A day out at FODI

December 4, 2018

Labsters Anna and Katie recently attended the Festival of Dangerous Ideas (FODI) in Sydney, a yearly program hosted by the Sydney Opera House.  FODI is two days of thought-provoking talks and panel discussions which aim to push the boundaries of conventional thinking around society, cultural economics and politics. This year the event was held at Cockatoo Island in Sydney and scheduled to appear were a range of intellectual heavyweights from Niall Ferguson to Stephen Fry and Germaine Greer. 

Of keen interest to Labsters this year were sessions covering the changing political environment, the benefits of LSD micro-dosing and historical interpretations of ideas. First up was Niall Ferguson who delivered his perspective on the twists and turns of American politics, with characteristic eloquence. Drawing parallels to 1870s-90s America, Ferguson pointed to social inequality, mass migration and globalisation as key factors giving rise to modern day populism under Trump. In contrast to the past, however, he cites Facebooks’ crucial role in driving deep socio-political divisions during the election campaign, leveraged by Trump to ultimately secure his victory. Ferguson wraps up with a powerful message – that regulation of Facebook is critical to prevent extremism and open up potential opportunities for more balanced, thoughtful political debate in the future. 

Image Source: Festival of Dangerous Ideas

Next up was a session with Megan Phelps-Roper, former member of the Westboro Baptist Church and educator on everything from bullying to the need for empathy in dialogue. It was this last point which she was key to drive home in her session “Love Your Enemy”. Phelps Ropers’ grew up with an unwavering commitment to a set of false beliefs espoused by the church and her experiences make for hard listening.  However, heated twitter debates with David Abitbol, founder of “Jewlicious” blog lead to a moment of awakening for her. His light-hearted touch, kindness and willingness to listen in the face of antisemitic invective disarmed her, paved the way for a détente, and lead to the beginning of a rich friendship. Phelps Ropers’ conclusion is that to live more harmoniously, we need to suspend judgement and try to understand the others’ point of view no matter how conflicted our beliefs are.

Image Source: Festival of Dangerous Ideas

Finally, Ayelet Waldman delivered a (refreshingly!) entertaining talk on the benefits of LSD and MDMA micro-dosing.  After years struggling with depression and frustrated with ineffective medication, Waldman began sampling LSD and MDMA to manage her moods… and save her relationship. LSD and MDMA contained her anger and unlocked an attentiveness that enabled her to feel fully present in the moment. Waldman closes the session by crediting LSD and MDMA with enabling her to be her best self – productive, upbeat, open and giving - and advocating for decriminalisation.

Image Source: Festival of Dangerous Ideas

All in all, it was a fascinating day of mind-bending discussion! But what did we learn? Doom and gloom aside, we learnt that empathy, the ability to listen and a willingness to embrace out of the box – and controversial -  solutions may be the key towards a more balanced and well-adjusted world. 

Let’s see what the future holds.