Have you heard of The Elders? No, me neither, at least not until last week. When I did, I assumed it was a cult or some kind of retirement home for the once in-power but now dispossessed. Turns out it is, but for really self-important people. Well, self-important enough to call themselves ‘The Elders’. I bet you’re wondering who came up with such a patronising, tragic, cringe-inducing title? I bet it wasn’t Richard Branson and Peter Gabriel. Oh, it was.
So, who – or what – is The Elders? It is a group of like-minded, highly-networked, elites who have spent most of their working lives representing government and, in some cases, private interests. At least one of the Elders – Desmond Tutu – has devoted his life (and presumably still does) to God. This, of course, is not quite how they – The Elders – describe themselves:
“[We] are independent of any national government or other vested interest. [We] should have earned international trust, demonstrated integrity and built a reputation for inclusive, progressive leadership”
Here’s a question: if you spend your entire professional life representing individual governments (or higher Beings), as Gro Brundtland, Jimmy Carter, Fernando H Cardoso, Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson, and other Elders have, then what claim to independence could you possibly make? None, obviously.
Here’s another: do we need leaders to make the world a better place? Look at the leaders we have had and see where they’ve led us. Despite what they tell you, leaders are – invariably – self-interested, self-obsessed, and deluded by visions (often religious) of grandeur. We would have a healthier world without them.
But it would be chaos! Anarchy! Endless repeats of Top Gear. Hideous! Ok, so let’s learn how to live without leaders, beginning with authority. Stanley Milgram demonstrated back in the 1960s how far individuals would go to obey authority, and repeats of his ground-breaking work since have reported similar results. ‘The Elders’ is the political equivalent of the scientist in a white lab coat. Defer to their authority at your peril and..oh, look out, here comes Brundtland, shhh!