The Festival of Dangerous Ideas

fest“America is a country that is now utterly divided when it comes to its society, its economy, its politics,” wrote David Simon, author and creator of the gritty television crime drama The Wire, in a recent article in the UK Guardian. “There are definitely two Americas.” Indeed there are, although Simon blames this chasm not on the political momentum of the radical left, who are hell-bent on leading us into a post-American future, but on the failure of a Reagan-era capitalism to build “a just society.”

Simon’s article is an extract of his presentation at this year’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House in Australia, which ran for two days last month. The Festival of Dangerous Ideas saw Simon join a range of “notable thinkers” in discussion and debate “about all sorts of ideas that are dangerous in different ways,” said the festival’s curator Ann Mossop. “Dangerous can be that kind of dangerous that gets you killed, or it can be the kind that means you have to rethink your opinion on something. But it can also be something that is quite fun, that takes a lighter view of the kind of dangerous ideas of everyday life.” Of course, it’s one thing for ideas to be provocative, and another for them to actually be any good, but I digress.

The event’s thinkers included anti-bullying flagbearer, anti-Christian bully Dan Savage, who was on hand to promote open marriages, which he claims save more relationships than destroy them; web theorist Evgeny Morozov, who has criticized the United States government’s “Internet Freedom Agenda” for convincing our enemies abroad “that Internet freedom is another Trojan horse for American imperialism”; Hanna Rosin, a Slate and Atlantic writer whose book The End of Men: And the Rise of Women posits that the patriarchy is dead; anti-globalist ecofeminist Vandana Shiva, whose presentation was called “Growth = Poverty”; and Guardian writer Erwin James, a convicted double-murderer who now advocates for prison reform. His presentation was entitled “A Killer Can Be a Good Neighbor.”

(In the future, if the Festival of Dangerous Ideas organizers want to broaden the event’s range of “notable thinkers” and present some really shocking ideas that run counter to the orthodoxy of the self-congratulatory liberal elite, concepts that might challenge their rigid worldview, perhaps they could consider inviting such notables as Thomas Sowell, Mark Steyn, and David Horowitz, for some really eye-opening balance. Just a suggestion.)

Simon’s show The Wire, , in which his marginalized and “economically irrelevant” characters on the streets of Baltimore butted up against government and bureaucratic forces beyond their control, ran from 2002-2008 and was known for addressing sociopolitical themes like the drug war and poverty. Today Simon confronts those issues more directly in such venues as last month’s Festival or in the Guardian.

In his address, entitled “Some People Are More Equal Than Others,” Simon excoriated capitalism’s inability to correct America’s income inequality, solve environmental problems, and heal the racial divide. He argues that since 1980 – the beginning of the Reagan era, though he doesn’t refer to it – we have increasingly embraced a profit-obsessed capitalism that has severed itself from “the social compact.” We have abandoned an American dream that was accessible to all and that gave us “the American century,” “all because of our inability to basically share, to even contemplate a socialist impulse.”

The result is that America has become “a horror show” in which family income is declining, basic services such as public education are “abandoned,” and the underclass is “hunted through an alleged war on dangerous drugs that is in fact merely a war on the poor.” He also claims that “capital” has bought the electoral process, effectively shutting down the popular will and crushing hope. Actually, what has shut down the popular will at the voting booth is rampant voter fraud, but again I digress.

“That may be the ultimate tragedy of capitalism in our time,” Simon declares,” that it has achieved its dominance without regard to a social compact, without being connected to any other metric [than profit] for human progress.” Capitalism is a great engine for building wealth, but a poor “blueprint for how to build the just society”:

So I’m astonished that at this late date I’m standing here and saying we might want to go back for this guy Marx that we were laughing at, if not for his prescriptions, then at least for his depiction of what is possible if you don’t mitigate the authority of capitalism, if you don’t embrace some other values for human endeavor.

He doesn’t describe himself as a Marxist, however:

I’m utterly committed to the idea that capitalism has to be the way we generate mass wealth in the coming century. That argument’s over. But the idea that it’s not going to be married to a social compact, that how you distribute the benefits of capitalism isn’t going to include everyone in the society to a reasonable extent, that’s astonishing to me.

“The only thing that actually works,” he argues, “is not ideological… It’s pragmatic, it includes the best aspects of socialistic thought and of free-market capitalism.” I’m not sure what the best aspects of socialistic thought are, but this country finds itself torn in two precisely because we have at the helm a man who, like Simon, argues for wealth distribution to build a “just society.” How does that seem to be working out? How does the utopian impulse to mold a “just society” always end? Not in the elimination of poverty but in less freedom and less prosperity for all.

Simon wants to rise above ideology, but the radical left, which ascended into power five years ago, is nothing if not ideological, and the socio-economic horror show Simon decries has been facilitated, fed, and exacerbated, not ameliorated, by Barack Obama and his handlers. David Simon is correct: there are definitely two Americas, and the way to begin closing that divide and propel us into another “American century” is to focus on keeping us a “free” society, not a “just” one.

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  • ingmarmxy321

    my Aunty Sienna recently
    got a year old Jaguar only from working off a home computer… Recommended
    Reading J­a­m­2­0­.­ℂ­o­m

    • Jakareh

      The computer is how she finds her tricks.

  • StarTripper

    So Simon says (sorry, couldn’t resist) that we need capitalism to generate wealth but that wealth needs to be taken and redistributed. So organized theft is the wave of the future, eh?

    • tr60

      Capitalism is organized theft in itself. It’s a rigged game where all money if funneled to the top. Unless you posses great amounts of capital, you’re just a card dealer.

      There was a joke floating around during the Soviet Era, I heard it when I was in Yugoslavia in ’82 and it goes like this:

      What’s the difference between Communism and Capitalism”
      “Under Capitalism, man exploits man. Under Communism it is the other way around.”

      Neither way is wholly good or wholly bad. We need the market and “enlightened self-interest” to allow people to achieve all that they can achieve. We also need to provide equal opportunities for education & health or otherwise we will end up with an inherited aristocracy that the Founding Fathers were so opposed to.

      It is also in the public interest to try to make sure that everyone has a minimum of food in housing. It is inexcusable that we don’t. Right now there are more empty houses than homeless people. Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate than the US and we are 35th on longevity. Somewhere on the web I read that food stamps for others costs the individual taxpayer $36 a year. Charity cannot match that efficiency. Charity cannot keep up with the demands already.

      Yes, there are parasites that sponge off the system. There are also millions of others who are having a damn hard times of things. Aren’t we “our brother’s keeper?”

      • MukeNecca

        And how exactly capitalism is preventing YOU from being your brother’s keeper?

        • tr60

          What’s your point?

          • MukeNecca

            What?

      • Mo86

        “Neither way is wholly good or wholly bad. ”

        Government mandated/enforced theft is always wholly bad. Always.

        Since you believe these ideas, may I ask how much in extra taxes you voluntarily pay each year? You can do that, y’know. I’m not asking for private information or for your entire tax return, but just a round number or percentage of how much you voluntarily give, over and above the taxes that are required by law?

        • tr60

          Would you like to live someplace with out sewer/water/fire & police protection/ mail delivery/ public schools/ public parks? If you still don’t want to pay your taxes why not move to a libertarian utopia like Somalia?

          Government mandates are bad….or just the ones that one doesn’t like? Sorry, you don’t get to pick or chose. You do get to pick and chose your candidate, so get one that is in align with your viewpoint. If he doesn’t win don’t get stomping mad, we live in a democracy (and don’t give me that “Republic” nonsense)

          • BenZacharia

            Paying for services I receive is not wealth redistribution. BTW, most of those services I do not receive, I live quiet well. We live in a Constitunal Republic, look it up, the Founders hated democracy.

          • tr60

            What services are you not receiving?

            Can someone else here address her statement of “the Founders hated democracy.”?

  • Mo86

    It’s hilarious how liberals really do think they are so brave!

    I wonder if it’s because their consciences are inwardly stinging them because they KNOW what they are saying and the ideas they put forth are in themselves dangerous and evil?

    • A Z

      Simon spoke volumes when he said we should reconsider Marx.
      He is implicitly saying that he is a Marxist, but does not have the bravery to say it explicitly.

      It has been said that Marx’s opus Das Capital lays out the faults of Capitalism in the 1st half but really does not offer a prescription to solve anything.

      If you point to the USSR or China, the typical leftist will point to Europe or Cuba. Europe is failing. Cuba is a mess. There is not one socialist country they can point to that is as good as the U.S.

      If there were they would have moved. They have not moved like they have in the past. In the 1930s some Leftists had the courage of their convictions. They moved to the USSR and were executed/

    • tr60

      It is because our consciences are sting that we put forth our ideas. We are not surprised that others would find our ideas dangerous (to them) and thus, evil.

      When you present ideas that others threaten to kill you for, well, yeah, that is being brave. Though most of those people are blow-hards who couldn’t lug their ammo and rifle around the block….

  • A Z

    “In an interview in Reason in 2004, Simon said that since leaving the newspaper business he has become more cynical about the power of journalism.[13] “One of the sad things about contemporary journalism is that it actually matters very little. The world now is almost inured to the power of journalism. The best journalism would manage to outrage people. And people are less and less inclined to outrage,” said Simon.”

    So Simon says jump and we all jump.

    Simon pulls a string and we act like puppets.

    But it does not work like that. We are not to be commanded like puppets by journalists.

  • T-Rex

    Here again we see the liberal mind stuck on its never ending endeavor of replacing the equality of opportunity with the equality of outcome. They will never admit there are just some people who will not “achieve” anything more than the most meager existence even when handed wealth on a platter. Even worse, they refuse to accept the fact that making poverty palatable results in more poverty. Their mistake is believing all those who can not or will not rise up are victims of an oppressive, capitalist cabal. This socialist/capitalist hybrid they see as an answer will eventually prove what human nature tells us. The takers will overtake the makers and there will be no one left to foot the bill.

    • tr60

      So, we offer the working class servitude or death?

      • Sez Eye

        No, We offer everyone the opportunity to succeed. Individuals are responsible for what they do with this opportunity.

  • A Z

    “I’m utterly committed to the idea that capitalism … that how you distribute’

    Read yes I have a successful career in Hollywood, give me my F______ $ and my tax breaks! Power to the PEOPLE!

  • http://www.shugartmedia.com/ Chris Shugart

    The basic tenet of the Progressive movement has remained unchanged and flawed from the beginning. They still believe that a “scientific” system applied to people (with or without their consent) has the potential for transforming us into “good” people. Such an approach has never worked and never will.

  • 1stworlder

    I have a dangerous idea for them, Evolution is still going on and affects IQ. Right now leftists that squat out the most low IQ crack babies are the most successful at expressing their genes, thanks to less fertile high IQ productive workers.

  • Jakareh

    Here are some “dangerous” ideas: Feminism is destructive, Islam is dangerous and evil, homosexuality is pathological, socialism is unfair and creates poverty, men and women are different, there is no man-made global warming and probably no global warming of any kind, mass immigration from the Third World is a disaster, Nelson Mandela was a thug with a nice smile, Barack Obama should be impeached, David Cameron should be put on trial for treason, the European Union should be abolished, the welfare state should be done away with.

    • Bear

      I must agree with you in most of them, except regarding homosexuality and global warming. :)

    • Mo86

      BRAVO!!

      Yet we all know that ideas like these will NEVER be presented at such “brave” conferences!

    • tr60

      All ideas are dangerous to the status quo. Things will always change, always evolve. Sometimes for the worse, for a while, usually for the better. I’m sure most people here would find slavery abhorrent. We try to guarantee all children a secondary education. Life goes on…

  • tr60

    Yet they have a lower infant mortality than the U.S….

    • canitary

      there is lies , damned lies and statisc, specialy when,manipulated by by the despotic. totalitarin governament in power

      • tr60

        Facts are stupid things.Ronald ReaganWe can’t let facts get in the way of our argument can we?

        • canitary

          HE probable was referring to demoncrats, , that is their stock and trade

          • tr60

            What he had done was bungle John Adams, “Facts are stubborn things.”

    • A Z

      Believe what you want to believe. It has been shown that the British infant mortality rates have been cooked.

      Have a nice life and lots of luck. You are going to need it.

      • tr60
        • A Z

          My sources are News organizations (some are better than others), individual journalists (you get liberals in conservative media orgs so putting you trust in an organization without question is no good. It has gotten so you have to follow individual journalists), blogs, friends, family, former and current military people.

          Everything in Washington is political whether it is the DOD, CIA,FBI,…

          So it is pathetic when you trot out that sources as the end all – be all.

          • tr60

            Oh yeah, they’re the ones that said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction…
            My bad.

          • A Z

            Being in the military at the time and knowing that other people took samples that confined chemical & radiological weapons, I know they were there past 1991.

          • tr60

            Why didn’t the Bush administration make this public? It would have augmented their argument. They didn’t and that puzzles me. How far past 1991? Where they there in 2003?

          • A Z

            I don’t remember all the specifics.

            But we also were shooting jihadis coming across the border from Syria and burying them in the desert. That did not make the news either.

            So why did not Bush get into Assad’s face, impose sanctions, or invade?

            That is right there are too many people like you.

            But now Assad is reaping the whirlwind like the U,>S. is

            The U.S. is because a number of residents were too chickensh/t to fight.

          • tr60

            Too chickenshit to fight who? How are we reaping the whirlwind in Syria?
            Why are we fighting there to begin with, we only played into Al Queda’s hand and gave Iran a big boost.

            Convenient you can’t remember the details

          • A Z

            Syria is reaping the Whirlwind right now.

            Assad facilitated the movement of Jihadis through his country plus gave them material help.

            Now those same jihadis are turning against him.

            Because we did not finish the job we are facing WW4.

            And yes you are chickensh/t.

          • tr60

            Why are you saying I’m chikenshit? You don’t think that I don’t read the news, wander the web, have my own resources, have my own experiences?

          • A Z

            Because of the point of view you are pushing.

            From my view point you stuck your finger in the air and went with the crowd.

          • tr60

            I stuck my head above the crowd and looked around.

          • A Z

            Well i can say 2 good things for you.

            You told that person at the Progressive website not to be a group follower, so you have cred if you say it here also.

            And you have lived on a farm which also gives you a lot of cred in some areas.

          • tr60

            Did the whole drill: plowed, bailed hay, slopped hogs, butchered hogs, milked cows and forever walked the fields of beans pulling weeds…

          • A Z

            In that regards, you are a better man than I.

            I have never butchered anything large.

            Pulled weeds or hoed weeds? You never see that anymore. Last time I saw people hoe beans was at a field north of I-80 in western Iowa.

          • tr60

            Round-Up ready soybeans and Monsanto did away with that business. Now you plant, spray and harvest. The fields of the MidWest look like gardens… Lord knows what toxins we have inflicted upon the land.

          • A Z

            If we are going to talk about toxins without putting all our truest in this or that expert, it seems we are going to have to learn organic chemistry.

          • A Z

            I checked out some of your postings.

            I saw that you told a progressive not to blindly follow the crowd at Progressive Now or whatever. So that gives you cred to say it here.

            You also grew up on a farm and are grounded that way. You have cred there also. You are not going to be one of those college students that ask the teacher how the put the potato skin on the potato in the factory (True story).

          • A Z

            I see you know how to butcher hogs and chickens. You are not a total loss as a liberal.

          • A Z

            Blind leading the blind

      • tr60

        Why would I be living Cuba? I live here.

        • A Z

          You live in Cuba?

          Are you an apparachick or nomenklatura?

          • tr60

            Are you truly that dense?

      • tr60

        “The death tool spike like 10% in winter for old people because of the cold. ” In Cuba? Have you ever been in the Caribbean in the Winter? It’s why everybody vacations there!
        (It’s warm, with flowering plants and ripening fruit.)

        • A Z

          You made my point. Living north of Cuba is harder because of the cold. So you would be living in Cuba if you could or some other Caribbean locale.

          It brings up the point that in that particular respect countries north of Cuba have a harder row to hoe because of the cold.

    • Debbie G

      Mortality rates are calculated differently in many countries.

  • alericKong

    Just saw Simon on Bill Moyers:

    Simon complains about a society measured only by profits, yet he uses only profits to judge the well being of individuals. Although contradictory on it’s surface, the wealthiest people I’ve known have been disgusted with material possessions, their wealth resulting from passion in beneficial fields like medicine or energy. The worst gluttons and sloths I’ve known have been poor. They lived to survive each day, hampered by their own desires, because they were incapable of critical introspection.

    Simon views humans as exclusively victims of circumstances. A factory closed down, well you must now deal drugs. I cannot disagree more. A very long time ago humanity decided to forego evolution and change our environment, and today our effects can be seen in the atmosphere and even outside our solar system. Wickedness and gluttony affect the rich as much as the poor, even worst due to wealth’s accelerator effect. Lack of motivation makes any social cure impotent to an individual’s evils. We may build it, and they will very likely destroy it.

    Simon says the only factory left in America is the corner. This amounts to profiteering off spreading a disease to your family and neighborhood friends which will kill them before they are thirty. A quick monster search in Baltimore for “engineer” resulted in over 700 job openings, “machinist” yielded over 50, “forklift” over 40, “shipping” over 50, and “welding” over 20. Each day I see hundreds of jobs go unfilled in my inbox because there’s not enough qualified workers. We are in desperately need of reform from the bottom up.

    The dangerous ideas I think of do not consist of mere infidelity or material wealth or other people’s sadism. Currently we see ourselves as meaningless. Absent absolution by advanced extraterrestrials, only death lies in our future if we fail against nature.