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.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


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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7 thoughts on “Rundle: you can’t fight in the war room, or why FODI is a stupid idea

  1. David

    Guy – brilliant as ever. (You know what comes now…)

    Inexcusable flaw in your opening quote. Should be “Ruh roh, Shaggy…”

  2. zut alors

    Fair enough, perhaps a rename: Festival of Disparate Ideas.

    No matter, regardless of name it’s an engaging way to spend a winter weekend.

  3. Stephanie

    If only it were called the Festival of Ideas, like the Adelaide festival. Not as cool, perhaps, but then you don’t have the baggage that goes along with trying to frame every talk as in some way dangerous.
    I’ve attended many talks at the FODI over the years and every single one has taken a different direction than I expected. The titles of the talks are clearly not written (or read?) by the presenters.

  4. Kfix

    I think I’ve seen you write on the other ideas before, but I’d love to hear more from you on the childcare idea, Guy.

  5. AR

    I forget who (mayhap ’twas I) said, ‘the tolerant must tolerate the intolerant’ but not expect reciprocity.

  6. fractious


    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.

    Exactly. Precisely. Spot on.

    And this was more or less my point on a directly related thread (ah! but feel the cut of the moderator’s bludgeon). If the instant a real dangerous idea presents itself the organisers $hit themselves because of the public reaction (“$hit! Reaction!! Quick, man the Apologies!!! Retract, retract!!”), then what is this a festival of**?

    Two points about Badar and his discussion (its “controversial” title aside): –

    1) at some point the FODI must have examined and assessed his proposal and deemed it acceptable (worthy, even). So why the volte-face?

    2) how can we tell whether Badan’s gig was beyond the pale when it’s been cancelled? It might have been interesting and stimulating discourse, or nothing but a sophisticated contrivance to disguise an ugly belief. Either way, we will now never know.

    **I must admit a bash called “A bit of a get-together about some notions some of you might, like a take-away with too much MSG in it, find slightly disagreeable” is not likely to attract quite so much attention, or any attention at all.

  7. Salamander

    It’s was to be a debate, people, not a political rally. I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Everyone so bloody terrified of a talk? Nuts.

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