Leading Global Thinkers chew with their mouths open

I was at the Foreign Policy event honoring the world’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers last night. And I have to tell you, some of those global thinkers don’t know how to eat dim sum standing up. It was a mess I tell you. Big thoughts in the air everywhere, to be sure, but Peking duck ...

Jonathan Ernst for Foreign Policy
Jonathan Ernst for Foreign Policy
Jonathan Ernst for Foreign Policy

I was at the Foreign Policy event honoring the world's 100 Leading Global Thinkers last night. And I have to tell you, some of those global thinkers don't know how to eat dim sum standing up. It was a mess I tell you. Big thoughts in the air everywhere, to be sure, but Peking duck and plum sauce down the fronts of lots of shirts, steamed pork dumplings falling to the floor like ill-considered policy proposals.

There were some big names there -- a Central European head of state, some award-winning academics, some journalists, even a few bloggers (they had the worst table-manners of all but I don't suppose that will come as a big surprise to you). Weaving through the crowd was a challenge of course, because on the one hand I wanted to look up to spot a few of those big honking brains and on the other I wanted to avoid stepping on a slightly used dumpling and doing a triple Salkow into one of the architects of the Arab Spring. It could have caused an international incident and I'm pretty sure "Jewish Blogger Submarines Hero of Tahrir Square" wouldn't have played well at Al Jazeera ... or Steve Walt's blog for that matter.

I was at the Foreign Policy event honoring the world’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers last night. And I have to tell you, some of those global thinkers don’t know how to eat dim sum standing up. It was a mess I tell you. Big thoughts in the air everywhere, to be sure, but Peking duck and plum sauce down the fronts of lots of shirts, steamed pork dumplings falling to the floor like ill-considered policy proposals.

There were some big names there — a Central European head of state, some award-winning academics, some journalists, even a few bloggers (they had the worst table-manners of all but I don’t suppose that will come as a big surprise to you). Weaving through the crowd was a challenge of course, because on the one hand I wanted to look up to spot a few of those big honking brains and on the other I wanted to avoid stepping on a slightly used dumpling and doing a triple Salkow into one of the architects of the Arab Spring. It could have caused an international incident and I’m pretty sure "Jewish Blogger Submarines Hero of Tahrir Square" wouldn’t have played well at Al Jazeera … or Steve Walt’s blog for that matter.

There was a lot of Washington hobnobbing going on in the elegant confines of Meridian House, the stately old home-turned-conference center where the event took place. You know what I mean. Air kisses and robust handshakes followed by intense conversations punctuated with furtive glances over the shoulders of conversation partners to see if someone more important had entered the room.  Once a better target was spotted, B-listers were dropped like, well, names which were, of course, being dropped everywhere last night. This was a well-connected group. To find one better connected in fact, you would have to go to Satriale’s Pork Store in the North Ward of Newark, New Jersey. (There you would find, of course, very different types of connections, but as I was probably the only person at last night’s event to have ever been to the North Ward of Newark, that’s of no consequence.)

Anyway, it was fairly congenial wandering through the ebbing and flowing crowd of Pulitzer Prize-winners, environmentalists, rabble-rousers, economists, and international policy groupies (who were easy to spot as they threw perfumed copies of George Kennan’s long telegram in the path of the hottest wonks in the room).

This is largely because most of the world’s really great thinkers … as opposed to most of those who really think they are great … are also great listeners. This is, after all, where ideas come from. And, as my Daddy told me growing up, there’s also no better way to get a person to think you’re a genius than by listening attentively to what they have to say.

The murmur in the high-ceilinged chandeliered rooms told a tale. Stories of revolutionary heroics lifted spirits everywhere and then, when people got too excited, some spoilsport would stroll up to a knot of gabbing globalists and mutter the word "Europe" and eyes would get downcast and people would get a far off look in their eye as if they were remembering a time when their houses were worth more than their mortgages and their 401Ks contained more than pocket change. I heard a few optimistic words about Japan and even some about the U.S. — born out by today’s surprisingly positive unemployment data. (Big thinkers know that in today’s world less grim is the new good.)

Naturally, after about 90 minutes my head hurt from all the hobnobbing with geniuses and I went home to watch Parks and Recreation. Pretty funny. Leslie Knope was on trial for violating inter-office dating rules. I like Amy Poehler, a lot. And I’m a big Aubrey Plaza fan. She’s pretty hilarious. Deadpan. And Rashida Jones is underrated. Also very dry humor. Also found Chelsea Handler did a nice job on the episode of Whitney we watched. Although that show still hasn’t hit its stride.

I wonder why I wasn’t picked as one of the leading global thinkers this year …

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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