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THEME MUSIC I'm Tony Jones. Hello and welcome to Big Ideas, some of the best talks On today's show we bring you from the Byron Bay Writers Festival, including John Keane on democracy, on her education in war, LA Times correspondent Megan Stack

Bret Easton Ellis and literary bad-boy

on arguing with his editor. a couple of details 'Cause I did remove I guess, distractingly unpleasant that he found, um, were his words. anyway, why not can't I go farther?" And I thought "we're going this far that week. And he made a very very good case and I did remove it That week he made a good case I'd made a mistake by removing it and then by the time I thought in production and it's done. it was too late, the book was

what those details were. And I'm not going to tell you LAUGHTER No. Oh, sighs of disappointment (!) your breakfast now? Really, do you want to lose (LAUGHS) I don't think you do. No. out loud, no. And I don't want to repeat them you regret now - But it does sound as though I regret it completely. have kept those details in. It was a mistake and I should talking with Simon Marnie Bret Easton Ellis writers' festival appearance at his first-ever a little later on. demokratia. But first, the Greeks called it the wheel, the printing press, It's easily as important as and the cloning of stem cells. the steam engine, since its invention, But more than 2,500 years democracy finds itself in trouble. At the Byron Bay Writers Festival, Cambridge educated John Keane Australian-born Julianne Schultz told the Griffith Review's are sleepwalking their way that democracies everywhere into deep trouble. left on the face of the Earth, In 1945 there are only 12 democracies favourite idea - since then, Francis Fukuyama's which he still holds to today - a huge renaissance of democracy, representative democracies many many - possibly 60, 80, 100

and that's the big trend of our time. the "end of history" That's what he called and against that view really fundamental, I think that he misses something time in the history of democracy, which is the growth, for the first barking dog institutions - of all these watchdogs, guide dogs, human rights networks, integrity commissions, bio-regional assemblies, online monitoring groups like GetUp!, Amnesty, Greenpeace, truth and reconciliation tribunals, I mean, these are all new. I mean, public memory commissions, They may seem obvious to you in the history of democracy, but they're all new

they've all been born since 1945 Western inventions. and they're not, by the way, of spaces of the face of the Earth, Most of these come from a variety

power scrutinising inventions, they all inventions, to solve a problem. Participatory budgeting - in a local community the idea that citizens, for example, to elected representatives, should have some say, in addition to how the budget is spent - that's a Brazilian invention. is coming to be a much more rough - So my idea is that democracy much more rough and tumble process when it works - public scrutiny of power, where there's permanent by various organisations - the permanent attempt and so do parliaments, not only parties, they tend to slip they tend to slip from the thing - scrutiny, this permanent rough and tumble

on its toes. the attempt to keep power democracy comes to mean In a phrase, to humble power. the permanent attempt is one of the democratic virtues. Humility, for me, The belief, in other words, on thrones of power, that nobody should sit they're a god or goddess on Earth. that nobody should act as if

as a monarch. That nobody should behave then typically - That if people try to do that, like gods or goddesses on Earth - and whole organisations try to behave

usually comes no good - then out of that bad decisions, injustices, foolish decisions, hubris. in a word, as the Greeks called it, I'd like to tease out a little more It's interesting, I mean, organisations work in a minute, about the way those monitoring you talk a lot in the book but before that, and the humbling of power. about the importance of humility One of the things that strikes me - again, in this sort of immediate political context - was that the flipside of that in a way has been the fear, that the humbling has left politicians and political leaders and others fearful of the public. That in some ways the reactions, you know, what's gone on in this election campaign where it's so denuded of content, is the fear of saying something wrong and I wonder whether that humbling has actually had - has had a countering effect in a sense, that it makes it harder to provide leadership, it's harder to say "No, this is not right," because the polls are saying that's what everyone thinks. Tony Blair, one of my favourite politicians - I'm being sarcastic, by the way - LAUGHTER

Tony Blair, in his farewell Reuters speech about the media, journalists, and politics and democracy -

you should read it, it's online in all kinds of versions - says, "When I entered office in 1997 we had an issue in the morning and an issue in the afternoon which we, the Cabinet, would pursue through the media. Within a very short time we were constantly firefighting." And basically what he wanted to say was all this monitoring by journalists and all these extra parliamentary groups has just gone too far. And so we put with this, you know, bowling around our ears - this is the metaphor he uses - we put our pants and gloves on. And we then, we repelled them. And that's - it's terrible but that's what's going on, that's what's happening in democracy. Well, couple of things, I think, are wrong with that. One is that of course he was, he brought to a high point - he and Peter Mandelson and others around him, Alistair Campbell, his master media minder - brought to high perfection the art of manipulating media. For instance, using the technique of throwing out dead bodies - that's putting out bad news when something else is going on elsewhere. Um, the other thing that's wrong with it is that it seems to me it has a very negative view - you're right - defensive, fearful view on the part of the political class of this transformation of democracy that's going on. But it's not necessary, because there is another way by which elected leaders, through periodic elections can handle this which is to work in tandem, to try to work in tandem

with this monitoring process. And I think Obama did that extremely well

during the course of his election campaign. It's not accidental, by the way, that his background is in exactly this monitoring process - you know, Chicago community organising. He kind of gets it in a way that, it seems to me, the two, ah, potential prime ministers - there possibly are others - but the two potential prime ministers in this country, don't get it.

And so they put their armour on and hence the whole machinery of, ah...of dissembling,

and of, you know, only meeting people on their own terms. This is a very strange perversion of representative democracy. But to put it back into a context in terms of the media's role,

I think it's particularly interesting

because we have become accustomed in a representative democracy model, you know, the old sort of notion that the media was there as the principle monitor. You know, the Fourth Estate. Fourth Estate, yep. So, for many many years that's been the expectation. The media was there as the principle monitoring agency. What has happened in this sort of post war period that you're describing is the growth of many, many other agencies which are involved in monitoring - so it's the ICACs and it's the commissions

and it's the, you know, all the regulatory bodies, you know, it's a huge range of monitoring organisations. Mm-hm. The media in some ways has lost that privileged status which it once held, almost alone. And so, one of the things that sort of intrigues me in this process

is that by playing to the media,

the media game, this defensive sort of thing, and in a way it's not only a last gasp of an earlier model in terms of the political process but it's the last gasp of the media as its own agency of scrutiny and control of that political process. And so it's sort of, It's like this sort of thing that's collapsing and the dinosaurs are fighting at the bottom, but there's a whole lot of other stuff that's going on which is actually much more interesting. Yeah, a little anecdote that might illustrate the change,

it's from Britain, you may have, ah, not heard about it but there was an afternoon in the House of Commons when Gordon Brown was fielding Prime Minister's questions, and what he didn't know is that an hour before

demonstrators from a citizen's initiative called

Plane Stupid, that's P-L-A-N-E Stupid, with the help of probably some liberal, capital L - Liberal MPs, got into the House of Commons ad got up on the top of the Palace of Westminster, unfold a big banner opposing the extension of Heathrow Airport,

on environmental grounds. Had told all kinds of bloggers and tweeters and mainstream journalists that they were going to do this, and conducted their own press conference, up on the roof with all the pack down below while Gordon Brown was... So he was told through his earpiece that there was something going on on the roof and he then with not a touch of irony or humour said he wanted to remind the honourable members of the house that policy in this country, Britain,

is made under the roof of this house and not ON the roof of this house. LAUGHTER And I think that's no longer so. And what we are seeing is a process of much more heavily contested, viral, er...contestations of power about all kinds of issues that are putting, for the moment, parties and parliaments and politicians on the back foot. And I think in part this is due to the changing ecology of reportage. It becomes possible, as I said yesterday to cause a controversy with a hand-held mobile phone. Ah, or a closed-circuit TV feed and I mentioned just a couple of examples, favourite examples just from the last year and a half, you know, the Florida assemblymen caught watching porn in the chamber of the Florida Assembly while a debate is going on about abortion rights. I think is coming to be part and parcel of what democracy is. and if you don't like it,

um, well you have to start talking about what would be the alternative. I don't think the alternative is going back to an imagined golden age, where representative democracy and parties were the prime actors and our role was principally, once every three years or four or five years, to vote for them. I think that's coming to an end, and I think that, instead, that we have more complicated and richer options, at best, as citizens, to actually, um, produce sometimes new representatives, outside the party system, who stand for things that actually are good for the public interest. GetUp! - because it's topical - is a case in point. It's a very simple idea of dedicated, mainly younger people, who have the idea that politicians should not have the last word, parliaments are actually out of step with people's feelings

and that the right to vote and the right to campaign about cleaning up the parliamentary system and making leadership much more representative, is the job of extra-parliamentary monitoring and I think I would like to see some opinion polls about the GetUp! initiative, but I'll bet you that two-thirds of Australians think that it was a jolly good thing that it happened. Politics professor John Keane, speaking there with ABC board member and Griffith Review editor Julianne Schultz. To see that talk in full, head to our website at: or watch out for it on ABC News24. Next up in our Byron Bay Writers Festival special, LA Times correspondent Megan Stack

was 25 years old and holidaying in Paris when the planes hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Her vacation was cut short, she flew into Afghanistan and from there Megan Stack officially became a war correspondent. She's telling her story to Mungo MacCallum. On September 11th, I got swept into the coverage of the war and ended up in Afghanistan, which was a place that I never thought I was going to be. Um, it all happened very quickly and I ended up not going back to the US for months. I didn't get back home until January of 2002 after leaving for a two-week vacation and that was my introduction to foreign correspondence and also to war coverage. Were you reluctant at all to get yourself involved in what you must have known was at least a dangerous and unpredictable job? Well, I think at that time - I was much younger than I then, I was 25, and I was, uh, you know, I thought that I was - knew exactly what I was doing, but of course now I realise I had no idea what I was getting myself into. And, you know, yeah, I wanted to do it, I wanted to be covering the war. I didn't care at all at that time about the danger, I was much more brave than I am now, maybe much more foolish. I didn't really know what I was doing and I just went charging in.

People say, both reporters and soldiers themselves, that, in a way, you get a taste for that sort of life, that you know there are horrible things about it but when you leave it,

you feel you've lost an important part of yourself. Did you start finding that? I mean, yeah, I went through that a few times. I think that it's, you know, there's, ah - you know, I'm not a psychologist, but I think it has to do with the even physical, you know, responses to being in a war.

Because there's a very specific even physical sensation that goes along with it, when you have a lot of adrenaline going. You know, career-wise it's amazing. When you're covering a war, you feel like you're in the most important place in the world and your entire system is woken up

is sort of epic and important and you feel like everything

on the edge of life and death and you're sort of is incredibly addictive and, I mean, of course, all of that why people get addicted to war and I completely understand to go back to your ordinary life and also, when you leave and you have a very difficult re-adjustment, you go through where you, you know, I think - and also soldiers about it - I've talked to a lot of war reporters it's not exactly the same, I think, you know, but there are some parallels. and you feel a bit down So that you kind of go back after pumping all this adrenaline, and your system, all the time and hyper alert, and kind of being awake where you kind of go, you sort of feel this slump, um, you feel a bit disaffected re-connect with people and you have to sort of after the war, and nothing seems important kind of flat and dull. everything seems

doing it for a while, And towards, um, after you've been the barriers even further, you started really stretching been told you weren't meant to be, trying to get to places where you'd where it was too dangerous to go. developed a bit of a - Do you think you almost

I won't say death wish - but, um, a feeling that what happens to you? it just doesn't matter anymore I was much more - Well, I - you know, sort of an arc with that, I've gone through earlier on in Afghanistan because, I think, and at the beginning in Iraq, and idealistic about war coverage I was much more ideological going to cover a war and I thought that if you were

and keep yourself safe it was ridiculous to try to a certain extent. and I still think that I think that you sort of processes and conversations get involved in a lot of thought a war zone to protect yourself about what you can do inside people having those conversations and, um, when I first would hear 2001, in Afghanistan, when I was - you know, about just saying, I was very cavalier We already decided to come here." "What are you talking about? You can't, you know - with the people who are in danger you've got to go and be and you have to take your chances, just like they're taking their chances and that's what we've come to do, we haven't come to, sort of, be protected. But that changed. I mean, by the time - the last war - the last two wars that I covered, I was really terrified and it was a totally different experience for me, because I was actually feeling fear while I was still in a war zone which had not happened before and it made it much more gruelling to do the work and it made it much harder for me to stay and, you know, and perform. Although in retrospect, I think the coverage was maybe better when I was more scared, because I think I was more attuned, in a way, emotionally, to what was happening. That's the fear. What about the loathing? Did you still maintain a sense of the horror of war when you'd been doing it for a while? Yeah, of course. It never gets better and each war is different and each country that is affected by war is different and when you see what's happening to people, um - you know, for me I'm always most interested in civilians and that's always where I'm kind of looking is at civilian effect. You know - it never gets better, it only gets worse to see what's happening to civilians and in some ways it's even - it becomes worse and worse,

because you realise after covering one or two wars, at some point, that these deaths have a certain theatricality to them and that the war is going to end and that - you know, in a few years, if it's a small war, people may hardly even remember it and these issues that are being fought over, for example, in Lebanon and Israel or the Georgia war, um, from a few years ago, really small, short wars, devastating wars, where people were killed, but then afterwards you think what did they die for? The war ended and everything sort of went back to normal.

One interesting thing I've noticed about wars in the past is that although a lot of soldiers come back from them and say that war has made them into pacifists, that almost never seems to happen with journalists. If anything, journalists get more gung-ho as they go along. Is that your experience? I don't know. I actually do think a lot of journalists are pacifists at heart, but I think that, for us, we're not actors in a war, we're not carrying out the war, we're not killing anybody and that's not what we're there to do. We're not there to think about the strategy of it, in a way, so, personally, I approach it differently. When I'm covering a war, I try not to get too, um, wrapped up in the question of whether the war should exist at all. Just because, it's not really a productive line of thought. Once you're actually there and the war is going on, the war is happening, you have to cover it.

Um, I think for me, it's just - what I'm thinking about is trying to transmit as much information, as powerfully as possible and as quickly as possible out of a war zone, because you kind of feel like you have an opportunity, working in the news. You feel like you have the chance to, um, to bring people's voices to the rest of the world and to Congress and to the American readership and to the UN and whoever else might be in a position of power to do something about what's happening and that's what I'm usually focused on - is just trying to get as good an idea as possible about what's happening and move it out as quickly as possible, so that if people are making the decision to continue the war, which obviously isn't my decision to make, at least they understand what they're doing and they understand how devastating even one more day of that war is going to be. So, I don't know - I do think a lot of journalists are not very happy about war, but the problem with journalists is that we all want to cover big stories and we all go running towards the biggest stories and so if there's going to be a war, I think a lot of journalists want to be there. Yes, I think - that sounds cynical, but I think, obviously you're right. Can you really be dispassionate about it when you're involved in something that is as get-wrenching as war and the injuries, the deaths, all the pain and suffering you see,

can you stand aside from that, in a way that a doctor's meant to when performing an operation or are there times when you crack? Are there times when I cry? Is that what you said? Well, cry or crack - Oh, crack. OK. Um, not while I'm still in the war. It is impossible to remain dispassionate,

but there's kind of this sense of mission that I was just talking about, and as I also said, a lot of adrenaline, so, you know, usually I don't really sit down and think about everything that's happened until after I've left and one of the things I realised when I wrote the book was that it was - a lot of it I hadn't really processed properly until I sat down to write the book itself and that was years later. You know, yeah, of course, but it also depends. Lebanon, for me, was the hardest war. Um, it was the most upsetting and I was sort of in the worst state when I was covering it and that was very hard, because we were on the ground. I was on the ground in the south, under bombardment, day after day, and there wasn't a sense of the other side. The only thing that I was seeing of Israel was, um, bombs coming down from airplanes and from gun ships, so, you know, in that case, it is very hard to remain objective, in a way, because you're just kind of - you're very clearly embedded on one side, which is the civilian side, you know, which is being bombed, so that's a very overpowering feeling. And you feel you're sort of stuck there with the people and your life is also kind of hanging there and you don't see the other side of the story sometimes, but not every war is like that. Some wars are more, um - you're more able to move back and forth and you can kind of see - I mean one thing that I write about in the book and that I really believe is that most people who are involved in wars are not honest.

I mean, usually when people are fighting a war - whatever side they're on, whatever their political affiliations are, however noble you may think they are, they're probably not being fully honest about what they're doing, just because the things that people do in war, obviously, are unflattering and they try to spin things a little bit. So, um, when you see that both sides are lying, that's when I feel you're as close as you are going to get to having some kind of detachment, because at least you're acknowledging that the only thing you can depend upon is what you've actually seen and the rest of it's sort of unknown and undependable. Megan Stack, with the often hair-raising anecdotes from her book Every Man in this Village is a Liar. Look out for more of that as part of Big Ideas Extended Mix on ABC1 on Wednesdays and now also on News24. Well, next up -

the bad boy of American literature - Bret Easton Ellis. Easton Ellis is the author of seven books of fiction, his best known and most notorious being American Psycho. Remarkably enough, Byron Bay is his first-ever writers festival. His latest novel, Imperial Bedrooms, is a sequel to his first, Less Than Zero, which centred on a bunch of disaffected Hollywood rich kids and was, of course, made into a Hollywood film. In this entertaining one-on-one with Simon Marnie, Ellis presents himself as the misunderstood guy who just wants to be liked. This is your first writers festival.

I find that hard to belive that you've - Why? Why is it so hard to believe? It is my first writers festival

that I've ever been to anywhere in the world and I find myself in Byron Bay. APPLAUSE AND CHEERING Unbelievable. I can't believe it. Believe me, I find it completely bizarre myself. I don't know how I ended up here. I woke up, I was being driven over here and these dusty roads and these crazy drivers and I was thinking, "God, what am I doing here? How did this happen?" It surely can't be the first time you've been invited to a writers festival though. Oh, it's not the first time. I've been invited to hundreds of writers festivals. Oh, well, I've been publishing books for 25 years, so yes, I've been invited to many, many writers festivals and this is the first one that I agreed to go to and there must be something going on in my life that's - I don't know - that led me here, that made me leave America

and decide to come here for four or five days. I don't know what it is. Well, we're very- Something must be wrong. I must be escaping something from California. I don't know. We're very glad you did come and since it's a writers festival, I thought it would be interesting

to look at the process of writing Imperial Bedrooms. (GROANS) LAUGHTER Can we do that? (GROANS) Oh... Because you don't read your own books, from what I gather. Oh, I know, I mean look, I'm reading them hundreds and thousands of times when I'm working on them and then I finish them and then like 14 or 15 months go by and suddenly they're out and then I'm asked questions about why I wrote the book and what my process is and, I don't know, it's very hard to take it all, it's very hard, first of all, to remember, and then, second of all, it's hard to answer coherently, because writing a novel is not a logical, practical thing. It's like a really emotional thing to do. So I find myself stumped

by a lot of the questions I'm asked by journalists. And I've gotten into trouble since I've been in Australia - No!? Yes, I have! LAUGHTER Not like that kind of trouble. No, no, no, no. No, that, no, no. AUDIENCE CHUCKLES Just, like, trouble in general, where I think people assumed that I was a much more serious literary figure than I actually am. I'm very serious about the books. And I've only written, actually, six novels, and one collection of stories. So, I am serious about it, but this process is, I don't know, I think people have a different idea of who I might be because of the novels. Like, they think, I don't know, that I'm very depressed and dour, and I wear a cape and I like to drink blood in the morning. LAUGHTER You sleep in a coffin too, right? Sleep in a coffin, and all these things. Or they think I'm a much more serious person than I am. And I think I, my first night here, which was about two nights ago, I think, I did my first appearance in Australia. And I think a certain kind of seriousness was expected from me. And yes, all I wanted to talk about was Delta Goodrem. LAUGHTER And that was...a problem. It was a problem. In fact, I've seen it in the press, that, "American Psycho author is blabbing on about Delta Goodrem." AUDIENCE CHUCKLES Instead of talking about, you know, the process of writing, and how, you know, it's just, you know, "It's just so tough and so hard and being a writer is so important, and being a novelist means so much." And it does, to a degree, but also, you know, I'm just a person. I'm just a person!

LAUGHTER I'm just a person, you know? Well, you'll be pleased to know not one of my questions starts with 'Why'. And I...well, OK, then... we're gonna be fine. LAUGHTER Phew. I see a lot of the same people... I've seen a lot of the same people who've been at my last two appearances here today.

But there is actually - That guy in the cap.

..the guy in the cap? Yes. There is actually - You! LAUGHTER Can we have a hands up? Who is not a Bret Easton Ellis virgin? Um... OK. Is that alright? It's fine. I mean... It's going to be OK. I'm intrigued why, when you were writing Lunar Park, did you go back to read Less Than Zero? Um, because I wanted to refamiliarise myself with the narrator of Lunar Park, of his work. And the narrator of Lunar Park is a man named Bret Easton Ellis. And so, I wanted to go back and read his novels, and just refamiliarise myself with the novels. And I hadn't read Less Than Zero since it had been published. And, yeah, that's what happened. That was the genesis for Imperial Bedrooms - I read Less Than Zero not thinking at all

that I was ever going to write a continuation of it or a follow-up to it, and I, it's just one of those things that happens - I became haunted by the idea of where that 19-year-old boy was now. And that's how it occurred.

Because that 19-year-old boy grows and evolves when he appears in Imperial Bedrooms. Rather than being a passive observer, he's actually directly guilty in his events now.

Yes. That's right. Did you - Well, he was guilty, I thought, in the first one too. I thought his passivity made him guilty. I thought he was witnessing crimes and he wasn't doing anything about them. I mean, what does that, what do you do when you're part of a crime scene, let's say, and you just don't do anything? You don't call the police, you don't help anyone out, you don't save the girl, you don't save your friend? I don't know, I think there was - that passivity in Less Than Zero could be construed as a crime, I guess. But now he is a little bit more active. He has appetites, he's hungry, he's more focussed. And he causes more damage in this book than he did in the last book, yes. Also, the book seems to have a far more lineal dialogue than Less Than Zero. Er, linear... Progression of story? ..yes. It does because when I was thinking about Clay now, I was thinking about what kind of man he was. And first of all, I also wondered what he was doing for a living. And I realised that he was probably a screenwriter,

like many of my friends who grew up in LA. All of them seemed to enter into the entertainment business. And I thought, well, hey, Clay would be in the entertainment business. I don't know if he'd be as active as a director. I don't think he'd want as much power as a studio executive. But a screenwriter made sense to me. And once I created this character of Clay as a man in his 40s now, and as a screenwriter, in LA, and I was figuring out who he was.

And also things that were going on in my life I added into the character as well. And I though, OK, well, he's going to narrate the book in a certain way. in a certain way. He's going to tell the story like a screenwriter. It's going to be his movie, in a way. It's going to be his script.

And the book is very much written like a script. It's narrated in a very simple script-like style, the dialogue's very clipped. And he becomes the star of his own movie, of the script that he is writing. And I think that is why the novel has that kind of propulsive, I guess, storytelling thing going for it. lisa in It's not something that I'm known for at all, really. I've written books that are 400 pages that have no plots.

But this one I was very conscious of who the narrator was and how he would tell this story and I felt he would tell the story in this particular way. But... (VOICE FADES) Hello? Yep. Continuing that idea of writing a story without a plot, Chandler and the writing of Chandler was also something that you were discovering around the time that you were writing this book. What was so significant about Raymond Chandler? I don't know. It just hit me at the right time of my life. I had just moved back to Los Angeles. I'd read him as a younger man. But I was reading him when I just moved back to LA about four years ago and just - there's something about -

there's an existentialism about Chandler that's missing from a lot of the famous crime writers from that era. The mysteries really don't matter so much. The mysteries are often not solved. And it's pretty much about this guy Philip Marlowe, Chandler's detective, and this journey he goes on through this blasted moral landscapes and just trying to be his own man, in a way, and trying to protect himself from the immorality around him. And the style also is very simple, very beautiful, very poetic, and I was just responding to Chandler. And I wanted to - I was so impressed by Chandler and became - not even impressed but kind of obsessed by him that I did want to write a kind of noirish novel and I was in that mood in the moment to kind of rip of Chandler a little bit.

Because I find him a fascinating writer, in that often he didn't know how the story was going to end right up until he got to the end. That's where we differ.

I do know where the story ends before I even begin a book. I know what the last sentence of the novel's going to be even, before I begin the actual book. And by that I mean I do a very long outline, a kind of very messy first draft that's often twice as long as the finished book. And in that I do know the first sentence of the book and I do know the last sentence of the book and it just helps me. And I've always worked that way from the first book to Imperial Bedrooms, yes. So do you work with an editor? Ah, no, I don't work with an editor. I have an editor who has overseen my last four books but - in terms of working with an editor, I turn in the book when it's finished to my agent, my agent reads it,

then my agent gives it to the editor. I pretty much feel it's a final version of the book

that I've worked on it long enough, I know what it is, and that's what should be published if you are so inclined to publish it and then my editor goes through it

and corrects some of the syntax and grammar and then every now and then we have some problems. And then we did have some problems, one in particular, in Imperial Bedrooms. There's a sequence near the end of the book which is now known as the notorious "Palm Springs weekend" sequence. And my editor was very upset by this. He thought it was very shocking and that it kind of distracted from the rest of the novel, in a way. That sequence was the reason that I wanted to write the novel. It cemented my desire to write the novel.

When I realised that Clay, the narrator of this book, was going to go there, actually, that's when I got thrilled, and that's when I said, "I'm gonna write this book." And my editor told me that I just took it too far. And in fact I was just thinking about it this morning in the shower when I was waking up. I was just thinking about it. See, it bothers me a lot. Because I did remove a couple of details that he found, I guess, "distractingly unpleasant",

were his words. And I thought, you know, we're going this far anyway. Why can't I go farther? And he made a very, very good case that week. That week he made a good case and I did remove it and then by the time I thought I'd made a mistake by removing it, it was too late. The book was in production and it's gone and I'm not going to tell you what those details were. No. CROWD MURMURS Oh, sighs of disappointment! Really. Do you want to lose your breakfast now? I don't think you do, no, I mean...

And I don't want to repeat them out loud, no. But it does sound as though you regret now - I regret it completely. It was a mistake. I should've kept those details in. So, when it comes to the area of censorship and, I mean, you do have some pretty graphic depictions, not just in Imperial Bedroom but in all your canon of work. Do you ever censor yourself.

Is there an area you would not go? Um, no. No, there isn't. Um...I don't think I'd write a Nicholas Sparks novel. AUDIENCE TITTERS I mean I don't think... Yeah, there are some areas like that that I don't think I'd gravitate towards but, no, I don't know. I mean, if it felt authentic, if it felt that it needed to be there and that it was interesting,

no, I don't have that kind of - I'm not thinking of myself that way in terms of the self-censorship. I would never have thought those details in Imperial Bedrooms that my editor asked me to remove would've caused -

would've made, you know - would've caused that kind of uproar within my editor. I don't know. I don't think that way. I mean, what do you do as an artist when you start self-censoring yourself? I don't know. What happens to Lolita? Does Lolita get written? I mean, because people don't like paedophiles. I mean, yes, of course, they don't. But what does - you know - see, it's a weird, it's a weird thing to get involved in, and when you start talking about censorship and censoring yourself as a writer because you're afraid you're going to offend an audience, you know, I've said this before - you might as well, if you're going to do audience testing before you write a novel to see what's going to upset people, what's not, who's too sensitive for this, who's too sensitive for that? Who can take this? I don't know, you might as well really be in advertising. You might as well be an advertising man. You've just got to write what you want to write. APPLAUSE Scattered applause. LAUGHTER AUDIENCE APPLAUDS MORE Better. Better. If it's not your own censorship, you have dealt with pretty extreme censorship in not just America, but in the UK - you had to enlist the services of Geoffrey Robertson to get your book published. Are you surprised when you have to go to that extent?

So silly, so silly. It's just a little book! My God, people are so sensitive, it's crazy. I'm still - I've never seen - for some weird reason, I've never seen this - I've never seen how you sell American Psycho here. You sell it in a little bag. AUDIENCE CHUCKLES It's sold in a little bag. I think it's adorable! I think it's cute. I love it! I don't want my publishers thinking, "Well, we're still trying to get it out of the little bag and we're trying to get that little sticker off it." I think keep it. I like it. I want more of my books sold in these little bags. I forgot to bring it up with me but I actually have American Psycho still cling-wrapped and unopened. I want a copy of this. No one ever sent it to me.

Everyone thought that I'd be so offended that I'd be, "Oh!" I think it's cute.

It's cute that Australia got upset about it and had to put this book in a little shrink-wrapped bag. I - Like a little sandwich or something.

I think it's adorable. Bret Easton Ellis in conversation with ABC broadcaster, Simon Marnie, at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. To see that address in full head to our website at: Finally today, we leave Byron Bay

for a neuro-scientific take on how we make decisions. Over the last 20 years, brain research has fundamentally changed our understanding of decision-making. Jonah Lehrer, a Rhodes Scholar,

a critically acclaimed science writer, and the man behind the popular blog site, the Frontal Cortex, has kept a watching brief on this.

In this compelling Commonwealth Club of California address Lehrer maps out how the latest cutting-edge research shines a light on how we make decisions and how we might make better ones. I thought I'd begin by telling you how I came to write a book on decision-making. It's kind of a lofty decision, which subject you're going to write about for a book and the actual moment that led me to write this book - slightly embarrassing, my wife and I were in the supermarket, and we'd gotten together all our things and we were at the checkout line, putting them on the conveyor belt,

when all of a sudden we remembered we'd forgotten to buy cereal.

So I'm sent back to the cereal aisle with relatively straightforward instructions to just buy a box of Cheerios.

So I run back to the cereal aisle and see the big yellow box of Cheerios and reach for the Cheerios only to see right next to that a box of honey-nut Cheerios. And I think to myself, you know, honey-nut Cheerios are much more delicious than regular Cheerios - that's what I should buy. So I reach for the honey-nut Cheerios. And right next to that there's a box of multi-grain Cheerios and I think, well, I should get some fibre in my diet, I should buy those. Then I see a box of generic Cheerios which are 99 cents cheaper, so I reach for them - I'll spare you my entire interior monologue because it doesn't get any more interesting. But ten minutes go by, and I spot my wife out of the corner of my eye, looking at me like I've lost my mind 'cause I can't pick a box of cereal. And it was that everyday failure that I think first inspired me to write a book on decision-making, and of course it wasn't just Cheerios and cereal, it was floss, it was toothpaste. The toothpaste aisle was a particular nemesis. LAUGHTER And it was that everyday failure which led me to write this book. I became very interested in, number one, what was happening inside my head as I struggled and too often failed to make a decision. And number two, more importantly, what should have been happening inside my head. And one of the first things I discovered, is that for a long, long time, almost since the beginning, since we first started thinking about these kinds of questions,

the question of decision-making had seemed pretty straightforward, that the best way to make decisions -

and this goes all the way back to the Bible and Plato and the Ancient Greeks - the best way to make decisions was to be as rational as possible, to analyze things carefully and deliberately. This gift of reason, this Promethean gift of reason, was what set us apart from everything else, from the dominion of all the other animals. That's why we were created on the very last day, because we were possessed with reason. And I think one of my favourite examples of just how influential this idea was is if you read Plato. He's got this great metaphor of the mind, which is he compares the mind to a charioteer. And so he says there's this rational rider and his job is to keep a tight rein on the emotional horses, these impulsive, impetuous beasts which lead us astray, which lead us to take out sub-prime mortgages and put too much debt on our credit cards. And the best decision-makers, Plato said, were the ones who kept the tightest reins on these horses, who had the most control, who exercised the most reason. They were the ones who should be philosopher kings. This very simple idea, that reason is good but emotions lead us astray, became incredibly influential

over the course of the next couple of thousand years. It went on, of course, to become the founding assumption of modern economics and the idea was that you could create all sorts of elegant models about how people behave in economies if you just had one assumption, which is that people are rational agents, that we act like homo economicus, those people in economics textbooks. And this really is a lovely idea, it does allow you to build these models, it does allow you to make all sorts of assumptions about human nature it does elevate us above chimps and our pets. There's just one problem with the assumption of rationality, with seeing us as uber-rational agents, which is that it's just not true. I think one of the first convincing pieces of evidence that we're not nearly as rational as we think we are, comes from the work of Antonio Damasio a neurologist now at USC who, in 1982, began seeing a patient named Elliot. Elliot had a brain tumour in his frontal lobes in the part of the brain called the orbital frontal cortex. And after surgery - Elliot, by the way was a very successful fellow, he was an executive at a Fortune 500 company, an accounting executive, scored in the 97th percentile in intelligence tests so a very smart guy. And at first the surgery to remove this tumour seemed like a great success. You know, he didn't lose language, he had no seizures,

his intelligence remained the same. But then over time it became apparent that Elliot did suffer one terrible symptom, one terrible side effect from the surgery, that Elliot lost the ability to experience emotions. So all those everyday feelings of pleasure, and anxiety, and excitement and nervousness

that we all take for granted, Elliot didn't experience. Now you'd think if you were Plato, or a modern economist this would lead Elliot to become the best decision-maker possible. He'd be a philosopher king, he wouldn't be led astray by these silly horses telling us to do the wrong thing. Well, that's not at all what happened to Elliot. Instead, what Damasio found was that Elliot became pathologically indecisive. It was like me in the cereal aisle, only much, much worse. Damasio describes giving Elliot a patient consent form

and watching as it took him 30 minutes to choose between a blue pen or a black pen. He describes how it would take him all day

to try to figure out where to eat lunch. And then once he finally decided where to go, assuming the restaurant was still open, take another few hours to choose which sandwich to order. So all these everyday decisions, became all but impossible for Elliot. He could never make up his mind. This was one of the first insights that our emotions weren't just these negative things that lead us astray but our emotions actually underlied so much of everyday behaviour so much of all our decisions were actually driven by this subterranean world of feelings and emotions and passions and instincts and intuitions. That even when we weren't aware that we were feeling something even when we weren't conscious of these emotions, they were still driving our behaviour. And of course this isn't just trite, banal decisions like which sandwich to order, I think this is also true of our weightiest decisions. To use that old tired cliche, that what we're consciously aware of, the reasons we're consciously aware, in terms of trying to figure out our decisions that really is just the smallest tip of the iceberg, in terms of what the mind is up to. And so now I'd like to do a little audience participation just to demonstrate this. One of my favourite examples of how our feelings, these feelings we're not aware of at all, drive so many of our decisions is the trolley scenario. Some of you may be familiar with it. So, the first scenario is you're driving a runaway trolley. This is a hypothetical which has been used by philosophers for a couple of decades. You're driving a runaway trolley, and on the track ahead of you, if you do nothing - you see five workers - and you're gonna run them all over. They're all gonna die. So, if you do nothing, this runaway trolley is gonna kill five workers. However, you can also turn the wheel just a little bit to the right, onto another track, in which case you'll only kill one worker. So, who would turn the wheel? Raise your hand if you would turn the wheel to avert it onto the second track and only kill one worker... Congratulations, you're a representative sample. So, you can ask this question all over the world, and 95%-97% of people say, "Of course I'd turn the wheel. That's simple arithmetic." Better to kill one - I mean, it's terrible for the one guy who's now gonna die, but one is better than five. I've really saved four lives. Seems like a very straightforward So now, here's another scenario. So now you're on a footbridge overlooking these trolley tracks, and you see another runaway trolley and it's gonna kill the same five workers on the trolley tracks. And it's terrible, these workers don't even know it's coming, you're gonna watch this tragedy unfold. And then you look to your right, and you see a very large man leaning over the footbridge staring at this too, and you suddenly realise that you could push this man onto the trolley tracks, and that he is so big that he would stop the trolley too. LAUGHTER You have to indulge the hypothetical for just a couple of seconds. So now, who would push this man onto the tracks? LAUGHTER So, so we have a couple of brave souls. But, not surprisingly, you see a complete reversal. So now 95% of people say, "Oh, God, that's...

..I couldn't push a man onto the tracks! That's a horrible, repulsive thing to do! That's, you know, that's murder! I could never do that." And what this illustrates is even though the arithmetic is the same, even though someone like Kant would say, "The numbers haven't changed. It's still one versus five. It's still better. Four more people still go home to their families because you were brave enough to push a man onto the tracks," it feels incredibly different. And it's that feeling that we can't really articulate why it feels so different. Nevertheless that feeling drives our decisions. So here's another example. This is from a psychologist from the University of Virginia named Jonathan Haidt. He tells a story to his undergraduates. Jack and Jill, they're brother and sister, they're vacationing in the south of France and they're having a great time in France. And then one night they decide to have sex. Is it wrong? Did they commit a sin? So who says, "Yes, Jack and Jill did something wrong"? You guys are very, er... CHUCKLES ..very liberal audience. LAUGHTER But at least these undergraduates are convinced that Jack and Jill were terribly wrong. And so then, Jonathan says, "Well, why is it so wrong? Why is it so wrong to sleep with your sibling?" And the first response of most students is to say, "Oh, 'cause they may have a kid and the kid is gonna have terrible genetic defects." To which Jonathan says, "Well, don't worry, they used two forms of birth control. Is it still wrong?" And they said, "Oh, God, of course it's still wrong and disgusting." And he says, "Well, why?" "Well, it's gonna ruin their sibling relationship." And he say, "Oh, you know, that's a fair point, but actually it brought them closer together." LAUGHTER "They had a great time. They're not gonna do it again. But, you know, it was just a great experience, and now they're even closer. Is it so wrong to have sex with your sibling?" They said, "Yes." And he goes on and on. He shoots down one reason after another

until they reach what's called "a state of moral confounding," which is they have no reasons left, all their conscious, rational reasons had been exhausted. And yet it still feels wrong. And it's that feeling that drives their moral behaviour, that drives this decision to judge Jack and Jill. Now, the reason I bring up these far-fetched moral examples is I think for a long time we've talked about morality in particular - you know, forget cereal shopping, but talked about morality in particular - as justified by rationality. That's what Kant was up to with the Categorical Imperative it's what we've been talking about ever since Moses came down with the Ten Commandments - that our morality wasn't just a set of feelings, it wasn't just wishy washy instincts, it was actually grounded in necessity, in reason. And yet, what you find when you look at these examples, be it runaway trolleys

or kind of gross examples of siblings doing stuff they probably shouldn't be doing is that it's actually rooted in these emotions we can't really articulate, that you really see that so much of what we believe and so much of what we do is really driven by this subterranean unconscious, by this welter of feelings and instincts and emotions driving our decisions. But you've probably begun to think that I'm kind of setting up a straw man here, that I've been talking about emotions which have been hard-wired into us. we come with disgust instincts. You know, there are probably all sorts of good reasons why evolution has programmed us to find sibling sex repulsive. And there are all sorts of evolutionary reasons why we should feel bad to push someone off a footbridge, that we are, after all, social primates, and so we've had to learn to get along. That's where so many of these moral instincts and feelings come from. But I think I'm not just talking about emotions that have been built into the brain over millions and millions of years. I think the emotions that really drive so many of our everyday decisions are actually the by-product of experience, of our own personal memories and experiences doing whatever it is we're doing. Jonah Lehrer, author of the book How We Decide. Well, that's all for today. Hope we've helped you decide you'd like to indulge yourself in more big ideas! If we have, point your browser towards our website, at - There you'll find full-length versions of everything you've seen on the show today plus a vast selection of the brightest and best talks and lectures around. Don't forget, Wednesdays at 11am on ABC1 is where you'll find the newest serving of Big Ideas Extended Mix, and new shows as well on ABC's News24. I'm Tony Jones. Till next time. Closed Captions by CSI

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