Sarah Silverman did a TED Talk that wasn’t released and it got me thinking. I’ve written before that as good as these talks often are they have a pernicious philosophical basis. In particular, they imply that they are just “telling it like it is.” They claim to be objective. This in itself is a big problem. It is fine for an individual to think that he is just following where the facts lead. Little delusions do little harm. But when an institution suffers from the same delusion, it can do great harm.
For example, Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame gave a talk about how the idea of self actualization was bad. Based upon his experience, people doing grungy manual labor were the most happy. For all I know, this is true. To me, the biggest problem in modern life is finding meaning, and if I were a shepherd, I might well be much happier. But the rich and famous Mr. Rowe hasn’t actually lived with the people who appear on his show. He only sees them while the cameras are around. What’s more, there a selection problem. For most people, it isn’t a choice between a secure job as museum curator and a secure job as a farmer. Rich men telling young people that they will be happiest if they forego college and take a menial job is just evil.
TED Talks are geared toward the elites and what their interests are. Basically, it is a series by, for, and of Michael Bloomberg. And there’s nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is the implication that these talks don’t funnel the truth into a very narrow Overton Window: that occupied by the mainstream media—socially liberal but economically quite conservative. And the thing is that as much as I care about social issues, economic issues are the ones that most affect people in America today. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a repugnant policy, but income inequality is destroying our society. DADT harmed a relatively small number of people in the military, but income inequality harms hundreds of millions in this country. DADT could have waited, but income inequality cannot.
I was shocked to hear that Sarah Silverman’s TED Talk was effectively banned. Chris Anderson—that bastion of thoughtcrime policing—called the talk, “god-awful.” Luckily, someone finally leaked the video. And guess what? All she did was a stand-up routine that was completely in character for her:
I’ve more or less come to the conclusion that as much as I might generally agree with certain rich people, they are all pernicious actors. Because of what our society values, these people have too much power. This isn’t the power to explicitly force us to do anything. Instead, it is the power to force their ideas—regardless of how extreme—into the public discussion. I may agree with Paul Krugman today, but tomorrow, he could say anything. And because of his wealth (and not his arguments), he will be heard. This is a major problem and it is well on display in the over 1000 TED Talks online.