Birmingham Salon

Saturday March 18th - After Brexit

After Brexit

The economy after Brexit

Is democracy working?

Saturday 18th March, 1 pm - 5 pm

The Old Joint Stock, 4 Temple Row West, Birmingham B2 5NY

One afternoon: two debates
Further details and speakers to be announced.


Post Socratic Dialogue on Love

Love: A Post-Socratic Dialogue

Wednesday 15th February, 7.30 pm

The Victoria, John Bright Street, Birmingham, B1 1BN

The Socratic Dialogues are the earliest forms of classical Greek philosophy, dating back to 300 BC. Nearly all of the original Socratic Dialogues are stories that repeat different variations of the same plot: Socrates wanders around the marketplace and asks different people questions designed to make the reader see that these people are full of shit. In doing this, Socrates thus exposes the right way to think about various philosophical issues, from the conditions of justice to the origins of language, and yes, the nature of love. 

On February 16th the Birmingham Salon will be listening to and discussing one of Philosopher Dr Greg Scorzo’s ‘Post-Socratic Dialogues’ about Love. Here there is no Socrates. It’s not clear who is full of shit. You have to think for yourself.

Post-Socratic Dialogues are thought experiments that unfold in real time. Unlike traditional philosophy, you don’t engage with them by thinking about universal principles and then applying them to concrete situations. Rather, you do something which is more akin to real life; you have to make philosophical judgments about a situation, and then think about how that judgment changes your understanding of the issues raised. 

The Love Dialogue will not straightforwardly endorse a philosophical position. Rather, the goal is to induce the audience to look at contrasting arguments that explore and challenge their own pre-existing viewpoints. Like the original Socratic dialogues and unlike a conventional piece of philosophy, the context of this exploration will be a conversation.

The conversation is between a couple called Janet and Joe, which challenges us to re-examine the way we normally think about love. It will interrogate the assumption that love is selfless, grounded in altruism, honesty, commitment, and an unconditional acceptance of the beloved. We will then commence a group discussion, lead by Dr Scorzo, where the audience will get to try and make sense of the paradoxes the dialogue will induce them to grapple with.

Dr Greg Scorzo is a Director and Editor of the online magazine CULTURE ON THE OFFENSIVE. He obtained a PhD in meta-Ethics, (2011) following an MA in Ethics and Political Philosophy from the University of Nottingham. He has taught a wide range of philosophy seminars including Plato, political philosophy, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind as well as developing and running his own course on The Art of Thinking.

We ask for a donation of £3 per person to cover our costs.


BIG DATA: Big Brother or Big Society?

Thursday 10th November, 7.30pm at The Victoria, John Bright Street, Birmingham B1 1BN

Everyone from the government to your supermarket wants to know all about you – your interactions, your movements through real and virtual spaces, what you like to do, how you spend your money and much more besides.  Surveillance technology has been expanding for decades, but questions about who on earth is going to sift through all this information and make sense of it are now being answered.  New developments in software are giving the state and big business the means to put all these bits of information together and map out the patterns of our daily lives.   The big society means big data!

When it comes to making evacuation plans in the event of a natural disaster, bringing greater efficiency into businesses, or developing crime prevention strategies, this is not all bad news. But who should have the right to know so much about our private lives?  How can we be certain how they will use it or who they will share it with?

Even if all our personal information can be kept anonymous are big data algorithms the best way to make sense of human behaviour?  Are we merely data points in a scientific meta-analysis? Are these techniques set to extend the power of the nudge, influencing our behaviour in ever more subtle ways? 

The debate is produced and will be chaired by Chrissie Daz

Timandra Harkness, author of a new book entitled ‘Big Data: Does Size Matter?’ will be tackling these questions and more.


Can Pornography Ever Be Liberating?

Thursday 22nd September, 7.30pm at The Victoria, John Bright Street, Birmingham B1 1BN

Pornography is one of the visual expressions of sex and sexuality.  Among the oldest surviving examples of erotic depictions are Palaeolithic cave paintings and carvings, which suggests that that looking at pictures of naked bodies is an ancient habit.

In modern times, though, there is widespread concern that communication technologies have led to the unhealthy and excessive proliferation of pornography. Does the ability to access explicit sexual images from our smartphones represent sexual liberation or corruption?

A massive growth in the production of pornography has prompted producers and performers to push the boundaries of their work in order maintain profits and stay ahead in a very busy market.  It is possible to argue that that this gives us more choice and information about sexual behaviour, but are these vivid images also confusing and desensitising? Young men say they are being traumatised by violent sexual imagery, and some young people are reported to be exposed to pornography before their first kiss.  How do we balance our responsibility to protect children and teenagers with the liberty to engage with pornography without resorting to hypocrisy?

Some feminists and seek to ban all pornography on the grounds that it leads to the objectification of women and rape.  Are the anti-porn feminists very different from religious leaders who call for women to cover themselves up in order to avoid sexually inciting men? More and more people claim they are ‘addicted’ to viewing sexually explicit material. Is this just a symptom of modern childishness, or are we enslaved rather than liberated by pornography.

The debate is produced and will be chaired by Rosie Pocklington.

Luke Gittos is law editor at spiked, a British Internet magazine focusing on politics, culture and society from a humanist and libertarian viewpoint. He is also solicitor practising criminal law and convenor of the London Legal Salon.

Jerry Barnett is an author, technologist, photographer and activist. His long experience in anti-fascist politics led him to become a dedicated campaigner for free speech and sexual freedom, and he founded the Sex & Censorship campaign in 2013. His book Porn Panic! was published in August by Zero Books.


You, Me, and the EU – Should We Stay or Go?

Wednesday 15th June, 7.30 pm 
at The Victoria, 46 John Bright Street,  Birmingham

In the run-up to the EU referendum, both sides have played up the hazards of leaving or staying, leading to a depressing and fearful atmosphere. Competing lists of professionals or chief executives in favour of either side add noise rather than illumination.

The two sides in the referendum don’t divide neatly along party political lines. This means many of us voting either way will be in the company of those we wouldn’t normally look to for leadership. Those unsure of how to vote might well have felt  patronised by the £9 million leaflet when they wanted information rather than persuasion. 

Certainly, as we’ve been members of the EU for so long, the prospect of it not being a major part of our lives is unsettling. Neither the UK economy nor that of the Eurozone is performing well at the moment. How it will be affected if we leave or stay is difficult to call. Jeremy Corbyn suggests leaving will lead to a bonfire of workers’ rights. But others on the left have argued that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is just as big a threat.

For those who want to leave, the idea of remaining within a structure that operates on increasingly supranational lines is disturbing.  If the EU is so bad for sovereignty and democracy, our longstanding membership may have made us somewhat confused in our thinking about these things. For instance, does being in favour of UK sovereignty make you a pull-up-the-drawbridge nationalist leaving refugees to die in the sea? Can we make the EU more democratic by staying in?


Roger Godsiff, Labour MP for Birmingham Hall Green - to be confirmed depending on House of Commons business

Dr Huw Macartney, Senior Lecturer, Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham.  Huw is a political economist whose work is broadly concerned with the politics of banking and financial services.  He is the author of European Democratic Legitimacy and the Debt Crisis, and Variegated Neoliberalism: European Financial Market Integration.

Rob Lyons, Science and Technology Director for the Institute of Ideas and Campaigns Manager for  Action on Consumer Choice. Rob is a journalist specialising in science, technology, health, food and the environment, and the author of Panic on a Plate: How Society Developed an Eating Disorder.

Chair: Rosie Cuckston

This is a free event.


European Demos - A Historical Myth - Section 2 dispels what it sees as the myths of the EU and Section 3 argues that the EU is in the European tradition of top down attempts at state building

Frank Furedi points out that European history includes the development of the ideals of toleration and liberty in whilst Yanis Varoufakis believes that a Brexit will give most likely give rise to nationalism and xenophobia


National Happiness, Immortality & Freedom Service: Are the UK’s Mental Health Needs too much for the NHS?

Thursday 12th May 2016.
6pm to 8pm at Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, 75 Harborne Road, Birmingham B15 3DH

As part of our ongoing collaboration with Birmingham Medical Institute, we will be exploring the extraordinary demands that mental health is making on the NHS, with a prestigious discussion panel that includes Luciana Berger MP, Shadow Minister for Mental Health.

In January 2016 the Prime Minister announced ‘a revolution in mental health treatment’. The previous year, the President of the Royal College of Psychiatry had advised the NHS in England to commit to ‘the biggest transformation of mental health care across the NHS in a generation, pledging to help more than a million extra people and investing more than a billion pounds a year by 2020/21’. A Mental Health Taskforce then set about creating and publishing a five-year all-age national strategy for mental health. 

Is this revolution enough to address what Luciana Berger MP has referred to as a ‘perfect storm”? After all, patients are struggling to get a referral, waiting times across the country are far too long, and ‘global recession and austerity’ place strains on people everywhere. 

Beneath all the talk of savings and efficiencies, you don’t have to be a health economist to understand that if there is less money in there will eventually be less care going out. Much is made of legally-enshrined definitions of quality as ‘patient safety, clinical effectiveness and patient experience’.  But if the primary aim and money goes to wellbeing, happiness and preventative health, how do you fund the treatment of pre-existing conditions such as psychosis?  

Alongside austerity, the number of people detained subject to the Mental Health Act 1983 has been growing, with the CQC informing us that ‘there were over 50,000 uses of the Mental Health Act in 2012/13 – the highest number ever recorded’.  Efforts to reverse the trend of costly and distressing detention with increased freedom and wellbeing can rub up against aims for safety and the tragedies of suicide and homicide. Inquiries all too often result in calls to observe patients more closely and not let them leave hospital. Indeed if health professionals fail to deprive people of their liberty, they are increasingly likely to lose their own liberty in the event of a death. David Sellu, for instance, was found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence in 2013.
So in this brave new world, how can the NHS Mental Services meet the UK’s mental health needs?

Luciana Berger MP, Shadow Minister for Mental Health

Dr Jonathan Shapiro, Chairman of Education for Health

Tamar Whyte, Peer Worker

Inspector Michael Brown, Mental Health Cop

Dr Muj Hussain, Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist

The debate will be chaired by Dr Jonathan Hurlow.

Recommended Readings

Easter Rising 1916 – Heroes or Villains?

Thursday 14th April 2016.
7.30pm at The Victoria, John Bright Street, Birmingham B1 1BN

Easter 1916, one hundred years ago, Irish revolutionaries rose against the British Empire proclaiming a Republic from the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin. In five days of intense fighting, the men and women of the Easter Rising were defeated by the overwhelming force of the British Army, and their leaders were executed.

But the Easter Rising lit a fire that ended with the entire country turning against Westminster’s rule, and founding a nation.

Kevin Rooney will argue that the Easter Rising was an inspiration to those who were challenging the Empires of Europe – from India to Vietnam, from New Zealand to Moscow. It was an inspiration to British activists like John Maclean and Sylvia Pankhurst, and it was an inspiration to the Irish men and women who rose up against British rule to free their nation.

Kevin Rooney
Kevin Rooney is a teacher and writer, co-author of Who’s Afraid of the Easter Rising? 1916-2016. Kevin first took part in the Commemoration of the Easter Rising in Belfast, 1972.

Recommended Reading:

Will poking around in the embers of Irish history rekindle old flames? Asks David Reynolds, New Statesman, July 2015.

Remember violence. Don’t glorify it. Argues William Devas, Irish Times, June 2015

Good Tourist, Bad Tourist - From "Gringo Trails" to All Inclusive Bans

Thursday 11th February 2016

7.30 pm at The Victoria, John Bright Street, Birmingham

Uppermost on the minds of many planning their 2016 holidays is likely to be the issue of security, given the blowing up of a plane of Russian tourists from Egyptian resort Sharm El-Sheikh and the shootings of British tourists on a Tunisian beach in 2015.  But should we be considering other things?  For a long time the package or all-inclusive holiday maker has been derided for prioritising familiarity and predictable routine, and not wanting to get too culturally involved in the place they were visiting. That has continued with criticism from the likes of Greek Prime Minister Alexander Tsirpas who proposed a ban on all-inclusive packages because their customers don’t leave resorts frequently enough to benefit the local economy.  

The independent backpacker used to be held as morally superior to the package tourist, seeking different and authentic experiences, culturally engaged and genuinely interested in where they are visiting. But the documentary film "Gringo Trails" now points out that many of the places they favour have been subject to the same environmental degradation and overcrowding as the traditional all-inclusive resorts.

So who is the right kind of tourist these days?  Is it the volunteer or the tourist who makes the most sustainable and environmentally friendly holiday choices? And as a quarter of Brits now choose not to have a holiday at all, are the ethics of how best to holiday putting people off?


Dr Chris Stone - Manchester Metropolitan University.  With a background in environmental planning and sustainability, Chris Stone has been teaching and researching tourism development and management in higher education for 25 years and has been consulted by industry and governments. 

Dr Jim Butcher - Canterbury Christ Church University.  Jim Butcher is the co-author of "Volunteer Tourism: the lifestyle politics of international development" and author of "The Moralisation of Tourism" and writes a blog on the politics of tourism.

Chair: Rosie Cuckston



Merry Christmas and a happy New Year

Birmingham Salon wishes you a merry Christmas and happy New Year.

In 2016 we are planning debates on whether you can be the right kind of tourist, on the anniversary of the Irish Easter rising and what it says about our attitudes to struggles for independence today, and if there's such a thing as dying well, among others.

Dates for next year's Salons are:

12th February
14th April
9th June
22nd September
10th November

We will also continue with our Salon reading group reading books on Europe in relation to the Institute of Ideas Academy 2016 and the referendum on EU membership.

We look forward to seeing you in 2016.

The Productivity Puzzle: What is Wrong with the British Economy?

Thursday 26th November 2015, at 7.30pm.
The Victoria, 48 John Bright Street, Birmingham, B1 1BN

The Bank of England reported recently that output per worker has been exceptionally weak since the downturn. And in July, commentators were shocked to discover that French workers, with their enviable work-life balance, are more productive than their British counterparts.   

The West Midlands has suffered devastating losses in its manufacturing sector in recent decades. So was it the 2008 global meltdown that slowed down productivity, or does the problem predate that?

We should ask whether the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is doing something usefully innovative that we can emulate. Or whether, in fact, the focus on cities like Manchester is more symptomatic of a broader crisis of ideas in central government, a lack of political will to tackle the underlying problems of our economy, a desperate attempt to find a painless model of success.

Jeremy Corbyn has proposed infrastructure as a potential solution to economic decay, and he is far from alone in that. But to what extent is the state responsible for growth anyway?

It has become a truism that manufacturers are clinging to a ‘make do and mend’ approach to plant and equipment. Maybe this is where the fundamental problem lies. Without modernising the productive base, is the UK, the world’s industrial birthplace, condemned to perpetual stagnation, enjoying only intermittent and fragile growth spikes?

At a time when GDP stands at 4.5% above its pre-crisis peak and unemployment continues to fall, productivity is nonetheless a problem that resonates widely, and politicians are discussing it openly, after decades of denial.

What difference would increased economic productivity make to our lives?


Phil Mullan
An economist and business manager, Phil Mullan is author of The Imaginary Time Bomb: Why an Ageing Population is not a Social Problem (IB Tauris, 2000). He is currently researching the economic features of decay and resilience in the Western world, and writing a book entitled Getting Back Our Mojo. In business, he is director of Epping Consulting, following eight years in senior management roles with EasyNet Global Services and Cybercafé Ltd.

Craig Chapman
Senior Academic for Research in the School of Engineering, Design and Manufacturing Systems, Craig Chapman has worked in Europe, USA and the UK, in a range of senior business and design roles. In academia, Craig’s career has taken him from Senior Research Fellow, Head of the Knowledge Based Product Development Lab at Warwick Manufacturing Group, University of Warwick to Head of the Knowledge Based Engineering Lab and Senior Academic for Research at Birmingham City University.

The debate is produced and chaired by Sarah Bartlett.

Recommended Readings

Fixing the foundations: creating a more prosperous nation. HM Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2015
The UK productivity puzzle. Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin, Quarter 2, 2014.