Names not numbers…Posted by ed in blog March 12, 2012
“Cherish the past, adorn the present, construct for the future.” So said Clough Williams-Ellis the visionary architect behind the other-wordly wonder of North Wales that is Portmeirion. This was a suitable mantra to guide the feast-like festival of ideas, insights and inspiration that was this years ‘Names Not Numbers’ event which it was my privilege to attend, and that’s held in his iconic, if ever so slightly eccentric, village creation.
With leading lights and luminaries galore and a delightful accessible, friendly informality to proceedings, it was refreshing to find yourself in both casual and critical conversation with various accomplished, successful folk. Faces whom you are simultaneously familiar with, more than occasionally slightly in awe of, but with whom the currency of ideas and perspectives was being exchanged in a fashion more freely than the most anarchic City trading floor.
Conversation roved like a Lunar Lander into sometimes strange and wonderful new territories of the intellect and imagination, often at the inception of the silver-haired interstellar Shaman, Astronomer Royal Martin Rees. He warned that the next 45M centuries of humanity’s time on earth could be at risk in this the twenty-first and looked forward to our ‘Copernican Demotion’ once we discover extra-terrestrial intelligence. Although given the way we’re currently treating each other and the planet it may well be best, for now at least, to ‘Thank God, we’re alone’.
The high octane delivery of Professor Sarah Churchwell on ‘The Lasting Impact of the American Dream’ was another brilliant highlight. She deftly drew parallels between The Great Depression of the 1930’s and it’s coincidence with the first use of this potent idea. Most astonishing was F. Scott-Fitzgerald’s short story ‘The Swimmers’, published 10 days before the original Wall St Crash, which referred to the game of life effectively being rigged for the 1% in this immortal passage…
Suddenly she pointed to an American girl going into the water: “But that young lady may be a stenographer and yet be compelled to warp herself, dressing and acting as if she had all the money in the world.”
“Perhaps she will have, some day.”
“That’s the story they are told; it happens to one, not to the ninety-nine. That’s why all their faces over thirty are discontented and unhappy.”
Thus one of the most powerful activist ‘frames’ of our own century is conceived, the Occupy movements ‘We are the 99%’.
Other great moments for me included sitting next to David Davies at dinner and thoroughly enjoying a proper round of rambunctious, boisterous and garrulous conversation around populist sustainability. His conservative civil libertarian tendencies aligned amazingly, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, at times with my radical-green-socialist pioneering principles. His Sunday morning provocation on the vigorous mining of our online data by digital business was also challenging, and I felt his affectionate admonition of us sleep-walking into the darkness, instead of demanding personal online property rights was timely, targeted and most definitely true.
When I got home last night after a comfy but lengthy seven hour coach journey in a leather-seated bus that a Premiership footballer would have been delighted with I was very much enjoying the warm, mental aftermath of so much intellectual generosity and mutual challenge. I was revelling in what another participant had described as the ‘oceanic feeling of connectedness’, and not, as Martin Rees had playfully suggested, because of what I’d been smoking…
Huge cheers to Julia Hobsbawm and her sweetly smiling, eternally patient, slickly sophisticated team of seamless superheroes plus the magical mavericks of mysterious Portmeirion for organising…we may have been names not numbers, but the whole was definitely greater than the sum of the parts and we were all prepared to stand up and be counted and most importantly share, collaborate and constructively critique. That matters. More please!