Category Archives: Politics

Mark Pottle: ‘”The worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”: Winston Churchill, Isaiah Berlin and Democracy’

Mark Pottle is Isaiah Berlin Legacy Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford. Having studied Modern History at Sheffield University and done his doctoral research at Oxford University, he continues his work on modern British history at Oxford and with emphasis on Isaiah Berlin. Berlin was a Latvian-born Jewish philosopher and political theorist, whose family came to England in 1921, some years after the Russian Revolution. Mr Pottle gave us an insightful talk on democracy – “the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried” as said by Winston Churchill. It was the principal idea behind this quotation that the discussion revolved around: the huge injustices we see in modern day democracies while also knowing its worse alternatives. Mr Pottle also introduced Isaiah Berlin to those of us who had previously been unfamiliar with him, and along with that – his key ideas on Liberalism, Pluralism and their place in, and importance to, democracy.

Ashok Oberoi

Simon Webb: ‘Slavery in Mid-20th-century Essex’

On the 26th of September, author and historian Simon Webb spoke to the Williams Project on the idea of British concentration camps after the second world war, where German prisoners of war were kept to provide forced labour for farming and rebuilding after the war. This is an idea that makes the listener inherently uncomfortable, and a topic that most historians simply gloss over. However, throughout the hour, Simon Webb went into great detail around the events and details that resulted in this, the loopholes that allowed surrendered prisoners of war to be kept for forced labour, and the eventual cancellation of the program during the Nuremburg Trials. Simon kept the audience captivated throughout the talk, which culminated in his excellent answering of the questions proposed to him from the attentive audience.

Michael Newman

Tim Collins: What does an MP do? How does Parliament work? AND Is it right or wrong to lobby Government and Parliament? Do lobbyists make Government decisions better or worse?

On Tuesday 8 March, the Williams Project enjoyed two fascinating political talks from Tim Collins, former MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Education, and now Chairman of the political division of the global communications agency Bell Pottinger. His first talk explained to the younger students what being a Member of Parliament actually entails, after which he discussed the business of political lobbying with the senior students, opening the lid on an huge part of civic life of which many in his audience were scarcely aware beforehand.

tim collins

David Pepper: Spies and the Internet – Security and Intelligence in the Digital Age

On Tuesday 19 January, the Williams Project was treated to an supremely authoritative talk on the effect of the internet and the digital revolution on the work of the intelligence services. Our speaker was the former Director of the intelligence agency GCHQ, Sir David Pepper. Having spent over three decades at GCHQ, Sir David gave his audience a fascinating account of how the business of spying had changed since the days of the Cold War, and the sheer scale of the information now being sifted in the digital age. Discussion ranged from James Bond to Edward Snowden, terrorism, privacy, free speech, international crime, and the accountability of the intelligence services in a democratic state.

david pepper

Marianne Talbot – Trolleyology, and Bioethics: Security and Defence

marianne talbot

This week we had Marianne Talbot as the guest speaker at the Williams project. She is Director Of Studies in Philosophy at the University of Oxford’s Department for Continuing Education.

Her first talk was to the younger members, and was about “Trolleyology” – the thought experiments around whether and under what conditions individuals would intervene to change the direction or progress of a runaway trolley car. If one was heading for 4 people, and you could switch the points so it killed someone else, would you? We soon realised that decisions like this weren’t as simple as utilitarianism would suggest: many in the audience were reluctant to intervene directly to save four by killing one. And would you push a fat man off a bridge to his death to save the four?

Marianne’s second talk is summarised below:

The main theme of the fantastic talk she gave was on whether, given the power of modern biology, there are moral justifications for placing limits (or at least constraints) on the frontiers of academic research, even if it saves lives. The talk was very interactive, with people from many backgrounds getting involved and asking questions; some with interests in philosophy and religion, others with backgrounds in biology and chemistry. People also asked Marianne questions that were related to ethics but not to bioethics, hence widening the scope of the talk, such as the consequences of bio-weapons in Syria to the cure for AIDS. The effects of the lecture could be felt immediately, with many different groups in Chigwell taking on the discussion of other ethical issues such as Abortion and Euthanasia, as well as providing inspiration for the newly founded Biomedical Society.

On the whole the talk was very interesting and informative, leaving the people who attended the talk significantly more knowledgeable about the complex world of bio-ethics and ethics in general. We thank Marianne for finding the time in her busy schedule to come and talk at the Williams Project, and we hope that in the future she might be able to find the time for another lively and fascinating talk at the Williams Project.

Ben Kennedy and Rajas Chitnis

Powerpoints:

Trolleyology

Bioethics

Emma Duncan: “Making sense of the news”

The final meeting in the Williams Project Lent Term diary saw Ms Emma Duncan give a talk on ‘Making sense of the news’ and provide an insight into life as Associate Editor at The Economist magazine, and into the global world of journalism in general.

Ms Duncan began by demonstrating what it is that makes a news story gripping to a reader by making a comparison between the recent assassination of Boris Nemtsov and a Hollywood movie. She also talked about some of the immense complexities of some global political situations and what it is like to keep track of them as a journalist.

The talk was swiftly followed by an extensive question and answer period from pupils and teachers wishing to find out more about what it’s like to work as a news editor and how it is that such a comprehensive publication is put together within just one time-pressured week.

The Williams Project would like to thank Ms Duncan for her time, and for giving such an excellent talk.

James

Emma Duncan at the WP

Emma Duncan at the WP

Alex Wade: “The Happy Consciousness of Pac-Man”

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.

Thomas

Alex Wade at the WP

Rick Findler: War Photography

On the 3rd February, Rick Findler came to the Williams Project to talk about his experiences as a freelance war photographer. Rick started his career photographing minor protests which he felt should be reported, but not finding this to suit him, he turned to more intense situations. These were situations which really mattered. Taking only minimal supplies and an equally eager friend Rick travelled to what may have been his death. It turned out he found his life. Since then, Rick has covered the Libyan revolution and the Syrian Civil War – a feat difficult to achieve due to Assad’s ordering of all foreign journalists as targets – meaning few could go ‘inside’.

His wide range of photos can only be surpassed by the depth of emotion and intensity they portray, from the Royal Wedding to actual life-and-death situations. We have never experienced the suffering Rick has seen, and very few of us ever will, but at least Rick has given us our closest chance yet. Some may say that to photograph the pain is to reinforce it, yet Rick has taught us that the best thing we can do for the victims is to spread their story.

Overall, the talk was gripping and eagerly listened to, and delivered to the best of standards, with Rick showing us the struggles he faced and still faces in his career. The Williams Project will certainly not forget this talk: we would certainly look forward to another.

Rick kindly sent us one of his photographs:

IMG_4477
Adam

Edward Cearns: “A Rainbow of Opinion: Politics and Equality”

Edward Cearns

Edward Cearns

One of the last talks for this term was made by Edward Cearns, an Old Chigwellian who represents the city centre of Cambridge on Cambridgeshire County Council. He made a moving speech uniting politics and equality. The fact that he spoke from his own experience and shared his own ideas and understandings made his talk interesting, easy to understand, and at the same time made everyone in the room think about the world we live in. Mr Cearns spoke of Equality and explained to us what a politician could do about it. He focused mainly on the topic of equality of sexuality, as it was a topic very important to him and also something he has been working on in his council. He was very proud to announce that his council has supported his proposal to fly the rainbow flag every February starting next year.

Mr Cearns also brought to our attention two charities he has been working with, both of which support homosexual, bisexual or transgender people. “sexYOUality” has been involved in telling the story of homosexuals who had to deal with the prejudice of the last century, Section 28, and were treated as “ill”. It also supports young people to come to terms with their sexuality. The second one was “Stonewall”. They had recently produced a film called “Free” also presenting the life of homosexual, bisexual and transgender people nowadays.

I think everyone enjoyed the talk and the “Williams Project” would be happy to welcome back Mr Cearns.

Pavlina

Dr David Pepper: ‘Under the influence: The leaning tower of PISA’

What was so interesting about Dr. Pepper’s talk was the similarity of his presentation to his topic: useful, statistical and logical. He remained engaging, clear and formal throughout.
Beginning with the establishment of himself as a speaker from King’s College London certainly aided this; it built up a level of respect and contextualised his discussion of the education system PISA (the Program for International Student Assessment) and its pros and cons. What could also be noted about his presentation style was his relaxed introduction of PISA firstly by reference to the Italian location, then by a very concise and factual recollection of its aims.
We learnt it is a means of analysing the education systems of different countries by assessing 15-year-old students in the areas of mathematics, science, reading and financial literacy, and we were given some sense of attainment within the system when he presented us with statistics relating to the positions of the United Kingdom and other states over the years. Dr. Pepper presented to us this system as flawed in that it only measured those countries willing to compete, but that it enabled those countries to improve the education system.
With a percentage of those present being unfamiliar with PISA, it was both interesting and developing of our understanding to to learn about its global importance.  What also helped in this was his handling of our questions, as it established, basically and physically, exactly what we were discussing.
It was precisely for this reason that Dr. Pepper’s talk was a memorable and constructive session of the Williams Project, and one to look back on fondly.
Angus
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