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Australia

Jun 25, 2014

Rundle: you can't fight in the war room, or why FODI is a stupid idea

Genuinely dangerous ideas are ones you wouldn't want to circulate. So the Festival of Dangerous Ideas promotes not-so-dangerous ideas, which defeats the purpose and shows how bogus the idea of danger really is.

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Ruh Roh, Scooby, looks like the Festival of Dangerous Ideas is in danger!

FODI, as it’s fondly known, is the brainchild of the St James Ethics Centre director Simon Longstaff, and is heading towards its sixth year. Your correspondent criticised the first iteration on the grounds that most of the ideas had been dangerous around 1963, i.e. were thoroughly left-liberal. This prompted several reactions, not least of them an invitation to be on the selection board —  at which point I realised that I didn’t like the whole idea of the fest at all.

Put simply, putting the ideas I thought worth discussing — impersonal childcare is a disaster, human nature is far less malleable than thought, euthanasia is a culture of death — as dangerous, automatically marginalises them with a left-lib. Others, around armed struggle, are rendered silly by decontextualisation. And so inevitably the eye-catching fest becomes subject to its own market logic, and starts teasing us with the abhorrent.

Genuinely dangerous ideas — on race, violence, etc — are ones you wouldn’t want to circulate (even if you defend their right blah blah Voltaire Brandis). But sooner or later you run out of undangerous danger, and that’s how FODI found itself spruiking a talk called “honour killings are morally justifiable” by Uthman Badar, and there was uproar.

Quite possibly, the talk was a Swiftian feint at how abhorrent the idea was, but we’ll never know. Following a social media storm, the talk was found too dangerous for the dangerous ideas fest, and dropped by order of hosts, the Sydney Opera House. Because you can’t fight in the war room.

The design flaw is obvious — abhorrent ideas of a “particular” character are usually manifestation of total and general systems of thought. Debate the particulars, and you lend lethal succour to an idea whose basic positions you don’t begin to accept. Dangerous yes, but to no moral purpose. So quite legitimate to protest and boycott, but it shows how bogus the idea of danger really is.

And they would have got away with it, if it wasn’t for you kids …

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