On the 10th October, we had a chance to listen to representatives of Solution Not Sides organisation, whose main aim is to promote unbiased attitude to Israel-Palestine conflict. Our school was visited by Israel and Palestinian peace activists, who gave us an introduction into this important problem, as well as talked about their personal experience. We could learn not only about the background and history of the conflict, but also hear about the everyday lives of people living on the both sides. Wasim and Shay, who were the Palestinian and Israeli speakers, shared with us how they are trying to overcome that problem in their home countries, as well as presented their opinion about possible solutions to the issue. After the presentation, all Williams Project listeners could participate in the discussion and take part in questions and answers session. At the end, speakers encouraged us to think about our ideas for the possible solution to the problem, which won’t favour any side of the conflict. The presentation was a great possibility to hear about the conflict directly from people that it concerns. After this edition of Williams Project, all participants surely changed their attitude to the conflict, trying to find an effective solution, rather than opt for any of the sides.
This Williams Project we had the opportunity to meet and talk to Rick Findler, a war photographer who has just come back from Syria. He has also photographed conflicts in Libya, Somalia and Iraq and his dramatic photos have headlined on major publishers such as the Guardian and the Independent. We talked about the inherent dangers and risks that come with going to war zones and what Rick’s experience of it was. He told us about both his recent and past experiences, focusing primarily on his friendships with a sniper, Macer, who went to Syria on his own accord from London, and a Syrian fighter, Sofian. He told us how Sofian had unfortunately been killed and we then progressed to discuss Sofian’s life as a fighter before discussing Rick’s other experiences. The lively discussion ended with a video Rick filmed at a previous conflict to reinforce how loud war is and exactly what life looks like on the front line. What we all took from this WP was the importance of raising awareness of war through the media, as many aspects of its danger are often ignored.
Ash and Leah
Old Chigwellian Dr Tomáš Cvrcek, lecturer of Economics at UCL and admissions tutor for the innovative new degree History, Politics and Economics, treated the Williams Project to an in-depth look at the nature of modern-day relationships, and how one can take basic principles of economics (e.g. supply and demand, market equilibrium and making value judgements) and apply them to ‘the marriage market’. As the talk progressed, it became clear that one can choose to view the ‘dating’ scene with a rather clinical eye, choosing partners based upon a rigid list of preference and weighing up the opportunity cost of choosing someone else over another e.g. Person A may not end up with Person B because Person B places a higher value upon Person C, but may still be able to end up with Person D, who they value to a lesser extent but is the next best option due to the constraints of the market. However, Dr Cvrcek also concentrated on the various historical and cultural factors that affect how ‘the game’ is played – for instance, although we in the UK base the ‘rules of the game’ upon one-to-one relationships, certain cultures may base the ‘rules of the game’ around many-to-one relationships, for example when a husband has multiple wives. Historical factors considered included the nature of middle-upper class relationships in Victorian Britain (where suitable partners were chosen by the parents of the couple in question, hence personal preferences did not hold as much weight) and scenarios such as arranged relationships/marriages. By the end of the talk, a vast array of topics and scenarios had been covered, leaving the audience significantly more enlightened and informed.
tomas cvrcek and mr lord
the marriage game in action
Death is a taboo subject, and on 11th October Clare Bodalbhai and Amelia Hart came to Chigwell School and set up a death café to have open conversations in small groups about something that people usually shy away from talking about. With tea and cake to normalise the conversation and to open up the atmosphere, the death café posed questions about death that most people do not think about. What kind of music would you want played at your funeral? How do other traditions and cultures deal with death? Who would you want at your funeral? The café gave people an opportunity to openly express themselves; be they facing fears, or overcoming grief.
At this the first meeting of the year we were delighted to have with us Patricia and Jonny Williams, widow and son of Bernard.
John Gardner (Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford) introduced us to his topic by first discussing his step-son, now in the process of applying to do Philosophy at a Scottish university. He talked of the boy’s reluctance to move on to that new stage because of the inevitability of having to separate from his Sixth Form friends, something that was certainly on my mind and surely on the minds of some of the other audience members in similar positions. From this we began to debate the necessity of a ‘friend’, and it was suggested that a friend was someone who was the ‘most useful’. This prompted the question of whether letting go of ‘useful’ friends would create the opportunity for more ‘useful’ friends, as well as the response that surely friends are a crucial part of our identity, at least in the forming of our character. The other example John used was an instalment of ‘Charlie & Lola’ in which Lola won’t let go of a specific library book, which she reads upon every visit, only to arrive at the library one day to discover that another child is reading that book, and instead she becomes infatuated with a new one. Although quite a simplistic example, it did help to keep the philosophy relevant.
The choice we were constantly presented with (and voted repeatedly on) was the compensation mentioned in the title: should somebody who undergoes, for example, a car accident and loses a limb, be compensated with either the closest thing to what they lost, with a completely different opportunity to start something new – what in effect is best for them now, or with nothing at all? We discussed this in terms of people’s worth to society, and if it was worth the state or some other financial entity giving them compensation at all, but also in terms of whether, by the very nature of the car accident, their outlook and impact on society would be changed.
All in all a very thought-provoking talk, and a fantastic start to the next year of Williams Project lectures.
The meeting in progress
This week’s Williams Project meeting saw Alex Wade of Birmingham City University give a wide-ranging talk on ‘The Happy Consciousness of Pac-Man’. The much-loved, chomping, yellow character was analysed not just as a game but as an influence and reflection of ’80s and modern society, whether it be in his RAVE-like habit of popping pills or in his consumerist desire to never stop eating. We’d like to thank Mr Wade for his excellent talk which enlightened us not just on video games but also gave us an insight into some of the wider aspects of our culture and technology.
Mr Wade started by warming up the audience with some ’80s jokes, before talking about ’80s culture and its parallelism to the game itself. He carefully explained the idea of Pac-Man, that you play as a small, yellow creature who must eat power pellets in order to eat ghosts, all inside a maze from which there is no escape. As you get to higher and higher levels, the mazes become more complex and difficult to escape from. He spoke elegantly about the game’s popularity in the ’80s, and also about how it is perceived by some to be more well-suited to females than males, as the ghosts never die when they are eaten, but merely float back to the “ghost box”, unlike most modern video games in which the characters often die. He also kept the audience entertained with fun facts about the game – for example, he told us that the shape of the character Pac-Man was originally inspired by a pizza with one slice missing.
However, for me, the most impressive part of Mr Wade’s speech was the final part, in which he expanded on his ideas about Pac-Man’s link to capitalism. In a broad, sweeping gesture, he stated: “Pac-Man is all about eating.” And so, he went on to say, is life. Pac-Man must eat power pellets in order to eat ghosts in order to live, so that it can eat more power pellets in order to eat more ghosts etc. In the same way, the population of a capitalist society are trapped in a cycle of consuming for the sake of consuming, buying more and more goods just to thrive in society. A cycle from which escape is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Of course, the hugely challenging question which this point causes us to ask is “is there a better alternative?” Would it be better to have a society with poor consumption (Communism) or one with excessive consumption?
A fascinating message delivered in a clear, confident manner, it is certain that all those who were present at Mr Wade’s talk will be thinking about it for a long time, and many thanks must go to the speaker for a thought-provoking session.
The Ancient Greeks and Romans placed a huge amount of importance on their sexual being, and had a keen interest in the biological and psychological mechanisms behind lust and carnal desire. Daisy Thurkettle’s talk at the Williams Project on provided a fascinating insight into the various botanical and pharmaceutical methods that the ancients used to synthesise lust and cure impotence (or perhaps less eloquently, ‘get in the mood’). The talk began on the use of essential oils in swathes in royal palaces, such as Cleopatra (who allegedly bathed in milk and rose), but the audience was quickly surprised to learn that love potions and cures for impotence were not only used by the femmes-fatales and powerful goddesses of myth, but by actual Greek people.
These cures included a mass of vegetables and plants which were, perhaps obviously, considered to have genitally-themed aesthetics (leeks, carrots and terebinth tree, anyone?). However, what really gripped the audience were the variously disgusting, poisonous and cannibalistic ingredients; these included dried human marrow, powdered silver beetle, wolfsbane, skink lizard and the famed hippomane – a piece of membrane found on the head of a newborn foal, which was mixed with milk to create the potion Dido made for Aeneas. Needless to say, any combination of some of these ingredients probably caused more death than arousal.
Miss Thurkettle called on a wide range of texts – fragments by various ‘unknown’ ancient authors, texts by Apuleius (including the famous Golden Ass), Hippocrates, and even the Bible. The overarching message of the talk was that the ancients were actually scientifically wise beyond their time in the discovery of some biologically effective aphrodisiacs, but were also developed psychologically (perhaps unintentionally) in their use of the placebo effect.