Fri 25th May – What are we to make of Jordan Peterson? – John Little

Jordan Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist and public intellectual, who is professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.

Major influences on his thinking have been figures such as Carl Jung, Friedrich Nietzsche, Fydor Dostoyevsky and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
His recent book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos has become a runaway, number 1 bestseller in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Germany and France, making him the public intellectual of the moment.
His encounter with Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News has become legendary. The whole performance, which has since been viewed more than 10 million times on YouTube and was described as “one of the great interviews of all time”, bolstered Peterson’s  image as the coolly rational man of science facing down the hysteria of political correctness.
Many see him as a dangerous, reactionary figure. Though he describes himself as a traditional liberal he has become the hero of the ‘alt-right’ with his attacks on politically correct language, identity politics and post-modernism.
He is sympathetic to religion as a source of meaning and has taken on ‘new atheists’ such as Dawkins and Harris.
What are we to make of him?

Fri 4th May – Warfare and Welfare – Paul Archer

I want to look at the highly influential work of the Stanford University historian Walter Scheidel in his 2017 book entitled ‘The Great Leveler’.  In a new grand narrative of history, Scheidel argues that inequality has always increased (and will always increase) in the absence of violent disruptions like mass mobilisation war, transformative revolution, state collapse, and plague.  A key part of this argument is that the great equalising of incomes and wealth from 1914 to the mid 1970s (known by historians as the Great Compression) was not the result of democracy or socialism or reformers but the result of wars and revolution.  For Scheidel, the growing inequality of the past 35-40 years is not an aberration but a return to normal service – maybe we should expect inequality to keep growing for the next 500 years or so.  I want to critically examine the particular claim made by Scheidel about the Great Compression in the hope of showing that we can be a bit less pessimistic about the future of inequality.

Fri 20th Apr – Fundamentalism – Rahman Khatibi

 Nowadays we live in one world village and are used to human rights as a minimum standard of modernism. In this world village, the right to worship is recognised but not the right to religious fundamentalism, which is a relic of the past but very much alive and kicking if we are not careful. 
Give any religion half a chance and it is likely to want everything. Today Islamic fundamentalism rolls out before our eyes but it was not always like this. My talk will paint another possible picture and show that, in medieval times, Islam and other religions were on a par with one another – and still they are. History is not linear and modern ways of life are not a product of any religion but science. Curiously, science (evidence-based facts) arose because Christianity took mankind to the abyss in the 15th-16th Century, as Islamic fundamentalism is taking mankind to the abyss yet again. Christianity adapted to modernity, but can Islam do similar? My talk will present a historic context to the problem of fundamentalism with the focus on contemporary times.

Fri 13th Apr – Equitable Water Sharing in the Blue Nile – Peter Von Lany

Water is crucial to life and one of nature’s most valuable resources – how can it be allocated to meet competing national aspirations and managed for the benefit of all?  As Ethiopia nears completing the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile, the governments of Egypt and Sudan have expressed increasing levels of concern over how Ethiopia intends to use this dam – water in the Blue Nile is valuable to Ethiopia, contributes to the agricultural prosperity of Sudan and is crucial to the economic prosperity of Egypt. The GERD will be the largest hydro power dam in Africa, contributing towards Ethiopia’s economic growth through enabling energy security and potentially exporting electricity to neighbouring states. What will be Ethiopia’s near-term strategy for filling the reservoir (created by the dam), what will be the future pattern of water releases from the dam to generate hydro power, and how will these affect downstream neighbours?  

Fri 23rd March – Love, Marriage and Children – Paul Archer

This Friday, in a change to the advertised programme, Paul Archer will be speaking on ‘Love, Marriage and Children’.
I want to look carefully at the best social research and reflect on the collapse of lifelong marriage over the past half century.
How and why did this happen and what has it meant for children and for adults?
Is it a good thing or a bad thing and is there anything that governments can or should do about it?

Fri 16th March – The Secret of our Success – John Little

Joe Henrich is the new Steven Pinker. Young, handsome, Canadian, teaching at Harvard with a background in anthropology, psychology and economics he argues that humans are a puzzling species. On the one hand, we struggle to survive on our own in the wild, often failing to overcome even basic challenges, like obtaining food, building shelters, or avoiding predators. On the other hand, human groups have produced ingenious technologies, sophisticated languages, and complex institutions that have permitted us to successfully expand into a vast range of diverse environments. What has enabled us to dominate the globe, more than any other species, while remaining virtually helpless as lone individuals?    His book shows that the secret of our success lies not in our innate intelligence, but in our collective brains―on the ability of human groups to socially interconnect and learn from one another over generations.