Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gordon Brown at TED: Political Heresy Equal to +Schori's

There was a surprise appearance yesterday afternoon by Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the TED Global 2009 Conference here in Oxford. He spoke entirely extemporaneously (i.e., without a script or teleprompter), and showed the extensive knowledge and ability to make a point with a story or a reference to history for which he is noted. (Americans by now should be starved for this style of oratory.)

However, he also revealed the mindset of a consummate politician: "Things need fixing all right, and we can do this by changing our institutions. We'll start with the United Nations and the IMF. We're all world citizens now. We can adopt a one-world currency and a empower a World Bank [not said in so many words; you have to listen between the lines]. Then we can all do what is necessary [sc. "print more money"] to get our way out of the current mess." For all of his smoothness, and seeming capability, that exudes from the talk below, ask yourself as you watch and listen: how does this man's proposed program for the world's current ills differ from that of President Obama's?

(When TED puts it up, you may watch the high-res video of his talk from this link.)

I find it remarkable that there have been two global gatherings of approximately the same size in the last two weeks --- one at Anaheim, and one here at Oxford --- at which the same message has been featured: one from the religious side, and one from the secular. The message from Presiding Bishop Schori in her opening sermon was: "We're all in this together. Ubuntu --- I in you and you in me makes we. The idea that any individual can save himself is the great Western heresy." Echo Gordon Brown, from the secular point of view.

What is the matter with this message, from my humble point of view, is that it is the common theme among all great collectivist leaders. "You can't do this on your own! For the good of all, you must subsume your identity into the greater identity of all." It is a call to leadership from the top down. "Trust us, your leaders. We know what we're doing, and if you simply let us run things, we'll get you to where we all want/need to go."

I can draw no greater a contrast with this top-down message than by showing you the video below, made by a wonderful speaker, Mark Johnson, who followed Gordon Brown and, as the last act for the day, was the perfect antidote to the former's speech. This video, part of Mark Johnson's Playing for Change program, shows how powerful a message truly can be when it comes from the bottom up. Mark explained (the video of his talk at TED is not yet available, but you can watch an introduction of his purpose and methods at the site I just linked) how he heard Roger Ridley's performance of the song that starts the video, and had the brainstorm of taking his recording studio to the street, instead of bringing the performer into the studio. Then he took the music he had recorded and shared it, one by one, with other musicians of all stripes and colors around the world, each one adding his or her (or their, in the case of groups) own heart-felt contribution to what they heard through the headphones. The resulting mix he finally obtained is simply inspiring (the video below has been watched, in its various forms, over 30,000,000 times). It shows the true way of making ubuntu --- "Stand by Me":


  1. F.A. Hayek famously noted that, "collectivism is slavery." But a free exchange society, where individual freedom and identity is upheld, results in a level of cooperation and coordination that benefits the whole. We find, invariably, that someone has something we value.

    The Body of Christ is not a monolith made of uniform bricks. Peter says we are "living stones," implying different shapes, sizes, talents.

  2. Nice comparison.

    Chuck, maybe we are clashing stones sometimes because we are alive in Christ. Or maybe I just have rocks in my head.

    Seems to me I have heard some of that "individualism is bad" talk from the pulpit in our local church in the past. If my memory serves me right, the opprobrious modifier used was "American" individualism.

  3. Interestingly, I just watched the 1940s movie "The Fountainhead," based on the novel by Ayn Rand, on YouTube. The underlying theme of the story is the struggle between collectivism and individual identity and action. The arguments on both sides are clearly expounded as the plot develops.

    As for Gordon; it looks to me as if he was taking the opportunity to rehearse for his new career as an inspirational coach, which he plans to adopt after he is forcibly removed from power by the British people next May.