Don't get a chance to post an hour-long interview with me (in a sidekick/expert but chatty role) very often if ever, so excuse me for taking this opportunity to put myself on the record. The interview from three weeks ago can be accessed here — most of the information remains all too relevant:
From Lynn Fairley's Saturday morning show on our local talk radio station, KVTA. Thank you Lynn!
Here's a picture from the event (which I wasn't able to moderate, being away at a fracking fellowship in Pittsburgh, learning about the Marcellus shale).
And here's a nice appreciation for the thoughtful, generous Tom Krause, who leads the Chautauqua as well as a great books discussion at Thomas Aquinas College, from Timm Herdt, who replaced me in my absence as moderator, and by all accounts did a great job.
On Sunday afternoon in Ojai, about 200 people paid $20 apiece to fill a room to listen to a two-hour panel discussion on “the future of water.” The expert panelists had different backgrounds and different points of view, but it was not a debate. There was no drama.
And when it was over, the host pronounced it a success. Here’s why: “I think all of us are leaving with more questions than we had when we came,” said Tom Krause.
Krause, 69, is the driving force behind a new organization called the Ojai Chautauqua. Named for a 19th century institution founded at a campsite on the shores of upstate New York’s Lake Chautauqua, the group seeks nothing more than to promote open, civil discourse about complex public issues.
Krause acknowledges that the idea seems to run counter to popular culture trends — the trends that have framed debate as entertainment and segmented news into outlets that each filter information to validate a particular point of view.
“People do want answers and action. At the same time, they are really tired of hearing people yelling at each other and being rude and snide,” Krause told me. “One of the problems is that people come to conclusions too quickly. It’s easy to say, ‘I get it.’ But things are not simple. They’re complex.”
The group’s first event, held earlier this year, focused on genetically modified organisms, and their role and desirability in the production of food. The subject is highly controversial, particularly in a community such as Ojai where the organic food movement is strong. That Chautauqua, Krause acknowledges, got a little out of hand.
“It attracted a highly polarized audience, and a lot of people from the left thought we were not balanced,” he said. “We had three panelists — one in favor, one opposed and one neutral. The left didn’t like it because the neutral person was not anti-GMO.”
Krause said he met with those critics afterward. “I explained that we are not about political action, that we’re not trying to influence anyone’s political point of view. By the end of an hour, we were working together.”
Krause’s background has naturally led him toward an endeavor such as this. A licensed clinical psychologist, he established a practice in Ojai in the 1970s. Over time, he began to gravitate toward business management consulting. In 1986, he founded a consulting company called Behavioral Science Technology, which grew into an international firm with 200 employees that took on 2,300 consulting projects in 60 countries.
A few years ago, he sold his company to a German firm — freeing him to pursue his passion for intellectual inquiry. Krause, a member of the board of governors at Thomas Aquinas College, co-founded an organization called the Agora Foundation in 2004, which sponsors small-group seminars at the college to discuss great books. The works have ranged from “Moby Dick” to Emily Dickinson to Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy, to the Book of Psalms.
Krause believes it is possible to apply the same level of intellectual inquiry to public policy.
“When you get involved with what’s going on in the world, you’re struck by how little reasonable discourse there is,” he told me. “It gets really hard to know anything, and there are subjects that are knowable.”
With full disclosure, let me say that I accepted the Ojai Chautauqua’s invitation to moderate Sunday’s discussion, which was held at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa. The nonprofit group, associated with the Libbey Bowl Foundation, includes several other active and thoughtful organizers, including Cathryn Krause, Tom and Esther Wachtell, Barbara Bowman and Tony Thacher.
The hope, Krause said, is to host events about four times a year. He says he was pleased with the response to the water discussion, noting that it validated the group’s belief that there is an audience willing to actually pay admission to learn about public policy issues.
“They loved it. They felt like they got their money’s worth,” he said. “And we had local people; we didn’t have national experts.”
Krause believes the model would work in many places, and says there is nothing unique about Ojai, a community he describes as not exceptionally open-minded.
“I think there is a class of people who are fairly well educated and who are thoughtful. That’s the group we can appeal to.”
[Timm Herdt writes from Sacramento for The Star. His political blog “95 percent accurate” is at http://www.TimmHerdt.com.%5D