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First Tuesday current affairs discussion - Tuesday 5 September 7:00pm start

Tuesday 5th September: First Tuesday Current Affairs discussion

Discussing Militarising the Far East and a second topic

Public discussions and debate in Manchester
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What does tolerance mean today?

October 2012

Frank Furedi introduced a discussion on contemporary challenges to the classical liberal ideal of tolerance.

Frank FurediTolerance is a virtue in all regards, except when it isn’t. In the wake of last year’s riots there were plenty of conservative calls for A Clockwork Orange-style ‘zero tolerance’ clampdowns on Britain’s apparently feral youth. David Cameron can simultaneously reject calls for a burqa ban as against the British tradition of tolerance, yet call for an end to the ‘passive tolerance’ of multiculturalism which permits hate speech of Islamists. In contrast, liberals proudly counter that they will ‘tolerate everything except intolerance’. Yet when the accusation of ‘intolerance’ can be applied to opponents of gay marriage, footballers accused of using racist language and those who wish to send their children to a faith school, it becomes increasingly unclear how tolerance differs from respect or approval.

On Tolerance
The tradition of tolerance – through John Locke, Voltaire, Kant and JS Mill – emphasised the importance of moral independence, not relativism. Locke tolerated what you thought because no one could ever establish tyranny in your heart. Mill also tolerated what you did – so long as it did not harm others. And crucially he valued the existence in society of views and opinions he found objectionable – their existence vital to the pursuit of truths which we should not assume we know. Yet today, the concept of harm can be extended to include offensive or hurtful remarks. Some even argue we should not tolerate acts which harm only ourselves: banning smoking; curbing binge drinking; warning against ‘junk’ foods. And, in the name of protecting tolerant societies from their enemies, the war on terror has justified intolerant measures – laws against incitement to terrorism or religious hatred – in many countries.

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Disabled by society, enabled by the legacy?

September 2012

Dave Clements, Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole and Denis Joe introduced a discussion on the changing perceptions of disability and the impact of the Paralympics.

Dave ClementsIt is widely reported that attitudes towards, and discrimination of, people with disabilities are getting worse. Institutional abuse revealed in recent scandals points to the shocking treatment some disabled people still face. The charity Scope argued that London’s Paralympics would ‘play a positive role in raising the profile of disabled people’. Chris Holmes, LOCOG Director of Paralympic Integration, predicted a ‘step-change in attitudes towards and opportunities for disabled people’. Has society become more hostile, as campaigners claim, or are we just more sensitive about the words people use? While the games may lead to greater participation in sport, will they have any impact on wider attitudes or on participation in the public sphere? Has the treatment of people with disabilities really changed for the worse anyway? Are some people still disabled by society?

Dr Katherine Runswick-ColeTanni-Grey Thompson, former Paralympic athlete and member of the House of Lords, recalls: ‘when I was growing up you didn’t see disabled people on the streets… because they were locked away from society’. The disability rights movement played an important role in changing things by struggling for equality, and a greater visibility for disabled people in society. People weren’t disabled by their bodies but by society, said campaigners. But where today is that radical message that the disabled are as able as their able-bodied counterparts and that society needs to change?

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What's behind a renaissance in the Arts?

September 2012

Pauline Hadaway, Billy Cowan, and Clare Howdon introduced a discussion on what's behind a renaissance in the arts.

Pauline HadawayThe pin-up boy of New Labour’s Cool Britannica, Damien Hirst, doesn’t seem so hot these days, with his £36,800 souvenir painted skulls on sale at the Tate gallery art shop coming across as a tad pricey in these recessionary times. Periods of economic decline though, often create a buoyant market for the arts as investors move their money away from longer-term productive investments. In times like these we usually hear the cry ‘art is only for the rich’. That may hold true within the confines of the market, but there is evidence that people do value art, and recessionary periods also see a rise in attendance at galleries and museums, even when those institutions charge for admission (e.g. see Nanopublic).

 Billy Cowan

However a recent survey of British institutions showed that arts students were least satisfied with their course compared to other students. Some students complained of being left to their own devices much of the time. John O'Boyle, director of academic services at specialist arts college Ravensbourne in London, though, may have highlighted a central reason for this when he says: "Creative students are taught to be highly critical of everything around them, including their own experiences, I doubt that law students think, 'How might this law degree be different?'" In a ‘multicultural’ society that gives equal value to all, criticism seems to have become the first casualty.

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Philanthropy and politics: all about the giver?

July 2012

Inderjeet Parmar and Vanessa Pupavac introduced a discussion about the role of philanthropy and NGOs in politics

Inderjeet Parmar

Many of the important institutions in our society have some historical connections to philanthropists of the recent industrial and financial past. From the Portico Library on Mosley Street in Manchester to the Port Sunlight village on the Wirral, there's been a desire by people of substance to use their wealth to have an impact in changing society for the better. This isn't an English thing, but can be seen as a trend internationally, as pointed out in some detail by Professor Inderjeet Parmar in his latest book 'Foundations of the American Century'.

 Vanessa Pupavac

Bill Gates has joined a long list of successful business people, who have setup foundations to do good with the wealth at their disposal. The world John D. Rockefeller, Carnegie, and the Ford Foundations were established in seems a far cry from the world we find ourselves in today. So with foundations and philanthropy still widespread, it is worth considering what has changed - in terms of who is being 'helped', and perhaps more importantly, what drives those giving and helping.

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City 2.0: Forging a new urban outlook?

June 2012

Alastair Donald, Mindy Gofton, Martin Bryant and Lisa Raynes introduced a discussion on the lure of the social city and what role it can play in regenerating city space.

Alastair Donald

‘Open source cities’; ‘smart cities’; ‘intelligent cities’. The choice of prefix may change, but enthusiasts seem increasingly convinced that digital technologies are transforming not only the nature of communication, but also the way we design, build, use, and interact within cities. On awarding the TED 2012 prize to The City 2.0, the organisers disputed the idea that this city of the future was a ‘sterile utopian dream’. Rather, they argued, we are seeing a real-world upgrade, tapping into humanity’s collective wisdom to create places of ‘beauty, wonder, excitement, inclusion, diversity, life.’

 Mindy Gofton

There are many other claims made for new technologies. Hewlett Packard’s version of City 2.0 asserts that the Information Age is reinventing the city for scalability and sustainability. IBM argue that intelligent technologies are turning neighbourhoods into ‘manageable ecosystems’. According to engineers Arup, new malleable systems increase citizen awareness of the relationships between activities, neighbourhoods, and wider urban systems. Unlike the inflexible, monolithic 20th century city, the Smart City, they say, is a place that citizens collectively modify.

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Is literature the new politics?

May 2012

John Siddique, Angelica Michelis and Ian Betts will introduce a discussion about the role the novel plays in shaping conversations about politics

John SiddiqueDespite a widespread desire for politicians to resolve problems in society, paradoxically there's also a widespread sense that politics is failing to take society forward. So where does all that desire to discuss important ideas and moral issues find an outlet? The popularity of devices like the Kindle comes from more than the ease of using the technology to read, but is based on a broad and sustained market for reading across all ages in society. It is argued by many that the renaissance for reading novels, from the university of the third age discussion groups to the buoyant popularity of child focussed books, is reinvigorating a broader discussion about society's values in a way politics maybe used to fufil.

 Angelica Michelis

Since its inception in the early Eighteenth Century the novel came to replace other forms of literature, such as the epic, the romance and poetry, as the most popular. Maybe its attraction lay, not in the high ideals or the universal, but in the fact that it spoke about real people in believable situations, becoming increasingly popular during Victorian times as it expanded to include characters and stories about the middle and working classes. Many writers have since experimented with shifting the focus further inward to examine human consciousness either through stream of consciousness, as shown by the early Modernists, or collective consciousness as can be found in the ‘Experimental’ novels of Emile Zola. The most enduring, however, are the existential writers such as Sartre and Camus, whose concern was that of the individual isolation within the collective.

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