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The Upside of Unspeakable Ideas

Courting controversy at the Sydney Opera House

Author Chris Wright


Over the course of a few days this month (Nov. 2–4), an estimated 20,000-plus people will pour into the Sydney Opera House to hear a series of talks with titles like “In Defense of Flogging,” “A Killer Can Be a Good Neighbor” and “The End of Men”—just a few of the topics up for discussion at the fifth annual Festival of Dangerous Ideas.

The aim of the event, says organizer Ann Mossop, is to “shock people out of their comfortable beliefs” via “ideas that go against mainstream opinion.” Among the contrarian thinkers this year are “The Wire” creator David Simon (“Some People Are More Equal Than Others”) and syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage, who’ll be probing the subject of infidelity.

Mossop’s favorites are the panel discussions, which she describes as “intellectual hand-to-hand combat.” She recalls “a terrific one” a couple of years back in which she had to insert herself between two irate speakers. As for complaints from audience members, these are rare. As Mossop puts it: “It’s not like people come here expecting to hear about flower arranging.”

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