Not Ted Williams, about whom also I will soon be posting (again), in service of my “baseball & lit” essay-in-progress… rather, TED the acronym (for Technology, Entertainment, Design) and website that airs an ongoing series of 18-minute lectures by smart and engaging people who tend to be extraordinarily succinct and inspiring public speakers, conveying their bliss in rapid electric bursts of speech (often accompanied by arresting images) punctuated by enthusiastic applause from impressive attendees – each of whom paid $4,400 just for the privilege of being there. The organization and the big annual event have become much more than their name implies. TEDsters now reflect every significant field of intellectual endeavor.
It’s all about the power of ideas to invigorate the imagination and, immoderately stated, change the world. Last night I watched a 2007 documentary produced by Daphne Zuniga, the daughter of a philosopher whom she credits with having implanted the spark of a curious nature that has for her found a home in Monterey, CA. (She’s also the daughter of a Unitarian minister.) Her film is called The Future We Will Create. A favorite moment: Tony Robbins telling Al Gore that he’d have whipped George Bush’s ass if only he’d demonstrated the same passion in the 2000 election campaign that he brought to the stage at TED. I’m sure he’s right, and I’m sure that passion is what we need if we’re going to create a future worth having. This film made me hopeful that we can. Majora Carter, who spoke of innocently walking a dog through the south Bronx and being led to turn a derelict and disgusting bit of urban squalor into a beautiful public park, invited the audience to “help me make green the new black,” to make sustainable living sexy. (Van Jones, now working for Obama, has been widening the environmental tent and “greening the ghetto” in a similar way.) Ideas that motivate action where there was despair do change the world. Nothing could be sexier. It’s so good to be living at a moment when such sentiments are not uniformly, cynically scorned but instead receive a standing ovation. That willingness to embrace possibility is one of TED’s great attributes.
For thoughtful people, this growing body of free programs (old TED talks are being added to the site almost daily) beats “Dancing With the Stars” and “American Idol” hands down, and reminds us that ideas rival mere entertainment as entertainment… and go well beyond it as catalysts for real progress. I’m chalking it up as another triumph for philosophy.