I’m Concerned about the Declining Quality of TED Talks

Photo © James Duncan Davidsonby Eric X. Li

Eric Li is the founder and managing director of Changwei Capital.

I’ve been a fan of the TED conference since its inception and believe it to be a powerful platform to share potentially world-changing ideas with a mass audience. Which is why I was so ambivalent when organizers asked me to speak at TEDGlobal this year.

On the one hand, I was honored to be among the roster of accomplished speakers but, on the other hand, I wondered about the respectability of a conference that failed to see through my cheap, nationalistic delusions and Friedman-esque sophistry.

By now many of you have seen my TED talk, in which I claim the modern Communist Party of China is defined by three characteristics: adaptability, meritocracy and legitimacy. In 20 short minutes, I manage to brush away its messy past (and tens of millions of deaths) and argue that the current system of governance is not only valid, but will rival this fad of representative democracy we see in the world.

The contents of my speech should not surprise you—I’ve been whistling this Pied Piper’s tune for years now. What should surprise you is that I was allowed to make this speech at all, and at TEDGlobal no less.

When did TED become a circle jerk for pseudo-intellectuals peddling reductive, oversimplified views of the world?

I strongly believe that ten years ago, a talk like mine would never have made it to the TED stage. TED’s gatekeepers would have smelled a charlatan and rejected my arguments and conclusions outright. But now, this reheated tripe is even treated to a standing ovation.

What happened here? When did TED, the place where early multi-touchscreens awed audiences, become a circle jerk for pseudo-intellectuals peddling reductive, oversimplified views of the world?

There was a time when my speech would have been laughed at, ridiculed and relegated to a TEDx event, say TEDxCulturalRevolutionApologists.

Frankly, the inclusion of a poli-sci snake oil salesman like me raises real questions about the future of TED and its continued relevance. The degradation of a once prestigious meeting of the minds should be of concern to anyone who loves knowledge and innovation.

If TED is to survive, it must learn from the CPC and adapt in order to maintain its legitimacy. I urge the TED organizers to be more stringent in their selection of speakers in the future and keep people like me where we belong, in the pockets of politicians and not on the world stage.


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