Why I don’t like TED talks (or TEDx or whaddeva)
Putting aside the fumes of smug self-satisfaction which shimmer over the audience, not mentioning the vacuous imbecilities regurgitated by most of the liberal arts talks, not even considering the $6000 seat price for attending this precious wankfest: sometimes, the “science” is often so unbearably bad as to defy parody. What am I talking about? Well, here’s some crank making perpetual motion machine and unified field theory claims at a TEDx conference. His lecture makes absolutely no sense; it is a schizoid word-salad of vaguely virtuous sounding quasi-technical phrases. The audience, gawdblessem, claps:
( Hat tip to Carl Zimmer for this stinker.)
The inchoate chattering is that of the managerial upper middle classes giving each other sloppy wet tongue kisses for being so incredibly aware, creative and wonderful masters of the universe. The subject matter is pure beigeism, from revolutionary musings that conservatives might actually be human beings, to precocious teenagers who fuse out a couple of neutrons in their kitchen, to superhero teachers, to TV noodle theorists, to, well, Jane freaking Fonda. The whole thing is so fey and revolting it makes me puke liverwurst in my mouth. I can almost smell the ripe stew of VC types sporting dockers pantaloons, the gaseous emanations of powerpoint and keynote slides, the toxic outgassing of parked Segways, the vegetarian salami stench of upper level human resources directors.
The great Henry Louis Mencken used to laugh at the pretensions of the Chautauqua lecturer of his day, “belaboring and fermenting the hinds with his Message from the New Jerusalem.” The average Chautauqua lecturer talking to the hayseeds is a regular Marcus Tullius Cicero in comparison to their modern equivalent; certainly he was allowed to express thoughts more complex than ones which fit into an 18 minute presentation. While the yokel Chautauqua audience may have been less educated than the modern equivalent, they were also better dressed, better mannered, and nowhere near as smug. The two audiences appear equivalent in their superstition. The old audience believing in god and country, and the new one believing in sustainable, non-violent, managerial, egalitarian scientism. The old audience was geographically provincial; the new audience is socially provincial, probably regarding an infantryman or a cafeteria worker as a kind of exotic plankton; perhaps something akin to a sea urchin or bivalve.
I’m happy for the TED talks to continue. Why not concentrate all the smug no-goodniks in one place, for when the revolution begins? Imagine how many natural resources we can save by shelling their conference center, rather than hunting them down individually! I’m not happy if people keep enthusing over it and sending me dumb links to it.
With apologies to the master for turning a few of his delicious phrases to my purpose:
” The simple fact is that most of man’s thinking is stupid, pointless, and injurious to him. Of all animals, indeed, he seems the least capable of arriving at accurate judgments in the matters that most desperately affect his welfare. Try to imagine a rat, in the realm of rat ideas, arriving at a notion as violently in contempt of plausibility as the notion, say, of ‘social venture,’ or that of sustainability, or that of social media saving humanity, or that of mental telepathy. Try to think of a congregation of educated rats gravely listening to such disgusting intellectual rubbish as was in the public bulls of Eve Ensler. Man’s natural instinct, in fact, is never toward what is sound and true; it is toward what is specious and false. Let any great nation of modern times be confronted by two conflicting propositions, the one grounded upon the utmost probability and reasonableness and the other upon the most glaring error, and it will almost invariably embrace the latter. It is so in politics, which consists wholly of a succession of unintelligent crazes, many of them so idiotic that they exist only as battle-cries and shibboleths and are not reducible to logical statement at all. It is so in religion and ideology, which, like poetry, is simply a concerted effort to deny the most obvious realities. It is so in nearly every field of thought. The ideas that conquer the race most rapidly and arouse the wildest enthusiasm and are held most tenaciously are precisely the ideas that are most insane. This has been true since the first ‘advanced’ gorilla put on underwear, cultivated a frown and began his first lecture tour in the first chautauqua, and it will be so until the high gods, tired of the farce at last, obliterate the race with one great, final blast of fire, mustard gas and streptcocci.”