The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Last Night of the Book Festival

Well-organised as always, I completely failed to get a complimentary ticket to the Richard Dawkins event at the Book Festival. But I had a £20 note birthday present that I was determined to spend on a signed copy of The Greatest Show on Earth, so I went along last night on the off-chance. The returns queue was ten or so long at 5.30, which didn't look promising. The book wasn't in the bookshop, and in the signing tent I was told it wouldn't be on sale until just before Dawkins' event finished. I ducked into the Yurt (the Festival's canvas green room), grabbed a coffee, had a chat with Faith Brown and Christopher Brookmyre - both of whom urged me to try for a return - and joined the queue about 6.10, by which time the queue was nearly twice as long, but made up of different people than I'd seen earlier. Every minute or two a return came in and we moved forward by one. I got a ticket at 6.28 and dashed to the main tent, getting in a couple of minutes before the doors closed.

Chaired by Ruth Wishart, the event went well: Dawkins read from his book, had a conversation on stage with Ruth Wishart, then took questions from the crowd. I asked him whether he thought scientists of the Left were doomed to misunderstand him. He replied along the lines that he had sometimes been misunderstood as thinking that how the world is was how it ought to be, or that we should model society on Darwinian nature, which was quite the opposite of how he thought society should be. He'd always thought 'the anti-Darwinian party' would be a good slogan for a decent political party. This statement got a round of applause.

So I got to hand over my twenty pounds and get the book signed.


(I'm about two-thirds of the way through, and it's vintage Dawkins - good solid stuff, with lots of new material.)

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"The Anti-Darwin Party" is a great name for a political group. But why not "Anti Social-Darwinist Party?" That would clinch the point and avoid misunderstandings. Also, your final, parenthetical, remark increases my desire to read "The God Delusion" and the new book. I will do so if TGD gives a capsule summary of all that mathematical reasoning that's of a sort I cannot follow.

Not sure what you're asking, george - there's no mathematical reasoning in The God Delusion, or in the latest book.

Hi Ken---I meant a popular, totally nonmathematical, exposition of possible evolutonary origins of morality (e.g. altruism), cooperation, and/or religious feelings or beliefs. looking at my last post I realise that my phrase "a capsule summary" is far too vague. It's no wonder that you are unsure of what I meant.

For that you want Robert Axelrod's The Evolution of Co-operation.

Thanks Ken, or should I say Tack så mycket. I vaguely remember hearing about the book some years ago. I will look for it in the University Library tomorrow.
BTW, I met SF critic and Brecht scholar Darko Suvin, who spends one month each summer here, with his wife. Besides being fine people they live in the house where the conceiver of panspermia, Svante Arhennius, lived. A nice place. Darko and I are Stapledon fans.

I just reserved The Evolution of Cooperation from the University Library.

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