Tag Archives: philosophy

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. Continue reading

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Character and values with Cristina Odone

18 May

“I hate many American things, but I admire their confidence. America has something we don’t. They know their values. But they also know how to assimilate,” said Cristina Odone at Swindon Festival of Literature.

Cristina is a professional thinker (director of the new Centre for Character and Values at the Legatum Institute, former editor of the Catholic Herald and deputy editor of the New Statesman) who’s fed up with us British being all wishy-washy and apologetic about our values.

“I’m not saying we have to judge. I’m not saying Western values are the best; we are shaped by Judaeo-Christian values. But they are ours and we should stand by them.”

The values in question are Aristotelian in origin, Christianised by saints Aquinas and Augustine: courage, obedience, charity and scholarship. (It is interesting that Cristina chooses to interpret ‘agape’ as ‘charity’ over ‘love’, and misses out ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ completely from the Christian triplet.)

The talk begins with a tale of two men, two Muslims, both British. Asad Shah, a community-minded Scottish-Pakistani shopkeeper, was murdered ostensibly in extremist retaliation for Easter goodwill messages on social media. The other was Mohammed Emwazi or ‘Jihadi John’, the British-Arab ISIS terrorist. Cristina believes Shah was in possession of good character and strong values, while Emwazi was rootless and felt no connection to his community. Continue reading

Swindon’s greatest intellects clash at Think Slam

15 May

Swindon’s greatest intellects clashed on Friday night, at the seventh annual Think Slam.

(Full disclosure: Chronicler Louisa was one of the competitors, and I am contractually obliged to describe her as one of Swindon’s greatest intellects.)

Over three gruelling rounds, seven competitors did mental battle in the Swindon Festival of Literature competition run in association with the Swindon Philosophical Society.

Swindon, by the way, is unique in having this kind of philosophical thrown-down. Until another town or city picks up the gauntlet, the competition winner is, by default, the UK’s – and possibly the planet’s – greatest living philosopher (just think the USA and the baseball World Series). Continue reading

Cold War Nairobi and the Thing that calls itself I

5 May

So this Swindon Festival of Literature evening involved a spot of dancing to a cheesy tune, being stuck in a car park, and a wild-ish haired professor. Sounds like a good plot for a book.

Which leads into the first event’s theme, Poetry Swindon 78s, where the Richard Jefferies Museum’s writing class used scratchy old 78 RPM vinyl records as a creative prompt. At Swindon Central Library, we heard the tunes and the writers read their work.

Nairobi, a bubbly 1958 Tommy Steele number, became a Cold War spy tale by Ben Holloway. Ben’s nervous rapid delivery and breath-catching apologetic gaps suited the memories of a paranoid molehunt.

I had enough time to catch Anna-May Laugher’s Ready for the River from a 1928 track by The Rollickers – ‘Want to drown my troubles / and leave just the bubbles’. I was glad I bought the accompanying 78s book and could get to know this poem: a five-part account of a river, a living thing, accepting and eating anything thrown in it – dead things, oar cuts, memories – before it is consumed by drought.

Regretfully, I crept out and then spent 10 minutes stuck listening to the bleep of a Swindon car park help button (‘hanging on the help button’ flash fiction coming up) before I could head up to the Arts Centre, which meant I missed the first half of Roger Scruton. So apologies if crucial information is notable by its absence. Continue reading

Public Intellectual is not a dirty name – Suzannah Lipscomb at Swindon Festival of Literature

17 May

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Given the reaction of the tabloid and ‘quality’ press front pages during the election, you may be forgiven for thinking that today’s public intellectuals are Katie Hopkins, Jeremy Clarkson and Russell Brand.

Happily, you’d be wrong on two counts and you can argue the toss with me about Russell. The term ‘public intellectuals’ sit uncomfortably with the British public, too self-congratulatory. The French are fine with it. But, boy, do we need them.

According to historian Susannah Lipscomb at the Swindon Festival of Literature last Friday, public intellectuals are the clever people who emerge from quiet libraries; they don’t endlessly research a particular point that only five other people care about.

They arm themselves with encyclopaedic knowledge, for sure, have a long hard rumination about all of it – then they get out there, tell people what they know and have an opinion about it: “They use knowledge and learning to change our shared world,” says Suzannah. Continue reading

Can our life be defined through our friends? So asks AC Grayling at Marlborough Literature Festival

28 Sep
AC Grayling at Marlborough Literature Festival

AC Grayling at Marlborough Literature Festival

“Having friends is a sign of a life worthwhile,” said celebrity philosopher Anthony Grayling, whose latest deep musings are on friendship.

Anthony took us through a journey – the scenic way – from the obligatory Ancient Greeks past Saint Augustine, via sixteenth century French philosopher Montaigne and finishing somewhere around Facebook.

As you’d expect, those Ancient Greeks took friendship very seriously, often sharing homes and joining bodies. “A friend is another self,” said philosopher Aristotle. They felt a duty both of loyalty and to keep their chums on the right track or, as Oscar Wilde said much more recently: “A friend is someone who stabs you from the front.” Continue reading

To be or not to be? Do it. Do it! Think Slam at Swindon Festival of Literature

20 May

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So I decided the night before the Think Slam that I was going to do it. Do it. Do it.

That needed to be said several times as the only time I previously entered the Think Slam, I came last. But that’s me. Utterly nail it or completely miss the point. I am not an inbetweeny kind of woman.

So on Thursday I finally had three solid ideas in my head for the three times three minute pieces, and checked on the off chance that there was a place left in the competition. There was. Okay, I now had one chronicler piece to write up that day. Check. Two for Friday. Check. And three think slam talks to hone for Friday evening. Oh gawd. I really don’t like life to be simple.

And to really make it interesting, I woke up on Friday to a nasty headache.

At 1pm, after chronicler Pete shoved some painkillers down my throat, I began to write. I spent three hours on the first talk and an hour on the next two. I work quite well under pressure, fortunately. The chronicler pieces would have to wait.

After Sandrine Berges’s interesting talk on unsung hero Mary Wollstonecraft, it was time for the Think Slam to commence. Continue reading