The famous opening line from Allan Ginsberg’s poem Howl goes “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…”. This afternoon I got the sense that I simply saw the best minds of my generation as James Surowiecki, George Friedman, Hendrik (Rik) Hertzberg, Richard Holloway, Marcus Chown, and Mohammed Hanif sat in comfy chairs to discuss the deliriously lighthearted topic of where humanity might be going in the next century.
I had hoped that this session might be a little more freeform with the gathered “big brains” perhaps riffing off each others ideas a little more but I guess this was difficult given that each person (notably no women) had quite different “realms of interest”. The next 100 years is a pretty big topic after all and discussion on this could go in any number of directions. Initially Chair Sean Plunket did pretty well in sharing the spotlight amongst the six men but as the hour and a half long session wore on the three Americans tended to dominate necessarily veering the discussion into the area of world economics and politics. James Surowiecki and George Friedman were particularly, yes I will say it, long-winded in their responses to questions.
More interesting to me were those on the other end of the stage. Richard Holloway’s prediction/hope that the Catholic Church would, in the 21st century, ordain woman priests eventually allowing for a Pope Agatha (!) was appealing to the crowd (if the entertained sounds of agreement were anything to go by).
Marcus Chown (who I spoke to earlier in the week and whose interview will be gracing this blog before too long) felt that the coming century would see us discovering another earth-like planet in our galaxy, that we will find evidence of some kind of life on other planets (though it will likely be a very basic form of life), and that we will discover that ours is not the only universe. Quantum theory allows for the existence of parallel universes or the “multiverse” and in a lovely piece of self-deprecation he stated that the idea of this heartened him since “even if this is the worst contribution tonight I can console myself with the knowledge that in another universe you gave me a standing ovation” – which of course prompted a goodly proportion of the crowd to do just that. Nice.
We didn’t hear nearly as much of Mohammed Hanif as I would have liked but he did posit the theory that the next war would be over not oil, or borders but H2O reflecting that at home in Karachi he has modern conveniences like wireless but has to buy his water. He also wondered if shifting morality, which usually moves over time, would eventually make it acceptable to order babies over the internet, possibly sourced from somewhere like Kabul, and that future people would maybe think there was nothing wrong with this. As an aside Hanif’s son has been a regular sight around the festival venue and it’s sort of charming, in an otherwise quite serious and adult environment, to see a reminder children and families.
My fellow festival groupie Richard suggested that I condense what each brilliant fellow had to say in a single sentence and just post that. I thought I had better go into a little more detail hence the above but I find the idea appealing so here is my offering (from left to right on the stage) –
- James Surowiecki – “It’s very interesting and an important issue”
- George Friedman – “America will win” (I notice with some amusement that Paul Reynolds tweeted that this was “Twaddle on steroids”, tee hee)
- Rik Hertzberg – “China will win but otherwise I agree with George”
- Richard Holloway – “All you need is love”
- Marcus Chown – “Cheer up, you guys”
- Mohammed Hanif ‘ “Why do I have to pay for my water?”
As always, if you went to this session (or not) and have something to say about it, then please feel free to make your comments known below…at some point in the next 100 years.