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Is TED ‘Elistist’? Thoughts from TEDxNaperville Curator, Arthur Zards

A recent article on AlterNet reignited the smoldering accusations of TED being an organization that fosters elitism. XNet President and TEDxNaperville Curator, Arthur Zards, wonders if it isn’t time to rethink TED’s ‘official’ answer -

“I’m a TED alumni (they call us TEDsters) and TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading.  I recently wrote some comments on a TED oriented discussion that I thought I would share in this blog.”

Once in awhile people ask me if TED is elitist. My answer is similar to the official TED stance…“partly”. Then I highlight how TED is “partly” elitist, but in a good way.

The problem I have is that every time the topic comes up I seem to be on the defensive where I shouldn’t have to be; spending a lot of energy on why TED is the good part of elitist rather than discussing the positive things that TED does and the changes it’s already helped bring to our global society. When I see public discussions on this, I see the same thing happening.

Why is that?

Could it be that just the term “elitism” itself is to blame?

Proper definitions aren’t my strong suit, so I decided to check the term ‘elitist’ in the dictionary, and this is what came up:


Definition 1:

* The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.

This TED is not. I have yet to read, see, or hear anyone associated with TED itself, or a locally hosted TEDx event, exhibit this behavior. I’ve been to TED Active and the entire experience was quite the opposite of this definition.

Definition 2:

* Control, rule, or domination by such a group or class.

This is the part where TED is “partly” elitist. I highlight the term “control/rule.” To foster the positive environment of TED, or any community, there must be some level of control or rule. TED does this very well. And it must have it in order to continue the incredible community that it nurtures. There’s really no room for argument or discussion there, it’s an open and shut case.

Is the reason I always feel like I’m defending TED and elitism because the person I’m arguing with and I have different interpretations of the definition? Just to make sure, I plugged the term elitist into a thesaurus to get a better idea of what people could be  thinking when they hear the term “elitist”.



Snob, pompous ass, stuffed shirt, snoot, braggart, parvenu, stiff, uppish, high and mighty, snotting and on and on and on. Just to name a few, and the list goes on, and it doesn’t get better!

Is this what most people think of when they hear the term elitist? I really think so. When is the last time you heard the term elitist in a positive light?

TED’s official stance to the question is a resounding, “partly”. Which of the above definitions are we only “partly”? Partly pompous or partly snotty? Ouch!

I think it’s safe to say that many people not familiar with TED believe that the term elitist is defined by the first definition “Perceived superiority…”, while most TED fans define it by the second definition “control/rule”. So person to person discussions and Internet comments and articles go back and forth debating who’s right, and countless posts go out with TED people defending all the good that comes out of TED. All this without anyone really making sure they are arguing over the correct definition!

So here is my idea worth spreading, is it time to official say no, we are NOT elitists?

Maybe we need a new dialogue. “No, TED is NOT elitist, we are ___________. ”

What are your thoughts?

Posted on April 27th, 2010 by David Metcalfe
Posted in TEDxNaperville
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