The Elders are coming, look busy!

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.

Yoda

Mmmm, judge me by my age, do not

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!

Andrew

 

4 Responses to “The Elders are coming, look busy!”

  • Simon Wright says:

    I noticed that you missed out Nelson Mandela who was the uber-Elder when they were first set up five years ago. I think they have lent their name to some good causes and certainly not done harm. Unlike many other leaders. I guess they have not asked George Bush to join yet.

  • Andrew Harmer says:

    Thanks Simon. Mandela is now an Honorary Elder, as is Aung San Suu Kyi – both of whom I greatly admire. No suggestion that any of The Elders have done any harm directly. Of course, many did disagree with Cardoso’s privatisation policy in Argentina, and Brundtland’s push for partnership in the WHO, and more controversially – under Carter’s presidency – the increase in arms sales to Indonesia during Suharto’s invasion of East Timor (which the US did nothing to prevent). It may only be a matter of time before Bush is asked to join – he’s quite a hero of global health these days – see Anthony Fauci gushing here or this glowing assessment in the Dallas News, for example.

  • Tom says:

    Probably not the best way of understanding them. As far as I can tell they’re there to moderate and influence other leaders, like a moral council for state and other global leaders. And they might also engage in some lobbying and media stuff. I don’t think they’re telling any ordinary person how to live, and I don’t think they’re using their authority in the same way Milgram organised the ‘phsychiatrists’ to all those years ago… Still, point taken, be suspicious of authority whereever it is.

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"There’s something very discomfiting about sitting in a hotel ballroom full of rich people talking about the best ways to help the world’s poorest people when almost none of the latter are present" - Prof. Laura Seahy