal reporting indicates that marginalized groups, and we know migrant workers, have been among the worst affected. At the same time, we've seen this resurgence in protests calling for racial justice and police reform.

So within that context: Shahrzad, I know that these are questions that you think about at a conceptual and philosophical level, and which have direct application to the challenges we face as a society. What would you say about how we need to re-think the relationship between our commonalities and our differences?

SHAHRZAD: Well let me say, first of all, thanks so much Geoff for the invitation to participate in this great conversation.

Yeah, it has been an especially paradoxical and I think revealing time in the sense that you describe, certainly; and as Akaash noted at the outset. At the level of our physical or material well-being, our interdependence as a humanity could not have been made more obvious than it has been made in the last few months. But, I think a global crisis of this magnitude also amplifies our deeper commonalities; our response to death and disease, and injustice, our basic yearnings as human beings for nobility and hope, our susceptibilities to the stirrings of justice and solidarity around us. But on the other hand, as you also point out, these same months have also magnified how deeply our differences matter. Structural inequalities and systemic racism, as you mentioned, have tragically shaped who has been most affected by the coronavirus.

The murder of George Floyd in the United States has reminded us, yet again, of the devastating institutionalized racism that runs, really, through virtually every facet of our society. From the criminal justice system certainly, but also to maternal healthcare, to environmental concerns. I think it might seem obvious to many of us that the recognition of our commonalities should help somehow redress these ravages of our differences, but in fact, in both thought and in practice, reconciling our oneness with our diversity has been quite an enduring challenge.

A big part of that problem, I think, is that the concepts that have come to represent our shared humanity are not up to this challenge. They're either distorted at worst, or they're inadequate; or incomplete at best. At the more distorted end of the spectrum - think, for example, of what the term cosmopolitanism has come to represent certainly in public discourse, but also to some extent in political philosophy. The idea of cosmopolitanism is traditionally associated with the notion of our shared humanity, but the term has come increasingly to represent basically a form of elitism. It's seen by many as yet one more exclusionary tribal identity. In this case, the exclusive tribe of choice, so to speak, for an often aloof, hyper-mobile, hyper-privileged, typically urban elite.

So paradoxically, I think to meaningfully recognize our diversity, what we need to do is actually lean much, much more heavily into our oneness to cultivate a genuine and deeply felt universal identity, or a sense of universal belonging. To appreciate this point, this perhaps counter intuitive point, I think it helps to think of those with whom we share personal bonds of love; bonds of deep empathy or solidarity. Certainly we're moved to honour and protect the universal aspects of their personhood, but we're also moved to meaningfully recognize our distinctiveness. We're attentive to the particular burdens they borne. We want to understand the full contours of their experiences and their particular perspectives. These, let's call them empathic recognitions of difference, which will be essential I think to addressing the catastrophic inequalities and injustices we face. These meaningful recognitions of our diversity flow much more naturally from thicker, more feeling-full bonds of identity and love, than they do from leaner, rationally derived and much more emotionally sober commitments to abstract human equality.

GEOFF: Thank you Shahrzad. You seem to be tending towards the role that love or empathy plays in helping us to feel a closer connection to each other. Not only in spite of our differences, but sometimes because of them too. I want to continue on this point with Akaash. Akaash, you lead the Mosaic Institute, which as you mentioned works on bringing people together to talk about their differences; and you have been convening an on-going dialogue about race-relations in Ontario.

So I know that the report is not yet out, but I wonder what insights are coming through in this work that you think can help us to navigate some of the issues that Shahrzad has pointed to?

AKAASH: I think Shahrzad phrased the challenge very well. And if I may re-phrase it from my perspective, the idea of who we are, who we recognize as friends, who we recognize as one of us and one of them, are often amongst people like myself who live this, work in it, and they talk about it. It's often phrased and thought of as an intellectual exercise. What are the shared rights and responsibilities? What are the political aspirations that bind us together? What are the documents that we have contributed to, and through doing so shared in the authorship of the social contract that defines us as a people? AndI still think those are very important, but they are dry. And ultimately the question of, "Who are we?" and "Who am I?" are fundamentally emotional questions rather than rational questions. So, I agree with her that we need to find a way to deepen this sense of shared identity that we all have beyond the transactional identity of being participants in an economy, or the political ideas of having a set of shared principles that bind us together.

Ultimately, not only are we emotional creatures, but that our connection to one another is deeply personal. So the challenge I suppose, in a large diverse and pluralistic society is how do we cultivate that sense of emotional, as well as rational, borne between ourselves? And especially with people who are very, very different from ourselves.

So I suppose as we move out of coronavirus, the question is: How do we as societies find ways to engage individuals, and communities, and nations, in shared activities that helps us all to feel that we've achieved something together because we are someone together. And I think, I would say in very broad terms, it is one of the reasons why I think our democratic institutions need a fundamental overhaul, because those are the institutions really that should be bringing Canadians together, but increasingly, they are institutions and practices that drive us apart. Especially in a country where it is possible to win an absolute majority with thirty-five percent of the vote. Instead, we must find ways for new institutions to make democracy more than just a way of electing governments, but a way of actually governing ourselves.

If there were ways for Canadians from different walks of life, different ethnicities, different cultures, to join hands with one another, to work with one another, to disagree passionately with one another, but to come to a conclusion with one another that shapes our country together, I think that would not just demonstrate the political ideals that defined us as Canadians - that would cultivate the emotional bond that makes us one people.

But I don't think that we can take for granted that that is going to happen because we are Canadians and we mean well. The business of inclusion is as much a skill as it is a set of ideals. And it's a skill that has to be practiced or it will be lost.

GEOFF: You know this theme of our emotional connections to each other as being as important as what we might hold to be intellectual or idealistic connections to each other is one I'm glad you brought out Akaash. I mean, it's been an interesting characteristic of these protests that have swept not only the United States and Canada, but many countries around the world. That they were, in a way, set off in part by video; that exposed a kind of reality that was experienced by one part of the population in the United States, and perhaps in other countries too, to the general public. It was as if a veil was being removed from the eyes of society about the way in which one part of the population was being treated differently.

We saw similar videos emerge in Canada, and I think contribute to a general rising of consciousness of the disparity that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. And so it's been interesting that this time of isolation that the Internet, which notoriously segments us into our individual worlds, has also connected us emotionally too around an issue of profound injustice.

With that, maybe the question is what's next? How does this then emerge from the digital realm into reality? Shahrzad, I wonder if you had any reflections on that?

SHAHRZAD: Yeah. That's a great question actually.

I think one thing we have to sort of flip in our minds is this idea that our common humanity, the oneness of humankind, cosmopolitanism, whatever label you want to give it, that its domain is something beyond our borders, or that it's across our borders, or it's some trans-national space that the masses of humanity don't have access to. I think that's a complete distortion of the concept. I think the oneness of humankind is something that expresses itself, and should find expression in our neighbourhoods; in the very textured colourful concrete experiences that all of us have, whether we hold international passports or not.

I mean, we each speak from our own experience. I'm a member of the Baha'i community and I think it's actually quite remarkable how these kind of deep long standing intellectual tensions between the local and the universal, to a large extent, find resolution in the activities of the Baha'i community. The foundational principle of the Baha'i Faith, for anyone who knows anything about it, is the oneness of humankind, but the kinds of activities that this gives rise to for Baha'is are actually very local. They're focused on neighbourhoods. They're focused on the particular problems and challenges that populations feel in their very concrete immediate circumstances.

So I think one step we can take as to sort of dissociate this notion of our universality, or our oneness, from something that's abstract, or something that's outside of our concrete experience, we can find elements of our common humanity with people that are in our immediate environment. In fact I think that's where we should look. We should look to make friends with the people around us.

Now, that's not to say - and I go back to your question Geoff - it's not to say that these kinds of universalist forces like the Internet, and the erasure of barriers to communication don't contribute to our consciousness as a common humanity. Of course they do, and they are essential. And I think they've also kind of irreversibly changed our consciousness as members of the human race. But they complement, in a very tight and dynamic way, the things that go on locally around us. So I think we need to kind of not just adjust, but maybe revolutionize the way we think about things like cosmopolitanism and realize that these things have just as much of a relevance and application at the grassroots, in our national discourse, as they do in our international discourse, or on the floor at the United Nations.

GEOFF: Thanks Shahrzad. I want to now bring this back to Akaash, just reflecting on this point Shahrzad is bringing forward about the ways in which cosmopolitanism, or universalism, finds expression in our own neighbourhoods or our own communities – and to return to this issue of race relations in Ontario which I know Mosaic has been studying. Is this a theme that has come through in the study you've been carrying out? And if not, what other themes are coming out about how people are perceiving the challenge of race relations in Ontario, and ways in which we might foster more harmonious race relations?

AKAASH: Well what we are finding is that race relations in Canada are much more, I would say, lumpy, than people might expect. There's a sense that there is an ethnic majority of people largely from Europe, and ethnic minorities on the other side. Certainly, one can divide the population that way, but the experience of different ethnic minority groups varies radically. There have been some groups that have been significantly more successful than others, and there are tensions. It would be a mistake for anyone to believe that racial tensions in Canada are purely tensions between the majority and the collective minorities. In fact, there are tensions between ethnic minority groups as well, and those tensions tend to be the strongest between groups that have been relatively successful and groups that have been relatively less successful. We tend to replicate.

Unfortunately, there is a sense that I'm getting that many people who cry out for justice are too quick to define justice as justice for themselves. They are alert to the injustices being done to them but are often blind to the injustices they are doing to other people. And I think that would become a growing issue for our country if it is not adequately addressed. That better race relations in Canada also means better relations between minority groups, as well as between majority groups and the minority groups collectively.

I think that in addition - this is a particularly Canadian challenge - our country has not had replacement fertility rates since 1971. So as a result, our entire population stability and our entire population of growth is largely a product of immigration. I think that most Canadians know that, but perhaps are not quick to see what that means. And that is the fundamental question, the fundamental often unspoken question, is whose country is this anyway? And the answer to that is it's at once all of our country, and no one's country. When I say no one's country, I mean no one group's country. And while that represents a kind of political ideal, it is difficult to live out in practice.

I think that it's a challenge that is within our grasp, and I agree that recognizing our common humanity is meaningless unless we give application to that common humanity; and that always begins in our immediate environment. To say that we recognize our common humanity, but we don't do anything about it, and we don't do anything about it with the people we interact with the most, well that's just abject hypocrisy. That is retreating to a sterile kind of intellectualized idea that there is something called equal dignity, but unless we are prepared to give the people sitting next to us their share of equal dignity, then we are not cosmopolitan, we are not discovering our shared humanity. We are in fact running away from our neighbours through the agency of abstractions.

GEOFF: Well those were some very perceptive comments on justice you made at the beginning of your remarks Akaash, and then your connection to immigration sets up a question I wanted to ask Shahrzad. You know, I think we were already seeing before this pandemic a rise in nationalism and xenophobia around the world. I don't think Canada was unaffected by that trend despite the fact that our rates of immigration are relatively high and enjoy a significant degree of public support. Yet, one of the responses to this pandemic has been the closure of borders, the temporary halt of refugee arrivals, and new barriers to the international movement of non-citizens. So there have been significant new moves towards closure, which in a way began before the pandemic, but found a new justification in the pandemic itself.

And so just building off your remarks I wonder, Shahrzad, how might we think about the notion of global solidarity coming out of this crisis? In, light of the very tendencies and movements that Akaash has just mentioned?

SHAHRZAD: Yeah. That's a very important question I think, and significantly, as you point out, these movements towards closure precede the pandemic and whatever pandemic or health related reasons we might have for them. We've been seeing these movements - typically, again as you mentioned - accompanied by xenophobia and often identity related anxieties across the Western world now for several years; whether it's Britain's vote to leave the European Union, or in the drive in the United States to build a physical wall along the Southern border.

One of the interesting connections that I think is expressed in these cases is the close relationship between identity on the one hand, and a sense of security or a sense of safety, on the other.

Interestingly what I'm finding in my research - which draws heavily on social and political psychology - is that only an all-encompassing, or universal collective identity delivers a context of deep and fundamental security to all of our other particular bounded social identities. And I think there are good logical or conceptual reasons for this. First of all, unlike virtually every other social identity, a universal collective identity is unbounded. It literally comes with no other; it has no other. As a social identity, it's also completely unique because the parameters of its inclusion are not, or at least they need not be, socially constructed.

So as we come out of this pandemic, whatever that might look like as we come out of this crisis which has so dramatically exposed our interconnectedness, I think one of the key questions we need to ask ourselves is: How can we cultivate the fundamentally secure sense of belonging that we crave as human beings, given these (I think to a large extent now) irreversible conditions of deep interdependence? I think our response to that question has to be different than the kinds of answers we've given to it in the past.

GEOFF: Akaash, I now want to turn to you. Picking up on this discourse around identity that Shahrzad has referenced, and also some of your previous comments about how we talk to each other. I think for anyone who has been paying attention to social media, or Twitter, or the many of the newspapers we might read, there's a current conversation about how we talk to each other, including the nature of free speech. And in a way, this is a conversation that has been happening for centuries. But it takes on some new characteristics today. Somehow in order to continue working together to build a better society, we are going to have to learn how to engage in good faith public conversation where our intellectuals are not drawing tribal boundaries around themselves in the way that Shahrzad has referenced.

So since promoting dialogue is something central to your own work, what thoughts do you have about the principles and approaches that can allow us to have constructive conversations on the challenges of our time? Without resorting to these kinds of tribal disputes that are sometimes featured in our magazines and newspapers.

AKAASH: That's certainly one of the questions of our time. I remember when the Internet was just coming of age, and there was a blind assumption that simply because we would be able to speak to one another more easily, more efficiently, more cheaply, that it would, of necessity, create stronger bonds between people around the world; and that clearly is not the case.

The Internet has simply amplified both the good and the bad in society, and has accelerated it. It has aided those who wish to bring people together, and it has aided those who wish to drive people apart. It is like a force of nature. It is utterly amoral. It is not immoral, but it is amoral. It is a power that can be used either for good, or for ill. So I suppose the question is: In this context, how do we steer things towards that power being harnessed and used for constructive purposes?

I guess the last thing I would say is that there is a dangerous assumption that the people who use freedom of speech to pull other people down, that they're just bad people; and we're not bad people. Therefore, all we have to do is not be like that and it will be fine. But the truth is, there are no supervillains lurking in volcano lairs stroking white cats, that's just not the way the world works. The evil that is abroad is evil that is within ourselves, and the opposite of good isn't necessarily evil, the opposite of good can be good intentions. The ability to bring people together, the ability to engage with one another, that is a skill, and it is a skill that goes beyond simply meaning well.

Often I hear people think, or say, "I have nothing against that group, those other people, therefore everything should be fine." You may feel you have nothing against them, but if you don't have the empathy, the skills, and the practice of dealing with people who are not like yourself, there is a good chance you are going to treat those people as if you have something against them, even if you don't know it.

The Internet, especially things like Twitter which I think is just a cess pit, has encouraged people to make pronouncements; to announce their opinions to the world, or to display what they had for lunch. But the truth is, even the greatest amongst us has far more to learn from other people than he or she has to teach other people, and good dialogue begins and ends with listening, not speaking.

GEOFF: I appreciate you emphasizing the personal responsibility that is implicit in building a healthy public discourse. I was hearing echoes of this Solzhenitsyn quote about “the line between good and evil running through the heart of every man,” in your own remarks. That dividing the world into the good and the evil is not a productive way to develop a healthy public discourse, but rather reflecting on the posture and orientation we bring to it ourselves is the best way to promote what we're looking for.

AKAASH: And even as we look at the evils of the past, I think that often encourages people to adopt a kind of self-righteousness. “I'm not like those people who committed those terrible crimes in the past.” It should instill in us a deep sense of humility, because those people who committed the worst crimes of the past, to a person, they thought they were doing the right thing; and we think we're doing the right thing.

We have to have the humility to admit that to ourselves, to admit that to others, and to be able to see other points of view even if we feel certain of ourselves. One of the reasons that I am a huge fan of democracy in practice, as well as in theory, isn't just because I think it is the best instrument towards just and prosperous societies - I think it is - but also because it emphasizes the fact that the wisdom of society lies in the many and not in the few.

I have my individual heroes. People like Martin Luther King Jr., or Mahatma Gandhi, or Nelson Mandela; they were all great men. But for every Gandhi there's a Stalin. When we invest that much power in individuals we are playing a dangerous game, because Gandhi and Stalin might be on opposite ends of a spectrum, but they were equally convinced that they were doing the right thing.

GEOFF: Shahrzad, you recently wrote a piece where you talk about the need for our intellectual frameworks to incorporate both love and justice in the way we think about our society; a theme that I think resonates with some of Akaash's comments just now. And something that seems like a particular challenge right now for the reasons we've been discussing; where it seems like to stand for justice often means opposing someone else.

Could you talk a little bit more about how a closer reconciliation of love and justice can help us to navigate this process of rethinking and rebuilding?

SHAHRZAD: Sure. Yeah, it's a premise of our prevailing intellectual frameworks that love and justice diverge in important ways. Justice we think must be impartial and universal. It should be accorded to all regardless of difference; but love is thought to be different. The domain of love and belonging is thought to be necessarily partial and particular. It's thought to be bounded by the limits of the conventional social identities we've been talking about; things like kin, race, religion, ethnicity.

I think this disjuncture in the way we think about these two concepts has served us very poorly. Realizing the universality of justice, the often gut wrenching sacrificial work - for example, of redressing centuries long systemic oppression - depends very much I think on also realizing the universality of love. To put it perhaps a little differently, the kinds of feelings and actions that the realization of a genuine justice requires of us come much more readily and naturally when they're motivated by deeper connections of solidarity and love.

To reference our earlier conversation, we know this from our own more personal lives. We know that love sustains selfless action. It wills us to forgo comfort and privilege. It helps us to feel the suffering and the burdens of others as our own. So of course justice can't be partial, or particular, or preferential, but I think it will continue to fall short of that ideal until we also release, so to speak, concepts like love, and identity, and solidarity, from the confines of their partiality. And this I think will become even more true as the pandemic exposes and exacerbates the deep structural inequalities and injustices around us.

GEOFF: Well that is a great point to draw us close to an end of our conversation. I wonder if either of you have any final closing reflections to share before we finish. Akaash, do you have any final thoughts to share?

AKAASH: It’s been a fascinating conversation, I have to say. Especially for me. And I say that because I'm conscious of my own shortcomings in this discussion. I am the sort of person, by my nature, I have always valued reason above passion. I think of myself as a thoughtful person, and I think of myself as someone who is able to take hotly contested issues and deal with them dispassionately. And it can be difficult for me, with that being my nature, to come to terms with the fact that we are all creatures of emotion before we are creatures of reason. And that systems and models of who we are and what we are, that appeal only to the mind and not to the heart, will never have any purchase in our society.

But I think that, much as Shahrzad was saying we can have justice and love, I think that we can have societies that combine reason and passion. And that is to say, if we are able to build societies that aren't just - that appeal to our rational selves, our recognition that we are better altogether than we are apart and that we will prosper more if our neighbours prosper more, rather than lose if our neighbours prosper - I think that's the kind of society that applies both to reason and to emotion, because we then become intellectually, emotionally, and dare I say it, spiritually invested; not just in that society but in the well-being of one another.

GEOFF: Thank Akaash. And Shahrzad, any closing thoughts?

SHAHRZAD: Sure. I guess just what I'll say is that I - especially looking ahead to the podcast series that we're kicking off with this episode - what I hope we kind of take with us to the other side of this pandemic, again whatever that might look like, is a renewed sense of intellectual courage.

I think this crisis has, as we've been discussing, on the one hand, exposed very vividly the limits of our prevailing structures and ideas. And on the other hand of course, it has also presented a critical opportunity for us to fundamentally rethink some of these ideas, and assumptions, and structures.

At a moment like this, I think it's important to continually remind ourselves that so many of the ideas and structures that we take for granted today were formulated and championed in a context where they seemed completely out of bounds and completely out of reach. So, I hope that we - and I should clarify, when I say ‘we’ here, I mean all of us, every one of us as, as protagonists of the society we're building - I hope that we have the courage to allow ourselves to imagine the world. Not as it has been, but as it might be. To kind of dive head first into the social and intellectual adventure that I think awaits us after this very intense period of suffering, and uncertainty, and turmoil.

Let us not be afraid. Let us have the courage to free our imaginations and see where they take us.

GEOFF: Well, I don't think I could have asked for a more perceptive and insightful pair of guests for this podcast. You have set the bar very high for our future episodes. Shahrzad and Akaash, thank you so much for joining us for this first episode of our new series of the Public Discourse.

SHAHRZAD: Thanks Geoff. It has been a huge pleasure.

AKAASH: Thank you. It was delightful.