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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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?