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Originally published in the Spectator Australia here.




When I clicked on the program for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, I expected the usual lineup of ideologically homogeneous speakers, but I was pleasantly surprised to find some diversity in the mix of the usual suspects.


The vast majority of the topics are curated the interests and preoccupations of the inner-city Left, such as asking audiences to ‘look beyond gender binaries’ or ‘unpack Australian colonisation and how ongoing untruthful narratives’ or whether ‘pandemic policy-making … were all in aid of preserving the lives of rich white people’.


But there are some odd voices in the mix.


The first surprise is the one speaker in the festival that usually has the most mass appeal. Rather than being the most dangerous, it is the one usually given by a member of the old Left. The Left once revered Enlightenment values, rather than dismissing them as a tool of the patriarchy – such as Stephan Fry of a previous festival. This year, author and psychologist Steven Pinker is filling the role, chaired by Quillette founder Claire Lehmann – an online publication often smeared as far-Right but in reality, its articles and interests (at least in my view) skew more ‘old Left’.


There is also a panel on Woke Capital which includes free market think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, and its Executive Director Scott Hargreaves. A bit of diversity casting, clearly, but credit where credit is due.

This is not the first time that publicly funded art or ideas festivals decided to put some diversity on the ticket.

A few years ago, Dark Mofo decided to bring out (actually) controversial Coleman Hughes, infamous for his opposition to reparations for slavery in America, and Diana Fleischman, an evolutionary biologist that doesn’t mince words about differences between the sexes. I might have spent my hard-earned on tickets and supported the inclusion of such people; had I known. But the problem with these festivals is that rarely do I think the program is worth looking at in the first place, given the preponderance of speakers and topics geared towards very different concerns than the ones that I possess.


The issue I have is not with having speakers I disagree with, in fact, I would quite like to see people who I tend to agree with square off against those that I do not, even if the ratio is four to one ‘new Left’ concerns and speakers to just ‘others’. They don’t even have to be conservative. Just different.

What would have been nice is for there to be true controversy surrounding the program topics that a devil’s advocate was bought on. I am not even asking for a 50 per cent representation of people on broadly the other side of each issue, just one.


In the case of the discussion of pandemic handling, perhaps bringing UNSW’s (the Principal Partner of this festival) very own Professor Gigi Foster to give the view that those that suffered were the poor in general with race being somewhat irrelevant. There is no issue more controversial topic at the moment than the effect of teaching that gender is a spectrum and that individuals are to self-identify on that spectrum, so perhaps bring in Holly Lawford-Smith to provide the counterargument against the lecture on gender fluidity. On the panel on American Decadence, it seems a waste to not bring out the person who wrote the book on the subject, New York Timescolumnist Ross Douthat, but of course, that would mean spending money on a speaker that will be widely disliked by the very audience that the Festival of Dangerous Ideas attracts.


The reality is that the public funds poured into the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, and the preoccupations of those that direct these funds, mean there will never be any truly dangerous ideas spoken at such a festival. There definitely won’t be any ideas dangerous enough to be protested against or cancelled. Those that support this festival may never admit that they are part of the establishment, but they clearly are when the speakers they want to hear are so undeniably mainstream that they can have them subsidised. If the institutions in this country don’t think they are dangerous, then they probably aren’t.


Conservatives may like to complain about the bias in the content funded by taxpayers, be it the ABC or festivals like this, but the reality that the establishment doesn’t want to sponsor conservative voices means that they think their ideas are truly dangerous or seductive.


The treatment of CPAC Australia by the bureaucracy which, far from getting funding for a conference full of mainstream conservative speakers, gets investigated for foreign interference, is proof of how dangerous these ideas are as viewed by the establishment.


I will probably book tickets to the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in order to send a signal that more heterodox voices in this festival are very much appreciated, but I will, at the same time, be booking tickets to CPAC. They clearly need my money more.


Originally published in The Spectator Australia




Whenever a disaffected liberal artist is abandoned by the Left – The Spectator Australia gains a creative and insightful commentator.


The path from ‘culture creator’ to ‘culture critic’ is a well-trodden one for those in the arts that don’t have the so-called ‘right’ opinions.


Even though the anti-Woke side is steadily gaining artists – be it Winston Marshall for his support of Andy Ngo against Antifa, Laurence Fox and his identity politics stand, Jess De Wahls and her opinions on biological gender, or Leunig for creating cartoons critical of vaccine mandates – the artists are still losing their primary business platform.


Being in a hit producing band, an actor in a prime-time TV series, an artist selling works in a major gallery (fortunately Jess De Wahls’ art has now been reinstated by the Royal Academy of Arts), or a cartoonist for a centre-left paper is a position of far broader appeal.


Essentially, they have lost an important cultural position that allowed them to engage with those who disagreed.


There is nothing wrong with writing essays on cultural issues, but they are usually read by those already (at least slightly) sympathetic. Podcasts are more accessible, but they require more commitment from the audience than a popular song or crime drama. These aspects of popular culture has entertainment at its core. To move, enjoy, and persuade rather than inform.


Creative types who deviate from the ‘approved’ message are being lost or quarantined in publication bubbles. To stop this from happening, the Culture Wars are going to require more than intellect and commentary. It must be prepared to branch out into the entertainment industry – to provide enjoyment rather than squabbling over the facts.


In America, they do a bit better job at channelling creative types into new careers after they are dropped from mainstream culture.


The Daily Wire, which started out as pure political commentary with the hugely successful Ben Shapiro Show, has moved into an entertainment format and signed up screenwriters and actors to produce films. Their most high-profile sign-up came after the Star Wars actress Gina Carano was sacked from Disney over a Tweet.


Commentator Coleman Hughes, who rose to prominence for his opposition to reparations, has made his foray into hip hop. This is a rare case where an individual has made the move from art into commentary and then back again into art.


Those that don’t want to cede the entire cultural landscape to identity politics should actively support platforms that catch the fallen artists after they are knocked over by the blasphemies of our time.


In order to do this, audiences may need to consider new mediums.


Generally speaking, politically apathetic audiences are unlikely to sign up to the Daily Wire especially if they lean a little to the left. How many people that weren’t already following Coleman Hughes’ commentary know he is creating music? It is a self-limiting, sympathetic audience.


There is no doubt that the addition of artistic talent is giving counter-culture a bit of ‘street cred’, but the reach needs to be expanded if we are to stop Cancel Culture.


After all, where did ‘art for art’s sake’ go? Why has art become a pro-or-anti identity politics conversation? Can we go back to simply enjoying art for its entertainment and emotionally moving stories? Or even better, why can’t art be culturally unifying?


There is something precious about shared culture – of being able to start a campfire sing-along confident that most people will repeat the words without ending up in a fit of offence.


Good creators do not tap into what makes us different, but the experiences that unite us. The joy, the sorrow, the passion of new love and the heartbreak of lost love, the complexity of being human, and the simplicity of some of the most enriching moments in life.


That is what will be lost in a world where we are cornered into consuming content solely from those that share our ideological leanings.


I don’t want art to preach to me about the injustice of Cancel Culture any more than I want it to lecture me about the newest pronouns.


And I am sure that in this I am probably in the majority.


A victory in the culture wars would ultimately mean the end to art that aims to propagandise more than inspire.



Originally published in the Spectator Australia: https://www.spectator.com.au/2022/05/trickle-down-woke-dominates-business/





‘Go Woke, Go Broke’ has been a favourite cry of those that oppose companies that take on fashionable causes but alienate the public. The problem with this catchphrase is that often the public are not the customers…


Jeremy’s Razors is the newest brainchild of a conservative pushback against companies that ‘hate you’. Their ad is hilarious, and many members of the public in America have gone out and bought one (and many in Australia wish they could buy them). This kind of pushback is very much needed.


However, real change isn’t going to come until the actual customers of Woke corporations pushback: other companies.


The reason why corporate ‘Wokeness’ or ‘progressiveness’– also known as it’s more formalised conception Corporate Environmental and Social Responsibility (ESR) policies – is so pervasive is that it is not merely culture, but law. More specifically, it is contract law with big companies passing on their Woke policies to smaller companies whenever they sign up to supply agreements and the like.


Many were shocked by the amount of mining companies that came out in support of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, but this was so completely predictable when they all have Indigenous Reconciliation Policies!


We also have the strange prevalence of private sector enterprises having Covid vaccine mandates enacted on their staff ‘by choice’. It isn’t much of a choice when their customers – which are other companies – have clauses in their contracts that say that in order to provide them services they had to guarantee their staff were vaccinated. For example, to receive stock from a supplier, both the supplier and the receiving company have to have the same vaccination policy. What is the easiest way to guarantee this? Have their own mandatory vaccination policies in place.


For all the smears of the Left that ‘trickledown economics doesn’t work’ – a crude and inaccurate representation of free-market economic theory – ‘corporate social responsibility’ theory definitely trickles down from big companies to small, with each contract that is entered into.


If you are a smaller business wanting to win a tender to provide goods or services to a giant corporation, having the same ESR policies in place is vital.


This is no more true than the biggest behemoth of all – the government.


Have you looked at a government tender recently? There are mountains of ESR polices that form part of the contract with the government and if you have any hope of winning the government as a customer, the business must signal their compliance with each.


So, next time you hear the phrase ‘Go Woke, Go Broke’ remind yourself why these companies have these policies in the first place, to win customers… Big customers. A multi-million tender contract is worth far more than a few angry ‘conservative’ customers. After all, what are they going to do – buy from a competitor that probably has the same policies?


All this is pernicious because it means that the problem with ‘Woke Capital’ is far deeper than mere culture and whinging Millennials and Gen Z’s on the staff. All these policies carry the force of law – contract law. Each B2B transaction in which these policies form part of the basis of the agreement homogenises corporate culture in one direction.


The prevalence of homogenous ESR policies due to their way of ‘trickling down’ from one company to another through private contract law are as clear an example of the power that the private sector has as any. It is strange times indeed when it is being pushed by those that sit on the side of politics that has traditionally been sceptical of Big Corporate Power and opposed by those that have traditionally advocated for freer markets.


More importantly, those in opposition seem to be hell-bent on using the very sources of power they have traditionally deemed to be the weaker and less efficient – government – to fight against Woke Capital. Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis taking on Disney is a prime example of this.


Taking away Disney’s special tax status and setting up a competitor razor company is a start but if conservatives really want to fight Woke Capital, they must start at the top.


Unfortunately, we can’t all do an Elon Musk and buy Twitter, but we can break the monopolies of industry bodies and professional associations – which is where a lot of these homogenising policies start – simply by cancelling our membership of these organisations and joining alternatives like the Free Speech Union or The Business Union instead.


Conservatives must become the real customers of these companies if they want to challenge Woke Capital at its root.