One Young World is the sort of organisation that attracts almost universally positive press. After all, what kind of a monster would have a go at a forum that brings together some of the world’s sharpest young political and entrepreneurial minds and encourages them to speak truth to power?
Well, step forward your humble correspondent, who’s getting more than a little cheesed off by the cooing circle of admirers around this overwrought festival of self-importance.
As the second One Young World summit draws to a close, let us reflect on what, precisely, the forum is accomplishing, and what kind of young person it is seeking to cultivate in its delegates.
I’m afraid the diagnosis isn’t encouraging. Far from – and you’ll forgive the use of this word – empowering a generation of talented young leaders, One Young World appears to be turning into a sort of youth club for the offspring of wealthy politicians, do-gooders and declining aristocrats. In fact, the only activity that appears to be going on under One Young World’s aegis is that of back-scratching and self-directed applause. Sound familiar?
The organisation’s Wikipedia page, evidently penned by someone close to the outfit, describes it as “a global forum for young people of leadership calibre. It manifests the reality of common humanity and the shared existence of all the peoples in one world”.
Now, is it just me, or does that mealy-mouthed UN-speak strike terror into your heart? The more you surf around the organisation’s website, the more depressingly familiar it all becomes. It’s almost parodic: I tried to tot up the incidences of that noxious phrase “making a difference”, but lost count after 50.
This year’s summit (I should mention that I did not personally attend: partly because I’m too old – the cut-off age is 25 – but mostly because the thought of slapping down three grand to listen to a bunch of over-promoted windbags makes me want to vomit) was held in Switzerland. Its headline speakers were described by One Young World as “the world’s most established personalities that represent change for good”.
So who are these illustrious and esteemed individuals, these global forces for good? These paragons of social responsibility and global citizenship? Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, perhaps? Trevor Phillips? Amnesty International supremo Salil Shetty? His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI?
Err, no. Jamie Oliver, Doug Richard and Bob sodding Geldof. I mean, I know it’s been tough to find keynoters since Princess Di and Mother Teresa passed over, but seriously?
Jamie Oliver’s keynote on child obesity made all the right noises about paying the health costs of the (unarguably stratospheric) rise in obesity all over the world, but lacked any intellectual foundation.
Rather than, say, speaking about obesity through the prism of a global rise in addictive behaviours, which has complex causes we don’t fully understand yet, Oliver chose to whinge about people eating too much fast food.
Here was an opportunity to explore a complex geopolitical issue in an intelligent manner – as a mate of mine, Damian Thompson, is about to do in his upcoming book The Fix – but, like the vacuous internationalist discourse our poor One Young World delegates are encouraged to hoover up and regurgitate back home, the speech he delivered was all sound and fury, signifying nothing besides Oliver’s desperation to look virtuous and make sure other people know about it.
Indoctrination about consumption habits wasn’t the only thing prospective delegates had to look forward to, of course. There was also the same, tired old “climate change” alarmism that has been so comprehensively discredited and yet to which every aspiring global leader must pay lip service.
“This isn’t just about polar bears,” 17-year-old “Ambassador” Parker Liautaud told The Huffington Post after his admittedly impressive second trip to the North Pole. “Just as well, mate,” I felt like emailing him afterwards, because their numbers are skyrocketing.
The platitudes being spouted on stage were, according to two delegates I’ve spoken to who were less than impressed (and OK, so these aren’t the exact words they used, but I’m reading between the lines), approaching Al Gore levels of flatulence.
The result of which, when taken seriously, is a generation of well-heeled children who are able to express themselves with a heady miasma of abstract nouns but are incapable of understanding much of what they’re saying: they’re simply appropriating the language of international institutions and absorbing its intrinsic dogmas to become a mouthpiece for Euro-federalists, socialists, big government advocates, Left-wing activists and environmental lunatics. All of which are, it hardly needs to be said, totally antithetical to the capitalism that’s paying for all this flashy globetrotting.
So I fail to understand how One Young World keeps getting free passes, nods of encouragement and even sponsorship from the international business community when its goals are so ostentatiously antithetical to enterprise.
And I quake for the future of these young people, because brainwashing like this leads to one or both of only two outcomes. Either the young person becomes an intolerably dull charity bore, and gets a job with a biodiversity NGO after reading for an MSc in International Relations at the University of East Anglia.
Or, worse, they become figures of fun in the public sphere, comically lacking in self-awareness, like twenty-first century versions of “child prodigy” antiques expert James Harries. And we all know what happened to him.
(Perhaps you don’t. In 2001, after his business failed and he flunked his exams, he had a meltdown and got a sex change. A rumoured career reboot was left in tatters when he refused to appear on Celebrity Big Brother.)
So, you know what? From where I’m sitting, One Young World sounds like an awful lot of directionless applause, one too many ceremonial processions and epic quantities of mutual congratulation.
If these guys are looking forward to glittering careers in the sprawling network of pointless and parasitic NGOs that orbit the United Nations, leeching off the productive bits of the economies they originate from and bleeding well-meaning foundations dry, then they’re being well served.
But if they’re out to create the globally dominant corporations of tomorrow, they might want to save the exorbitant delegate fees next year and plough the money into their first business instead. Because there will be plenty of time to sip champagne and bore the pants off everyone with well-meaning banalities once they’ve made it.
UPDATE: Entrepreneur Doug Richard, a speaker at One Young World, reacts to Milo Yiannopoulos’s criticism – read it here, he doesn’t hold back!
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