Magic Mountains, Mad Scientists

So, another January, another “World Economic Forum” in Davos, Switzerland.

[The World Social Forum, happening simultaneously, seems to have been disappeared.]

The FT has done what it usually does in these circumstances- sent a hefty delegation of reporters, got some guest bloggers etc. And for us time-poor proles, it has published a tabloid sized “Guide to Davos”, entitled “The Magic Mountain.” It’s 16 pages. Four of those pages are full-page adverts for wind turbine maker Vestas. I think they hope to make some of the green stuff from green energy…

Anyway a letter in today’s FT pointed out, merely name-checking the novel of the same name, written by Thomas Mann, is not really adequate.

Mann wrote a humungous novel (800 pages or so) about a bunch of sick people utterly divorced from the real world in their own self-indulgent bubble. Eventually, when the protagonist descends…

SPOILER ALERT

he is caught up in a violent global cataclysm and it is not at all sure he lives.

A few years ago American journalist Laurie Garrett was at Davos, and an email she sent to friends leaked, to amusement of most and annoyance of others. It was a minor internet sensation in 2003 (yes, you young folk, we had the internet all the way back in 2003. Steam-driven, with clacker-attacks, it’s true, but tinterweb nonetheless):

“The world isn’t run by a clever cabal. It’s run by about 5,000 bickering, sometimes charming, usually arrogant, mostly male people who are accustomed to living in either phenomenal wealth, or great personal power. A few have both. Many of them turn out to be remarkably naive — especially about science and technology. All of them are financially wise, though their ranks have thinned due to unwise tech-stock investing. They pay close heed to politics, though most would be happy if the global political system behaved far more rationally — better for the bottom line. They work very hard, attending sessions from dawn to nearly midnight, but expect the standards of intelligence and analysis to be the best available in the entire world. They are impatient. They have a hard time reconciling long term issues (global warming, AIDS pandemic, resource scarcity) with their daily bottomline foci. They are comfortable working across languages, cultures and gender, though white caucasian males still outnumber all other categories. They adore hi-tech gadgets and are glued to their cell phones.”

[emphasis added]

Compare with this, from the FT supplement’s roundtable discussion.

Gideon Rachman: “…but what you saw all the time at Davos was a huge faith in technology. But I wonder whether that technological optimism is, along with the market optimism, going to be diminished.”

The discussion is worth a read- it covered the usual: Economic Crisis, Banking/Global Economy, China/emerging markets, the end of Davos?, Barack Obama and the US, Climate Change, predictions for 2009.

Apparently you can listen to the whole thing at www.ft.com/roundtable

And finally, no discussion about the entirely sane and rational and peace-loving lotus-eaters who attend Omnicorp summits like this is ever complete without a compare and contrast with Davros, genteel scientist…

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About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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