The world’s least sexy circle jerk is well underway at Aspen. I’m imagining David Brooks at a cocktail party, droning on to another Thought Leader about innovative innovators fostering dynamic dynamism through creative creation while he eyes up some waitress and sniffs around for money to be made.
I’m making my way through Chris Hayes’s book Twilight of the Elites, for which I’ll write a review. I’m reading about decades of failure– profound, life-altering, willful failure, failure that has caused human suffering on an incredible scale. And one of Hayes’s central points is that the exact same people who contributed to this spectacular failure are still in power, and still possess the ability to groom their successors. It’s not just that the system has fucked up, time and again, but that it has not responded to these fuck ups by removing those responsible, or by reforming the apparatus that put them in power in the first place.
The people currently celebrating themselves at Aspen are the people who best embody the system that facilitated these failures. Even if I thought that “big ideas” helped human beings rather than hurt them; even if the ideas being presented weren’t the inevitable reductive masturbatory techno-utopian self-congratulatory trite rehashes of empty buzzwords and tired cliches; even if I believed that most of the people there assembled have any real interest in improving the world, rather than improving their Q rating and driving up the cost of their speaking fees; even if they weren’t trotting out the same naked money grabs of privatization and stat juking– even then, I couldn’t get past the fact that this class of people is the self-same one that has plunged our country into depression and systemic failure. And there will always be ambitious young apparatchiks working at bloated, self-serious organizations like the Atlantic who will carry the water for the elite failures who speak at such events, in the hopes that they, someday, will get a column in the NYT and the occasional reacharound from Charlie Rose.
Our big idea men are one of the greatest threats to our country; they demand accountability from others and have none themselves, for surely the failed big ideas being debated here will be discarded and forgotten as soon as the checks clear. The Aspen Ideas Festival is expensive; the ideas are cheap, disposable.
Watch this video, absorb the awesome power of people ticking off every cliche on the Vapid Talk About Innovation checklist, realize that they’re selling the same broken promises about technology and privatization, cringe in horror at the emptiness of every word, and weep.