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Jay Stern, Activist

People are naturally curious about IF’s founder, Jay Stern.  They want to know what sort of man he was, and why he started IF.  Here’s my own perspective, based on eight years of working increasingly closely with Jay.  (The results of my collaboration with Jay on thinking through the central concepts underlying the IF discussion process are available at https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Public-Discussion-paper.pdf).

Like most human beings, Jay was many things.  That comes through loud and clear in the wonderful biography of Jay recently completed by my colleague Natalie Hopkinison (https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Stern-Bio-Pages-2nd-edition-with-cover.pdf).  He was a loving husband.  He studied philosophy.  And in his work life he spent time as a soldier, haberdasher, and banker.  But once he was free of workaday responsibilities, Jay devoted himself to none of these things.  He continued to be interested in finance, but only to ask how discussion might inform financial policy.  He maintained his earlier interest in philosophy, but mainly to ask how it might inform the democratic discussion of public policy.  Instead he created IF—an organization whose mission is not to promote policy ideas like a think tank, but to promote the democratic discussion of them.

In one-on-one conversations with me, Jay loved to trade interpretations of writers and thinkers we both knew.  And we both knew the exact length of the canoes we’d used on our favorite canoe trips.  But he loved exploring possibilities—for IF and for the world with which IF interacted—even more.  And he worked harder than anyone I’ve ever known to pursuing the best of them.  For that reason, I’ll always think of Jay as an activist—an activist for thoughtful discussion—but an activist nonetheless.