Sunday 21 October, 5.00pm until 6.15pm, Cinema 1 Keynote Controversies
‘Ideas are the cogs that drive history, and understanding them is half way to being aboard that powerful juggernaut rather than under its wheels’. AC Grayling
Society seems woefully lacking in Big Ideas, and we seem to crave new thinking. In Britain, great hopes rest on the legacy of the Olympics, but however inspiring the sporting excellence we all witnessed, is it realistic that a summer of feel-good spectacle can resolve deep-rooted cultural problems, from widespread disdain for competitition to community fragmentation? In America, Mitt Romney has pledged to pit substantial ideas against the empty ‘yes, we can’ sloganeering of Barack Obama, with his running mate Paul Ryan dubbed the ‘intellectual’ saviour of the Republican Party, but can they really deliver? Europe, once the home of Enlightenment salons, is now associated more with EU technocrats than philosophes. Looking to the intellectual legacy of the past is considered out of pace with an ever-changing world. We seem estranged from ideas associated with important moments in history - the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the American and French Revolutions. Can even a basic idea like free will survive the challenges of neuroscience and genetics? When the internet offers information at the click of a mouse, what’s the point of pedagogy?
Some contend intellectual life has rarely been healthier; after all today’s governments appoint economists, philosophers and scientific advisers to positions of influence, and the fashion for evidence-based policy puts a premium on academic research. Nevertheless, the emphasis is on ‘what works’ utility and short-term impact rather than open-ended, risky ideas. Often data is passed off as Truth, and Socratic dialogue replaced by rows over conflicting evidence. The scramble for the next Big Idea seems to have replaced the creative and painstaking development of ideas. It’s as though serious ideas can be conjured up in brainstorming sessions or critical-thinking classes. But think-tanks kite-flying the latest outside-of-the-box, blue-skies-thinking speak more to pragmatism and opportunism than following in the tradition of Plato. Ideas become free-floating, divorced from their origins, and take on any meaning one cares to ascribe to them. Hence freedom can mean protection, its defence leading to illiberal regulations; equality can mean conformity and sameness; tolerance becomes a coda for indifference, and individualism denotes little more than selfishness.
Where apparently novel concepts catch on, from sustainability to fairness, identity to offence, they are often little more than fashionable sound-bites. Other ideas are even described as dangerous; those who espouse the ‘wrong’ ideas branded as modern-day heretics. But can we ever hope to approach the truth if we stifle dissent? Is intellectual life on the wane? Is it conservative to cling to old ideas, or if we don’t stand on the shoulders of giants, are we doomed to stand still ? Might truth seeking be more important than the Truth?
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entrepreneur; founder, Audiocafe.com; author, Digital Vertigo: how today's online social revolution is dividing, diminishing, and disorienting us
chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia; permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna
|Dr Ellie Lee|
reader in social policy, University of Kent, Canterbury; director, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies
writer and cultural philosopher; founder & president, Netherlands-based Nexus Institute; author, Nobility of Sprit: a forgotten ideal and The Eternal Return of Fascism
director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive
Since the 1970s, we have witnessed the forces of market fundamentalism strip education of its public values, critical content, and civic responsibilities as part of its broader goal of creating new subjects wedded to consumerism, risk-free relationships, and the destruction of the social state.Henry A Giroux, Counterpunch, 8 October 2012
As VCs gather for their annual conference, Louis Coiffait considers the main drivers of change and examines whether or not they will lead to revolutionary transformation in UK HELouis Coiffait, Guardian, 12 September 2012
In 2012, Frank Furedi will be writing a monthly column on the hollow words and thoughts of twenty-first-century political life. This month, he reclaims the word ‘conversation’.Frank Furedi, spiked, 29 January 2012
The big lie about evidence-based policy-making is that it’s based on evidence. Evidence no more produces and speaks for itself than cars decide their destinations.Ben Pile, Independent, 28 November 2011
The project is designed to provide a platform for the general public to think carefully about a range of social problems that affect their lives. It will also allow a generation of scholars to reflect on their own intellectual practices, discourses and understanding of what it might mean to embrace their role as public intellectuals.Henry A Giroux, Truthout, 26 October 2011
While France celebrates its intelligentsia, you have to go back to Orwell and Huxley to find British intellectuals at the heart of national public debate. Why did we stop caring about ideas? When did 'braininess' become a laughing matter?John Naughton, Observer, 11 May 2011
There has probably never been an era in history when intellectuals have played a larger role in society. When intellectuals who generate ideas are surrounded by a wide range of others who disseminate those ideas — whether as journalists, teachers, staffers to legislators or clerks to judges — the influence of intellectuals on the way a society evolves can be huge.Thomas Sowell, National Review, 5 January 2010
It was wrong of the government to sack David Nutt. But it’s also wrong for experts to pose as paragons of wisdom who are above democracy.Brendan O'Neill, spiked, 2 November 2009
Blue sky thinking − even schools cannot escape this management cliché! But there is a nugget of value to be found within this particular style of brainstorming, especially when it comes to professional and personal learning. With this in mind, we explore how to make it work in schoolsteachingexpertise, 1 June 2008
Africa and oil
"I thought the Battle of Ideas was wonderful. Especially the extent and quality of audience participation. I can't imagine how I missed this exciting forum for exchange of ideas in the past. I will certainly not miss another one and look forward already to 2012 Battle of Ideas."
Professor Marilyn Monk, emeritus professor of molecular embryology, University College London