The Battle for artistic autonomy
Sponsored by the Royal College of Music, in association with Culture Wars and produced by Tiffany Jenkins
Gulbenkian Gallery, 10.30 - 12.00 on Saturday 28 October 2006
“The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery”
“In free society art is not a weapon… artists are not the engineers of the soul”
John F Kennedy
“Art never expresses anything but itself”
“I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
What better time to reflect upon the role of the arts and artists in contemporary society than 2006 - the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart and the centenary year of the birth of Shostakovich? Today the arts receive huge sums of public money and the attention of large numbers of government agencies who believe the arts are valuable for society, a key component in everything from urban regeneration to social inclusion, from creating community cohesion to a healthy citizenry. Arts colleges boast of their contribution to making Britain a hotbed of creative industries. City councils vie for the proud label ‘City of Culture’. However, some artists complain that an overly instrumental approach to art is compromising artistic autonomy. If the arts are now valued primarily for their contribution to policy objectives, how free is the artist creatively?
Should we view the ever-closer relationship between artists and the state as necessarily corrupting? Or are today’s artists no less free than the Mozarts or Michelangelos of the past, who had to negotiate aristocratic patronage? Many argue it would be indulgent to support the arts without justifying their claim on our time and money – the implication of which is that ‘art for art’s sake’ is now often seen as, at best, irrelevant, at worst, elitist. Instead, art is now often seen to have both the power and the responsibility to change the world, contributing to the knowledge economy and indeed the ‘good society’. Should artists be expected to justify their work according to non-artistic criteria? Can the high arts survive amid pressures so different from those of the past? What is the proper value of arts and artists in a democratic society?
Wendy Cope, poet, If I Don't Know (2001)
Professor Colin Lawson, director, Royal College of Music
Munira Mirza, freelance writer and researcher; editor, Culture Vultures: Is UK Arts Policy Damaging the Arts? (2006)
Glynn Williams, professor of sculpture and head of the School of Fine Art, Royal College of Art
Chair: Tiffany Jenkins, art and society director, Institute of Ideas
Human enhancement: creating superhumans or dicing with our destinies?
Sponsored by The European Dana Alliance for the Brain (EDAB), in association with the Institute of Ideas Science and Health Forum and produced by Claire Fox and Cailah Jackson
Gulbenkian Gallery, 13.30 - 15.00 on Saturday 28 October 2006
"Becoming part computer made me more human"
Michael Chorost, author of autobiographical work Rebuilt
"Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world"
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
"Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious and immature"
Tom Robbins, novelist
"You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end each of us must work for his own improvement, and at the same time share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful"
"Humanity will be radically changed by technology in the future. We foresee the feasibility of redesigning the human condition, including such parameters as the inevitability of ageing, limitations on human and artificial intellects, unchosen psychology, suffering, and our confinement to the planet Earth"
Article (1), The Transhumanist Declaration
"The environmental movement has taught us humility and respect for the integrity of nonhuman nature. We need a similar humility concerning our human nature. If we do not develop it soon, we may unwittingly invite the transhumanists to deface humanity with their genetic bulldozers and psychotropic shopping malls"
Thanks to science, we have cured diseases, developed treatments for depression and extended the human lifespan. But recent advances in biotechnology and neuroscience mean that biomedical science may soon go far beyond curing ills. There is potential for enhancing the lives of healthy people. It may become commonplace to alter the genetic make-up of our children, to insert artificial implants into our bodies, to radically extend life expectancy, to use mood-altering treatments to be happy, and to enhance attention, memory and athletic prowess. Indeed, new fields of study, such as bioethics and most recently neuroethics, have been spawned in an attempt to grapple with the social and ethical questions thrown up by these breakthroughs.
Are these leaps in biotechnology, pharmacology and neuroscience changing what it means to be a human being? Critics express a fear that it is dangerous and disturbing to tamper with ‘human nature’ as it may radically modify the kinds of beings that we are. However, whether through education, work, parenthood, adhering to political and ethical codes, or even working out in the gym, wearing makeup or buying new clothes, each of us seeks to become a ‘better human’ in a variety of ways. Why are we so wary of science’s contribution to this desire for ‘self-improvement’? On the other hand, when policymakers glibly cite pseudo-scientific evidence to justify everything from early years education to the alleged impact of school dinners on academic performance, how can we ensure we gain the benefits of the latest scientific insights without blinding ourselves to the social dimension of our humanity? Are new enhancement technologies merely the logical next step in the very human process of using new knowledge to improve ourselves or does enthusiasm for them rely on a naïve and technical view of what it means to be human?
Dr Stuart Derbyshire, senior lecturer, School of Psychology, University of Birmingham
Jon Entine, adjunct fellow, American Enterprise Institute; author, Taboo: Why Black Athletes Are Better and Why We're Afraid To Talk About It (2001) and Abraham's Children (2007)
Pierre Magistretti, vice-chairman, European Dana Alliance for the Brain; professor of neuroscience and co-director, Brain Mind Institute (BMI) Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale Lausanne (EPFL)
Raymond Tallis, professor of geriatric medicine, University of Manchester; author, The Hand: A Philosophical Inquiry into Human Being (2003)
Chair: Tony Gilland, science and society director, Institute of Ideas; national co-ordinator, Debating Matters
More speakers to be confirmed
The Battle for Affluence
In association with the Institute of Ideas Postgraduate Forum and produced by Patrick Hayes
Gulbenkian Gallery, 15.30 - 17.00 on Saturday 28 October 2006
“For I don’t care too much for money, / For money can’t buy me love”
“But a lifetime of happiness! No man alive could bear it: it would be hell on earth”
George Bernard Shaw
“Economic growth has a strong positive impact on the quality of life in poor countries. That does not constitute an argument for further enriching the rich in the most affluent ones”
“All human progress, political, moral, or intellectual, is inseparable from material progression”
We live in an age of deep ambivalence about the benefits of affluence. From an objective perspective it could be argued that economic growth has brought enormous social benefits and could bring many more in the future; that increasing affluence has enabled us to live longer and healthier lives than ever before. And yet 'growth scepticism' is on the rise in policy circles and amongst not just sociologists, but also economists.
While few experts are willing to attack economic growth directly, support is often qualified with an assertion that rapid economic growth is unsustainable and, in any case, allegedly fails to raise our real standard of living. Growth is frequently linked to such problems as environmental degradation, inequality and unhappiness. What really matters, we are told, is happiness or well-being rather than rising GDP.
The view that happiness should be a key social goal rather than economic growth is becoming increasingly mainstream. Advocates of this view support such measures as greater incentives for marriage - since married people are typically happier than singles. Growth sceptics contend that people in the developed world have not become happier as a result of economic growth in recent decades. By implication a society that does not prioritise economic growth is therefore a precondition for individuals to be happy.
Critics of this approach take several different lines. Some argue that the interpretation of statistics by the advocates of happiness is open to question. Others question whether happiness is appropriate at all as a social goal. Society could benefit substantially from greater affluence while happiness remains a personal matter rather than one of policy. Is economic growth really to blame for the problems attributed to it? Should policy be aimed at maximising individual happiness rather than promoting wealth generation?
Daniel Ben-Ami, finance and economics journalist; author of Cowardly Capitalism: The Myth of the Global Financial Casino (2001)
Nick Crafts, professor of economic history, University of Warwick; author, British Relative Economic Performance 1870-1999 (2002)
Jenny Davey, city correspondent, The Times
Mark Easton, home editor, BBC; presenter of The Happiness Formula, BBC2
Avner Offer, Chichele professor of economic history, University of Oxford; author, The Challenge of Affluence: Self-control and Well-being in the USA and Britain since the 1950s (2006)
Chair: Phil Mullan, economist and business advisor; author, The Imaginary Time Bomb: Why an Ageing Population Is Not a Social Problem (2002)
The Battle for the Future
Produced by Claire Fox and James Panton
Gulbenkian Gallery, 11.00 - 12.30 on Sunday 29 October 2006
“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future”
John F Kennedy
“Our conventional desire to view history as progressive, and to see humans as predictably dominant, has grossly distorted our interpretation of life’s pathway by falsely placing in the center of things a relatively minor phenomenon (humans) that arises only as a side consequence”
Steven Jay Gould
“History is nothing but the activity of men in pursuit of their ends”
“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans”
Contemporary society seems pessimistic about the future. Dystopian visions have replaced utopian visions, as we become ever more fearful of apocalyptic scenarios, from terrorist attacks to flu pandemics, from projections of early death for obese children to anxiety that technology will alter what it means to be human.
Remarkably, we seem to doubt whether it is possible to shape the future ourselves. The belief that human beings can transform the world for the better has been shaken over the past century. For many, the horrors of the holocaust and the gulags demonstrate the folly of human beings planning grand schemes or trying to make history. More recently, concerns about impending environmental catastrophes suggest that the natural world imposes strict and unpredictable limits on development. The failures of ancient civilisations are popularly taken to be warnings about the delicate balance between human society and the natural world. In the economic sphere, the forces of globalisation seem to be spiralling out of human control. Change is seen to be a purely objective process in which human beings play little role.
This view of history is no less fatalistic than the old-fashioned belief in a divine order, and with none of the consolation. Is history really no more than a series of events – one damned thing after another – or is it a product of human action? If the latter, is the idea that we can act positively to shape our future hopelessly naïve , bound to fail by the law of unintended consequences? In short, can we make history or are we trapped in it?
Lesley Chamberlain, writer and critic, Motherland: A Philosophical History of Russia (2004), The Philosophy Steamer: Lenin and the Exile of Intelligentsia (2006)
Frank Furedi, professor of sociology, University of Kent; author, Politics of Fear: Beyond Left and Right (2005)
Ted Honderich, Grote Professor Emeritus of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic, University College London; author, Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7...
John Ralston Saul, essayist and novelist; author, The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World (2005)
John Sutherland, Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature, University College London; reviewer, essayist and columnist
Chair: James Panton, tutor in politics, St John's College, University of Oxford; co-convenor, Battle of Ideas
More speakers to be confirmed
- Richard Koch and Chris Smith Suicide of the West Continuum 2006
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Clash of Civilisations or Cultural Crisis?
Sponsored by Sovereignty And Its Discontents working group and produced by Philip Cunliffe
Gulbenkian Gallery, 14.00 - 15.30 on Sunday 29 October 2006
“This is not a clash between civilisations. It is a clash about civilisation. It is the age-old battle between progress and reaction, between those who embrace and see opportunity in the modern world and those who reject its existence; between optimism and hope on the one hand; and pessimism and fear on the other”
“The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballet et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history. It is the white race and it alone–its ideologies and inventions— which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself”
”... there is a dangerous gulf of understanding between Europe’s elite, which is predominantly white and Christian, and its largely non-white Muslim communities”
Protests over the cartoons of Mohammed earlier this year were dubbed a ‘global crisis’. This was but one example of a growing sense of ‘them and us’, popularly presented as a clash between Western values and Islam. Everything from suicide bombers in Iraq to what young British Asian women choose to wear to school is recast as a major challenge to Western values. But is this an over-simplistic assessment? Has Islamism really become the major ideological challenge to the West in the early 21st century? Is the problem rooted in the Middle East, or are its roots closer to home?
While many Islamists reject the Enlightenment ideal of free speech, so too do many Western liberals. Censorship - both formal and more insidious – is increasingly justified, from new laws against incitement to sensitivity speech codes designed to avoid offence. It is not only Islamists who denounce the West for its decadence and materialism - these accusations are made by everyone from Christian conservatives to the ethical consumer lobby. Anti-Western sentiment is hardly the preserve of ‘foreign’ critics; it is also a prominent feature of ‘Western’ intellectual discourse. Denunciations of Eurocentricism, rationality, science, the Western canon of arts and the rule of law are as likely to be found in the curricula of European and American universities as in the Middle Eastern madrassas. The prevalence of multiculturalism and ethical relativism seems to express a loss of faith in universal values. Is the ‘Clash of Civilisations’ really a new form of the Culture Wars, a crisis within Western civilisation itself? Is Tony Blair’s approach to ‘the battle between progress and reaction’ the right one, or have Western governments and elites lost the plot?
David Aaronovitch, columnist, The Times
Frank Furedi, professor of sociology, University of Kent; author, Politics of Fear: Beyond Left and Right (2005)
Sajjad Khan, editor, New Civilisation Magazine
Richard Koch, co-author with Chris Smith, Suicide of the West (2006)
Chair: Dolan Cummings, research and editorial director, Institute of Ideas; co-convenor, Battle of Ideas
- Frank Furedi Don't suppress radical Islamic ideas, challenge them The Guardian 24 October 2006
Reassessing liberty - is John Stuart Mill still relevant today?
"Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest"
John Stuart Mill
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety"
"We could live in a world which is airy fairy, libertarian, where everybody does precisely what they like and we believe the best of everybody and then they destroy us"
"Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it"
George Bernard Shaw
Have we forgotten how to be free? While we debate formal freedoms - ID cards, incitement to religious hatred and the right to free speech more generally - do we now turn a blind eye to incursions on our liberty in our social lives, working lives and personal lives? From smoking bans and ASBOs to speech codes and harassment regulations, relationships are increasingly formalised and regulated, particularly those between adults and children. The defence of freedom tends to take place in the language of rights to be codified and entrenched, threatening to qualify out of existence that which it seeks to defend. When the assertiveness of the American Bill of Rights has given way to the hedging and qualifications of the Human Rights Act, is this the best way to promote freedom?
This year marks the bicentenary of the birth of the philosopher John Stuart Mill whose seminal essay ‘On Liberty’ remains a clarion call for freedom of thought and expression. Do we have something to learn from Mill, whose defence of liberty was practical rather than abstract, extending beyond the mere formal protection of free speech and seeking to encourage a culture of freedom and individual experiments in living? Indeed, Mill thought the social tyranny practised by majority opinion ‘more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself.’
Wendy Kaminer, lawyer and social critic; author, Free for All: Defending Liberty in America Today (2002)
Michael Mansfield QC, human rights and criminal barrister, Tooks Chambers; author, The Home Lawyer: A Family Guide to Lawyers and the Law (2003) and Presumed Guilty: British Legal System Exposed (1993)
Brendan O'Neill, deputy editor, spiked
Henry Porter, London editor, Vanity Fair; author, Brandenburg Gate (2006) and Empire State (2004)
Chair: Claire Fox, director, Institute of Ideas; co-convenor, Battle of Ideas
- Henry Porter Blair's new laws leave us at the mercy of future tyrants Guardian 19 February 2006
- Henry Porter A few bad cartoons are no reason to fall out Guardian 05 February 2006