Paul Fawkesley

How The Light Gets In 2024

White tents and colourful flags in a green tree-lined valley of Hay-on-Wye

On 24-27th May 2024 we returned to Hay-on-Wye for one of our favourite festivals.

This post is a reminder of which talks and debates we went to. It’s for me: probably not so interesting for others.

The Democracy Show

Amy Chua, S Y Quraishi, Sophie Scott-Brown.

There can be little doubt, judging from wall-to-wall media coverage, that we assume elections profoundly affect our lives. But there’s a risk they have far less impact than we imagine. A recent wide-ranging study of Western governments over the last thirty years remarkably showed no relation between the ideological outlook of citizens and actual social policy. Moreover critics from right and left argue that it is unelected officials and corporations that primarily determine policy. Meanwhile, long-standing political challenges like social care and wealth inequality remain unaddressed for decades despite changing governments.

Should we conclude that leaders and governments rarely make a significant difference to core policy? Are elections largely about a show of democracy rather than the actuality? Could and should we change this state of affairs and if so how? Or is the belief that elections are important essential to democratic nation-states?

Anarchist philosopher Sophie Scott-Brown, former Indian Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi and author Amy Chua, lock horns over the effectiveness of elections.


The Real Me

Anneli Jefferson, Jack Symes, Frank Tallis, Steve Taylor. Joanna Kavenna hosts.

Many identify themselves with their inner voice - the silent voice in our heads we can use to think, plan and ponder. But from Lacan to Nietzsche many have warned this inner voice is not ourselves, nor is it innocent or harmless. Studies from Durham University and Trinity College Dublin link the inner voice with increased anxiety. While others show those that take their own lives are often tortured by a subliminal voice. Furthermore, research at Imperial, and the University of Michigan found evidence that when our inner voice is reduced mental health improves.

Should we conclude the inner voice is not the “real me”, and its voice should be treated with caution? Should we seek to quieten the inner voice using techniques like psychotherapy, and meditation, and would doing so help combat the mental health crisis? Or did we evolve an inner voice for a reason, and should we see it as our conscience, a problem solving tool and as a guide in our lives?

Psychologist and author Steve Taylor, Anneli Jefferson, award-winning author and psychologist Frank Tallis, and Durham philosopher Jack Symes, debate whether the inner voice is the self.

The Creativity Crisis

Judith Donath, Martha Fiennes, John Ralston Saul.

Creativity is often seen as a uniquely human quality. But with generative AI competing with and rivalling human skills, is this core facet of humanity under threat? As machines demonstrate an increasingly sophisticated ability to generate art, music, and literature, the once-sacred notion of human exclusivity in creativity is being questioned. 75% incorrectly identify AI artworks as man-made, while creatives globally are fearful of cuts to earnings and jobs as they face off with the new technology.

Do we have to accept that there is nothing special about the originality of humans, and creativity once so prized is a skill machines can also master? Do we need to reassess what it means to be human and with it the future of innovation, and invention? Or are the skills and qualities of generative AI overhyped and in fact no more than the dumb and repetitive combination of insights initiated by humans?

Film director Martha Fiennes, computer scientist Judith Donath, and award-winning essayist John Ralston Saul, explore how AI affects what it means to be human.

In association with [New Humanist.])


The Indian Century

S Y Quraishi, Alpa Shah, Kate Sullivan de Estrada.

The world’s largest democracy, India, is seen as the West’s obvious ally against the growing might of China. But might there be a risk that India is not the stalwart ally the West has assumed? Question marks have been raised about India’s attachment to freedom and democracy. In the last 20 years they fell from 27th to 108th in democracy rankings and to 161st out of 180 in press freedom. In foreign policy India is at best ambiguous. Ignoring sanctions on Russia, India is the third largest buyer of Russian oil. And in 2017 joined Russia and China in the economic and defence group, SCO.

Is it time to recognise that Modi’s India, with the largest population in the world and the fastest growth, has its own agenda independent of the West? Will India be central to a future world where the West and its values are a sideshow? Or will history and culture bind India to Western values in the long term?

Former Chief Election Commissioner of India S.Y. Quraishi, Professor of Anthropology at the LSE Alpa Shah, and Oxford Director of Contemporary South Asian Studies Kate Sullivan de Estrada, debate India’s role in the future of the world.

Something for Nothing

Dan Ariely, Paul Bloom, Nancy Sherman.

Rewards are the means of all government’ proclaimed US President John Adams. A principle we have adopted in many areas of our lives, from children’s gold stars and prizes to incentives at work, and religious tales of paradise to come. But evidence now suggests there are risks to this approach. Studies show rewards can damage wellbeing fostering dependence and undermining our own sense of control. And neuroscientists have shown those more prone to seeking reward have a 70% higher risk of addiction, with addictive behaviour now present in almost half of the U.S. population.

Should we seek to wean ourselves off reward and instead learn to experience the present for its own sake? Should we adopt a Stoic framework where action and virtue are seen as their own ends? Or is the current culture of reward in personal and professional life not only hugely beneficial but a much more effective means of social intervention than the punishment regimes of the past?

Best-selling psychologist Paul Bloom, world-leading behavioural economist Dan Ariely, and Stoic expert Nancy Sherman debate the risks of rewards.


Navigating the New World Order

Christina Lamb, Bronwen Maddox, Armen Sarkissian.

In the closing decades of the last century, many were critical of American global dominance. But twenty years on America’s relative decline has ushered in a new multipolar era that many contend is profoundly more dangerous. We have an unpredictable conflict in Europe larger than anything since World War II and international tension greater than at any point since the height of the Cold War. Meanwhile from the Middle East to the South China Sea, a host of regional conflicts have the potential to spiral out of control, and the new world order looks increasingly precarious.

Can we navigate to safety through international cooperation and treaties? Do we need to align in power blocks to provide overall defence, or is it safer to remain independent providing less of a threat to others? Or is the only solution for one nation or alliance to once again become globally dominant?

Former President of Armenia Armen Sarkissian, Chief Executive of Chatham House Bronwen Maddox, and leading war correspondent Christina Lamb, debate whether the global dominance of one geo-political bloc is safer for world order.


Better Left Unsaid

Theodore Dalrymple, Vanessa King, Simon Wessely.

Unexpressed emotions never die… but are buried alive and come forth later in uglier ways’ claimed Sigmund Freud. Today we’ve gone a step further with the assumption that expressing feelings is important for mental well-being. We praise the sharing of mental health struggles, encourage men to express their emotional troubles, and uphold journaling as a valuable daily routine. But there’s a problem. A recent study by Cambridge scientists showed that people trained to suppress negative thoughts, rather than unpack them, felt better and improved their wellbeing. Those with mental health issues benefitted the most. Meanwhile with millions seeking therapy, over half say they receive little or no benefit.

Might we all, and therapists in particular, be making a fundamental mistake in thinking the expression of emotions is always beneficial? Can we improve wellbeing and address the mental health crisis with the suppression of negative thoughts and feelings? Or would this re-embed the stigma surrounding mental health and reverse hard-won progress?

Cultural critic Theodore Dalrymple, psychiatrist Simon Wessely, and positive psychology specialist Vanessa King debate whether Freud was dangerously wrong.


Land, Ownership and Hypocrisy

Tommy Curry, Peter Singer, Janne Teller, Dale Turner.

Since Magna Carta, we assume individuals have a right to the property or land that they own. If nations, like Ukraine, are invaded we champion their right to retrieve their land. But there is a risk these principles which we think universal are only applied to the strong. 95% of the native population in North America was wiped out by European invasion. Just two hundred years ago the first removal of Native Americans took place and since then 99% of their land has been taken and is now deemed to be ‘owned’ by others. The small number of Native Americans remaining suffer severe inequalities in health, wealth and education. Little has been done to redress the situation and almost no one is proposing returning the land.

Should we accept that principles of rights to ownership apply only to the strong? Is the widely held belief in inalienable rights in fact hypocritical and only applied when convenient or desirable? Or is our attachment to universal rights genuine and should we be returning a major part of the land in North America to its original inhabitants?

Renowned philosopher Peter Singer, professor of indigenous political thought Dale Turner, author Janne Teller, and professor of race Tommy Curry, debate land and ownership.


What Is Meaningful Work?

Nilufar Ahmed, Caleb Althorpe, Guy Standing, Isabel Berwick. Avery Anapol

People in the workforce want their jobs to give them purpose and meaning. But in a world of remote working and disillusionment with capitalism, is there even such a thing as ‘meaningful work’? And in the world of digital transformation, can there be meaning in life without it? Join Avery Anapol from The Conversation, FT podcaster Isabel Berwick, political philosopher Caleb Althorpe, psychologist and psychotherapist Nilufar Ahmed, and commentator Aaron Bastani Guy Standing, as they try to discover what meaningful work is, and debate whether it’s worth pursuing.

In association with The Conversation.

The Equality Dream

John Bercow, Lisa Cameron, Tommy Curry, Vicky Pryce.

Ever since the French Revolution, equality has been the battle cry of those who think themselves progressive. Today on matters of gender and income most want a more equal world and think more should be done to deliver it. But there is a risk that no one really knows what kind of equal world they want, and some critics argue focusing on equality is self-defeating. We don’t for example want equality with the lives of others we see as undesirable. And since the 1970’s while there have been significant advances in women’s rights studies show women’s happiness to have decreased. While in the workforce despite the widespread introduction of diversity initiatives, 62% of workers said the programs aren’t effective and half say the programs failed them personally.

Does the demand for equality risk forcing everyone to adopt the same life goals as those driven by money and power? Instead of equality should we focus on the rights and wellbeing of all individuals? Or is the call for equality a key and essential political goal that we cannot afford to abandon or water down?

Former Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow, philosopher of race Tommy Curry, economist Vicky Pryce, and Conservative MP Lisa Cameron, debate what we want from equality.

Humanity and the Gods of Nature

Nancy Sherman, Peter Singer, Slavoj Žižek.

From the time of Socrates we have seen morality as driven by human desires and goals. But many now argue that this human focus is misguided and leaves the natural world in peril. By prioritising human well-being they contend, we have ransacked the earth, eradicated and misused other species, and taken insufficient care of our home, the Earth. We are even planning to do the same to other nearby planets. It is not sufficient for us to protect nature for our benefit, instead they argue nature needs to be preserved for its own sake.

Do we need to re-think morality to find a new framework that no longer places humans at the centre? If so, how are we to assess the well-being of nature independently of our human perspective? Or is the notion that we can escape human goals and desires itself deluded, risking a return to an age where humans are sacrificed to the gods of the natural world?

Firebrand philosopher Slavoj Žižek, renowned ethicist Peter Singer, and Georgetown professor of philosophy Nancy Sherman, question human centred morality.

The Life and Philosophy of Peter Singer

Peter Singer is one of the world’s leading philosophers, renowned for his challenging and often controversial views. From animal ethics to effective altruism, Singer has shaped the philosophical landscape. Join this event to uncover the key events in his life that led to his ideas, and hear him answer his critics and defend the convictions that have made him the force that he is today.

DokBox films

These films were all in the cinema. We didn’t go but they it looked like a great list to catch up with later.

Your 100 Year Life

All around the world people are living longer than ever before. But can we afford it? In our wealthiest nations, old age homelessness is on the rise and so is the number of pensioners using food banks. This documentary uncovers the root of the problem and what we can do to solve it.

In Search of Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo is one of the most iconic artists of all time. This film follows one of her biggest fans, international acclaimed musician Emeli Sandé, as she retraces the life behind the legend. With rare archive footage and exclusive access, this personal film is a unique look at the life of the artist.

Burnout: The Truth About Work

We are busier than ever, working longer hours, with 247 communication access and striving to meet increasing targets. This raises the fundamental question: Why do we even work? This film delves into how excessive working is harming us and destroying the planet, and reveals what we can do about it.


Sarain Fox examines the past, present and future of queerness for the indigenous LGBTQ+ community. Dive into the history of Canada’s queer indigenous population and explore the nature of Two-Spirit identities with the help of knowledge-keepers, community leaders, and even Drag Race’s Illona Verley.

Doing it in Public

Challenging the notion that art is only for the elite, this film demonstrates the importance of public art work in encouraging art for everyone to experience, enjoy and learn from. Featuring the work of renowned international artists Jeff Koons, Marina Abramovic, Gilbert & George and more.

AI & You

Artificial intelligence is evolving at a staggering pace, but how much do we actually understand it? This documentary reveals how AI is rapidly transforming the human experience, exploring the positive developments in health, education and climate action, as well as its dangers.

The Pill Revolution

Why is there such limited research into the contraceptive pill? Why are women offered so little choice? What can be done to improve women’s healthcare? Davina McCall tackles the troubling truth behind the pill, busting myths, taboos and fake news.


This award-winning documentary reveals an inspiring and intimate story of Palestinian youth living in the Occupied Territories. The new generation practices parkour and photography as a means to resist and overcome personal and political obstacles.


This award-winning film takes the audience behind the lens of the world’s leading conflict photographers. Across diverse, interwoven stories we follow the photographers’ attempts to make the world a better place by bearing witness.

Oman from Above

Oman is the oldest independent state in the Arab world and has a rich and unique history. Discover the beauty and culture of this fascinating country with this stunning aerial journey that visits over 50 sites.

Keeping Music Alive

Zohra’, Afghanistan’s first, award-winning female orchestra, wowed audiences across the world. Now, they face great danger as the Taliban returns. The girls still in the country go into hiding, while those who fled are mounting an international rescue campaign.

Living for Art

In this award-winning film, artist Sookoon Ang explores the real lives and struggles of contemporary artists from Paris and Berlin to Japan and New York. Featuring candid conversations and cutting-edge artworks, the film questions the systems that govern artists’ careers and livelihoods.

The Last Seed

Discover Africa’s fight for seed sovereignty and its ramifications for global agriculture and nutrition.From farm to laboratory, this science-driven film uncovers the stunning landscapes of Africa and thehidden history of industrial farming.

Breaking the Taboo

Narrated by Morgan Freeman, this documentary uncovers the UN sanctioned war on drugs, charting its origins and its devastating impact from the USA to Colombia and Russia. Featuring presidents Clinton and Carter, the film exposes the biggest failure of global policy in the last 50 years.

When Titans Clash: De-Risking Decoded

The West is currently striving to de-risk its economies from exposure to China, meaning China’s economy is losing billions in foreign investment. This award winning series returns to investigate the shifting tides of this new economic world order, with exclusive access inside the USA, India and China.

Ximei: Fighting China’s AIDS Scandal

Discover the story of Ximei, a Chinese woman fighting for fellow AIDS patients who became infected with HIV during China’s “Black Blood Economy”, when the government encouraged millions of farmers to sell their blood.

Accidental Anarchist

Executive produced by Alex Gibney, this is the remarkable story of how Carne Ross, once a leading UK diplomat, became an anarchist. Rebelling against the establishment, he discovers a new form of politics, so relevant for these turbulent times.

F*ck Berlin

This taboo-busting series throws open the doors of Berlin’s famously progressive sex scene where everything is possible and no one is judged; so long as the other person ‑ or people ‑ are into it. Discover the radical power of self-acceptance. Sign up to our newsletter

Ian Hislop’s Fake News (film)

Ian Hislop mines 200 years of history to identify what motivates fake news - from profit, power and politics to prejudice, paranoia and propaganda ‑ as well as to try to figure out what to do about it.

Will’s Book

400 years ago, two actors preserved Shakespeare’s legacy by compiling his works into the First Folio, saving plays like Macbeth and Twelfth Night from obscurity. Led by scholars, this documentary explores the greatest rescue in cultural history.

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