I happened upon a page for the TED Talks where they try to answer the question, Is TED Elitist? The thing about elitism is that those who suffer from it don’t normally understand what the issue is. And TED is no exception. Here is their answer to the question: “Is TED elitist? In a nutshell, no. It certainly attracts people who are regarded as elite in their area of expertise. But the word ‘elitist’ implies exclusionary, and we’ve taken many steps in recent years to open up the live conferences to as broad an audience as possible.”
No one is arguing that TED (or any other group) should grab people off the street and put them on stage. “And now Homeless Bob will tell us what he thinks about recent advances in radiation therapy.” Nor is anyone saying that the talks are not widely available. Although it is worth remembering that in notable cases, TED has refused to release talks, and that does have to do with TED’s elitism.
What makes TED elitist is how they push ideas that comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted. My favorite example of this is Mike Rowe of the show Dirty Jobs talking about how kids would be happier if they just accepted crummy jobs. You see, Rowe has been around a bunch of people doing crummy jobs and they were all happy. I might point out that he is around them only when the film crew is and people are actively paying attention and caring about the work they do. But the issue is deeper than that. In the one example he gave, the man owned his own farm or business (it wasn’t clear); he wasn’t some day laborer or someone working at McDonald’s. So the fact of the matter is that a young person is no more likely to succeed at these dirty jobs than are at anything else. To top it all off, should a celebrity worth $35 million really be telling kids to forsake their dreams?
This is what I wrote back in August:
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.
Of course, the ultimate example of TED elitism is how the group tried to censor Nick Hanauer’s talk on income inequality. I’m sure that TED felt very comfortable booking Hanauer. He’s a billionaire, after all. But then he talked about how the rich are not job creators. The horror! Eventually TED was forced to release the video. But if Hanauer’s video had been how the rich create jobs, the video would have been released with no thought at all. And that is why TED is an elitist group. It isn’t because they feature elite speakers. It isn’t because they don’t distribute video of their talks to the prols. It is because they provide a megaphone for the interests of the elite.
If you haven’t seen it, check out Hanauer’s excellent speech. Only an elitist could have thought this talk was controversial:
TED Talk images used under Fair Use.