£7.50 – £12.50

Battle of Ideas Edinburgh

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National Library of Scotland

George IV Bridge

Edinburgh

EH1 1EW

United Kingdom

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A day of debates at the National Library of Scotland, covering politics, economics and society.

Do we live in a ‘post-truth’ society?
The vote to leave the EU and the election of Donald Trump sparked a heated debate about whether we now leave in a post-truth era. The Vote Leave bus, seemingly promising an extra £350million for the NHS if we voted to get out of the EU, is routinely used as an example of how politicians and campaigners have been willing to lie to get a result – and the result suggests they can get away with it.

But Brexit and Trump are just the most obvious examples of how a debate over facts seems to have been replaced by one built on tribes and emotions. The independence referendum in 2014, for example, was notorious for the bellicose use of social media, with memes being widely circulated that had at best a distant relationship with the truth. The debate about climate change has remained intense, despite there being a widely reported consensus about the dangers of global warming. Michael Gove’s much-quoted, if unintentionally blunt, comment that ‘people have had enough of experts’ chimes with a feeling that expertise and evidence are out of fashion. If that’s true, does it spell disaster for researchers, journalists and campaigners attempting to get at the truth about how the world works? Or are claims of a ‘post-truth’ era overblown?

How can we revive the Scottish economy?
The independence referendum featured ferocious discussion of the prospects for Scotland’s economy. While the Yes campaign talked of a bright future for Scotland as smaller nation within the EU like Denmark, the No campaign launched ‘Project Fear’, claiming that a post-independence Scotland would be forced to introduce austerity as the North Sea’s oil reserves dwindled. As it happens, income from the oil fields has already collapsed as the price of oil globally has fallen.

But is oil really the issue? Scotland has a modern, developed economy, but like many others in the Western world, it has stagnated in recent decades. The post-war economic boom is a distant memory. What will drive economic growth in the future? Among the candidates are renewable energy, new technology like biotech and a further development of financial services, already a big employer in the capital – or perhaps something new is just over the horizon. Moreover, how can such a new economy be brought about? Should we look to government economic and industrial strategy or cut taxes and reduce regulation to ‘let the market flourish’? How will Brexit change things? Or is there now too much ‘deadwood’ in the economy, with a bout of ‘creative destruction’ required to clear the decks for renewed economic growth?

Whose culture is it anyway? The cultural appropriation debate
Denunciations of usually white celebrities for appropriation are now a regular part of the entertainment and fashion landscape: singers who wear their hair in cornrows are accused of exploiting black culture; Selena Gomez has been slammed for wearing a bindi; fashion designer Marc Jacobs was attacked when his New York Fashion Week show featured models whose hair had been styled in colourful dreadlocks. Even eating has become a political minefield. College cafeterias have been denounced for cultural appropriation for serving of samosas, kebabs or curries. Critics argue that this is ‘colonial’, a form of theft (quite literally in the case of some historical artifacts) from minority culture by a dominant culture.

Yet others view such instances as a normal and positive interaction of ideas. Ideas about art, science, philosophy, music and much more have been borrowed and developed since the dawn of civilisation. Science writer Matt Ridley has talked about the history of human progress as being the product of ‘ideas having sex’. Isn’t imitation the highest form of flattery?

How should we view this appropriation of elements of one culture by another? What does the debate say about our attitudes to culture? Should we see ‘culture’ as belonging to one group of people at all?

From the spirit of Shackleton to ‘cotton-wool kids’: have we become too risk averse?
In 1914, Ernest Shackleton and his crews in two ships set sail for the Antarctic in an attempt to complete the first crossing of the continent. The expedition was beset by problems, however, and the name of Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, was to prove prophetic. The ship was wrecked, but despite near disaster in hellish conditions, only three members of the expedition party died. The expedition is a watchword for ambitious risk-taking and overcoming adversity.

A century on from Shackleton’s return in 1917, has this spirit of risk-taking been undermined? While celebrity adventurers like Bear Grylls draw huge audiences, in everyday life, children have less and less independence to travel and play freely, rarely given the opportunity to develop the self-reliance of previous generations. On the one hand, this suggests a tendency towards avoiding risky situations, but could it also mean an inability to prepare for or cope with adverse situations when they do arise? More broadly, debates about everything from health to fire safety, post Grenfell Tower, seem to over-react to relatively minor risks.

Are we too risk averse today or is a sense of precaution more rational? What are the implications for the future of society if we emphasise safety over risk-taking?

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Date and Time

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National Library of Scotland

George IV Bridge

Edinburgh

EH1 1EW

United Kingdom

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Refunds up to 7 days before event

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