Sunday, 3 November 2013

A Year of Dangerous Reading

Each year one of the events I most look forward to is the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, put together by the Sydney Opera House and the St James Ethics Society. This year's Festival, held 2-4 November 2013, featured brave thinkers from around the world. I enjoy hearing them debate provocative ideas and pose alternative futures. While I may not always agree with them, they always get me thinking and keen to learn more. After each Festival, I tend to add to my ever growing To Be Read pile as I am keen to read their works.

One of the panels I attended was talking about crime and the problems of prisons. It was a fascinating discussion with Erwin James, convicted murderer turned Guardian journalist. James is the author of two books that seem quite intriguing: A Life Inside: A Prisoner’s Notebook (2003) and The Home Stretch: From Prison to Parole (2005) which I would like to read. He had an interesting view about 'rehabilitation' and the need to address the failings of those imprisoned to provide them with skills and therapy to assist them when they leave jail.

Former Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon presented a really reasoned approach to policing. She made particular mention of the need to look differently at juvenile justice and aboriginal incarceration rates, as these are two areas we are failing in. Her autobiography Fair Cop (2011) highlights her interesting career. She has always been an interesting figure and I have a lot of admiration for her - particularly her support of the LGBT community, advocacy for victims of domestic violence.

Former Baltimore police officer, now professor of sociology, Peter Moskos was In Defense of Flogging (2011) discussing his controversial idea to reduce incarceration rates by giving the convicted a choice between corporal punishment and a jail sentence, the subject of his book.  While his thesis is intriguing, I don't have a real interest in reading this title. He is also the author of  Cop in the Hood: My year policing Baltimore’s Eastern District (2008).

The final panelist was David Simon, journalist and TV producer, who is the creator of my all-time favourite show The Wire. Simon spoke passionately about the failings of the war on drugs, the ridiculousness of mandatory sentencing, three-strikes-your-out policies, and the outsourcing of prisons to the private sector. I am keen to read Simon's book Homicide: A year on the killing streets (1991) and The Corner: A year in the life of an inner-city neighborhood (1997). Simon spoke about the many costs of incarceration and the futility of 'life' sentences.

Another speaker I enjoyed at the Festival was Evgeny Morozov, a Belarusian writer and researcher about the implications of technology. I am keen to read some of his books, in particular: The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom (2011) and To Save Everything, click here: The folly of technological solutionism (2013). He has some interesting views on society's over-reliance on mobile phones and other devices. He made it very clear that we cannot rely on apps for everything.

I also attended a panel with the subject The World is Not Ready for Women in Power. Hosted by journalist Julia Baird, the panel featured four dynamic women with different views on this subject. 

Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men: and the rise of women (2010) stated that it doesn't matter if anyone is ready. She said that ten years ago America wasn't ready for an African-American President but then along came Obama. She reckons Hillary Clinton has a pretty good shot. I have read some of Rosin's magazine articles but have not yet read her book, but it sounds really interesting.

Environmental activist and anti-globalisation author Vandana Shiva was a delight. The author of Ecofeminism (1993), Stolen Harvest (2000), Making Peace with the Earth (2013) and many more titles, she had a lot to say about the rise of corporations. Shiva said one of the best things women can do to make the world ready for women in power is to raise their sons well. 

Australian feminist Anne Summers spoke about Julia Gillard and noted that many countries have had a woman leader, but very few countries have done it more than once - viewing the female leader as an experiment that didn't work. She spoke about misogyny and the difficulty women have in Australian politics. Summers is the author of feminist classic Damned Whores and God's Police (1975), The End of Equality (2003) and most recently The Misogyny Factor (2013). I have never read Damned Whores and will seek it out. 

The final member of the panel was American sociologist Arlie Hochschild. She has written a number of books that I am keen to read. In particular The Outsourced Self: What happens when we pay others to live our lives for us (2012), The Managed Heart: Commercialization of human feeling (1983) and The Second Shift: Working families and the revolution at home (1989). Hochschild spoke about the second wave of feminism and the need for a new grassroots campaign. I am looking forward to The Outsourced Self

Another festival speaker with a book I want to read is Australian John Safran. His latest publication is Murder in Mississippi (2013), about the killing of a white supremacist in the Deep South by an African-American. Safran spent time unravelling this case and documenting it in this true crime book. Sounds a bit like one of my favourite books, Truman Capote's In Cold Blood

Those who know me well know that I am a huge fan of the late Christopher Hitchens. His brother, journalist Peter Hitchens,  was at the Festival discussing his book, The War We Never Fought: The British Establishment’s Surrender to Drugs (2013). He discusses how drugs have become increasingly socially acceptable and governments have done little to stop it. Peter Hitchens is a far too conservative for my liking, so despite the interesting topic, I am unlikely to read this book. After seeing Hitchens on Q&A, it has become very clear his views on the world don't interest me.

The other person I was fortunate to see was Dan Savage, American gay activist. Savage writes a lot from personal experience, and his books look at his life with partner, now husband, and the adoption of their son. He is a passionate advocate, and spoke well about the fallacy of conservative notions of love, marriage, sex and intimacy. His books, like American Savage (2013) don't really appeal to me, but I am glad to have heard him speak on Q&A.

So that was my Festival for 2013 and I have plenty of good reading to do which will keep me busy until next year!