The ideas expressed by Julian Assange, Antony Lowenstein, Simon Sheikh and Slavoj Žižek are far from dangerous.
They are seductive and beautiful and offer hope.
Yet they are all speakers at Sydney Opera House’s third Festival of Dangerous Ideas this weekend.
As with any ideas that demand a change of perspective and a call to action, whether their ideas present danger or promise depends on where the listener is standing.
To those with a firm grip on power and wealth, ideas that urge us to demand a world of equality, justice, greater democracy and freedom are a clear and present danger.
For those who are under the boot of an economic system that daily steals our labour and throws us only the scraps, these ideas sustain us with the knowledge that another world is possible, and within our reach.
Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek asks if liberal democratic capitalism is the ultimate horizon, or do events like the GFC highlight its fatal flaws.
Antony Loewenstein argues for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine and the establishment of a bi-national state, an idea dangerous to the United State’s hegemony in the Middle East.
Simon Sheikh, national director of GetUp! campaigns on environmental and human rights issues, ideas that are dangerous to government and big business.
And the most dangerous man in the room, Wikileak’s founder Julian Assange exposed the backroom secrets behind the United State’s mechanisms of power, thereby offering the world a more open democracy. The danger of this is seen in the way whistleblower Bradley Manning suffered mental torture while held in solitary confinement awaiting trial.
Former Sydney Morning Herald journalist Lisa Pryor is the author of “A Small book about Drugs”. She makes a strong case for decriminalisation following the model adopted in Portugal.
“Decriminalisation is a no-brainer. It’s actually a really moderate response. I think it’s sensible but it’s considered dangerous because it makes us rethink the whole issue,” Pryor says.
Festival co-curator Ann Mossop says any idea that goes against the substantial body of mainstream opinion is quite dangerous.
“So someone like Lisa Pryor saying that we’re being extremely hypocritical in terms of our drugs policy, in relation to quite commonly used recreational drugs, is going against a great body of social opinion and a lot of shock jock and media anxiety about young people and drugs,” Mossop says.
“[We] have a society that says we have a war on drugs and has very punitive legal regime where a lot of people are in jail for fairly small scale drug crimes. Someone like Lisa comes along and says ‘we need to look at this in a different way and the current situation is quite ludicrous’. That’s a potentially dangerous idea.
“One of the key things you need to ask with any dangerous idea, is dangerous to whom?”
The Festival of Dangerous Ideas is at various venues in Sydney over October 1-2. Full program at: www.sydneyoperahouse/festivalofdangerousideas