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Also Festival 2017

Venue: Park Farm
Town: Compton Verney
Date: 30/06/17-02/07/17

In late June every year, a tribe of thoughtful souls, mostly drawn from the thirty something metropolitan elite, eschew the weekend routine of coffee bars and gyms, pack up their liberal angst and children, and head for the made landscape of Capability Brown's Compton Verney Park; home to the Also Festival of science, food, philosophy, art and music.

It is a festival unlike any other, a safe space where opposing views are exchanged and examined with humour and compassion.

But is this a feast to mark the evening of empire, or the dawn of a new age of enlightenment, as the original salon movement (which inspired founder Helen Bagnall) was the precursor of the renaissance?

Certainly, there was no lack of hedonism. Philosopher Roman Krznaric claimed sensory excess to be one of the five keys to enlightenment in his book Carpe Diem Regained. Susan L. Schartz's Cocktail Powered Time Travel gave many of us a rocket-fuelled start to the weekend.

Everywhere there was singing and music, generally led by the tireless Juliet Russell. On Friday, Mad Apple Circus rocked the main stage. On Saturday Gizmo Vartillas and his band gave us a set of wistful and thoughtful pop, Spanish roots showing. Sunday standouts were the Peas in the bar, and the electro-torch songs and anguish of It's a Lovely War.

There was the spectacle of diners at a sixty quid a head banquet, singing Jermyn Corbyn's name, high on inhalable cocktails, and an unidentified blue drink known as 'truth serum'. At said feast, What Lies Beneath by James Knight and Rebecca Otero, we started by eating mozzarella with our fingers, and ended scraping puddings off the tablecloth. Yes, there was a bit of hedonism, which was, in fairness, a lot of fun.

But underpinning this was acceptance of a society at a crossroads, and a search for answers. The Dare to be Different panel, chaired by Catrin Nye, explored how lifestyles could and should change. Historian Michael Scott de-myth-ed ancient Greece, the world's original democracy. Nick Chater explained the paradox of persuasion in the post-truth age.

Hard science and medicine abounded; Bergljot Gjesvik giving the hard facts behind mindfulness (sometimes useful, not a panacea); David Tong explaining the beauty and power of gravitational waves.

Truth and knowledge; everywhere there was thoughtful, informed conversation. Ideas were rehearsed and attitudes changed. There were almost three hundred sessions, lectures, concerts, discussion groups and workshops over three days. It is impossible not to be inspired and impressed by the depth and variety of knowledge, and the generosity of spirit of all delegates.

There were so many high points. Catrin Nye gave a woman's explanation to why we should apologise for entitlement to those unseen. Jamie Barlett told us of the duty to listen better and longer, to engage outside our own filter bubbles, even and especially to those that don't share our values.

The undoubted star of the weekend, however, was renegade economist Kate Raworth, who recently released her first book Doughnut Economics. She first demolished current economic dogma, pointing out that the originator of 'Gross Domestic Product', saw it a very poor measure of wealth. One by one, the formulae used to justify the build-up of inequality and waste in society, fell under her logic; before she proposed a model solution to build, without violence, through the micro economic level and grow into a new orthodoxy.

She is to Keynes, what Einstein was to Newton. Find her. Read her. Engage.

Laura Thomas

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