Ted X Rotterdam

So last week I attended Ted X Rotterdam, an event meant for the “top students in the Netherlands.” There were over 1,200 top students there, and I am mentioning this because it will make this story even more shocking.

I’ve always loved TED because it is more critical and less mainstream than other media. The lectures are often inspiring, thought-provoking and original. So I had high hopes for the locally organized TED event in Rotterdam.

Basically, after 10+ hours of lectures and performances, I was left disgusted, angry, and repulsed by the narratives I was hearing. Other than the musical performances, it was an absolute disgrace. Almost every lecture had an undertone of white European superiority. The non-European/Western world was only brought up as “the third world” – rarely a specific country – and only as a helpless, victim that the superior west had to help, out of its infinite kindness.

So what has changed since colonialism? This is EXACTLY what the colonial mindset was. Superior-inferior; first world-third world.

And what was discussed when the third world came up? Famine. War. Disease. AIDS.

Bad bad bad.

Not a single positive thing. Even after revolutions, social movements, and major shifts across the so-called “third world” this year. Even though the third world comprises the majority of the world’s population. Even though the “third world” is beautiful, complex, diverse, lovable, traumatized, and millions of other things.

So why do we only see it as a victim? As a picture of a starving child? We don’t even need to know where the child is from – we just know it is African because that is all the media shows us.

We don’t need to understand HOW the “third world” became “under-developed.” How the west did most of this, and continues to do most of this. No. We just need to know this is how it is and that we should donate a few euros and forget about it.

Dutch people probably left the event feeling superior, safe; all their stereotypes confirmed. Nothing about what they can do POLITICALLY to help. Nothing about how the Netherlands is responsible for many of the problems in these countries. Nothing dangerous; nothing critical.

Its disgusting. It made me want to be back in the “third world” because there is no denial; no sense of cultural superiority that I have seen in too many Dutch people. Read a history book, and then tell me you are proud of what your country has done and CONTINUES to do.

I looked around the hall at people applauding yet another lecture about death in the third world and how Dutch people need to donate more money, and I thought: wow. I don’t care how hard life is in countries less well-off economically. I would rather live there and not be brainwashed, than live here and think that this is how the world is.

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4 thoughts on “Ted X Rotterdam

  1. Nick Taylor

    I very rapidly came to find TED irritatingly elitist (at the conference in NZ you had to fill in a form describing how “special” you were before you were granted the right to attend).

    So the elitism spills over into a kind of general intellectual-philanthropism. That really ought come as no surprise. But you know… I’ve had a fairly deep sense of unease about “smart people” http://www.genomicon.com/2010/03/smart-people/ for a while.

    A meritocratic feudalism is still feudalism, and TED is every inch a creature of the internet. Intelligence will tend to over-rate itself in a sphere it doesn’t have to test itself against reality that often… so the self-appointed intellectual elite fishes for standing ovations from its peers with by “saving” the less well off… an abstraction… and people who (by the way) lack the requisite “specialness” to actually attend a TED conference.

    1. Hi Nick!
      Yes, it was the same for the conference in Rotterdam – a lot about how special you are and why you deserve to go to TED. The event itself was also full of this: we were supposed to feel extremely lucky to have been selected.
      What a great comment! I didn’t look at it that way before but it makes a lot of sense…
      ” Intelligence will tend to over-rate itself in a sphere it doesn’t have to test itself against reality that often.”
      This is exactly what made me so frustrated. These people could say these things because they knew the audience couldn’t challenge them and they knew most of the Dutch audience believed in the same stereotypes. It frustrated me to feel the power relation so acutely, in a place where there was supposed to be creativity and criticism.

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