IDEAS schedule for November 2020

Highlights include: an investigation into the evolutionary history of laughter (Nov 4); tech expert Ron Deibert delivers the 2020 CBC Massey Lectures entitled Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society (Nov 9 - Nov 16): why metaphors matter when it comes to climate change (Nov 20); exploring the science, psychology, history, and culture of cute (Nov 23); and a deep dive into the fault lines of ‘Botox nation' (Nov 30).
Investigative journalist Bruce Livesey examines the relationship between capitalism and totalitarianism in his IDEAS documentary. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

* Please note this schedule is subject to change.

Monday, November 2

We are used to hearing how capitalism goes hand-in-hand with freer, more democratic societies. But it's not always so. Investigative journalist Bruce Livesey reveals historical examples that show when wealth becomes concentrated among the very few, the stage can be set for totalitarianism, and for the destruction that totalitarianism inevitably brings.

Tuesday, November 3 

Pre-empted by CBC's American Election Coverage 

* 4 a.m. broadcast: Machines of Chance

Wednesday, November 4

Imagine seeing humans laughing for the first time. You'd notice the odd honking, barking and wheezing sounds, and how it can sometimes be contagious and make people breathless. Why? What role does laughter play in the evolution of humanity? What does our laughter have in common with the way primates and even rats laugh? IDEAS contributor Peter Brown takes us on a joyride throughout our evolutionary history, and shows us just why laughing matters.

Thursday, November 5

In a public talk delivered at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto in May 2018, Sue Gardner argued that we've returned to the same set of ominous social conditions which led to the creation of public broadcasting in the first place — and that now is the time to recommit to public service journalism. In extreme circumstances, the stakes can literally be a matter of life and death. And in that context, public service journalism keeps a society talking to itself, rather than tearing itself apart.

Yale astrophysicist Priya Natarajan explores radical scientific ideas unveiling the Cosmos in her book, Mapping the Heavens. (Yale University Press/Submitted by Priya Natarajan)

Friday, November 6

In 2019, the first up-close image of a black hole was recorded. And yet so much about them — their bizarre properties and the role they play in the universe — remains a mystery. The distinguished Yale astrophysicist Priya Natarajan dives into black holes and dark matter in her lecture and book: Mapping The Heavens. *This episode originally aired on May 15, 2020.

Monday, November 9

RESET: CBC MASSEY LECTURE # 1 - Look At That Device In Your Hand
"Look at that device in your hand. No, really, take a good, long look at it," asks renowned tech expert Ron Deibert. "You carry it around with you everywhere. You sleep with it, work with it, run with it, you play games on it. You depend on it, and panic when you can't find it. It links you to your relatives and kids. You take photos and videos with it, and share them with friends and family. It alerts you to public emergencies, and reminds you of hair appointments."

There's a problem with 'that device', says Deibert — but you know this already. There's also an answer — we need a 'reset' and in the first of the 2020 Massey lectures, Deibert sketches out the problem — and the solution:

"A reset gives us a rare opportunity to imagine an alternative, and begin the process of actually bringing it about. To be sure, it won't be easy, nor will it happen overnight. But fatalistic resignation to the status quo is no real alternative either."

Tuesday, November 10

RESET: CBC MASSEY LECTURE # 2 - The Market For Our Minds
In his second Massey Lecture, Ron Deibert explores "the economic engine that underlies social media: the personal data surveillance economy" and what is called ..."surveillance capitalism". He argues that social media platforms "describe themselves in seemingly benign ways: "wiring the world," "connecting friends and family members," "all the world's information at your fingertips" and so on. On the surface, they often live up to the bill. But regardless of how they present themselves, social media companies have one fundamental aim: to monitor, archive, analyze, and market as much personal information as they can from those who use their platforms.

Ronald J. Deibert is the founder and director of Citizen Lab, a research outfit based at the University of Toronto, which studies technology, surveillance and censorship. (House of Anansi Press)

Wednesday, November 11

RESET: CBC MASSEY LECTURE # 3 - Toxic Addiction Machines
You are being turned into an addict — by professionals. "The job of social media engineers" says Ron Deibert in the third Massey Lecture, is to design their products in such a way as to capture and retain users' interests. In order to do so, they draw on insights and methods from commercial advertising and behavioural psychology, and refine their services' features to tap into instincts and cognitive traits related to emotional reflexes. This dynamic means that social media's algorithms tend to surface and privilege extreme and sensational content, which in turn degrades the overall quality of discourse on the platforms.

Thursday, November 12

RESET: CBC MASSEY LECTURE # 4 -  A Great Leap Forward...for the Abuse of Power
In his fourth CBC Massey lecture, Ron Deibert argues that social media and the internet are about a lot more than people trying to sell you stuff. In a very short period of time, digital technologies have provided state security agencies with unparalleled capabilities to peer inside our lives, both at a mass scale and down to the atomic level. Part of the reason is due to the booming surveillance industry, which crosses over relatively seamlessly between private sector and government clients, and has equipped security agencies with a whole new palette of tools they never previously could have imagined."

Friday, November 13

"Although we tend to think of social media and our digital experiences as clean, weightless, and ethereal ... they are in fact far from it." In the fifth of his Massey Lectures, Ron Deibert takes us behind the scenes of the ecological costs of our digital devices. "Every component of our communications ecosystem is implicated in a vast, planet-wide physical and material infrastructure — the raw material for which can be traced back billions of years. Social media are not only inextricably connected to the natural world, they tax it in many surprising ways across a spectrum that includes mining, manufacturing, transportation, energy consumption, and waste."

Monday, November 16

RESET: MASSEY LECTURE # 6 - Retreat, Reform, Restraint
In the sixth and final of his 2020 CBC Massey Lectures, Ron Deibert asks the question "What is to be done?" And he has an answer. "The negative implications of social media are increasingly acknowledged and well documented. But what to do about them is a different matter...The common sense meaning of 'restraint' is keeping someone or something under control, including our emotions, our habits, and our behaviours. I make a plea for a single, overarching principle to guide us moving forward: restraint."

Best-selling author Roxane Gay has been a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times since 2015. She is a writer, professor, editor, and social commentator. (AfterWords Literary Festival)

Tuesday, November 17

Roxane Gay likes to joke that even her opinions have opinions — which comes in handy for her often searing opinion columns in The New York Times. And there are many other corners to the best-selling Haitian-American's literary talents, including writing World of Wakanda for Marvel Comics, the non-fiction collection of essays, Bad Feminist, the novel, An Untamed State and her moving memoir, Hunger, which explores the brutal realities of rape and obesity. While she is fond of dark explorations, her work can also be very funny and erotic. IDEAS producer Mary Lynk in conversation with the formidable Ms. Gay.

Wednesday, November 18

"Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." It's a lasting phrase; one that has touched off church-and-state and tax debates across centuries, some of which are still raging. It's a stellar example of Jesus Christ's uncanny way of confounding his challengers. Most profoundly, this riposte to the religious authorities transcends mere matters of money, and agitates the hearts of believers: What ultimately belongs to God, and how does that question resonate in a secular age?

Thursday, Nov 19

About 2,500 years ago, Thucydides travelled ancient Greece, gathering stories about a brutal war that plunged the ancient world into chaos. He set high standards for accuracy, objectivity and thoroughness in his reporting. IDEAS producer Nicola Luksic explains why his account of the Peloponnesian War is relevant today. *This episode originally aired on June 22, 2020.

Friday, November 20

The plague of Athens struck in 430 BC, violently killing up to half of the Greek city's population. The chronicler Thucydides documented the grim symptoms, as well as the social and psychological fallout. His vivid account holds enduring lessons for those of us living through the coronavirus pandemic today.  *This episode originally aired on Jun 23, 2020.

Monday, November 23

Cute things abound in modern life. Lately, we've seen a pandemic-induced upsurge in puppy and kitten adoptions. We even use sweet images of babies and animals to "cleanse the timeline" of our mudslinging social media. The distracting appeal of cute seems obvious, and yet there are deeper layers. This episode tours the science, psychology, history, and culture of cute, and asks why small, helpless things generate uncanny and powerful feelings in us. 

How cute are these striped kittens cuddled in a basket with balls of yarn? (Vasilyev Alexandr / Shutterstock)

Tuesday, November 24

They're weird. They break the rules. They're kinda bad. They are cult movies. Dive into the stories of films from Troll 2 to The Last Dragon to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre to learn what drives people to watch these oddball films again and again. Producer Matthew Lazin-Ryder looks at the history, future, and function of cult movies. *This episode originally aired on May 19, 2020.

Wednesday, November 25

The story of geometry is bound up in the Renaissance, the rise of nation states, and the expression of absolute power. Geometric designs came to represent order in the universe. But order's war with chaos continues — just compare the geometric plans for Washington, D.C., with the lived reality. Historian Amir Alexander traces the rise of geometry from Euclid to the United Nations. *This episode originally aired on May 26, 2020.

Author Thomas Homer-Dixon calls on history, cutting-edge research, complexity science and even Lord of the Rings in his newest book, Commanding Hope. (Royal Roads University)

Thursday, November 26

Political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon has been called "Doom Meister" for his extensive work examining the threats to our future security. He has predicted our deteriorating climate, extreme economic stresses, mass migrations, social instability and wide political violence if humankind continued on its current course. As part of our ongoing Common Good series, Nahlah Ayed speaks to him about the role hope can play in concretely shifting humanity's course over this century. His latest book is called Commanding Hope: the Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril.

Friday, November 27

Even before the infamous Yellow Star, the Nazis devised ways to pinpoint victims for wide-spread discrimination, deportation, and ultimately extermination.  Using first-hand accounts from Holocaust survivors and documents unearthed from what used to be secret files of the Nazis, professor Iman Nick tells the story of how personal names were used to fulfil Hitler's genocidal vision.  She also joins host Nahlah Ayed to elaborate on how naming can be weaponized in our own day.

Monday, November 30

When a woman opts to get plastic surgery done to enhance her appearance, she enters complex and fraught territory. Some claim it's self-exploitation, tying a woman's sense of self to her looks. But an increasing number of younger women view plastic surgery as empowering. And women in disadvantaged areas throughout the global south have their own perspectives. In countries like Brazil, some disadvantaged women see it as socially liberating. This documentary by contributor Maggie Reid examines the fault lines that define what she calls Botox Nation.

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