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Book Festival: Reviews

Roger Scruton

Roger Scruton

Lynne Segal

Graham Robb

GOSH, what a challenging session with philosopher Roger Scruton, whose sell-out audience was seriously clued-up on the finer points of metaphysics.

Defending the sacred in a secular Western society, as presented in his The Soul of the World, he said the tendency to search for the meaning of life in science was not the answer. What of the news 46 per cent of Scots now profess themselves to have no faith? Even if we are not members of a formal religion the sacred still exists in us all, he said, as witnessed in our lamenting the rise of pornography or the desecration of the earth.

Does he kneel down and pray? Yes. To pray is to seek reconciliation, the ability to accept and forgive and move on, and more should do it.

Most memorable was his reminder the story of Adam and Eve is about resisting the temptation to treat fellow humans as subjects, because that's where love, respect and forgiveness spring from. Objectifying others is the ultimate fall from grace, not only in Genesis but now.

There was an echo of this sentiment in the feminist academic Lynne Segal's assertion that the key to good ageing for women is to stay engaged in life, "involved and contributing" rather than mourning roads not taken. "We're aged by culture and sidelined from society," she declared, citing Martin Amis's phrase "demented oldies". More older women than men live alone; along with poor health, loneliness is the biggest age accelerator. The solution is to live inter-generationally (though not as in some societies, where the aged matriarch wears black and is expected to continue looking after the extended family). "We are all interdependent. To be human is to care for each other. Women need people to care for; we need to be needed and we cannot survive alone."

Segal, now 70, was marching for Women's Lib in 1971. While arguing that feminism put sexual harassment and domestic abuse on the public agenda, it didn't stop welfare and public sector cuts, cheap labour and food banks - the areas that most affect younger women. But they can learn how to fight them from their elders. Another way to "keep hold of the threads of life even as they are fraying".

Graham Robb celebrated ancient civilisation of another sort when he read from Celtic Europe, a fascinating and occasionally funny tirade against the assumption that Rome existed first, encouraged by the fact Celts left no written records. Meticulous research conducted over several years of cycling around Europe uncovered "tell-tale facts" that proved to the author that the Celtic civilisation predates Rome's, and that they were not barbaric, illiterate and humourless. The Druids were the most intelligent among them.

There's no ancient Celtic DNA; even in Ireland there is no record of any major Celtic settlement. So when did it become Celtic? We only have to look to Ireland's patron saints Bridget and Patrick. But that, said Robb, is another story.

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