Jan 26, 2011

Davos Man (1)

We witnessed the rise and fall of the Essex Man in my days---or was it Sussex Man, a glimpse at Dr. Alzheimer’s portrait on the wall, no, Essex Man is right---the man who brought about Margaret Thatcher.

Although supposedly a statistical construct made to stand for newish demographical strata (sort of blue collar but supporting the anti-elitarian version of Thatcher’s conservativism), the Essex Man was invariably depicted as a party-going multitude engaged in lewd behavior, notably group sex. I always doubted the sex talk and attributed it to the circulation-seeking behavior of the publishing classes, but am now wondering whether any Essex man ever fantasized about Thatcher while engaging in the sort of behavior that made him famous.

Essex men

Margaret Thatcher was defenestrated in an intra-party struggle in 1990 ---I attended a conference in Brussels that day, and will never forget a remark by Dana Scott, the mathematician (Scott provided the first semantics that justified the use of real numbers in computer languages; since Scott you can sleep soundly while your computer does, say, calculus), who said that definitions are usually more important that proofs: I suddenly came to understand the importance of Immanuel Kant---anyhow, Thatcher was gone, and so was the Essex Man.

flashback. I went skiing quite a lot in St. Moritz, Switzerland, during the Thatcher years, and it was either in ‘83 or ‘87 that somebody got us to spend a day in Davos, which is kind of nearby. We arrived during a village fest there that involved a few taxis, people, and flags, the flags strapped vertically to the masts, saying 'Davos World Forum,' or some such. It was all very uneventful, and we went up the slopes, skied all day, and came back, after catching the last lift service, in a historical ride during the sunset past Hotel Zauberberg (Magic Mountain)---it’s called differently in reality but provides the setting for Thomas Mann’s novel. The last descent is always the best, no barrels hold, and we were young; it was hilarious. While we are at it: an important character in Mann’s novel, professor Naphta, is modeled on Georg Lukacs, the Hungarian philosopher, who curiously shares his name with the hedge fund titan of the Freedom Fries novel. (“Alles hängt mit allem zusammen, und das in zunehmendem Masse“ is not Lukacs, by the way, but attributed by evil tongues, such as Siep Stuurman’s, to Norbert Elias).

Willem Saris
Georg Lukacs

Anyhow, a few years later I exchanged views with my Amsterdam colleague Willem Saris, the famous statistician, and learned that he went to Davos on a regular basis in those years to spend the days ice-skating in the ice rink (right in front of the conference center), and rub shoulders with the conference goers as appropriate.

All this changed when Samuel Huntington, the Harvard political scientist, discovered the Davos Man in a famous paper, "Clash of Civilizations," published in Foreign Affairs in 1993.

And you thought we could only do porn. Here is more on the Davos Man.

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