The John Gray who writes on the big questions drew a pretty full house on Sunday. Chairing the session was Tim Hazledine, Economics Professor at the University of Auckland. He got it off to a good start by saying he was going to have a different format for questions at the end. To sort out blusterers, fools, irrelevance and Scotsmen (don’t know why they got a mention but lucky for him that Joyce wasn’t at the session to give him what for), he had a new system whereby any questions would be put on cards and then enveloped and delivered by the two pages so that only sensible coherent questions were asked. Given some of the questions we had heard from the floor at most sessions, this was a good idea.
Is progress an illusion? Gray feels that in some areas – e.g. science and technology – progress is a fact but in areas like ethics, politics and art it’s a myth. he used as an example, what he called “the rehabilitation of torture” whereby it had moved from an absolute and a huge prohibition to the recent use of torture by the world’s largest democracy (waterboarding as a tool by the U.S.) As another example, slavery may have been abolished in the 19th C. but it essentially returned in the 20th under Stalin and Mao.