It’s fitting that the Festival of Dangerous Ideas should announce its lineup on the same day that another festival realised it came close to engaging with some dangerous ideas of its own. Earlier today, the New Yorker’s editor David Remnick rescinded his invitation for Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist and last night’s controversial interview subject on Four Corners, to appear as a headline interview subject at this year’s New Yorker Festival after suffering a number of high-profile celebrity withdrawals and swift rebuke from readers on social media. At a time when dangerous ideas have arguably never felt more fraught, the Festival of Dangerous Ideas – now in its ninth year, and which this year takes ‘Truth and Trust’ as its theme – has never felt like more of a safe bet, for better or worse.
Headlining the festival is Stephen Fry. The beloved bon vivant will take the stage at the Sydney Town Hall to present The Hitch, an event billed as an oration on the art of furious disagreement that has been named for his long-time friend and the Festival of Dangerous Idea’s inaugural keynote speaker, the late author Christopher Hitchens. The remainder of the festival, which this year has a new venue in Cockatoo Island, canvasses topics as diverse as how nationalism and extremism are inevitable consequences of an increasingly unequal world, what comes next after the populist backlash to globalisation, and how listening is not equitable with agreeing or betraying one’s beliefs. The latter topic will be explored by ex-Westboro Baptist Church member, Megan Phelps-Roper, who is well-acquainted with both sides of the divide, and is one of many international guests that also includes public defender turned law professor Ayelet Waldman, who will advocate for the benefits of microdosing LSD and who aims to challenge conventional thinking on drug policy. Another panel, helmed by Zeynup Tufekci and Seth Stephens-Davidowitz will dissect the pros of big data sharing for society in light of the costs to our personal privacy.
Divisive and dangerous ideas are sure to be elicited from Australian contributors to the festival, including Germaine Greer, who is well-placed to speak on a panel discussing outrage culture and the perils of being branded ‘too dangerous’. The evolutionary biologist Rob Brooks, sexologist Dr Nikki Goldstein and criminologist Xanthe Mallet will lead a panel discussion on the inherent possibilities of sex robots, where other panels will discuss the merits of ideas running a gamut from whether inequality is always bad to the end of politics, equality and perhaps the world as we know it with the rise of the artificial intelligence. An arts program aims to engage participants further, with participatory performances from Betty Grumble, whose Sex Clown Saves The World is described as part monologue and part shamanic striptease; Riley Harmon, whose electronic sculpture shoots blood at participants in a first-person shooter video game party whenever they ‘make a kill’; and Garth Knight, whose installation works draw from the tradition of shibari – the art of rope bondage – to examine the tension between submission and strength. The Festival of Dangerous Ideas will also play host to the Australian premiere of MANWATCHING, an unrehearsed reading of the private thoughts of an anonymous female playwright as read by a thoroughly unprepared male comedian.
The Festival of Dangerous Ideas takes place from November 3-4, 2018, on Cockatoo Island and at Sydney Town Hall. Tickets are on-sale now. More information is available here.
Tile and cover image: Elise Hassey/Courtesy of Phoenix