The Future and Philosophy - HowTheLightGetsIn 2021
Briefly formulated in one of the first workshops of the festival, Michael Hrebeniak and
Isabelle McNeill’s ‘How to Revolutionise the Academy’, was the question of how to ‘reinstate
that idea of wonder and openness to the world’ in an increasingly marketised higher
education system. And probably the largest takeaway one gets attending HowTheLightGetsIn is its intention to expand the understanding of learning as an intrinsically valuable part of
human nature. A nature which, when presented in the right way, everyone will want and be
able to engage with.
It is difficult to explain to someone what a Philosophy festival would be, primarily because
Philosophy is too often seen as a rigid academic discourse only accessible to the few, but the
nature of HowTheLightGetsIn challenges this understanding and boundary. In attendance,
I didn’t spend my weekend listening to rigid intellectuals lecture in self-assured manners. I
was presented with a festival celebrating open and spirited debate from both traditional
academics and scientists, as well as cultural icons like Peter Tatchell and Lowkey. The
debates, therefore, did not stick to well-drawn out academic lines, instead being
interdisciplinary, anti-elitist, and providing the space for audience members to hold speakers
to account. At the same time, pairing debates and talks with the constant presence of music
and comedy seriously added to the sense of inclusion and openness – we were not told to
listen and engage on a solely intellectual level, we were encouraged to engage on emotional
lines and feel as if we were part of something. This was reflected further by its occurrence in
nature, outside in tents and canopies rather than inside a conference centre.
The most significant benefit that this had was to sort of collapse the liminal veil dividing
speakers from the public, creating the capacity for attendees to have genuine discussions
with speakers outside of talks and debates, which in turn created a more constructive kind
of debate because speakers had to connect with attendees more personally. I’m reminded
quite specifically of watching the Conservative Peer Peter Lilley engage in a debate on
climate change with the Green Peer Natalie Bennett and the Paleoanthropologist Mark
Williams – I engaged all three separately afterwards and discussed these issues from our
own perspectives and the importance they will hold for the future. It is this kind of access
provided by the festival that can’t be underestimated for its importance; academia, science,
and politics should be group discourses inspired by the perspectives that all can bring to the
table – and this festival provided an avenue of access for this.
Indeed, these benefits become very obvious when considering that many younger, more
economically marginalised people managed to attend the festival via various volunteering
schemes which, whilst imperfect, did mean that the festival was available to more than just
paid ticketholders. The student ambassador scheme for example allowed University
students to gain free access for promoting the festival in societies and on campuses, the
festival’s kick-starter scheme provided access in exchange for the helping run events, and
volunteer stewards had complete access beyond their 5-6 hour shifts. Having spoken to several attending under these schemes, a significant positive was seen in how their
attendance challenged academics to appeal to those outside traditional educational
boundaries– some of the most engaging conversations I had post talks and events were with
volunteers, who also readily engaged with speakers at the festival.
Overall, the importance of HowTheLightGetsIn is in what it represents, which is something
we can all get behind. The strong drive to bring academic discourse to a wide margin of the
population is invaluable for future generations, and to a degree mirrors the mission of The
Philosophy Foundation in promoting critical engagement and philosophical thought in
education and society in general.
If you are interested in watching any of the festivals debates and talks, they will be released on iai player over the coming months, which can be accessed here.
Caleb Forward, The Philosophy Foundation
Posted by Lucia Araniyasundaran on 21st September 2021 at 12:00am