Paul Mason Artsnight


Paul Mason

Magazine arts show. At the Hay Festival, Paul Mason talks to six writers engaged with the most urgent issues of our time.


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This programme contains scenes which some viewers may find upsetting.

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The biggest mass migrations since... A Republican candidate determined to

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build a wall between the USA and Mexico. Can the mature secular

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democracies adapt to their institutions or will they be

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eclipsed by chaos, despotism? The big question is, can the West

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survive? Hay Castle was built by Norman

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knight to keep the Welsh out of newly conquered England. Today, it

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is part of the site of the Hay Festival, one of the most

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prestigious book festivals in the world and a great bondage point from

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which to survey modern geopolitical conflict. -- a great plant each

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point. In this episode, I will be examining the crisis facing the

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West, as seen through the pages of six new books featured at the

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festival. I will be looking at the past, how am I is formed, and at the

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future, how technology is preparing us for the New World ahead. First,

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the present, and it is not looking good. During his military career,

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General Sir Richard Sheriff became one of the highest ranking soldiers

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and until recently was deputy head of Nato. He is a man who speaks his

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mind, was famously threatened with court martial when he criticised

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David Cameron's defence cuts. His first book, 2017: War with Russia:

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An Urgent Warning from Senior Military Command, brings us and

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urgent warning. Russia is our strategic adversary

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and has said itself on a collision course for the West. It is enhancing

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its military capability, it has thrown away the rule book on which

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the post-war settlement of Europe was based. The president has started

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a dynamic which can only be halted at the West wakes up to the real

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possibility of war and takes action. Sir Richard, your book contains a

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fictional scenario of war with Russia. How real and how possible of

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the events? Very real and very possible. If we don't take the

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necessary measures to make it a unreal and impossible. If there is a

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threat to the West, what is the biggest threat? The biggest threat

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is the potential for nuclear war. We need to remember, and this is

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something that comes out of the book, that nuclear thinking is hard

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wired into Russian military thinking. They have nuclear bombs. A

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standard Russian major exercise involving Russian troops that has

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happened recently, could see the Baltic states and session as the

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scenario and the final phase is what they call rather chillingly nuclear

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de-escalation. In other works, they have taken what they want and if we

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try and come back and get it, they will nuke us. We have taken our eye

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off the ball and we have forgotten the lessons of the Cold War in which

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Nato maintained peace with effective deterrence. We have been lucky, we

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have had peace, but it is not necessarily the default setting in

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international relations. If you look at the suite of history, war is all

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too often the default setting. Peace is precious, it needs to be worked

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and paid for. Yes, defence is expensive, but you should try the

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costs of war. Much worse. This is an incredibly serious scenario. Why did

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you do your book as fiction? It is fact braced prediction and out of

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other story because I hope people will read it and will find it an

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interesting read. Above all, I have contributed in recent months to two

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think tank report highlighting the dangers of the ball states. Not many

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people read think tank reports, unless they are in the business. I

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want people who know nothing about defence to read this and think, this

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is serious, we need to do something. Too many ordinary people in Britain,

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it would be unthinkable that we would ever go once again into even

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an intense rivalry with Russia, let alone a shooting war. Do David have

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to make that mindset change? They do, and this is my point. It is

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something we send our professional soldiers and sailors and marines and

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airmen along way away to Iraq, Afghanistan, but they are

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professional soldiers, that is what they do. The notion of a national

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war of survival is inconceivable. But people need to understand that

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the defence of Britain doesn't start at the Straits of Dover or the white

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cliffs or on the Murray Firth but it actually starts in the forests of

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the Lithuanian of a Latvian border. If war with Russia is just a fiction

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for now, the war in Syria is a harsh reality.

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The thing about being in war zones is the unexpected always happens.

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Janine di Giovanni lived alongside the Syrian people documenting life

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in the middle of a jihadist war. One of the most brutal struggles in

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recent history. The very experienced reporters don't want to do it. Her

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book, The Morning They Came For Us, is an uncompromising account of the

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nation on the brink of disintegration. Ordinarily people,

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war starts with a jolt. One day, you are busy with dentist appointments

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or ballet lessons, and then the curtain draws. One moment, the daily

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routine grinds on, ATMs work and mobile phones function. Then,

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suddenly, everything stops. Barricades go up, soldiers are

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recruited and neighbours work to form their own defences. Ministers

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are assassinated and the country falls into chaos. Fathers disappear.

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The banks close and money and culture and life as people knew it

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vanishes. Janine di Giovanni, your book describes the horror of the

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Syrian war. Do you think ordinary people in the West even know or

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understand the depths of what has been happening there? Probably not.

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It is an incredibly compact is war. It is a proxy war, there are many

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components, many stakeholders involved in it. But I think on a

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very small micro level, what actually is happening to the people

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I think it's very underreported. The starvation being used as a tool of

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war, torture, rape, enforced detention, people are simply

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vanishing. What would go West do if we did understand how bad it is for

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ordinarily Syrian people? I think if we could put ourselves in the place

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of ordinarily Syrian people, we would have acted. I think we have to

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step up the humanitarian aid. There are many seized areas where people

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are starving to death. I think if we have the means to attack Isis, we

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have the means to drop food onto starving people with airdrops.

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Protecting humanitarian quarters. As a journalist who covered Iraq, I

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never thought I would hear myself saying that intervention is

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necessary but in the case of Serbia which is destabilising the whole

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region and written is to be a long-term conflict, I think

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long-term intervention should be an option.

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# In the case of Syria. What should we be doing? It shouldn't be a

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surprise to anyone that 4 million people are fleeing war, fleeing

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political turmoil, they are trying to save their lives. What can we do?

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In my view, we have to have more compassion. I am the child of an

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immigrant. My father came from Italy and went to America and I think most

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people have roots that stretch back. World War II was not so long ago and

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in many ways, the crisis, the humanitarian crisis that is

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unleashing an Europe right now is a result of our nonchalance, our

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policy of looking away a look -- getting the war in Syria fester. Do

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you think journalism can have any effect? You have done the

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journalism, in your book, there are unflinching descriptions of violence

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and sexual violence and yet nothing changes. I do think journalism has

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an impact. I think my colleagues and I in Bosnia refused to let the story

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guy and we try to avert what would become the genocide at chevron eats,

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we didn't do that but we did continue to report on war crimes and

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we try to make the case that we should never let this happen on our

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watch. We know that in 1994 in grander, there was a genocide. There

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have been subsequent horrific humanitarian catastrophes.

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Absolutely, journalism has a real place, not just as one of the

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pillars of democracy, with free speech and if we bring to light the

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horrors that are happening inside Syria, people can galvanise. The

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pressure that that public can put on their government is crucial. It is

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really our job to continue to do that.

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Can the West survive the threat of a nuclear apocalypse other rarities of

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the humanitarian tragedy that is unfolding all around us? If the

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present is uncertain, what can we learn from the past? Is that history

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shows, the seeds of the catastrophe are often sown from within. The

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Romanovs were the most successful dynasty of modern times, ruling six

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of the world's surface. Simon Sebag Montefiore's book is an intimate

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story of 20 czars and czarina is, some touched by genius, some touched

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by madness. The Romanovs inhabit a world of family rivalry, imperial

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ambition, Lou Reed glamour, sexual excess and depravity. Lesbian men

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trois, and an Emperor who wrote the most erotic correspondence ever

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written by a head of state. Yet, this is also an empire, a

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civilisation of towering culture and exquisite beauty. Simon Sebag

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Montefiore, it is almost like the question, what did the Romanovs do

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for us? What did they do for Russia? They've a lot. They were immensely

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successful. Actually, they made Russia the biggest empire in modern

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times. The most successful empire builders since Genghis Kahn. They

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also made colossal mistakes. One of them was to try and promote a narrow

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nationalistic state which alienate it all the ethnic peoples, the

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polls, the Jews, the Finns, the Tartars, in their empire. Another

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one was to stick to a very narrow ideology, it was just as daft and at

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the third as Marxism and Leninism became. What are the parallels with

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what Putin is trying to do? Blood amid Putin has this greater Russia

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as a stated objective. The parallels are direct. The

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dilemma of Russian power is to try to justify autocracy by providing

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security at home, prosperity at home, and also spectacular imperial

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prestige abroad. But that costs money. And ultimately, if you are

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pursuing this kind of fantastic adventure abroad but you cannot

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afford it at home, you will fall. And that is basically what happened

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to the Romanovs. And Vladimir Putin is in danger of that happening to

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him since he is now pursuing this incredibly expensive rearmament,

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adventures in Syria and Ukraine and so on, which are incredibly

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spectacular, great on television, crowd pleasing, but if he does not

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reform his economy he will fight you cannot afford it, just as the

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Soviets could not afford it, just as the Imperial Romanovs could not

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afford it. And what the Romanovs were doing is to make Russia great

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again, and that is a slogan that is now familiar as Donald Trump's

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slogan. Ironically, although we think about our democracies as

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superior to those of Russia, in some ways we are pursuing similar

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aspirations to them, and similarly dangerous ones. Do you think we in

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the West have to learn how to make some kind of accommodation to

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Russia? It has revived as an economic power, whatever you think

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of the current leadership. Have we got it wrong? We have certainly had

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to learn the hard way that in the Middle East, for example, we cannot

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do anything without Russia. Russia is there. It is dominating now,

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Syria. In Palmeiro, for example, in the temple there, the Russians have

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set up, and it shows that there are concept of the spectacular

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showmanship and projection of imperial power is way beyond what we

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understand, and so Syrian peace is now impossible without Russia. It

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has already happened. We now have to acknowledge that Russia is once

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again a great hour. How long for is another question. But they are back.

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The year before the Romanov dynasty finally came to an end, seven men

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change the course of history much closer to home. On Easter Sunday

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1916, the seven signed their names to the proclamation of the Irish

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Republic. This challenge to imperial rule triggered a six-day battle with

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British troops in the centre of Dublin which left almost 500 dead.

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Ruth Dudley Edwards new book, the Seven, asked whether Ireland's

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founding fathers had a coherent vision or whether they were just a

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collection of fanatics, misfits and failures. The Troubles could make. I

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am, not least and mighty 93, as a journalist. I was fascinated with

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the preoccupation with the seamers lineage of heroes and martyrs who

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have been used to inspire generation after generation to kill and die for

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Ireland without any regard to the wishes of the people. Ruth Dudley

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Edwards, what was unique about the men who made the Easter rising

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happened? They had a supremely gifted, can best among them, partly

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airport, also headmaster, he was worth his weight in gold as a

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propagandist. And deconstructed in narrative of repeated attempts of

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the Irish people to get rid of the British York. He proclamation of the

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Irish Republic that they produced in 1916 day that narrative. It was very

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cleverly done. There was no support for the Revolutionary started. Their

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plans were preposterous. Some of them wanted to die, some of them

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hoped to win. We all had these different needs and visions of it.

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But my big contention about this is that because of the violence of 1916

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every other person who came along and decided he was right in the

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Irish people wrong now believe he would get retrospective

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justification. So you have what was called the War of Independence, and

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you have a Civil War, and ever since then we have had the provisional IRA

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say no they were right and everybody else was wrong, and they are trying

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to legitimise what they did in 30 years destroying Northern Ireland in

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the same way that 1916 happened. It has been a frightful precedent for

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violence. And for you, the seven men who signed the proclamation, have a

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huge responsibility in other words for what you see as the negative

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legacy? I think they have enormous responsibility. I don't think they

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had a clear view of what they were doing, except in some cases just to

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get at the Brits. To get clear of an emotional turmoil or to be a great

:18:19.:18:22.

marker, a great Catholic martyr. To be the Christ of Irish nationalists.

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He can be consulted Christ, dying for his people. They had all sorts

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of mixed ideas. But in the end they were doing what they wanted to do,

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more for themselves and for anyone else. It was narcissism. Do you

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think we in the West can learn anything from that period for the

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way we confront and deal with this huge challenge from jihadist

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terrorism? I am loved to draw the parallels myself, but do you think

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there are any parallels in the way that... What can we learn from this

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challenge? Certainly there are. For a long time anybody who died for

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Ireland was de facto a good person. A self-sacrificing person. The

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Reggie had these! And that has been -- you were in jihad. They got what

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they wanted, in your eyes. And with the hunger strikers now in Sinn Fein

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land being compared with 1916, they starve themselves to death. They

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committed suicide for Ireland. And were elected to the British

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Parliament in the process. Absolutely. I'm in favour of brutal

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truths. And I'm very proud that Ireland has got to the stage where

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in public arenas you can argue this out, and on the whole people don't

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anymore call you a traitor for suggesting that these people were

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complicated but not necessarily right. Whatever we learn from the

:19:59.:20:07.

past has to feed into a more positive plan for the future. There

:20:08.:20:13.

is a growing global population, and the very fabric of the planet is

:20:14.:20:17.

under threat. The ecosystem is changing irrevocably. The reminder

:20:18.:20:21.

question can the West survive, can the world survives? We live in

:20:22.:20:31.

Epoque making times, literally. The changes that humans have made in

:20:32.:20:33.

recent decades have been on such a scale that they have altered the

:20:34.:20:38.

world beyond anything it has experienced in its 4.5 billion year

:20:39.:20:47.

history. It is a thrilling but uncertain time to be alive. Welcome

:20:48.:20:52.

to the anthropocene, the age of humans. Gaia Vince is a journalist

:20:53.:21:01.

specialising in environmental and social issues. To write her book,

:21:02.:21:05.

Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet

:21:06.:21:09.

We Made, she visited 40 countries to document our climate and ecological

:21:10.:21:13.

changes caused by humans affect the indigenous communities of the

:21:14.:21:21.

planet. This is all that's left of the world's highest ski resort. Gaia

:21:22.:21:30.

Vince, explain to me what the anthropocene actually means. The

:21:31.:21:35.

anthropocene really means the age of humans. And it is a geological idea,

:21:36.:21:40.

the idea that humans are fundamentally changing our planet,

:21:41.:21:44.

changing the course of rivers, the temperature of the atmosphere, the

:21:45.:21:49.

chemistry of the oceans, etc, and we have experienced geological changes

:21:50.:21:52.

like this before. You may know of the Jurassic, the time of the

:21:53.:21:56.

dinosaurs. But normally they are caused by something massive,

:21:57.:21:59.

something extraterrestrials like an asteroid impact of organic eruption.

:22:00.:22:04.

And now scientists are saying it is us, we're changing the planet at

:22:05.:22:07.

such a fast rate that we are actually putting lives in danger. We

:22:08.:22:12.

are facing certain crises, of food and water. As I read your book I

:22:13.:22:16.

thought it is amazing how much the human species is able to actually

:22:17.:22:22.

adapt to change, but do you think ultimately the planet can adapt to

:22:23.:22:26.

this species that has kind of expanded beyond control and changed

:22:27.:22:31.

it so much already? There is no threat to the planet. The planet has

:22:32.:22:36.

been over 4.5 billion years and will continue we go extinct or do not.

:22:37.:22:40.

We're quite a recent species. I'm very interested in humans, in us and

:22:41.:22:44.

I come at all these environmental issues I think slightly differently

:22:45.:22:48.

from a lot of people in that I'm interested in, how does it affect

:22:49.:22:53.

us? I love tigers. If Tigers go extinct, is that the problem for us?

:22:54.:22:58.

Does it matter? They are great and charismatic species, but we're not

:22:59.:23:01.

going to starve to death. Doesn't matter if we extinct? Because some

:23:02.:23:06.

deep Green would rather we went extinct plants survive. I am not one

:23:07.:23:12.

of them, I am on the side of humans! I would be very sad if humans go

:23:13.:23:15.

extinct. As I have travelled around the world, I have been humbled, I

:23:16.:23:19.

think, by how people who have so little can be so generous. And I see

:23:20.:23:27.

this side to humanity, I think we are a very cooperative, a very

:23:28.:23:31.

empathetic species. Something is definitely going to change. A social

:23:32.:23:34.

structure that we have globally at the moment, where there are a

:23:35.:23:38.

handful of nations that are much wealthier and have a much heavier

:23:39.:23:43.

resource use and other nations, I think that is going to have to

:23:44.:23:47.

change if we are going to see, all of us, a global population, humanity

:23:48.:23:51.

itself surviving and living comfortable it in the decades to

:23:52.:23:55.

come. In Europe there is an imaginary scene at the turn of the

:23:56.:23:58.

next century where everything is kind of OK, we have adapted. -- in

:23:59.:24:06.

your book. There are walkways and bicycle lanes, there is no traffic!

:24:07.:24:12.

Can our political system really make that kind of change? I think we are

:24:13.:24:18.

going to witness enormous changes. That was quite a fun chapter to

:24:19.:24:21.

write because it is completely imaginary, I had to think of what

:24:22.:24:24.

possible scenarios we might undertake in the coming decades. But

:24:25.:24:29.

I am an optimist. I think we are going to do... I think we're going

:24:30.:24:34.

to do well, I think we're going to survive this and adapt. Part of that

:24:35.:24:40.

future will be governed by artificial intelligence, which is no

:24:41.:24:45.

longer just science fiction, but a central part of our culture. It is

:24:46.:24:52.

written into search engines, robotics, video games, and touches

:24:53.:24:54.

most every aspect of contemporary technology. Professor Margaret

:24:55.:25:02.

Boden's new book, AI, Its Nature and Future, discusses whether artificial

:25:03.:25:08.

intelligence could ever truly be intelligent, creative or even

:25:09.:25:15.

conscious. The apocalyptic visions of AI's future are usury, but partly

:25:16.:25:20.

because of them, the AI community and policymakers and the general

:25:21.:25:23.

public as well I waking up to some very real dangers. And it is not

:25:24.:25:30.

before time. Professor Margaret Boden, what do you think the impact

:25:31.:25:35.

of artificial intelligence will be by the mid-century honour Society

:25:36.:25:42.

and on our way of life? I think a lot of things will be running much

:25:43.:25:46.

more efficiently. Child support, health care, even in medicine.

:25:47.:25:54.

Really every profession. There is a pretty broad concern now that

:25:55.:25:57.

artificial intelligence plus machine learning plus robotics will flatten

:25:58.:26:03.

a lot of jobs that we currently have, and not replace them. I think

:26:04.:26:08.

that is certainly true. And a lot of jobs that even if they don't

:26:09.:26:10.

disappear they will be very much downsized. There are a lot of

:26:11.:26:15.

professional jobs at the moment, a lot of professions where people are

:26:16.:26:18.

already starting to use AI as advisory systems. It won't have to

:26:19.:26:24.

get all that much better... Lawyers? Lawyers, accountants... The thing

:26:25.:26:28.

that worries me most, but there are many things I could mention, is the

:26:29.:26:33.

idea of using AI systems as carers are companions for old people. I

:26:34.:26:40.

think there's absolutely no way that AI is going to be good enough to be

:26:41.:26:44.

able to do that well. Probably ever. Certainly not in the next century.

:26:45.:26:50.

And I think we would be really taking away people's committee and

:26:51.:26:54.

really giving them the rough end of the stick to do that. If we wanted

:26:55.:27:00.

to resist AI, would we just be Luddites, or would there be a

:27:01.:27:06.

justification for it? If you mean get rid of it, forget it. It is

:27:07.:27:10.

impossible. And also I don't think it would be a good thing, but anyway

:27:11.:27:14.

it is impossible. What I think we should do is resist AI taking over

:27:15.:27:19.

in essentially human to human situations where firstly we cannot

:27:20.:27:25.

get it to take over any reasonable fashion, and secondly, we shouldn't.

:27:26.:27:30.

My example of the care homes is just one example of that. Another one

:27:31.:27:36.

would be one-to-one education. And even though some of these

:27:37.:27:40.

educational AI systems can adapt to some extent the individual student,

:27:41.:27:44.

they cannot do it as well as a good teacher can. I think the greatest

:27:45.:27:49.

lesson that AI has taught us is the amazing power and subtlety and

:27:50.:27:52.

richness of human minds. And to equal that is a very big ask. In

:27:53.:28:06.

this programme I have been asking can the West survive? It probably

:28:07.:28:12.

can, but with wars and razor wire around its borders, with a big

:28:13.:28:19.

question over what it stands for, and the lingering suspicion that

:28:20.:28:22.

like all dominating societies, this just might be its sunset.

:28:23.:28:31.

# It's the end of the world as we know it

:28:32.:28:36.

# It's the end of the world as we know it

:28:37.:28:39.

# It's the end of the world as we know it

:28:40.:28:45.

# And I feel fine. # It's the end of the world as we

:28:46.:28:49.

know it # It's the end of the world as we

:28:50.:28:54.

know it # It's the end of the world as we

:28:55.:28:57.

know it # And I feel fine #.

:28:58.:29:00.

At the Hay Festival, Paul Mason talks to six writers engaged with the most urgent issues of our time, from documenting the horrors of the war in Syria to how AI will determine our future, and from the fall of past empires to the possibility of a war with Russia.

In the face of these momentous challenges to the global order, Paul Mason asks if the west can survive. With Simon Sebag Montefiore, Margaret Boden, Gaia Vince, Janine di Giovanni, Ruth Dudley Edwards and General Sir Richard Shirreff.


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