Free speech: its past, present and future

Posted on: March 14th, 2023 by mlpEditor

How can we better understand and conceptualise both the benefits and challenges of free speech?

It has been said that ‘free speech is the bulwark of liberty; without it, no free and democratic society has ever been established or thrived’. But how can we protect it whilst addressing legitimate concerns surrounding misinformation and hate speech?

In this online ‘in conversation’ event, Danish lawyer and human-rights advocate, Jacob Mchangama, explores the past, present and future of free speech with Paul Cartledge, Professor of Greek Culture at Cambridge University.

What lessons can the difficulties of invoking the ideal of free speech in the ancient world tell us about the difficulties of operationalizing this ideal in today’s digital world? And how can we create a resilient global culture of free speech that benefits everyone?

Pandemic as portal: remembering Covid, re-imagining society

Posted on: February 28th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Did the Covid pandemic change anything? And what will its legacy be?

In an influential essay published at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the novelist and activist Arundhati Roy described Covid-19 as a “portal” and an opportunity to re-imagine society and the sort of planet we wished to leave to our children.

But three years on, Roy’s vision of social, spiritual and planetary renewal looks increasingly utopian. Rather than being a “great leveller”, as some experts had hoped at the outset of the pandemic, Covid exacerbated pre-existing inequalities and accentuated political divisions.

On top of that, the pandemic didn’t result in the promised “great reset” in living and working conditions. Nor did it galvanise the world to finally address climate change.

In this talk, Dr Mark Honigsbaum will look at the history of pandemics, examining when and how they have acted as catalysts for social and political change – and when they haven’t ­. He will then assess the impacts of Covid-19 and its likely historical legacy.

Will humans become extinct through climate change?

Posted on: February 27th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Disasters come in many shapes and sizes. One way of looking at them are by their scope: how much of the world and the future do they affect? And by their severity: how bad are they?

Global catastrophic risks are those that affect the entire world, while existential risks are those that threaten all future generations – typically extinction risks. There are many potential threats in these categories, ranging from asteroid impacts to nuclear war. Most are fortunately unlikely to spell our doom… but there are enough of them to make us rightly concerned about our well-being.

While natural risks are unlikely to cause an end of humanity, human-made risks are. What is the role of climate change in this? Direct extinction by a changed climate is very unlikely: it takes very extreme heat to stop an adaptive, technological species that is spread worldwide.

But climate change poses a systemic threat. By stressing nearly every part of the world as we move into a century with many other risks, powerful emerging technologies, and an interconnected and fragile global system, it can amplify other dangers and make them more likely to coincide into vast disasters.

Climate change may not be the end of the world, but it can certainly help it along. Conversely, some (but not all!) ways of handling climate change can reduce large risks.

Interview with Dr Anders Sandberg

Posted on: January 30th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Q: Do you believe that climate change is the greatest threat to humanity’s long-term survival? If not, what is?

A: Climate change on its own is not the end of the world… but it makes the world worse. It amplifies other risks, and it might make it harder for us to solve the problems we need to solve for our survival. Nuclear war, bioweapons, uncontrolled AI and the fragility of the global supply chains keeping us alive are more direct risks.

“We need a peaceful, prosperous world with less distractions to handle the risks.”

Q: Out of the “low probability, high risk” existential threats that you’ve studied, is there one that you think we’re not talking about enough? Conversely, is there one whose danger we are exaggerating?

A: We used to not talk enough about nuclear war. When I grew up in the 1980s, it was an ever present, ominous threat. As we later found out, there were some extremely close calls where things truly hung in the balance. Then 1990 came. The Eastern Bloc disintegrated, and people seemed to forget about the missiles in their silos. This is despite the many accidents and close calls. For more than 20 years the threat was ignored. Now it’s back in our minds again.

“The moral of this story is that, collectively, we often quickly forget about very important threats.”

One threat that people have conveniently forgotten about today is that of pandemics. We are so tired of Covid. Yet, the important lessons on how to handle the next pandemic (which could be worse) need to be learned.

 

Q: As a Fellow at the University of Oxford Philosophy Faculty, what role can philosophy play in helping us confront such existential risks?

One function of philosophy is to help us figure out the moral value at stake: how bad are these risks compared to others? How do we balance our current needs against those of future generations? How does fairness come in to play? Another function of it is helping us reason under uncertainty: how do we think well about future, unprecedented events? When we know we are uncertain about important things, how should we act? Is it better to be safe than sorry or is it better to wait and see?

“Philosophy is great at working with problems for which we do not yet have a great theoretical understanding. As we figure it out, it often moves into some other specialised department. But thinking wide and abstract about problems is a good start.”

Q: Considering how our over-reliance on technology is one of the primary causes of man-made global warming, how do you think that technology can help us mitigate its risk?

A: Not having technology can also be dangerous. Our ancestors often died from starvation, exposure and disease: they were very vulnerable. Similarly, old-fashioned industry and agriculture tends to be more polluting. It requires more land (hence leading to a shrinking global biodiversity). The solution to climate change involves using low-carbon energy sources. Making agriculture efficient enough so that less land is needed, telework, carbon capture and so on. It is not just about technology, of course, but if going green is cheaper, more luxurious and more convenient than the current practice, it will happen.

Food and climate change

Posted on: January 24th, 2023 by mlpEditor

About a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions come from food; global emissions average 6 kg CO2e per person per day, ranging from less than 2 kg/day in Africa to 13 kg/day in the US.

Controlling emissions to limit temperature rise cannot be achieved without a very large reduction in food related emissions. This means changes in diets and food production. How might this be done? And what can we do as individuals?

These, and other questions you want to raise, will be considered during this online session.

Our main speakers are Peter Ball (Professor of Operations Management at the University of York) and Beckie Lait (also at the University of York carrying out PhD research with fixourfood.org). They will respectively explore systems thinking behind UK farming practice (in particular, urban farming) and the carbon footprints of our food choices.

Following their introductions there will be ample time for your questions, suggestions and comments.

Good to know: the meeting will be online using the BlueJeans meetings app, allowing all users to be seen and to join the discussion.

Further reading: Professor Sarah Bridle – who gave an online talk to the Lit & Phil – sets out the problems in her book “Food and Climate Change” – a highly recommended source (and available as a free e-book).

Can routine screening for Downs Syndrome be ethically justified?

Posted on: January 10th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Do screening programmes for pregnant individuals prevent or cause harm?

We often assume that increasing the number of screening programmes in pregnancy is a good thing.  These programmes are frequently justified as a way of empowering women (and others who are pregnant) with information about the foetus they are carrying, enabling more informed choices about their pregnancy.

In this talk, Professor Rebecca Bennett will argue that the routine nature of these screening programmes means that they put pressure on individuals. Not only to accept screening but also to consider termination of pregnancy.

If we are committed to respecting the autonomy of individuals, then this gives us good reasons to support any sufficiently autonomous choice to choose termination.  However, Rebecca will argue that the pressure involved in routine screening programmes undermines rather than empowers autonomous choice.

Further, if screening programmes are justified as an attempt to prevent harm, then a strong argument can be made that they are counterproductive. Not only in terms of harm to pregnant individuals but also in terms of reinforcing negative attitudes around conditions such as Downs Syndrome.

Free speech: its past, present and future

Posted on: January 5th, 2023 by mlpEditor

How can we better understand and conceptualise both the benefits and challenges of free speech?

It has been said that ‘free speech is the bulwark of liberty; without it, no free and democratic society has ever been established or thrived’. But how can we protect it whilst addressing legitimate concerns surrounding misinformation and hate speech?

In this online ‘in conversation’ event, Danish lawyer and human-rights advocate, Jacob Mchangama, will explore the past, present and future of free speech with Paul Cartledge, Professor of Greek Culture at Cambridge University.

Drawing on Professor Cartledge’s expertise in ancient history and democracy, the conversation will begin with a discussion of where and how the very idea of free speech originated.

Jacob and Paul will explore the ancient concepts of “Isegoria” (equality of all in freedom of speech) and “Parrhesia” (speaking candidly). And the difference, indeed conflict, between “egalitarian” free speech in Athens vs “elitist” free speech in the Roman Republic. Using illustrative examples – including the trial of Socrates and the Peterloo Massacre – they will explain how this conflict between egalitarian and elitist free speech has been a major fault line through ancient, medieval, and modern history.

What lessons can the difficulties of invoking the ideal of free speech in the ancient world tell us about the difficulties of operationalizing this ideal in today’s digital world? And how can we create a resilient global culture of free speech that benefits everyone?

Celebrating thinking differently: a special screening of Young Plato

Posted on: December 13th, 2022 by mlpEditor

To celebrate the Manchester Lit & Phil’s 242nd birthday, we’re putting on a special screening of Young Plato, a film that is all about thinking differently.

About the film:

Young Plato is an observational documentary set in post-conflict Belfast’s Ardoyne, where a marginalized, working-class community has for generations been plagued by poverty, drugs and guns.

This film charts the dream of Headmaster Kevin McArevey and his dedicated, visionary team illustrating how critical thinking and pastoral care can empower and encourage children to see beyond the boundaries and limitations of their own community.

We see how philosophy can encourage them to question the mythologies of war and of violence, and sometimes challenge the narratives their parents, peers and socio-economic group would dictate.

A trailer of Young Plato can be viewed here.

Event schedule:

  • 10am – HOME opens and refreshments are served in the foyer.
  • 1030am – Welcome in the film screening room (Marina’s Cinema)
  • 1040am – Film begins
  • 1230pm – Film ends. Attendees who have purchased a ticket that includes lunch should proceed to the restaurant.

Global Citizen: reporting for duty

Posted on: December 5th, 2022 by mlpEditor

What role will today’s and tomorrow’s innovators play in helping us survive and thrive?

The global climate crisis. Famine and drought. Population growth. The battle for diminishing resources. These are no longer visions of some future nightmare. We are facing these challenges today.

Scientists have modelled where we are heading and it doesn’t look good. Protesters have taken to the streets. International targets have been agreed and Governments have laid out their plans.

But will they be enough? Pandemics and conflicts soon knock us off course; deadlines are missed and targets slip. So what can we do to protect our future, deal with today’s issues and learn to live with the extra challenges that are coming down the line?

Our world is evolving quickly. Engineering and Technology are right at the heart of the huge transformation we are experiencing. A career in STEM is becoming more than a career. It is a way of life – a consistent source of boundless creativity.

In this event recording, Yewande Akinola shares her discovery of the roles Innovative Engineering and Technology play in bringing progress and true Sustainability to our world. From the development of our built environment to more specific and intentional problem-solving.

Will humans become extinct through climate change?

Posted on: November 24th, 2022 by mlpEditor

In this talk by Dr Anders Sandberg of the Future of Humanity Institute, we will examine what role climate change may play in the end of the world as we know it.

Disasters come in many shapes and sizes. One way of looking at them are by their scope: how much of the world and the future do they affect? And by their severity: how bad are they?

Global catastrophic risks are those that affect the entire world, while existential risks are those that threaten all future generations – typically extinction risks. There are many potential threats in these categories, ranging from asteroid impacts to nuclear war. Most are fortunately unlikely to spell our doom… but there are enough of them to make us rightly concerned about our well-being.

While natural risks are unlikely to cause an end of humanity, human-made risks are. What is the role of climate change in this? Direct extinction by a changed climate is very unlikely: it takes very extreme heat to stop an adaptive, technological species that is spread worldwide.

But climate change poses a systemic threat. By stressing nearly every part of the world as we move into a century with many other risks, powerful emerging technologies, and an interconnected and fragile global system, it can amplify other dangers and make them more likely to coincide into vast disasters.

Climate change may not be the end of the world, but it can certainly help it along. Conversely, some (but not all!) ways of handling climate change can reduce large risks.

This is a hybrid event, that can be attended in person or watched live online.