…or maybe not.

It seemed like a good idea, to attack the Festival of Ideas in the same manner that I attack the Festival of the Arts & the Fringe (ie, with gusto).

The problem is, when I’m tapping out my thoughts on sessions, I feel obliged to cover them in the minutest detail, expounding on themes that appeal to me. And, because I’m no writing clever person, that’s really hard for me to do in a manner that I’d consider “timely”… bearing in mind it took me three months to finish my Fringe ramblings.

In short, I bit off more than I can chew :}

Here’s a bunch of other bloggers who are writing in a much more elegant and composed manner than I…

At least the peeps behind those blogs can (a) do the sessions some credit, and (2) string more than two words together in a coherent manner.

Also bear in mind that the sessions will be podcast on Radio Adelaide in the coming weeks.

And so, with that weight lifted off my shoulders, I might just sit back and enjoy the rest of the sessions a little more.

What Endures? Thoughts on discerning what to take into the future and what to discard

It’s the first of the daytime sessions, and – again – I’m unsure what to expect. Arriving early despite the rain at the Art Gallery Auditorium (the stage for the fabulous A Large Attendance In The Ante Chamber in 2002), the crowd is sparse – it soon fills to breaking point, with everyone forced to do the shuffle-up to squeeze more peeps in. This daytime crowd is mostly older – retirees, it seems – though there’s a sprinkling of post-grads, too (though is feels quite disingenuous to be making such judgements based on appearances).

Paul Chadwick poses the question What Endures? Thoughts on discerning what to take into the future and what to discard and, from the outset, admits that he has – at best – only a tentative answer. He introduces his topic by mentioning that rapid change tends create a distortion of the effecter of that change, and the ideals associated with it; but that the matter of that which should be endured is best identified close to the changing event. This was ably demonstrated by the drafting of the Declaration of Human Rights so close to the end of World War II; over half-a-century on, the ideals expressed in that original draft are being watered down as we wander further from the attrocities that inspired it.

There’s several tangents in his presentation; the idea that privacy is an enabler (of self-discovery, of intimacy, of liberty). The impact on property law by the concept of ownership of genetic data. The progression towards a surveillance society, and the establishment of surveillance-free zones (akin to national parks). And the resonant gem for me was the idea that Understanding is always partial.

As previously mentioned, Chadwick presents only a tentative answer, stating that enduring ideals should be based on the concepts of Synthesis (a merging of doctrines) and Questing (facilitating the search for greater truths). Audience interaction posited that materialism is one facet of current society which should not endure, and posed the idea of sustainability within the framework put forth by Chadwick.

In all, it was certainly a thought-provoking session, but Chadwick’s slow, considered – almost over-enunciated – approach made the going a little tough at times.

The Elephant and the Dragon

As per usual, an Adelaide Festival opens with an aboriginal flourish; this one struck me as the most noble in recent years, four young men performing dances of welcome and handover before cleansing the room. A hint of humour and steeped in respect, there’s a gentle nod to aboriginal rights, and the prospect of hope in young Aboriginals in the future.

This year’s Festival of Ideas is dedicated to Elliot Johnson, who took to the stage and proceeded to tear into the Government’s recent reaction to Aboriginal child abuse issues, scouring the prescribed eleven-point action plan. The first six points were dealt with cynical consideration, but the final five were identified by Johnson to be a direct attack on the Aboriginal process of self-determination.

“The Elephant and the Dragon” refer, of course, to the global powerhouses of India and China; this session aimed to contemplate the impact of the two countries on the world economy & the environment. First up on the panel was Joseph Cheng, quiet but firmly spoken. His primary assertions were that China’s continued growth was a big win for Australia, as it would be resource- and capital-fuelled. He later (bravely) referred to the “September 11 incident“, made mention of the impact on the Taiwanese economy by the return of talented students who had sought to further their education in the USA, and insisted that Australia was in a good position to place international pressure on China – as long as we didn’t kowtow to American interests. Later discussion saw Cheng describe the almost Orwellian approach the Chinese government has to pro-democracy demonstrators, and stated that the current political regime is far more strict on public demonstrations than in 1989.

Ramachandra Guha leapt to the podium with a swaggering confidence. His humorous recap of India’s democratic history – predictions of doom, gloom, and decay for the first 50 years, then constantly predicted to be a superpower – was fabulously entertaining, as was his likening of the two Ghandis at either end of India’s political spectrum to Presidents Jefferson and Bush. Ramachandra owned the stage, and his rapid-fire heavy accent was, at times, a little difficult to follow; but he imparted some absolute gems of information. Tribal people in India being aggressively dispossessed by mining companies; the environment is of little concern to the current government (an is deemed the least glamorous ministry).

Robin Jeffrey also focussed on India, but painted the government in a more positive light – after all, with a nation of many different languages, scripts, and religions, they’ve still managed to maintain a reasonably stable country. This is countered later in proceedings with the observation that TV is becoming a fixture in more and more Indian homes; and with it comes information, particularly the opportunity to see how other parts of India live. This has the potential to create a feeling of disparity where previously none existed.

Colleen Ryan spoke far less favourably of China than Cheng, but also referred to the lack of media penetration (especially in the more isolated provinces). This prevents the knowledge of disparity mentioned above; the poor accept that they are poor, but don’t actively react against it because they simply don’t know there’s any other option. She brings up the point that neither China nor India possess any major brands or corporations; Ramachandra countered that “home-grown” brands need not follow western-established branding models, as Bollywood has shown. Ryan posited that, should the Asian countries start influencing world trade too heavily, the West may respond by simply scaling back globalisation opportunities – a form of selfish protection.

Last on the panel was Philippe Legrain – the poor bugger. As he stated upfront, he had no expert knowledge on either country in question – his area of expertise lay in patterns of migration – and questions posed to him seemed awfully contrived.

The moderated discussion leant heavily on the environment and economic growth, with some eye-opening facts being bandied about, but no real fireworks. Audience questions led to some pretty reasonable topics – the link between democracy and global capitalism, the role of education in the development of these countries, the ability to acquire or manufacture major brands – but the big giggle was the socialist chap who insisted that democracy didn’t work, that the downfall of society was linked to the fabrication of evidence of genocide… blah blah blah. Much hissing and booing to be had there.

How to wrap this up? I learnt a fair bit here, and there’s certainly a few themes that are of interest to me that’ll require a bit more mulling.

Let’s try something a bit different, then…

No sooner do I finally wrap up my 2007 Fringe comments, but I’m about to leap into something a touch different – the 2007 Adelaide Festival of Ideas. I’ve avoided this in the past because… well, I just wasn’t interested; this year, though, its scheduling fits in nicely – so why not, eh?

My expectations going in is that there’s going to be a lot of interesting discourse, the odd bit of pointless pontification, and… well, that’s about it. I’ll be focussing on the panels, rather than the single-person sessions; I’ve been lectured to enough in the past, and hopefully I’ll get to see some decent arguments :)

And with that, I’m off to the opening session: The Elephant and the Dragon. Ugh, PDF session notes only; sorry about that :}