I spent last weekend mainly at The Sage Gateshead at Radio 3’s ‘festival of ideas’, Free Thinking. I threw a couple of 3 minute theories out, in the Theory Slam -‘Sustainability is a convenient but dangerous word and we should talk more about resilience’ - and the Speed Dating with a Thinker event -‘We need a nationwide programme of strangeness to build our sense-making skills and teach us we don’t really understand the world.’ Think-dating was fun, but as I said to a couple of people, saying the same thing 11 times to a mix of keenness, scepticism and intelligent questioning was a little too much like being at work for comfort on a weekend. (No, I didn't win. And yes, dear team, I'm only kidding. No, really.)
I also attended lots of talks being speakers from William Orbit to Tanya Byron. A debate on which was most valuable to humanity, sport or the arts, made me suspect I was the only person in the room who did/enjoyed both, and I fiercely wanted to send the ‘arts people’ on a cross-country run or get them on a squash court.
What struck me most was the size of the audiences though – packed halls, often simultaneously and lots of debate in the concourse – a real appetite for intelligent debate and learning, from people of all ages and accents. It rather encouraged me about public discourse, which I can sometimes think is a thing of the past. Noticeably the politician speakers, David Miliband and Ken Livingstone both had capacity audiences. Maybe the next election will see a revival of big public political meetings?
In fact the ‘thinking’ obviously spread into the concerts also going on at The Sage Gateshead that weekend. I bumped into an old friend who was halfway through a piano recital by Freddy Kempf, and asked him whether he was enjoying it. (I’m a deep thinker, me.) He immediately wondered why he’d ever been a Marxist and launched into a critique of Beethoven’s weak class analysis and his romantic transcendentalism. Perhaps thinking is contagious? If so, spread the virus!
(Visit the Radio 3 Free Thinking microsite and you can ‘listen again’ and find links to lots of short videos too.)