Jeffrey Sachs Delivers Inspiring Speech

April 25, 2007

I just listened to one of the Reith Lectures, held at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, New York. You can download the podcast or listen to it at


There are also links to the text of previous lectures (recorded version is only available for the current lecture).

Jeffrey Sachs seemed to give the hopeful message that we have it in us to make peace (with?) in the world. He mentioned that human nature tends toward cooperation, but when threatened strikes out in fear of violence from a perceived adversary:

We are actually primed psychologically, and probably genetically, to cooperate, but only conditionally so. In a situation of low fear, each of us is prone to cooperate and to share — even with a stranger. Yet when that trust evaporates, each of us is primed to revert to conflict, lest we are bettered by the other. Game theorists call this strategy “Tit for Tat,” according to which we cooperate at the outset, but retaliate when cooperation breaks down. The risk, obviously, is an accident, in which cooperation collapses, and both sides get caught in a trap in which conflict becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In that all-too-real nightmare, we end up fighting because we fear that the other will fight. This fear is confirmed by fear itself. Wars occur despite the absence of any deeper causes.

He also pointed out the conflicts due to arise with the current shift of power between the U.S. (the “leading power”) , and China (the “rising power”), and how it parallels the relationship between Germany and the British Empire that led to WWI.

I found that part pretty sobering, but then what else has been the U.S. policy since at least the 50’s?

Especially moving was when Ted Sorensen, who co-wrote/wrote the famous “ask not what you can do for your country” speech, (43 years ago) was invited to speak from the audience and more about how the speech changed history.


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