People & Ideas

Oct 6, 2009

You want dangerous ideas? These are dangerous ideas

The topics discussed at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas are either completely safe or totally ridiculous. Here are some thoughts that might really offend some Darlinghurst secular-liberals' sensibilities.

Guy Rundle ā€” Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


In the hours between filing a bodyslam on Christopher Hitchens in yesterday's edition, and this note on the Festival of Dangerous Ideas of which his talk was the keynote, your correspondent has been assailed by more than a few people who had thought the whole occasion was a pretty good idea. Fair enough. There were a range of topics you don't usually see at this sort of thing. "Bring Back Conscription", "Unfit for Life (pro human genetic modification)" as well as Germaine Greer on freedom, and a couple more luminaries. Trouble was the adjective attached to your bog standard ideas festival, which gave the whole thing the appearance of a six year old in a tiger costume. Gwwwww. I'm dangewous. For the Darlinghurst secular-liberals most of these ideas were either safe, or so ridiculous as to be of no interest. Really dangerous ideas -- ones that people might act on -- didn't get a look in, even though a generation ago they were commonplace. You can see the reasoning behind the dangewous tag. Ideas festivals are ten-a-cent these days. What an exciting new idea they were a decade or so ago, an evolution on from writers' festivals, where the pre-text of a book wasn't required for a good old fashioned stoush. But what made Ideas Festivals so interesting was also what dooms them to mundanity -- they're about anything and everything, there's no agenda, no attachment to practice. The Ideas Festivals emerged at about the same time as other types of gatherings were falling into a degree of disrepair on the left -- and that was conferences, of parties and movements, where future political directions were thrashed out, and the mesh of ideas and action had a feel of the real about it. Ideas Festivals have flourished precisely because ideas have become undangerous and un-threatening that holders of radically different ones can be in the same room together. When things are at stake that isn't really possible. When the sphere of daily life -- the work-brunch cycle -- has become so unquestionable as to look like part of the body's natural metabolism, then the separation of idea and practice is total. It's precisely because this is one of those periods when ideas don't change how people live that such festivals can run. And it also governs how certain ideas are excluded, or never suggested. What's interesting -- especially in relation to l'affaire Polanski, a sort of lost memory of the 70s -- is how ideas that were common currency a few decades ago can now not even be spoken of at a festival of dangerous ones. Political violence would be one. In Barry Oakley's published diaries Minitudes, he records a night in the 70s, arguing with other Pram Factory renegades about the Red Brigades in Italy -- Oakley's position (against) being the minority. There is a case for political violence. There is a case for political terror. I suspect that any discussion of this sort would have had the Festival's sponsors in a bit of a flurry. Or take that other 70s staple, child sexuality. Thirty years ago, it was taken as de rigeur that the 16-18 age of consent was miles too high, and that younger people were quite capable of expressing themselves and enjoying the attentions of famous film directors, rock stars, writers and the like. Not an idea I hold to, but most definitely a dangerous one. Conference organiser could then recover their legal costs by publishing their prison writings. Some others:
  • Abortion to term should be available on demand. Women's sovereignty over their bodies should be total.
  • Live organ transplants should be either banned totally, or opened completely to the free market. People should be able to sell parts of their liver, their corneas, etc, even if it shortens or damages their life.
  • Australian aborigines have a right to resort to the aforementioned political violence, given the continued and embedded racism embedded in health-care, opportunity and policing.
  • The surrendered wife. The Amish have got it right. Women are happier if they just let men run things. Legal equality has been mistaken for identicality, and the pressure to be men just makes women unhappy.
  • Homosexuality and marginality. A culture that displaces the child-having couple from the centre of it, is in deep trouble. Homosexuality should be legal but permanently marginal.
Any others? And so on. That would get some punch ups happening in the foyer. And if there aint no punchups there aint no danger, and best not use the adjective.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’sĀ terms and conditions


Leave a comment

65 thoughts on “You want dangerous ideas? These are dangerous ideas

  1. SBH

    How about:
    1 – Heffo’s ‘Water from the North’;
    2 – Using statute to govern polictial parties affairs and operations (preselections, rules of meetings, reporting, donations) with the limits prescribed in the consitution;
    3 – Nation-wide car registration and criminal codes (it’s an abolish the states by stealth one.

  2. Most Peculiar Mama

    Here’s one:

    Those that openly advocate for the introduction of an economy crippling CPRS/ETS should be willingly to commit to signing a legal charter outlining their clear and lucid support for the scheme.

    Then, following its implementation, years of declining global temperatures and with the (now ruined) global economy pushing the hemispheres toward civil war, we will have a complete dossier on those who actively promoted the irreversible destruction of a way of life.

    They (and their kin) can then be held to account…a sort of climate Kristallnacht.

  3. paddy

    [Women’s sovereignty over their bodies should be total.]
    That’s a very dangerous idea. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting the vote.

  4. mtats

    I would be interested in Guy providing, maybe a 2-week long agenda for his ideas festival.

    Perhaps he can post them here later this afternoon šŸ™‚

  5. Victoria Collins

    * ‘The surrendered wife. The Amish have got it right. Women are happier if they just let men run things. Legal equality has been mistaken for identicality, and the pressure to be men just makes women unhappy.’
    What a load of paternalistic bullshit, Guy Rundle. I am a woman who has lived with a man, happily, for 30 years, and a man’s man, I might add, who was not averse to sharing the housework with his wife 50/50, which involved cooking, cleaning and mucking in with the babies; enjoyed long conversations about politics, science and current affairs; and allowed me to be the major breadwinner and business owner. It didn’t affect his sense of his own masculinity one bit, and I got to be the aggressive, ambitious one, because that’s what made me happy.
    So, for you to blithely state that ‘women are happier if they just let men run things’, is for you to expose your inbuilt prejudices that you obviously are unable to outgrow.
    Thank goodness for legal equality between the sexes. It has allowed us to be whatever we want to be, to the extent now that if women want to be stay-at-home mums, that’s fine; but, if they don’t, well, that’s fine, too. Ditto for the dads.
    Anyway, it’s not a desire for ‘identicality’, it’s a desire for individual expression. Now, we women can truly have it all, if that’s what we want.

  6. Altakoi

    I’m not sure lucidity is a term I’d equiate with MPM, but I like Monbiots idea of personal carbon credits. Leave the coal industry alone – give every man, woman and child (or guardian thereof) x tonnes of carbon to spend each year on produce which is priced in carbon as well as dollars.

  7. Rhino

    Victoria – your response shows that Guy’s idea is a good one – that topic IS a dangerous idea that would have been good in the festival. Note that he wasn’t stating a view on his siggested topics, just saying that they would generate good debates.

  8. Jenny Morris

    What about making meat eating illegal? Or at least, factory farming illegal? Then meat (or any animal-derived product) would come at the ‘real cost’, ie the cost of at least providing the animal with some quality of life before it is slaughtered.
    And any meat product may only be presented in the full form of the animal it comes from. I reckon many meat eaters would be vegetarian if they saw their fillet of steak or veal parma attached to the baby cow it came from. Nothing like seeing the whole duck or rabbit in the butcher’s window.

    Dangerous idea? Maybe for those who make money out of being cruel to animals for profit.


  9. Most Peculiar Mama

    “…Leave the coal industry alone – give every man, woman and child (or guardian thereof) x tonnes of carbon to spend each year on produce which is priced in carbon as well as dollars…”

    What a stupid, stupid idea. Even for you.

    Although the inner-city lentil jockeys within lycra-shod cycling distance of the local whole foods co-op would no doubt approve.


  10. Altakoi

    It not my idea and, actually, I referenced it in my post.

    I’m not an inner-city anything – I live far from the centre of town and still cycle fairly regularly.

    Lentils are a small leguminous product. You cannot ride them.

    As a dangerous idea – I propose public discourse without ad hominum references based on an analysis of ideas rather than foolish and rather ill-informed identity politics.

Leave a comment

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details