I have always been skeptical of the reductive form of TED, which needs no introduction. Usually under 20 minutes, ‘the expert’ breaks down a complicated concept in an entertaining and engaging way. I am as skeptical of TED as I am of Wikipedia, which, while often being a good starting point, isn’t the source to which one should refer when trying to construct an argument. In this way, TED too is a starting point. More than this, I find TED useful for understanding the ways in which information becomes product and how popularity drives its consumption. For example, while browsing TED talks on technology this one below interestingly appeared:
This talk, titled “Let’s Raise Kids to be Entrepreneurs,” was delivered by Cameron Herold who is making a living as a ‘Business Coach.’ I found his talk to be exemplary of neoliberal discourse, in which the individual is exalted as a driver of the economy. The whole talk was seeping with irony and, at times, lunacy. I wouldn’t be so concerned were it not for the 1,119,580 views it received, signalling the extent to which our desires have been captured by capital. What do I mean by this and why is it important to my research?
Herold opens with “I loved money” “I loved business.” Indeed, it is this motivation that was nurtured by his father, who he said groomed him to run a business “rather than waiting for government handouts.” Groom, in fact, was the refrain in this talk. Who is doing this grooming and to what ends? This is what interests me as I look at online education, in which students are groomed to perform the bureaucrat-student. In fact, I would surmise that Herold himself would agree with me, except that he would accuse schools not for training students to critique the systems in which they are embedded, but rather for failing to nurture entrepreneurial traits such as tenacity, leadership, networking, sales, attainment, and boot strapping. Herold would also indite schools for failing to teach them to want to make money, without questioning the symbolic investments in its production; to ask questions, without questioning the system in which ‘business’ is embedded; to lead others, without distinguishing between leadership and exploitation; to be creative, so long as it’s not disrupting flows of capital; and to see solutions, whose limits are the ends of capital. The black death to which consumption will lead us. Until we consume the earth; until we consume ourselves.
He concludes with a video aimed at promising entrepreneurs: one part reads “HELP HEAL THE ECONOMY, MAKE A DIFFERENCE.” This is dangerous discourse. It’s dangerous to suggest that we can make a difference in the lives of others by working in the service of an economy that thrives on economic disparity. This is most vividly illustrated when he lists all of his entrepreneurial adventures as a child and the lessons he learned from each. The most interesting was his lesson in buying low and selling high, which he discovered when buying comic books from “the poor kids” and sold them to the “rich kids” for a sizable profit; another related lesson was to never reveal your source, as he almost got assaulted after a “rich kid” discovered the source of his products. More immediately, what makes Herold’s discourse so unnerving is his suggestion that mania, stress, depression, bi-polar and attention deficit disorder can all be productively redirected into capital. Indeed, bi-polar disorder is cited as a CEO disease. Certainly this warrants some criticism?
My curiosity in light of this talk is the limits of discourse: why is it that consumers (because that’s what we all are now) desire a system in which creativity, innovation and growth presupposes division, inequality and injustice? Why is this rhetoric so powerful? I hope to explore this more fully when considering the geographical shift in education, from physical spaces to virtual spaces — spaces which seem to coincide with some of this discourse in which the autonomous individual is capable of creating opportunities for herself and for whom the sky’s the limit.
I think, kids could change the world not as entrepreneurs, but rather as radicals. They should turn that lemonade stand into a open mic and, rather than buying low and selling high, kids should be connecting geographies between markets, turning markets into commons and consumers into communities. Where creativity isn’t something we can imagine within the limits of imagination, but beyond it. In growth that doesn’t presuppose a growth of advanced liberal state formations. And that we shouldn’t be looking only toward the sky, but, rather, under the earth; across the horizon. Or perhaps we should be feeling our way through the dark, perhaps crawling on the ceilings, connecting smell-taste assemblages. Creativity as unimagined form and expression.