I was invited to the Bilderberg conference this year — embarrassed I hadn’t known anything about it before, and more embarrassed I hadn’t known anything about the controversy around it.
But having been there, and done that, I confess I don’t get the outrage.
It’s a conference. There’s no agreements, or planning, or anything beyond people speaking in panels, and people asking questions (or “asking questions”) of the speakers. Or at least that I saw. (Sure, it might have been that between 10pm and 8am (the only time we had off) there were secret meetings held by the rulers of the world. Suffice it, they didn’t invite me to them if they indeed were happening.)
The venue was nice, but not opulent. The topics were wide ranging. There was a great panel on Syria and on medical research, but every other panel was interesting as well. The audience wasn’t representative of the world, but it was mixed. There were strong critics; there were views expressed that most there didn’t agree; and there were more of that than came just from me.
True, the meeting is conducted with Chatham House Rules, meaning while the ideas expressed can be shared, the identity of speaker can’t be shared. Again, I don’t get the outrage about this. I’ve been to many conferences with the same rules, and many times I’ve recognized why they make sense. Especially if you’re someone in authority — CEO of a company or minister of a government — while you should be held accountable for your words, it’s fair your words not be taken out of context. Or at least, I get why people would only choose to participate if they were confident of this modest protection.
There’s a business model to protest. I get that. There’s value in rallying the people. But here was yet another time I thought: if only we could get this sort of passion directed against something real, or something that mattered. Outrage about people meeting to hear at least some ideas they don’t agree with doesn’t seem to me to be the highest and best use of outrage.