Objective reality or just more political activism?
(Originally published 3/22/21)
What is TED?
If you do not watch this video, none of this post is likely to make any sense. It is actually rather interesting, so hang in there and get to the end. You may not like it, but it is central to what follows.
Not long ago I was reading an essay in which the writer was poking fun at someone “woke” that was “fresh from their latest TED talk.” I had no clue what TED was, so I decided to do some investigating.
If you are interested, here is some history of TED, as well as some criticism here and here.
TED initially stood for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. It has since dropped any implied limitations to those topics and now includes economics, politics, and just about every other topic imaginable. TED’s stated commitment is to “ideas worth spreading.”
Around 2013 there appear several articles critical of TED. TED had, to simplify, lost editorial control of the content being presented. TED made some changes in order to reject content that was not supported by evidence, too political, or in bad taste (offensive).
I searched available TED Talk videos on the internet. I will not pretend that the one I selected here was random. It did come to the top of the search list, but I was intrigued by the (apparent) self-contradictory title.
The conclusions reached in the video, and how they are reached, are to me stunning. Watch the video, and if I misrepresent or misquote anything in this article, my handle on Parler is @Gadsden1; please feel free to call me out.
A Summary of the TED Talk:
The speaker is Greg Anderson, Professor, Department of History, Ohio State University.
He holds multiple degrees, is a published author, and is a specialist in (among other things) critical theory.
Critical Theory, where have I encountered that before?
The title “Why there’s no such thing as objective reality” is, to put it mildly, ambitious. Reading this, one would think the speaker has some evidence to support the claim; he doesn’t.
Near the beginning of the video, the speaker spends an excessive amount of time stating the obvious. Once that is out of the way, at about 3:45 into the video, he proceeds to talk about the ancient Athenians, Egyptians, and Chinese. And to describe Western culture as having failed catastrophically.
Of the ancient cultures, the speaker describes their real world as full of gods, myths, oaths, curses, and a host of other “unreal” and mysterious “things.” At about 6:10, the speaker says the individual “didn’t exist” in the ancient Athenian culture. Without explicitly stating it, he suggests collectivism is superior to individualism. At about 9:10 into the video, he begins to discuss “our real world” describing it as unique in the history of the world. This is where he begins to attack The Enlightenment and western culture in general.
At about 14:00, the speaker lists several disastrous consequences of “our real world” such as colonization, world wars, genocide, and global warming. Ultimately, he declares our current model of reality a complete failure.
In essence, the speaker asserts that various civilizations throughout history have developed their own “model” of reality. If that model succeeds and is sustainable, it is accepted and embedded in the culture. This, he concludes, is evidence that objective reality is what we make of it at any given point in history or within any given culture. We (today) embrace capitalism and individual rights because we are conditioned to, not because they are objectively real or true, or even successful.
Objective reality does in fact exist. If, standing here on the surface of planet earth, I hold a hammer out at arm’s length and let go of it, it will fall to the ground. The ancients would experience the same reality. Various “models” of reality won’t change this and never have.
Equally obvious, the premise is self-contradicting. In any debate or discussion, it is necessary for all sides to agree on certain accepted truths in order to form a framework for the debate. If not, nothing prevents either side from making wild unsubstantiated assertions. If the speaker contends there is no objective reality, what then lends any truth or weight to his presentation? What prevents us from simply enlisting the aid of space aliens to solve all the problems of the human race? After all, reality is nothing other than what we make of it. The speaker would of course argue that such a “model” of reality would fail the success and sustainability test. Yes, it would. But does that not sound like the scientific method? Test the hypothesis? The very same Enlightenment methodology he claims is a failure?
While the speaker is rather clear and specific about what he sees as untrue and/or a failure, he is at best elusive about what he advocates. He mentions for example the ancients 200 gods, close ties to nature and “mother earth”, and collectivism. Is he advocating for a return to mysticism? Is he advocating the rejection of technology in favor of the agrarian lifestyles of the ancients, the return of city states? Is he advocating universal collectivism and the complete rejection of individual rights and of capitalism? The answers to all of these questions seem to me to be ‘yes’.
The speaker leaves out several inconvenient facts. For example:
- The wars between Athens and Sparta.
- The fact that ancient empires were built by conquest.
- The fact that slavery was nearly universal prior to The Enlightenment – particularly in ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt.
The speaker points to two world wars as evidence that our current model of reality has failed. I would argue that those conflicts are examples of the rejection of reality. The Nazis for example steeped themselves in mysticism. Hitler was quite literally moving armies that did not exist around on maps, issuing them orders to attack. The notion that Germany and Japan could conquer the world was completely unrealistic.
Given the fact that the speaker is a self-described historian, I find this stunning.
I would submit that the story of humanity has been a quest to understand reality. That our knowledge has grown and improved throughout the centuries, and that our perceptions of objective reality have evolved. Knowledge changes, perceptions change, reality does not.
The speaker rejects individualism in favor of the collective, rejects capitalism in favor of what he does not say. He advocates for the ecologically sustainable to avert global warming (I guess we must assume the speaker believes global warming to be an objective reality). He is an expert in “critical theory”. He conveniently leaves out historical facts. What he advocates sounds an awful lot like Marxist utopia, and his arguments could almost have been written by Marx himself.
The presentation is:
- Political – radically Left
- Unsupported by science
- Dishonest by omission
What has failed miserably here are the alleged “reforms” TED put in place. This presentation qualifies as “ideas worth spreading?” TED it seems, at least in part, is just another political propaganda outlet.