TED is Political

Commenting here:

 I have never been jealous of the rich (though there was a pretty long period of time in my youth when I was angry about not being able to afford food and housing).

I'm not about to start being jealous. Being rich isn't some kind of natural ability; it's a symptom of a psychosis. Rich people - especially those who continue to amass more and more wealth - are anti-social, and often criminals.

What I object to is the representation of TED attendees as an elite. They are no elite. TED attendees are like "Nina Khosla, design student at Stanford. Does that name sound familiar? It should, her dad is famous VC Vinod Khosla." Having a famous (rich) dad makes her elite? Not in my book.

Same with the presenters. It isn't like you lined up everyone and picked the top 100 to present. Quite the contrary - the top 100 people in the world would probably be found nowhere near TED. They are very likely people who are trying to fight world hunger (not world obesity). They would be actual nuclear physicists (not Bill Gates talking off the cuff on the subject).

TED is political. Let me repeat that. TED is political. It is not an elite - it is money trying to dictate what counts as intelligent, what counts as important. Anything is fair game, so long as it doesn't jeopardize their (the audience's) comfort level and position in society.

In a way, the $6K admission price is pure genius. It completely distracts attention from the real price of admission: conformity with an outrageous and pernicious political platform. *That* is what they screen for when they screen for admission.

And from here:

The thing is, they – TED Exec and their corporate sponsors – decide which ideas are “worth spreading”, and then they lend these ideas a false legitimacy by creating this ‘elite’ status around them – where ‘elite’ means, of course, ‘chosen by the TED Exec and their corporate sponsors’.

Would these ideas stand on their own merit, without all the hype? Maybe. But the ideas – and the speakers advocating them – get a big boost. And we get, at a minimum, the ‘big man’ theory of science (coupled with the ‘big CEO’ picture of commerce) and the ideas and ethos that goes with that.

TED exists as a concept by denying, at its foundation, that ideas are created and nurtured and grown by a community. It imposes on top of that (and often against that) a mythology that ideas are created by ‘great thinkers’ (and therefore to be owned, and commodified, and monetized).

(For example) who are the champions of open learning? According to TED, a Harvard professor and an entrepreneur.

This is classic TED. Take an idea that has gained currency. Self-appoint some (non-genuine) champion of that idea. Change the idea subtly to align with the political preferences of the ‘elite’ audience. Then market the new version of the idea (and its new champions) as the original idea that has been and is widely accepted.


  1. Nicely stated, Stephen. I can't believe this hasn't been stated before, like when Al Gore somehow became the authority on Global Warming.

    That should have been a big clue that TED is a political event. That said, I am attending TEDxNYED in a couple weeks. Taking my wife for our first trip to NYC, and counting it as a tax deduction for 2010.

  2. If it hasn't been stated before that TED is political, then I'm really surprised.

  3. Well, it's been stated before, but I'm not sure it's often been stated so succinctly and so well.

  4. Let me copy below this message I sent yesterday through Twitter:

    All CEOs.How about asking the poor & giving them 18 sec? RT @TEDNews BBC What the world needs now,18-sec TED Talk http://on.ted.com/88XU

    Asking CEOs what the world needs, and never asking the majorities who suffer its various calamities, is a futile exercise. That's why the world is the way it is today.

    Rosa Maria Torres

  5. Generally speaking, 'elite' isn't used to mean 'most intelligent', and the TED attendees do seem to match the dictionary definition:



  6. TED is entertainment, media, viral marketing, individualistic, elitist, Anglophile, capitalist, and, of course, is political.

    But that analysis does not always done. I was attracted by his TED talks on creativity and the slogan "ideas worth spreading".

    Even without knowing English, (You know, Stephen;) I created a group of Spanish translators of TED talks. We work in group sharing comments and translating fragments. It was a great experience.

    After TED translations established a translator and a reviewer for better control and "encourage" the process, for me group work lost meaning.

    (Greetings from Gran Canaria, and excuse my English, Stephen)

  7. TED is a private institution and as such can be as it wants to be. The same way, we can have the opinion we want about it.
    If some people find it politically oriented, that is fine. But most probably, is far less politically influenced than what we read in the "New York Times", "Le Figaro" or "El Pais".

    However, for the last two years I've had access to some of the most wonderful people and ideas that before, were completely out of my reach. I am so thankful for that.
    Some of the speakers I don't enjoy, some of the themes I don't like, but then, I can chose what I hear, right?

    Creating an open window like TED ( or fora.tv, or edge.org or aifestival.org) to free and available for all knowledge, is hard work and commitment. Dissmising others is so easy...

    Anyway, its cold and rainy in Madrid and I prefer the sun.

  8. As always Stephen, an interesting post. The only flaw is that, everything, by definition, is 'political' and it never occured to me that TED was somehow not - or natural and neutral. The selection of speakers is always going to be limited, considering who is potentially out there. I can't imagine you actually 'disagree' with many of the speakers, as such though.

    It is good to challenge the status quo, stimulating thought but I suspect that we are better off with TED than without it.

  9. I agree with Darcy's comments. TED, like any other high profile organization, cannot remain completely apolitical. For the elite? I think not. Elitist? Maybe a little. But hey, we cannot deny the impact Gore has had on general awareness of global warming, even though he is far from being an "expert" on the matter (his entourage is). Or how Sir Ken has provoked in-depth reflexion on the sad state of education.

    As for the lack of a sense of community in TED, yes, different ways could be put forward for all to hear "other" equally interesting voices, from the streets to the savana; a TED "vox pop". In the meantime, I still have the pleasure to hear (on MY terms) thought-provoking people. Not all who present, I admit, but still, great individuals who stand in front of millions of synchronous listeners who can CHOOSE to listen or not. That's the real tribe they "lead", not those sitting in $6K seats...

    Yes, Darcy, "we are better off with TED than without it."

  10. I enjoyed TED until this year. I came across it when a Neil Turok (not a widely known academic) made a call to unlock creative potential in Africa, dreaming that the 'next Einstein would be African'. I liked it because it was an academic talking but extending beyond their field of recognition. The implication was that the TED prize would facilitate Neil's 'dream', at least by raising its profile.
    This year what do we get? Jamie Oliver. A cook. A cook with TV shows, who regularly appears on UK TV advertisements for the Sainsburys supermarket chain, has his own 'lifestyle' magazine and club as a channel to sell bits and bobs, has multiple Twitter feeds with hundreds of thousands of followers and endorses a brand of cooking utensils. This is at a time when it just so happens that Mr Oliver is starting a TV show in the USA to do with obesity and how it could be cut down. At TED Mr Oliver talked about ... "obesity and how it could be cut down" ... so what is TED adding here?
    Thet've cut the number of TED prizes awarded each year and given this year's prize to someone whose idea (which IS probably worth spreading) is already very well placed to spread his ideas. In the UK, over the festive season, Jamie Oliver is over exposed through a variety of channels. As we recover into February TED gives us another helping of Jamie which is about as welcome as another plate of Brussels sprouts.
    Worse than being right, wrong or controversial, by simply supporting an already successful campaigner TED ends up looking like an advertising vehicle, and a boring one at that.


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