Salons 2010

The 'Two Cultures' Debate — What now?

Date: Monday 13 December 2010

Venue: Old Broadcasting House, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds

Speaker: Raymond Tallis

In a famous lecture given over half a century ago, C.P. Snow raised concerns about the increasing alienation of humanist intellectuals from science. Professor Ray Tallis will argue that this problem is more complex than Snow thought, and addressing it may be even more challenging than he imagined.

The Snow/Leavis Controversy

In 1959, C.P. Snow delivered the annual Rede Lecture in Cambridge under the title of 'The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution'. Snow warned of a gap that had opened up between scientists and the 'literary intellectuals' that made it almost impossible for the two groups to communicate. Snow complained that literary intellectuals were not only ignorant of science but contemptuous of it, as if scientific knowledge were unnecessary for a good education. Snow believed that improvements in the teaching of science were required in order to address the world's greatest problems, and to compete with the USA and USSR. Snow spoke with the authority of a man with a foot in both camps, as a trained research scientist and a successful novelist, and his lecture provoked worldwide coverage. However, in 1962 it received an extraordinary response from the influential literary critic F.R. Leavis, who delivered an attack on Snow of unprecedented ferocity. The Snow/Leavis controversy has provoked debate ever since between supporters of both men's positions as to the real purpose of education. 

Is unfettered growth possible or desirable?

Date: Monday 15 November 2010

Venue: The Carriageworks, Millennium Room

Speakers: Daniel Ben-Ami (Author) and Clive Lord (Green Party founder-member)

Since the start of the first Industrial Revolution, economic growth has generally been seen as good and desirable. However, over the last forty years, the growth of the economy and the spread of prosperity have increasingly been seen as problematic rather than positive. While some are still willing to defend economic growth, highlighting the gains to humanity it has brought in terms of material wealth, technological progress, increased life expectancy and personal consumption, others accuse prosperity of encouraging greed, damaging the environment, causing unhappiness and widening social inequalities.

So, does economic growth offer solutions to the problems of the world, or is it one of them? Are there limits to growth, whether natural or social, or are possibilities limitless? Isn't the pursuit of happiness more important than the acquisition of wealth? And, as the world enters yet another recession, is continuous economic growth even possible?

Poetry and the Tyranny of Relevance

Date: October 2010

Venue: Royal College of Art, London

Speakers: Sophie Hannah (Poet & Novelist), Londsay Johns (Writer & Broadcaster), Michele Ledda (Leeds Salon co-founder), George Szirtes (Poet) - Chair: Dave Bowden (IoI)

Part of the Battle of Ideas 2010 

The Myth of Racist Kids

Date: Monday 11 October 2010

Speaker: Adrian Hart

Venue: Leeds Civic Hall, Committee Rooms 6 & 7

The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 led to a requirement on schools to report ‘racist incidents’ to local education authorities, which has resulted in the reporting of an estimated 250,000 incidents. Many of these involved very young children, and included cases of name-calling in the playground and arguments between friends. A growing ‘race relations industry’ has moved into the daily life of schools and even nurseries, with the aim of combating prejudice in children as young as three. But can children so young really be racist in any meaningful sense?

Critics like Adrian Hart, author of The Myth of Racist Kids (Manifesto Club, 2009), argue that anti-racism campaigns in schools can actually create ethnic tensions. These policies bring officials into the playground: critics argue they stifle childrens relationships with their peers and undermine teachers’ ability to use their own judgement. Others warn against complacency, arguing that society is as racist as ever, and that education is the best means of nipping racist and sexist stereotypes in the bud. Rather than ignoring or minimising playground incidents, we should be vigilant and stamp racism out while individuals are still young and more likely to change their attitudes. Besides, adults have always taught children how to behave and what language is and isn’t acceptable. Isn’t that an important part of a child’s education?

So are our schools institutionally racist or confidently multicultural? Should playground name-calling be taken seriously and eliminated, or is it an inevitable and potentially formative part of childhood? Do anti-racist policies just benefit the so-called ‘anti-racism industry’ or do they protect ethnic minorities from prejudice? Should schools and teachers use their own judgment in discriminating between silly name-calling and actual racism, or should they follow official policy to the letter and report every incident, regardless of context?

Freedom of Expression and the University

Date: May 2010

Venue: University of Leeds Student Union

Speakers: Marco SchneebalgHanif LeylabiPhillip Dickinson & James Wood

In May 2010 Leeds University Union banned an issue of the Leeds Student newspaper containing a Palestinian activist's allegedly anti-Semitic comment.  Earlier in the year, a student society, the Palestinian Solidarity Group, was banned for disturbing a speech by an Israeli diplomat.  A debate by Liberty@Leeds was prevented from taking place as it featured a former member of banned group Islam 4 UK. The Atheist Society were prevented from holding an event on freedom of speech that planned to show controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders' anti-Islamic film Fitna.

Leeds University's Protocol on Freedom of Expression states that an event can be banned if it is 'likely to give rise to an environment in which people will experience — or could reasonably fear — harassment, intimidation, verbal abuse or violence.'

On Academic Freedom Day, a panel of university students will debate the pros and cons of academic freedom in light of recent controversies. Should speech be regulated and if so by whom, to what extent and on what grounds? Is censorship sometimes necessary to protect vulnerable groups, or should there be no protection from offence?

Does the university as a public institution and a place of free inquiry have a duty to promote the free expression of opinions, no matter how unpopular? Or are these lofty and old-fashioned ideals which interfere with the main business of the modern university of providing workplace skills for its customers and the know-how Britain needs to compete in a global economy?

Can free speech be institutionally protected, or is it up to students and lecturers, as free adult citizens and constituent members of the university, to speak out and challenge rules and regulations that restrain freedom of expression? Is free speech a private or a public right — an individual's right to free expression, or the right of the public to hear all opinions free of censorship and make up their own minds? 

Immigration: a tool for social engineering?

Date: April 2010

Venue: Leeds Civic Hall

Speaker: Brendan O'Neill (Spiked-Online)

In the past, the debate about immigration was between those who believed in liberty and equality and those who were concerned to preserve 'British values' and 'traditions'. The British authorities, while allowing in a certain number of immigrants to help rebuild post-war Britain and compensate for labour shortages, were also at the forefront of scapegoating immigrant communities for many social and economic problems. For those concerned with migrant's rights and anti-racist politics, the key demands were for the right of freedom of movement of labour and against immigration controls.

Over the past decade, however, there has been a shift in the way immigration is discussed. Immigration is now problematised, by both supporters and opponents alike, not so much in the threat posed by immigrants (although post-9/11 that's taken on a new twist) as in the reaction they fear it may provoke in that most despised of communities - the native white working class.

Where once immigration was seen as a tool for economic regeneration, under the New Labour government immigration controls were relaxed (and subsequently new and stricter restrictions introduced) for primarily political reasons - to forge an image of a new multicultural Britain in opposition to traditional conservative notions of Britishness and to distance itself from, and discipline, the native working class population.  Today, the immigration debate is dominated not by the traditional right-wing language of protecting Britain from 'foreign hordes', but in the seemingly radical belief of undermining the far right and controlling the worst instinsts of the 'hordes at home'.

How do we account for these changes? What are the dangers in today's debates about immigration and multiculturalism? And what heppened to the demand for freedom of movement?

In Defence of Poetry 

Date: March 2010

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Room 1

Speakers: Ronan McDonaldGeorge SzirtesAndrew McMillan, Michele Ledda & Chair: Wes Brown

Sponsored by The Poetry Business

Following the censoring of Carol Ann Duffy's poem Education for Leisure from the school curriculum, poets, critics, teachers and students will debate the significance of this ban.

Should children be protected from controversial literature? Should works be studied because of their literary merit or as springboards to discuss particular issues? Should students be taught to analyse poems in order to understand their meaning or should they be asked to provide a personal response? How important should poetry be in teaching English? Who should determine the content of the school curriculum and according to what criteria? What are the roles of the poet, the critic, the teacher and the reader in upholding the importance of poetry? And what, if any, is the role of government? 

Human Genes and Animal Rights

Date: 28 January 2010

Venue: Old Broadcasting House, Leeds

Speaker: Jeremy Taylor

Leeds Salon welcomes science broadcaster and writer Jeremy Taylor discuss his new book NOT A CHIMP: The Hunt for the Genes that Make Us Human, and debate whether the concept of 'rights' should be extended to chimpanzees and other primates.

Humans are primates. Our closest relatives are the great apes, chimpanzees closest of all. The mapping of the human and chimpanzee genomes has revealed that we differ by a mere 1.6% of our genetic code. In addition, it is argued that chimpanzees demonstrate remarkable human-like capacities for tool-making and use, language, mathematics, and even emotional intelligence and moral behaviour.

As a consequence of our genetic and apparent similarities, should the concept of 'rights' be extended to include chimpanzees and other primates? Recently, allied activist groups in Austria, New Zealand and Spain have campaigned for rights for chimpanzees and for them to be acknowledged as "nearly human". While bioethicist Peter Singer has long called for the extension of "basic rights", first to the Great Apes, and eventually to all sentient beings which, he believes, should possess the right to life, liberty, and not to endure cruelty and torture.

However, what can such 'rights' mean? For Jeremy Taylor humans are unique. And the extension of rights to other species makes no sense, as to possess rights one has to be able to understand and exercise them. For some, this argument amounts to 'speciesism', evoking comparisons with concepts such as 'racism' and 'sexism'. But for Taylor the claims of human-chimp equivalence, both in behaviour and genes, are exaggerated. The genetic difference between us and chimps is much greater than the 1.6% figure implies, as those genes are responsible for important genetic regulations on which our uniqueness is based. Those relatively small differences in genetic code make profound differences in cognition and bahaviour. As such, Taylor argues, we should put aside such distractions as "ape rights" in search of other forms of adequate protection for the host of plant and animal species now at risk.

But do you agree? Are humans simply remodelled apes? Chimps with a tweak? Is the difference between our genomes so miniscule it justifies the argument that our cognition and behaviour must also differ from chimps by barely a whisker? Or if "chimps are us" should we grant them human rights? Or is this one of the biggest fallacies in the study of evolution? NOT A CHIMP argues that these similarities have been grossly over-exaggerated - we should keep chimps at arms' length. 



Follow Leeds Salon

Leeds Salon on Facebook

Follow theleedssalon on Twitter



Sign up to our mailing list


The Leeds Salon is a judging partner of the sixth form Debating Matters competition

The Tetley and The Leeds Salon are partners in school debate for central and south Leeds

The HFoI and The Leeds Salon are partners in school debate for north Leeds


Leeds Salon is a member of the Amazon Affiliate Programme. When you follow this link, we receive a small percentage of anything you spend in that visit. It costs you no extra but is a big help to us!

Leeds Debate Links

Arts Society Leeds

Café Psychologique

Café Scientifique (Chapel Allerton)

Café Scientifique (Headingley)

FORUM 2000

Headingley Festival of Ideas

Headingley LitFest

Leeds Library Salon

Leeds Phil & Lit Society

Leeds Pint of Science

Taking Soundings

Talking Allowed In Leeds: PiPs

Think Headingley: PiPs


National Debate Links

Salon Aberystwyth

Birmingham Salon

East Midlands Salon

Exeter Salon

Liverpool Salon

London Legal Salon

Manchester Salon

Academy of Ideas

Debating Matters

Manifesto Club


The Great Debate



Global Debate Links

Berlin Salon

Dublin Salon

Zurich Salon


Donations gratefully received