Can innovation save the world? TED and social change

Charles Eisenstein says he will request that TED remove his talk from their YouTube channel after it blocks two speakers for being “far removed from mainstream scientific thinking.” Read his insightful post here, and explore some of the people he links to. Really interesting if you care about social innovation and the epistemological underpinnings of our society’s approach to bettering the world. In many ways, TED is really the perfect symbol of our current age of cultural discourse: unquestioned faith in technological innovation and science, valorization of individual success within a competitive market of ideas (as Eisenstein puts it, the belief that we are all “separate individuals in a world of other that we must conquer and control”), the commodification and compression of ideas into bite-size thrill-inducing stories, all of which is conducted within the narrow confines of what is deemed acceptable intellectual inquiry and interesting by the wealthy benefactors and attendees of the conferences.

I like TED, and I think they’re well intentioned and present lots of really good ideas, but I do think we suffer from a cultural complacency towards what’s wrong with the world today that stems from a TEDish belief that somehow just by being smart and having nifty ideas we’re going to be able to solve the very intractable problems we face. So long as we base our public policy solely on an unreconstructed dogma of scientific, technological, and economic progress that have gotten us into our mess in the first place, I doubt we’ll make any true progress in actually saving the world.

Above is one of the speakers in question. Say what you want about his specific points, but his argument gets at a larger point about how scientific objectivity is the new faith of the modern era, which causes us to lose sight of larger interrelated phenomena and misunderstand our relationship to the natural world. Even economics, which started as only a subfield of social science inquiry into political philosophy and human relations, became an unquestioned hard science in the eyes of many and led us over a cliff in 2008. Today our faith in green technology to save us from the jaws of ecological destruction and our obsessive updating of gadgets to avoid the implications of social disintegration are similarly leading us over a cliff that will only be avoided if we think more holistically about restructuring human society.

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