Talks and Debates

Culture Wars online review covers public talks, debates lectures and conferences in and around London, and beyond, in order to get to grips with the ideas behind the headlines.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

The politics of voting

Intelligence Squared debate – 'Vote for AV', Cadogan Hall, Tuesday 26 April 2011

This Intelligence Squared debate did include some of the unimpressive arguments that have characterised the AV debate more generally, but it also touched on some far more interesting and under-explored issues that lie at the heart of the debate about electoral reform.

Monday 2 May 2011

Love your enemies… but don’t let them eat you

Sam Harris on the science of good and evil, Intelligence Squared, London, 11 April 2011

In response to questions, Harris asked, seemingly bewildered, why anyone should be afraid of the idea that scientific experts might determine human values. One answer is that we value democracy; and science, for all its other merits, is not democratic. For the very same reason we object to theocratic rule, we are right to be suspicious of ‘scientistic’ pronouncements.

Friday 1 April 2011

Another fine mess?

Intelligence Squared head-to head debate - 'Let the bad guys be: David Aaronovitch and Rory Stewart on the perils of foreign intervention', Cadogan Hall, London, March 2011

We now generally accept that there are very important things called human rights that are possessed by all persons simply because there are persons, and which must be respected universally. However, we all generally still accept that the world is made up of communities called nations that are entitled to organise and dictate their own affairs, and that the members of nations owe each other more than they owe to outsiders.

Saturday 5 March 2011

Iranian origami

Intelligence Squared Debate – 'Iran is a Paper Tiger', Royal Geographical Society, London, 24 February 2011

The real question here, however, is whether domestic human rights abuses alone are sufficient to label a country a real ‘tiger’. I’m not sure that they are. Countries with questionable human rights records and nuclear ambitions may cause legitimate and understandable alarm in the international community. But does this mean that they constitute a real threat to international security, that they are genuine tigers?

Sunday 30 January 2011

Barking mad in Paddington

The Battle for Barking, Frontline Club, London, 13 January 2011

In their minds, what did the demonstrators achieve by blocking his entry, thereby preventing him from questioned by us? Did it in fact stop the chance at devastating the BNP as an idea, through interrogation and by publicising the absurd, childish, thick, nonsense of its message?

Sunday 2 January 2011

Meat-eating and moral confusion

Intelligence Squared debate – 'Don't Eat Animals', Kensington Town Hall, London, 9 December 2010

Singer’s first, animal-centred argument is the stronger of the two, because it offers necessary and absolute reasons not to eat meat. But I do not agree with it. In fact, I am quite offended by it. However nice it may sound to some people, the idea that we should treat all animals with the same respect we afford to humans is monstrous (and, you guessed it, somewhat misanthropic).

Thursday 23 December 2010

All-night architecture

Critical Subjects: Architecture & Design Winter School, London, 17-18 November 2010

The students at Critical Subjects were offered the opportunity to explore topics such as critical thinking, the nature of beauty, visionary architecture and design autonomy. Rather than organising lectures, the sessions throughout the day were debates with speakers from the world of architecture and beyond.

Sunday 21 November 2010

To bash, or not to bash?

Intelligence Squared Debate – 'Stop Bashing Christians! Britain is becoming an anti-Christian country', Royal Geographical Society, London, 3 November 2010

Peter Hitchens made engaging and under-acknowledged arguments. They relate to the extent to which liberal secularism is, or can be, neutral between competing worldviews; the relationship between religion, culture and politics; and the place of moral authority in the context on considerable moral disagreement.

Thursday 4 November 2010

A eulogy for pop

'The X Factor: Singing in the name of quality?', Battle of Ideas Satellite event, Royal College of Music, London, 14 October 2010

Despite Simon Cowell’s insistence that the programme is looking for ‘the future’, when it moulds the bright eyed hopefuls into ‘stars’, they all begin to resemble the throwaway pop stars of yesteryear.

Thursday 30 September 2010

Not worth knowing?

'Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences: why should we care?', British Academy, London, 20 September 2010

Canon learning and ‘obscure’ research are necessary to mark out the boundaries of a subject, and subjects must have autonomy if they are to maintain a critical distance from political fads.

Monday 19 July 2010

Transformative dance

Destino – A Contemporary Dance Story. Film screening and panel debate at the Royal Society of Arts, Monday 12 July 2010

The cities of London and Addis Ababa were shown to be so similar yet contrasting.  Interviews revealed similar levels of background traffic, low-rent rehearsal spaces and prestigious performance venues.  Yet, children face death everyday on the streets of Addis.

Thursday 25 February 2010

Where’s the beef?

Manchester Question Time organised by Total Politics, City Inn, Manchester, February 2010

Although Total Politics and these Question Time formats are responding to this depoliticisation, the overly posh approach that emphasises style over substance, with politicians rather desperately trying to win approval through self-flagellation, isn’t going to solve it. Alas it will need some real politics and a sharp and critically honest assertion of self interest and how best we can achieve it.

Thursday 28 January 2010

Secularism and Multiculturalism: an encounter with Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor, University of Westminster, 15 January 2010

As compelling a speaker and thinker as Taylor is, there seemed to be something rather muted and unsatisfying about his account. One was left with the impression that his experience holding public hearings on cultural integration in Quebec had left him slightly fazed by what the anthropologist Robin Fox called ‘ethnographic dazzle’ and, with it, a movement towards an understanding of social integration which over-estimates the need for social unity and under-estimates the real tensions which stand as obstacles to it.

Don’t look on the bright side – it’s positively fatal

Barbara Ehrenreich at Conway Hall, London, Sunday 10 January 2010

‘Crayons?!!!’ she asked incredulously, ‘what are they for?’ ‘So you can express your feelings’ she was told. As an established writer and author of fourteen books, including the bestselling Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch she was incensed. This infantilisation of adults in the face of what was for her a frighteningly traumatic experience made her want to throw up.

Friday 13 November 2009

Protest as performance

Eloquent Protest, Duke of Yorks Theatre, Sunday 8 November 2009

It was a shame we didn’t see the Shirleys again, as their upskittling shenanigans had us laughing, then in true Brecht/Frisch style, asking ‘Why are we laughing at this; and why are we laughing at it here?’ They made us uncomfortable. Shouldn’t we feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that, to some extent, the point?

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