What next? The battle between optimism and pessimism

Sunday 31 October, 6.30pm until 7.30pm, Upper Gulbenkian Gallery What next for...?

The 2010 Battle of Ideas will finish with a ‘What Next?’ session, where five of the festival speakers will be asked to weigh up our future prospects in light of differing challenges and opportunities. Each will be asked to name reasons to be cheerful, and to face up to what we should most dread.

Two books published in 2010 seem to view the world somewhat differently: The Uses of Pessimism by Roger Scruton contrasts sharply with Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist, so which expresses the more appropriate outlook? As we look forward to 2011, with a landscape promising savage cuts in everything from the arts to housing benefit, it may be fitting to feel depressed at what the future holds. Perhaps at least an honest assessment is better than head-in-the-sand avoidance. Some argue the recession might even be a chance to reassess society’s priorities; perhaps we will be happier if economic growth and consumerism are reined in. While cuts are unpleasant, has everyone from orchestras to community centres, from the unemployed to quangos, become too dependent on state funding?

The Battle of Ideas is more than a ‘talking shop’, or even a festival. It’s a declaration: that ideas matter and it’s time to get serious. If we are really to shape the future through debate, however, we need to think about challenges beyond the festival weekend itself. Our closing speakers will be asked to initiate a conversation that will carry on over the coming year – beginning over a drink at the post-festival party - about what matters, what needs to be investigated, interrogated and challenged, and whether we should be optimistic or pessimistic about future trends.

Listen to session audio:


Shreela Ghosh
director, Free Word Centre; member, Heritage Lottery Fund (London Committee); former head of arts, London Borough of Tower Hamlets; former programme director for art and heritage, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation

Stephen Hargrave
chairman, London Farmers' Markets Ltd; chairman of trustees, Reform

Humphrey Hawksley
BBC World Affairs correspondent; author, Democracy Kills: what's so good about having the vote?

Mick Hume
editor-at-large, online magazine spiked; author, Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech?

Marcus Sedgwick
writer-in-residence, Bath Spa University; novelist, White Crow and My Swordhand is Singing

Claire Fox
director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive

Produced by
Claire Fox director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive
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