Ideas Matter: Walden Two and radical behaviourism

On 20 June 2020, Battle of Ideas Charity hosted The Academy Online, a series of talks and book discussions exploring the theme Psychology and Democracy.

This podcast features the introductory talk to a discussion on the 1948 novel ‘Walden Two’ by BF Skinner, an American psychologist, author, inventor and social philosopher. Skinner liked to describe his own philosophy as ‘radical behaviorism’ and the novel has gained renewed attention alongside interest in social psychology and behavioural science at a time of a pandemic, when many are keen to understand the factors that shape our decisions and the extent to which we can say we are we conscious agents who determine our own actions.

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The subversive legacy of Christianity

Tom Holland’s Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind provides a fascinating and compelling account of the history of Christianity, how the Bible was created and its legacy in Western morality and thought. And he argues convincingly that Christ’s teachings, and the act of his crucifixion, are the basis for our belief in equality, our commitment to rights and our compassion for our fellow human beings. Yet does Holland overstate his main argument? Is it right to see Christianity as the overriding influence on the Western mind?

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Poverty Safari: why class matters

Poverty Safari: Understanding the Anger of the British Underclass, by Darren McGarvey, won this year’s Orwell prize for political books.

It has quite a backstory. McGarvey, aka Loki, a rapper and columnist, grew up in extreme poverty in Pollok on the outskirts of Glasgow. He battled addiction and homelessness in his teens and early adulthood. It was only because he crowdfunded Poverty Safari that he was able to write it at all. But such was the power of its argument that it quickly rose up bestseller lists and has been praised by many liberals. This is no mean feat for a book that is not only hard-hitting, but that also shows the negative consequences of the ‘well-meaning but privileged assumptions’ of a rather paternalistic left-leaning elite.

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Kershaw’s lesson from the 1930s

There is a common misconception today that fascist rule in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s was an outcome of the ‘will of the people’ and that ‘too much democracy’ led to the meteoric rise of Hitler. Ian Kershaw’s Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris, published in 1988, shows that, on the contrary, the Nazis only succeeded because the ruling class was all too ready to turn its back on a fragile democracy.

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Peer-to-peer sexual abuse: myth or time bomb?

Helene took part in this Battle of Ideas debate with Jon Brown, chair, NOTA Prevention Committee, Dr Carlene Firmin, senior research fellow, University of Bedfordshire, specialising in peer-on-peer abuse, David Perks, founder and principal, East London Science School; director, the Physics Factory, and Deana Puccio, co-founder of The RAP Project, Raising Awareness & Prevention Project.

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Sex, politics and censorship

The political journey of Jerry Barnett, the author of Porn Panic! Sex and Censorship in the UK, has been a fascinating if rather unusual one. His grandfather, Albert, was among the thousands of Jews, locals and Communists who fought off Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts when they tried to march through the Jewish East End in 1936. The Battle of Cable Street, as it became known, was an inspiring example of people taking matters into their own hands. ‘Women threw heavy pots out of the windows on to the fascists’ heads. The police deployed their truncheons against the protesters, but were beaten back, along with the fascists’, writes Barnett. Albert’s daughter, Jerry Barnett’s mother, was also politically active – in the Women’s Lib movement in the 1960s, campaigning for equal rights and sexual liberation. He himself joined the socialist Militant Tendency in the 1970s. But after Margaret Thatcher’s historic defeat of the miners in 1985, Barnett, like many on the left, dropped out of politics.

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What do Leave voters really think?

The EU referendum result exposed the enormous disconnect between the pro-EU views of the political class, and its affluent, metropolitan supporters, and the anti-EU views of the rest of the UK. It also exposed an enormous amount of elite snobbery towards ordinary voters. Many Remainers have been quick to dismiss those who voted to leave the EU as ignorant, foreign-hating, nationalistic bigots. They have also suggested that the issues at stake were too difficult for ordinary voters to comprehend. It’s clear that many Remainers have never stepped foot in strongly pro-Brexit areas, let alone tried to find out what Leave voters really think.

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Tick-box policy won’t raise free-range kids

A new report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on ‘a fit and healthy childhood’ encourages adults to let children engage in more risky activities, including rough-and-tumble play and ‘playing near potentially dangerous elements such as water and cliffs’. Children should also be allowed to go out ‘exploring alone with the possibility of getting lost’, according to the group, which is chaired by Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick and Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Floella Benjamin.

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