The World Economic Forum 2015 may have been fetishizing success. I hope not of course, but listening to all the leaders, it did cross my mind. We’ll really only know decades from now. When there might be enough hindsight so as to be accurate, and, a whole lot less complicity so as to be honest.
What do I mean by fetishizing success? Google offers a definition for fetish as having “an excessive and irrational commitment” to a course of action and success as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” In that sense, I use the phrase ‘fetishizing success’ to denote a cultural metaphor.
That ‘we’ – as members of the public, the collective total of all social units – and ‘businesses’ (still ‘we’) – as social units of private interests – wish to converse with each another. (Arguably, it is more than ‘wish’ but perhaps ‘need’.)
Yet, it appears that the functional difference between businesses (make profits, create jobs, etc) and people (earn and income, be better members of society, etc) has made each function polarised with respect to one another and the conversation rather asymmetrical. More monologue than dialogue. More instruction than discussion. That somehow interests are, and, could be mutually exclusive.
In this sense, Davos is trying to offer an alternative means for dialogue. Davos intends to make the conversation less mutually exclusive. However, there have been similar targets and agendas which we’ve yet to meet. And no matter how much one learns to speak nicely and with good intentions, are the people we hope to be nice towards even listening?
Davos is an example where we turn to specialists of their own success for leadership. Perhaps there is no other way in a world where those who are successful are very successful, and those who have yet to succeed are very far off the pace. Perhaps we have confused success with control. Perhaps there is no difference between success and dominance within the social realm.
In the case of the Davos conversation, what criteria do those who are successful, and, also those who turn to them, use to define the ambition of global leadership? Is it the ability to speculate? Could leaders really do more than guess? Cynically, at the level of Davos, the ability for business leaders to demand others to behave with the same priorities are often inescapably linked to some commercial gain for the businesses represented.
There were some leaders attending Davos who were not representing businesses. These ‘other leaders’ potentially had other kinds of personal benefit other than economic – such as gains in political or moral gains status. Quite like trade protestors on the street, they too had an agenda to try to convince and persuade the directions businesses take.
My general sentiment is that we all need such occasions to moderate our sensibilities and inculcate a sense of social purpose. These intersections of agendas are crucial for how the world will be organised to benefit society tomorrow. And I think it is important we engage them and not become too cynical. So cynical where we simplify dialogue with a hyper-critical image of leaders as one where they only intend to meet their own aims.
But to summarise all agendas is beyond the scope of this post. I merely wished to critique the dimension of the conversation at Davos. And also express concern at how easy it is for one to overstep the mark of critique and become too cynical about the process itself.
It remains worthy, for us to think more carefully about how to participate in these conversations. All too often, it is easy to switch off. All too often, we fail to switch on. Most of the world’s population neither pays any attention to the admittedly tedious Davos conversations year-on-year, nor do they do something else like join protestors on the street and start an alternative conversation.
I’ve tried to suggest that perhaps the problem is the stylised success of the leaders. Meaning to say, Merkel has good ideas, because Germany is doing well, Sandberg is a great leader, as evidenced by her success in IT and social media. So, the normal person “just getting on with their life” either does not see how they can contribute or they think that they are living a completely different life and do not need to contribute.
It is not only important to ask whether the “leaders” are up to the task. Equally, are we are up to the task?
I hope so. For whatever criticisms of hypocrisy, obfuscatory politics or lack of grand social purpose i have suggested here, it is sensible to accept that participation in the dialogues by which success and virtue are assessed and represented, is an important one. No matter which part of the extremes of society and politics one thinks they ‘come from’.
Admittedly, in the years to come, what are the chances that deep reflection will be given to this year’s Davos conversation? There might be folk giving it expert attention amongst expert communities. My guess is that 2015’s meeting is likely to fall from public memory. Just like the “Battle in Seattle” in 1999 and 2009 G-20 London summit protests . In the later case where Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper vendor who was trying to get home, died after being hit with a baton and pushed to the ground by police.
Here are some quotes from Davos that I thought were important. I also, wished to have my own record of what caught me eye this year, and whether these goals are achieved and warnings heeded. I’ve also paired the photos with a ‘read more link’. Hopefully these links lead to the relevant article on the WEF websites.
If you want to know more about success in altogether more personal terms, here’s some delightful advice from the comedian Tim Minchin.