The Return of Gorbachev

Remember Mikhail Gorbachev?

These days, Gorbachev runs a foundation, based in San Francisco, which runs well-meaning conferences about world affairs. In a few weeks the Gorbachev Foundation will hold a particularly lavish event: speakers will include everyone from former US President George Bush to chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall -- and, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, me. I am a bit ashamed because I can predict in advance that it will be a very silly event: pretentious, bombastic, and forgotten within days. I agreed to attend only because it is taking place in my neighborhood and I thought it might be fun.

Although the Gorbachev conference will undoubtedly be a fairly ridiculous event, however, the program is in a way interesting. Fancy international conferences are almost never of high intellectual quality, but they do give you an indication of what is on the minds of influential people. In this case the assembled group is quite broad in political orientation: it contains people as conservative as George Bush, but it also contains quite a few leftists. Yet there is a common theme that clearly appeals to all of these people. The official themes are things like "Expanding the boundaries of humanness'"; but the real theme, as I read it, is nostalgia for an earlier time.

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