Saturday, June 19, 2021

Davos Is Dead And I Have Embraced Islam...,

FT  |   Felix Marquardt, a former global schmoozer and current author of The New Nomads, explains why attempting to solve the world’s problems up a Magic Mountain in Switzerland over the course of a few short days, is a quick fix that does more harm than good. 

 A few weeks ago, the World Economic Forum (WEF) pulled the plug on its gathering in Singapore in August. The reasons invoked by the organisers for this third cancellation (plans for an alternative, exceptional meeting in Lucerne in May were also scrapped earlier this year) centred around health concerns and logistics. The truth is more complex and the malaise runs deeper. 

The pandemic has exposed the contradictions of the WEF as a project and its terminal lack of legitimacy and credibility in the post-Covid era. My inkling as an addict in recovery, is that the organisers are unable to come to terms with this because, just like others in the throes of active addiction, they are in denial. 

 I used to be a senior adviser to a number of global leaders and a Davos cheerleader. I also used to do a lot of drugs. I had my last drink and drug seven years ago. At the height of my substance abuse, I thought I couldn’t possibly be an alcoholic or an addict. Addicts were people shooting up on park benches or sucking on glass pipes in crack houses. I was flying around the world in business class, living in five star palaces, working for heads of state (including dictators), people running for office (including aspiring dictators) and CEOs of some of the world’s largest multinationals. 

A few years into recovery, I came to a different realisation: I had flourished in Davos and in other global circles of power not in spite of my being an addict, but in no small part because I was one. The high which proximity with power, fame and wealth fuelled in me wasn’t that different from the high I felt when I did drugs. So what do my experiences say about others in the WEF circus? 

The pandemic has sparked a global existential crisis in many of us, including pillars of the Davos establishment. It has been about recognising, belatedly, that what we’ve been calling “normal” is a form of civilisational suicide. Many of us are coming to terms with the fact that we don’t know how to decorrelate greenhouse gas emissions from economic growth and that the phrase green growth is, for now and the foreseeable future, an oxymoron. In a world where about 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the 10 per cent wealthiest humans — those of us who earned not millions but $38,000 or more in 2015 — the climate crisis is fundamentally an inequality crisis. 

Yet from its inception, the WEF has hence been engaged in an exercise of contortion to not have a meaningful conversation on growth. It has since then been paid hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars (governed by Swiss law, the finances of the WEF are frighteningly opaque) by entities whose shareholders are eager to avoid it. If we have indeed become addicted to carbon, growth and extraction, the techno-utopian verbiage which has become the lingua franca of Davos has become a liability. 

The author Lewis Hyde once wrote that the spread of alcoholism happens when a culture is dying. A healthy, functioning culture turns its children into grown-ups. Addicts in contrast are defined by Jung’s characterisation of the puer aeternus. That prism of addiction helps explain our culture’s childish “solutionism”. Like addicts in recovery who get a daily reprieve but are never “cured”, what we are dealing with are predicaments not problems. Problems, like the equations schoolchildren are asked to solve, have solutions. In contrast, you can respond to predicaments in a more or less constructive and healthy way but they cannot be solved. You have to live with them. 

The current, dominant, “feelgood” approach mirrors that of an addict, in recovery but secretly hoping that they will one day be able to “manage” their substance use. The Davos crowd seek quick fixes, takeaways, action points and deliverables, rather than dwelling on the thoroughly uncomfortable reality of our condition, for fear of going into depression or becoming paralysed by inertia. The sooner that is ditched, the better. “The highest form of hope,” the French author George Bernanos once wrote, “is despair overcome.” But to overcome it, you first need to go through the despair. You need to hit rock bottom.


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