February 2021 – Van Jones, one of today’s leading political thinkers, shared his views on current events with the Drew University community during a free virtual Drew Forum event.
The event, made possible by the Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, was the first in the Drew Forum speaker series to take place virtually.
To open the evening, Jones outlined what he described as the four crises facing the Western world before taking questions from the robust audience, moderated by Drew professor of political science and education, Patrick McGuinn.
Jones’ four crises break down as follows:
There’s an ongoing ecological crisis with rising temperatures and deadly natural disasters. “You no longer live on the planet that you were born on,” said Jones.
There is widespread economic anxiety caused by the flatlining of middle and working class wages, combined with the rising fears of technologies rendering human jobs obsolete.
As for the diversity challenge, Jones explained, “You’ve always had a mix of different kinds of people in the Western world. What’s changed is the rise of white supremacy as an ideology. And then after that settled in for a couple centuries, now these non-white folks present challenges when their numbers get big and they’re demanding equality and equal dignity.”
The first three all help stir the pot of the fourth and final crisis, the truth and trust deficit.
“Consensus-based reality of science and objective reason is done, it’s over,” said Jones.
“We are now in an environment where we’re slightly tweaked by these (social media) algorithms. We’re not getting exactly what’s happening. We’re getting what the algorithm thinks we want to know about, and that is creating a great deal of mischief.”
“If you take an ecological crisis, an economic crisis, a demographic crisis, and then a collapse of trust and truth, and shake it up, you’re going to get chaos.”
Jones suggested two possibilities.
“We are on the edge of either a new Enlightenment where we have some kind of a breakthrough—maybe not in terms of having a consensus reality anymore, but at least having coexistence, and some ability to share a changing planet together—or we could be on the edge of a new Dark Ages, and it’s not clear which.”
Jones looked towards the “one big lie” told by both sides of the political aisle as a reason for hope.
The lie? That what is wrong with the country is the awful people in the “other” party.
Whether it’s “cancel-culture, race-card playing, ultra-PC, China-worshipping socialists” on the left or the “awful Republicans who are racist and sexist and hate gay people and are all in a cult and worship Donald Trump and hate all immigrants,” Jones said this isn’t the real problem.
“The biggest problem that we have is we have so many awesome people in both parties, all races, all faith backgrounds, all gender expressions, all sexuality expressions, awesome people everywhere who just don’t know what to do…How can the awesome people shut out the noise and start solving real problems?”
When asked how he and fellow CNN host and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum get along, Jones noted the two get along great.
How are two people on opposite ends of the political spectrum able to get along?
“The key is to not try to convert or convince, but simply to try to understand.”
Asked to offer a solution to the inequity across the nation in sectors like education and criminal justice, Jones suggested the need for a joint effort.
“Common pain should lead to common purpose. And then common purpose should lead to some common projects, and then common projects should lead to the return of common sense,” he said. “It takes leadership, it takes courage, it takes people who are willing to reach out to the other side.”
Jones noted backlash he faced for working with the Trump administration on prison reform.
"The key is to not try to convert or convince, but simply to try to understand."
“If I’m going to work with Obama to try to get people out of prison and work everyday and act like I really care, and then the minute the president is someone I don’t like I’m no longer willing to work on the issue, then it means it was never about the people who are locked up.”
As for how the Biden-Harris administration should address systemic racism, Jones said Biden must reward his base after Blacks helped deliver the presidential election and a majority Congress.
“If we don’t get anything from voting, why should we vote?” he asked.
Jones pointed to the potential for a climate change bill as a two birds, one stone, bipartisan solution.
“Solar panels don’t put themselves up, wind turbines don’t manufacture themselves, organic food doesn’t grow itself, houses don’t retrofit themselves, electric cars don’t build themselves…You could put people to work in urban and rural environments where people don’t have jobs. You could get the people who most need work the opportunity to do the work that most needs to be done: re-powering American in a green and clean way.”
Lastly, Jones touched on the rhetoric around the racial justice movement.
“No ethnic majority group in 10,000 years in human history…ever went from being a majority to being a minority and liked it, and that’s basically the request (to white Americans) from the racial justice left,” he said.
“Change is hard. Even when it’s good, it’s hard.”
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