Think! It’s the Law.

13 May

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The always intriguing Think Slam posed answers and gave questions in its usual, unusual way.

A packed Arts Centre seemed thankful for the thinkful competitors whose bravery in the face of thought never ceased to amaze.

Sara-Jane Arbury introduced the 8th ‘Think Slam’ incarnation and was quick to point out that the Swindon Festival of Literature hosts the only event of its kind in the country.

A chill must have coursed the collective spines of the Think Slammers as philosopher Stephen Law was press-ganged into the role of judge supremo – his latest book is Believing Bullshit: How Not To Get Sucked Into An Intellectual Black Hole.

But bullshitters these thinkers were not, as they presented a typically varied and at times surprising window on their world. Each competitor had a three-minute time slot in which to make their argument in the most effective way possible.

John Yates, a self-identifying Remainer still stunned by BREXIT got proceedings underway with a suggestion that a byproduct of dramatic political change could be the dismantling of our political system.

His more strident views could each easily have graced a tabloid headline – ‘Westminster must be destroyed!’ ‘Let’s move the government to Manchester!’ ‘Palace of Westminster renamed HMP Westminster.

Swindon stalwart Robert Stredder had a confession in his introduction having studied law at Birmingham University, would the audience risk trusting a lawyer?

Namechecking Beckett, Chekov, Shakespeare & Palestine, Robert argued that in Ancient Greece and Rome the human race were grappling with the same problems that we do today.

Martin Hawes contended people behave badly as soon as they join organisations.

His personal puzzle being that while 99% of people he’s met have been really nice to him humanity still enacted the Holocaust.

Using exploding Ford cars and Papal cover-ups as examples of organisational brutality, he proposed a compulsory mission statement for all organisations. ‘Humanitarian Behaviour is essential, we must do no harm’ certainly would make an interesting addition to the ethos of arms manufacturers and modern day slavers.

The impact of screen time to society was Louisa Davison’s theme.

Citing research which indicates that we would be much better to just ‘switch them off’, Louisa introduced the arousal/crash effect of ‘electronic screen syndrome’ which will certainly impact my own browsing habits.

Interestingly she also raised the artificial sense of control given by game playing which has no replication in real life.

Louisa’s conclusion? Talk to the person next to you!

In an ambulatory discourse Tony Hillier expounded the virtues of Mind Management Now and provided a highlight of the night with the genius ‘I think therefore I am. Descartes didn’t go far enough did he, Madam?’ to an unsuspecting audience member.

Chris Eddy brought another take on constitutional reform with the belief that Proportional Representation would deliver moral authority and ended with the rhetorical question ‘What’s not to like?’

Delightfully described in her introduction as ‘an experienced person’ Lucy Watson used her short stature to make a point about difference.

‘I’m small. People pat me on the head’ she said with obvious disdain for her patronising treatment.

She is positive about using stools to reach high objects and says ‘Whatever your special feature – celebrate it!’

The self-effacing Jeremy Holt said he was providing the first rubbish argument of the evening with a polemic against litter.

His personal attachment to the subject stemmed from nearly having a fight over a carelessly discarded Coke can.

Cleverly drawing in the topics of other slammers, Jeremy provided some memorable thoughts of his own, including the belief that McDonald’s should include the name of each purchaser on their packaging.

Possibly more controversial was his suggestion that we put litterers in the stocks and throw litter at them.

Possibly even more controversial was his proposal that serial litterers should face capital punishment.

John Ball concluded the opening round with the suggestion of a new tax.

Fructose appears in many foods and is the prime driver of the explosion in diabetes which, he argues, could end civilisation as we know it.

Even muffin top glazing contains fructose, so steer clear, cautions John.

Louisa Davison, Jeremy Holt, Lucy Watson and John Ball progressed to the semi-final where they had the unenviable task of coming up with a new argument good enough to take them through to the final.

The introduction of love and happiness into the definition of democracy occupied the thoughts of Louisa Davison, arguing that the best definition of democracy is ‘the rule of the commoner’.

And while we can’t all be Einsteins, we should go beyond the hierarchy of needs created by Maslow in attempting to discover what would make the commoner happy.

Jeremy Holt admitted to a lifetime of not understanding women.

With a background of education in all-boys’ schools and colleges, he felt that he was perfectly placed to argue for better communication between the sexes.

His radical thought was that men and women should speak completely different languages to force more considered interpretation.

Age was the second bugbear of Lucy Watson, who provided a brilliantly evocative quote to illustrate her point.

Her mother once counselled that ‘I think you should be concerned about your neck’.

Lucy’s wider point was the question ‘Why don’t we value age?’ and her proposal that the phrase ‘you look good for your age’ should be banned.

John Ball returned us to election talk and BREXIT with the gloomy prediction that whoever wins the next election will be receiving a poisoned chalice and that we are in dire straits.

Even gloomier was his final statement that ‘You are all going to be losers’.

As we awaited the final Matt Holland, Festival Director paid tribute to festival goers, saying ‘Swindon people want ideas and have an appetite for thinking’.

Jeremy Holt chose an extremely controversial topic for the final with his stereotype-challenging contention that ‘Not all lawyers are bad’.

Including a neatly nasty line in lawyer jokes, he excused himself by revealing that he himself was a lawyer.

The work of human right lawyers should not be taken for granted he suggested and described his own motivation for going to work as ‘not to make heaps of money’ but to ‘help people achieve something.’

The stage was set for the final thinker of the evening and the audience were not to be disappointed.

Is science villain or hero? Asked Louisa Davison in a wide-ranging exploration of the positive and negative impacts of scientific ‘progress’.

She called ultimately for more collaboration with other forms of discussion and to remember that science is not truth but is based on our best understanding of the world.

Closing comments from Ginola-coiffeured judging supremo Stephen Law preceded the crowning of the Think Slam champ.

The expert bullshit detector was particularly impressed by how the slammers had made their respective cases in such an engaging way.

After a night of such conviction, it was perhaps inevitable that the legal admissions of Jeremy Holt would win out.

His personable, laid back approach throughout the night was a highlight but credit is also due to Louisa Davison who again came so close to taking the title.

The Think Slam! took place at Swindon Arts Centre as part of Swindon Festival of Literature, 12 May 2017.

Words by Michael Scott.


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