This evening I’ll be delivering my annual RSA lecture. As you might expect, I am very nervous and haven’t yet decided whether to read the speech or take the risk of delivering it in a more discursive manner. I am however reassured that David Willetts will give an interesting response. He and I were on the Today programme this morning discussing some of the ideas in the speech, and he was, as always, a thoughtful, challenging but friendly critic.
Hopefully we will have a full house but anyone else who wants to watch can do so on our website – hopefully as early as tomorrow (our wonderful Multimedia Manager, Sarah Staar, has offered to work during the night to turn it around before she goes on holiday). I guess if I had to pick out one passage in the speech that I am really keen to explore it would be the distinction between difference and separation:
One of the great confusions of modern selfhood is to mistake difference for separation. We are all a unique combination of our genetic inheritance our conditioning past and our present context, but our thoughts and behaviours are the result not so much of the ways we are separate but of the ways we are connected, to the world and to other people. Fifty years ago Galbraith talked about private affluence and public squalor. Reflecting on opinion poll data that shows we are over confident about our own prospects and over-pessimistic about the state of society, I recently suggested the phrase ‘private optimism public despair’. But when we compare the illusion of individual autonomy with the reality of the deep connections between our minds and the social world they inhabit we should perhaps speak of private myth and public blindness.
We shouldn’t underestimate how far our societies have pulled apart. Yet there is hope for renewal, says Anthony Painter. The question is not whether we come together – but how.