It's always a pleasure to attend the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, something about Sydney I can honestly say I love. This year I was lucky - I had only bought a ticket to one event, but by virtue of being at the right place at the right time, I ended up attending a session for free. Neither of these sessions has been filmed for YouTube post-festival consumption, but there were a few that were that I wanted to share with you:
#1. 'Why Black Lives Matter' by Alicia Garza
#2. 'Open the Borders' by Philippe Legrain
If you think about it, #1 and #2 are interconnected. In order to have the ideas that will allow us to open the borders, we have to recognise that poor and/or black lives matter. Whether that means treating would-be immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa as having a lot to offer, or giving poor African-Americans the ability to move to, say, New Zealand or Western Europe, it's a matter of recognising the worthiness and dignity of every individual.
So the FODI sessions I attended were called 'Generation Less' and 'What don't we want to talk about in the arts?' 'Generation Less' was an interesting, if depressing, analysis of how my generation has less opportunities for wealth accumulation than our parents, and while I couldn't relate to some of the labour-related inequities (since I'm 'mentally disabled' (I prefer mentally gifted and mentally out of place) and don't have a job), I do feel that there are very few opportunities for me to advance economically. I applied for three volunteer positions a few months ago and wasn't able to land any of them, which just goes to show that there's so much competition even in the non-profit sector. I had been intending that a volunteering role would gear me up for a paid placement somewhere. 'Hold your horses, Epiphanie,' the world cried in response.
At the same time, I recognise that I don't need to own property or have a high disposable income to be happy. I manage to travel every year, and if I can keep doing that, I will be happy. Or, rather, less miserable than I was before. Buddhist theory really helps with finding inner worth within. Anyway, the woman who spoke to us about generational inequality was called Jennifer Rayner (in case you want to look her up). She is involved with the Labour party, so her ideas are correspondingly more centrist than mine, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have a lot to offer.
'What don't we want to talk about in the arts?' was more challenging - it asked us to consider that there is a failure of empathy on the Left towards progressive Muslim voices - the ones who want to reform their religion to make it friendly towards gender equality and GLBTI rights. And here I have to admit that I spend less time empathising with Muslims than I consider would be beneficial in my more reflective states. I don't have any Muslim friends. I'm not actively seeking out to deepen my understanding of progressive Muslim voices. I enjoyed Persepolis and used to follow its creator, Marjane Satrapi, but now that I think about it, I'm not sure she's Muslim.
So what are the reasons for my avoidance of progressive Muslims? Every day at home I hear vitriol about them from people who are close to me. I do my best to ignore that and keep an open mind, but it does tend to drive me away from them. And I'm sorry I'm not doing more, and that I prioritise other kinds of empathy. There's no excuse. But if an interesting voice crosses my path, I am open to listening, and supporting them. I will try to direct myself more towards these people in the future.
Lloyd Newson is the name of the brave gay man who spoke out against discrimination by fundamentalist Muslims, if you want to look him up. He's a director of politically charged dance performances which look amazing from the clips we were shown last week.
So what is my own Dangerous Idea? That the so-called mentally ill have meaningful experiences which ought to be listened to and not shut down. We should be encouraging them to open up and connect to other members of the community, not automatically drugging them with neurotoxic drugs. 'Open Dialogue' is a good start, a treatment which respects each client's reality and helps them make meaningful sense of their experiences. Originating in Lapland, Finland, Open Dialogue is the future - but for how much longer will clients be systematically dehumanised by a psychiatric class that doesn't want to relate to them?